Rajeev Rao: Mastery in Neuroscience, AI & Machine Learning from 7th Grade
"I am interested in Neuroscience…but…my mother says it is more prospective to be an oncologist. Cancer research is very lucrative I understand but I am not interested in that. I want to know about the brain. I have many ideas that I want to develop further."
Rajeev Rao had just completed his 6th grade and was entering his 7th grade. It was still vacation time and school was yet to begin. He had heard from a friend who lived in the same apartment as him that there was a place where he could actually study Neuroscience if he was really passionate about. That was CFRCE. Rajeev was thrilled and apprehensive at the same time. Thrilled to know it was possible for him to study Neuroscience. Apprehensive whether he would be given admission. His friend asked him to visit the Centre and talk to the people there. So Rajeev persuaded his father to take him to meet the Program Coordinator at CFRCE. They called up the Centre and were given an appointment to meet the Coordinator. That was how Rajeev happened to be talking to the Coordinator about his great passion for Neuroscience.
"It is really nice to know about your interest in Neuroscience," the Coordinator spoke extending a warm welcome to Rajeev. "Neuroscience is a great field with numerous sub branches. I myself am very passionate about it. Do you have an idea which areas you want to do learn and master…"
Rajeev was excited to know that the Coordinator was taking him seriously, was talking to him on equal terms as he would to another adult. So far no one had done that. Everyone he spoke to took him to be just interested in Neuroscience. The Coordinator on the other hand was asking him which areas he was interested to learn and master! He was taking him really seriously.
"I am passionate about Cognition…" Rajeev replied. "I want to study Cognitive Neuroscience. I am also interested in Emotion and the Brain…and after learning more about these…I want to go into Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning."
"That would be great." The Coordinator agreed. "You can certainly learn and master Cognitive Neuroscience, Emotion and the Brain and later move on to Computer Science to study Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning."
"Sir, can he really do that…" Rajeev's father was apprehensive.
"Of course, he can as he is so interested and passionate about Neuroscience." The Coordinator affirmed. "And moreover, he is already clear on which areas he wants to work on. Cognitive Neuroscience is a great field to start with."
"But he is so young…just in his 7th grade…" Rajeev's father was hopeful but nevertheless wanted to be certain Rajeev was on the right track.
"His intellectual maturity appears to be beyond his physical age." The Coordinator remarked. "But anyway we can easily ascertain that right away."
"Rajeev," The Coordinator looked at him, "have you been reading or looking up on Neuroscience?"
"Yes," Rajeev nodded. "I have been going through the internet and looking up videos and articles on the brain."
"That's great." The Coordinator smiled. "Why don't you help us understand how you are able to learn on such advanced topics at your age…why not tell us something about the brain frequencies…you know…the beta, alpha…"
"Theta and delta." Rajeev completed the Coordinator's sentence as his father was looking on astonished. He continued, "the human brain has four frequency states, beta, alpha, theta and delta. These four states could be compared to four gears of a car. Beta is the first gear, alpha the second, theta the third, and delta the fourth. When a child is born he is in the delta state till the age of five. From five to seven he is in the theta state, seven to fourteen in the alpha state and fourteen onwards in the beta state. Now a car in the first gear is slowest and consumes maximum power. In the second gear it picks up speed and consumes lesser power. In the third gear it picks up much more speed and consumes even less power. In the fourth gear it really speeds up and consumes least power. It follows that younger one is the faster one can learn, not the other way around. I am now around 11 years and therefore my brain is more in the alpha state. Obviously I can learn really fast compared to a grownup. I think my brain speed compensates for lack of experience. I have read and understood these things. If I get a chance to join CFRCE I want to really go in depth into these, especially about what I have read as the gamma brain frequency."
The Coordinator turned to Rajeev's father. "Rajeev has a well developed mature intellect ready to take on topics beyond the norm. What he has just explained about the brain states clearly demonstrates that."
Rajeev's father was overwhelmed by the Coordinator's comment. He looked at him with reverence. "Can Rajeev then join your program? If so which would be the right program for him?"
"Without doubt the Accelerated Learner's Program or Advanced Learner's Program." The Coordinator replied.
"What is the difference between the Accelerated Learner's Program and the Advanced Learner's Program?" Rajeev's father enquired.
"The Accelerated Learner's Program is a superfast learning program that takes an intellectually mature and purpose-driven student years and decades ahead of convention. The Advanced Learner's Program also does exactly that with only one difference. It is designed more for students of the International Syllabus like IB or IGCSE who also require to consolidate their learning in the form of articles, research papers or to participate in summer schools of foreign universities. The difference is mainly one of structure."
