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Learn While You Sleep


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Perhaps one way of testing the validity of sleep-learning claims is to compare their consistency with the results of the careful experimentation conducted by the leading psychologists of learning. If they coincide, we can assume there is, at the very least, considerable validity in the sleep-study technique.

What would the ancient Greeks have said? Socrates might have doubted that awareness of universal truth could become a meaningful part of man by virtue of his hearing the refrain repeated during his sleep. Plato might have had similar doubts although both would probably have embraced the opportunity to increase their knowledge.

Aristotle noted the frequent recollection of what is frequently thought about, apparently setting the pace for the stress on repetition.

He said, "it is a fact that there are some movements, by a single experience of which, persons take the impress of custom more deeply than they do by experiencing others many times; hence upon seeing some things but once, we remember them better than others which we may have seen frequently."

And what do the sleep-learning people claim? They find that, once the barriers are overcome, it takes but a few short hours to memorize a play, a whole book of notes or a foreign language. They also find that repetition is useful.

So learning in one's sleep carries with it the same contradictory qualities as conscious learning. Some things require frequent repetition and some are remembered almost immediately.

Fewer repetitions are necessary during the Transitional Sleep Period than during the Reverie Period. Sleep-learners can no more explain these phenomena than could psychologists since the days of Aristotle. They can only verify the findings.

Thus we find consistency—even if it is in contradiction.

The early thinkers who stressed the importance of perception through the senses were undoubtedly speaking of perception during working hours.

Here, too, sleep-learning has a common point since it is through the sense of hearing that the subject learns during sleep.

The physiological methods and careful measurement of results, can be considered one of the forerunners of sleep-teachers.

While the final answer has not been found, and the successful results can be explained only partly by science, it must be acknowledged that the sleep-learning investigators are attempting to interpret and apply the evidence they have gathered in the light of present scientific knowledge and discoveries.

The theories of association-learning do not appear to be applicable to sleep-learning. The advantage of understanding the material and thinking about it intelligently during waking hours is stressed, but no importance is given to the connections between ideas and facts.

On the other hand, the ideas of reflex and succession, of "stamping in," of the importance of motivation, of the conditioned response, of the positive effects of reward (real and anticipatory) and of recognition of individual differences all crop up in sleep-learning literature.

Trial-and-error learning seems to have no place in what we learn and absorb while asleep. Nor is there any concern with the theory that transference of successful responses makes further learning possible, except that once the barrier is broken, the capacity to sleep-learn expands.

From the reports of how sleep-learning is used in Russia, there can be no doubt that it owes much to discoveries of the conditioning school of adherents as an explanation of how we learn.

Once again there is agreement with those who find that motivation and success affect the learning process and that reward strengthens it. There is also agreement that forgetting is inhibition of the response (or learning) by a competing response (or information).

The sleep-therapy approach appears consistent with the behaviorists in that both seem to feel that reinforcement of stimulus-response habits, if they are useful, will make for a happy adaptation to environment; and neither seems to require special consideration of feelings, emotion or consciousness except in terms of behavior.

It must be noted that responsible sleep-learning advocates recognize that problems exist where sleep-therapy alone is inadequate.

What sleep-learning appears to have in common with purposive learning is the importance of achievement and rewards.

From the layman's point of view, there is a good deal of hair-splitting from one school of learning to another. We find highly technical terms, obscure language of specialists and convincing arguments behind every theory.

Thorpe and Schmuller's attempt to state principles of learning which are flexible and drawn from all schools of thought appears to be the best solution, the one most likely to consider all proven factors and to result in a balanced, unbiased view.

They include motivation as an important factor. This is stressed in sleep-learning. They are concerned with mature adjustment. So is sleep-learning. They consider pattern-learning and meaningful relationships as basic. This, too, coincides with the advice of sleep-learners.

Evaluation of progress is deemed important. This is a major aspect of the appeal of sleep-learning. Satisfactory personality development and social growth are dual goals in traditional learning and sleep-learning.

It is unlikely that Dewey, who was concerned with learning as experience and with the importance of the social environment, would have been enthusiastic about sleep-learning.

He was less interested in the acquisition of facts than in the integration and use of the knowledge acquired. Perhaps the ultimate answer is a careful combination of the advantages of sleep-learning and the conscious use of understanding—which, in fact, is strongly advocated in the printed instructions of sleep-learning.

On the whole, there appears to be considerable evidence that the methods of sleep-learning are to a great degree in accord with the views of the psychologists of learning.

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