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Walking the streets or watching TV these days, one is frequently exposed to advertisements and promotional materials mentioning “meta-cognition”. Concerned parents openly wonder, “Why isn’t our child excelling in self-directed learning?” In workplaces, where there’s a growing demand for professionals who possess a blend of operational efficiency and teamwork, discussions surrounding ‘meta-cognitive abilities’ are becoming commonplace.

But is meta-cognition truly a simple cognitive process? Can self-directed learning be solely achieved through knowledge-based studies? If one truly understood the vast physiological, emotional, and cognitive training associated with “self-directed,” they might hesitate to use it so liberally.

Meta-Cognition: An Advanced Cognitive Mechanism

The advancements of 20th-century biology and neuroscience highlighted how humans differ from other animals in their developmental mechanisms. While many animals can walk, run, and seek food shortly after birth, humans take notably longer to reach such milestones.

Neuroscience explains that the brain oversees all body functions, ranging from sensory perception to memory, emotions, and even language. This suggests that every function of the brain – physiological, physical, psychological, or mental – can be subject to training. But if all activities influence the brain, why then do we emphasize brain development?

Official textbooks for certified brain trainers define brain training as any activity aiming to balance the mind and body and enhance performance through various physical, psychological, and cognitive stimuli. The keys are: 1) having intention, 2) setting a goal, and 3) using the appropriate cognitive mechanisms.

Every action can be a subject of brain activity, but depending on the “direction of consciousness” and methodology, the usage and form of the brain’s resources can differ. The delineation becomes evident when one examines the brain training techniques outlined by brain trainers. These methods are broadly categorized into basic brain training, cognitive function training, and creativity training. The human brain encompasses a spectrum of functionalities, from basic life-sustaining processes to emotional mechanisms, cognitive reasoning, and advanced learning processes.

While primates possess advanced functionalities like language, mirror neurons, meta-cognition, and creativity, it’s essential to recognize that they are built upon basic animalistic structures. It’s worth remembering that motion distinguishes animals from plants in the realm of biology.

From an evolutionary perspective, humans, the crown jewel of all beings, have evolved to possess diversified motions, predict behaviors through emotional mechanisms, and develop language and advanced cognitive abilities. This implies that fundamental training, representing basic brain training, is crucial to execute advanced cognitive and creative training.

Nowadays, South Korean primary and secondary schools no longer conduct group IQ tests. The heart is no longer considered the control center of the body. Meta-cognition, in essence, represents the highest level of cognitive training. Hence, it’s also referred to as “advanced cognition”.

It’s high time we dispel the illusions surrounding meta-cognition and educate ourselves on the principles and mechanisms of the brain. Claiming that meta-cognition is achievable solely through knowledge-based learning, without a grounded understanding of natural sciences, is inappropriate.

A Shift in Educational Paradigm: From Mind to Body

If the brain, the command center for both mind and body mechanisms, orchestrates change, then the primary influencer of this change is the ‘body’. The fundamental function of the brain is to perceive external information, and the most immediate exterior is the human body. Therefore, the progression is not from knowledge to virtue through the body (知體體), but rather from the body to virtue and then knowledge (體德知).

The two most essential aspects of brain development are ‘movement’ and ‘mind’. Advanced cognitive functionalities rely on the proper functioning of countless underlying mechanisms, which are then comprehended and directed at a higher cognitive level.

No creature on Earth possesses a brain as intricate as that of humans. From birth onwards, no being undergoes such extensive changes in its brain. Concentration, deep immersion, the ability to traverse past and future in thought, and introspective questions like “Who am I?” are all representations of advanced human cognition, essentially features of meta-cognition.

The focus on health has shifted from the heart to the brain. Neuroscience, striving to illuminate the mechanisms behind human consciousness, is now at the forefront of human sciences. The old adage that the mind and body function independently has been rendered obsolete by scientific advancements. Discussing human psychology, behavior, and self-improvement without considering the brain is almost laughable.

More crucial than the knowledge science has provided about the human brain is understanding how everyone can use their brains effectively. Ultimately, both the present and the future are shaped by the collective consciousness and directionality of individual brains and their societal interactions.

  • Rae-hyuk Chang is the Dean of the College of Brain Education at Global Cyber University.