"And how does that difference affect the student's development?" Rajeev's father was curious.
"In the Accelerated Learner's Program, the student has the full freedom to learn without being bothered to fulfil the parents expectations outwardly. That is, the student can give complete attention to learning at the superfast rate. This may result in the student going decades ahead. Here the flow or optimal experience of the student is total as no outward expectations disturb the stupendous intensity that the student generates. In the Advanced Learner's Program on the other hand, parental expectations are more and therefore, the student needs to take a slightly more balanced approach. One such student of CFRCE is there who even in the Advanced Learner's program has attained such a balance. So as I pointed out, the difference is mainly of structure."
"I think we would like to have Rajeev take on the Advanced Learner's Program then. As he is an US citizen it would be helpful for him to have his learning consolidated in the form of articles, research papers and also to participate in summer schools. As to our expectations, we leave it entirely to him to learn unhindered guided wholly by CFRCE and his own intrinsic drive. Is it too much to think that he can go decades ahead?" Rajeev's father laughed heartily.
"No…not at all." The Coordinator joined in the laughter. "Your thoughts are perfectly justified. The way he has developed so far is itself proof of how much care, freedom and independence you have bestowed on him."
"And if he gets the guidance of CFRCE, myself and his mother will leave it entirely to his own drive and only step in to support him wherever necessary." Rajeev's father affirmed.
After a little more discussion Rajeev and his father took their leave thanking the Coordinator warmly.
In the days that followed the meeting, Rajeev soon wrote his Statement of Purpose (SOP) and submitted his application form to the Advanced Learner's Program. The following was an excerpt from his SOP.
"Ever since I first began to think on scientific topics I was intrigued by the nature of intelligence. I wanted to know everything about the brain. How a human brain differs from that of a cat or a cockroach. I felt their brain also had an intelligence though of a different kind. People think human intelligence is of the highest kind. But my observations of other creatures convinced me that we don't know enough neither to qualify nor quantify intelligence. We need some parameter to do that. But trying to do so hastily does not do justice to the complexity of the brain whether human or other. After pursuing numerous sources and studies on the brain I have come to a working hypothesis. "Intelligence is that which can be quantified more through language than through numbers. But once that is done, the language can be quantified in numerical terms." I don't know how to go about proving this hypothesis. I am sure CFRCE is the right learning platform for me to explore this hypothesis and build on it to understand the nature of intelligence and the brain…
…I eagerly look forward to be given an opportunity to become a student of the Advanced Learner's Program."
Rajeev's application and SOP were reviewed by five members of the Admission Board who happened to be scientists drawn from eminent universities across the world. Their recommendation was unanimous. Rajeev's intellectual maturity was beyond his years. Given the highly charged and conducive environment and support of CFRCE, he would accelerate in his learning. They warmly recommended that he be given admission into the Advanced Learner's Program.
Soon, Rajeev was admitted into the program and almost immediately, initiated into Cognitive Neuroscience. The Coordinator himself enthusiastically encouraged him to start off on a study of Phantom Limbs as a special topic of inquiry right from the first day. He also introduced Rajeev to his Chief Mentor and other mentors among the faculty so that he could benefit from interaction. Rajeev went to the library and began browsing books on Neuroscience. His attention was caught by the book by V S Ramachandran, "Phantoms in the Brain." Recalling that the Coordinator had just suggested the topic of phantom limbs for his inquiry, Rajeev picked up the book and began to browse through. The book was fascinating right from the beginning. He realized that V S Ramachandran was a great neuroscientist and heartily agreed with Sir Oliver Sacks that he was the Marco Polo of Neuroscience. Rajeev took the book to the mentoring room and chose a nice cozy corner table to work.
He looked around at the fine aesthetically designed room. The lights that lit each mentoring table had been elegantly placed at the top of each table so that the focus would be only on the table the student was sitting. For a moment the entire room appeared to be orchestrally planned to make learning happen at the deepest level. He soon became absorbed in reading the book. He was in a state of complete flow or optimal experience. He did not even realize when his chief mentor had come and was quietly sitting next to the table patiently waiting for him to pause. Rajeev looked and said somewhat apologetically. "I am sorry sir, I did not realize you had come."
"Oh, that is perfectly fine," his chief mentor reassured him. "I did not at all expect you to do so. At CFRCE, we do not let the deep flow a student is in to be interrupted. So we wait for the right time to intervene if the student needs any help and not to interfere."
Rajeev was surprised. At school, it was the students who spoke like that to the teachers. Here, the mentor was giving him the respect and dignity that he was used to, or rather forced to be giving the teachers. The chief mentor continued, "I see that you are reading "Phantoms in the Brain." That's a wonderful book. It is one of my favorites. I have read all of V S Ramachandran's books. His latest book, "The Tell Tale Brain" goes even deeper than this. But this particular book has a special flavor. Please go ahead. I will be around if you need me."
Rajeev again immersed himself in the reading. As he read he could not stop wondering at the magical effect of the CFRCE atmosphere. His thoughts on this fact mixed with that of the content of the book. Filled with a serene joy, he paused and began to reflect.
"How is it that sitting here and reading is so very different from doing the same thing at home. Surely, reading as an activity is the same thing whether I do it here or at home. There must be an explanation, why, in neuroscience itself."
He then recalled what his favorite hero Sherlock Holmes had said, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” So he decided to note carefully the effect the CFRCE environment was having on him. After a short while he came to a conclusion. The effect was real and patent. There was something profound in the environment that was quickening all his impulses of learning. It was as if his learning was coming alive as an instinct rather than a skill. Perhaps it was because everyone here were carrying out learning with a great purpose. There was no one who were just there with a casual attitude. All were charged up with a sense of the grandeur and glory that learning would bestow on them. Still, Rajeev thought it helpful to ask someone about it. After continuing to read for a little more time he got up and walked towards the library. As he was walking by he glanced at another student sitting at a nearby table.
The student was browsing through a book by Daniel Coyle titled "The Talent Code." Drawn by irresistible curiosity, Rajeev paused in front of the student wondering whether in doing so he would be interrupting the flow of that student. But fortunately, the student had also paused in his reading and looking at Rajeev, smiled and greeted him,
"Hello, I am Pradeep." "Hello, I am Rajeev," Rajeev greeted him in turn and said, "I have just joined CFRCE. This is my first day."
"Nice to meet you," Pradeep responded, "what are you interested in?"
"Oh, my main interest is Neuroscience. Right now I am focusing on Cognitive Neuroscience." Rajeev replied and remarked, "what are you working on?"
"I am working on Theoretical Physics, Geometric Quantum Mechanics, to be precise." Pradeep spoke.
"Oh, seeing the book you are having I thought you must be working on psychology." Rajeev said.
"Ah, this book, "The Talent Code,"" Pradeep said. "I am reading this because my chief mentor suggested it to me. As you know at CFRCE, personal development goes hand in hand with technical development. My mentor said this book was one of the best to absorb the meaning of Deep Practice."
"Deep Practice!" Rajeev asked quizzically. "Yes, Deep Practice." Pradeep nodded. "In Performance Psychology it is also known as Deliberate Practice. Another term for that is Purposeful Practice. This book debunks the idea that practice makes one perfect. As Daniel Coyle puts it so forcefully I this book, Practice does not lead to perfection. Only Deep Practice does. Deep Practice builds myelin and myelin leads to perfection."
"Oh, I did not realize myelin played so important a role." Rajeev commented. "You know about myelin?" Asked Pradeep. "Of course, it is a common term in neuroscience," Rajeev replied, "myelin is white matter as opposed to grey matter. I have known about myelin I the context of ALS or motor neuron disease, like that which Stephen Hawking has. Loss of myelin leads to degeneration of the bone etc. But it is great to know that myelin is also responsible for Deep Practice. I think I will also look up this book. I will ask my mentor whether I can read this."
"By all means, read it. You don't have to ask your mentor for that. Even if you do I am sure he would encourage you to read it." Pradeep said. Rajeev was once again pleasantly surprised. At school there was no question of him choosing to read what he wanted. Here, they encouraged him to do so. "Anyway it would be good to ask my mentor", he thought. And true to Pradeep's words, his mentor warmly encouraged him to go ahead and read the book. His mentor reassured him, "at CFRCE you are completely free to follow upon your learning instinct. Let your flow experience lead you. Let your inner mentor come alive and take you to heights and depths that no external mentor can. In doing so you learn to trust your inner guidance mechanism."
As Rajeev looked at the mentor happily, his mentor continued. "I am not telling you to follow upon your learning instinct just to encourage you. It is a neurological fact. I a sure, you would have come across that the human brain had what is known as a psycho-cybernetic system, a kind of homing mechanism that can guide one unerringly onto the object of learning provided one has primed oneself by great inspiration and purpose."
Rajeev had not come across that. It was nice to know that even in his field interest, -neuroscience, there was so much to learn and moreover, here, the mentors were putting so much of it into practice…
As weeks passed, Rajeev began to penetrate the whole field of neuroscience in a comprehensive manner. His notes on his observations and inquires grew in volume. He began to make extensive connections between his discoveries. He soon moved on to a study of Intelligence from the book by Jeff Hawkins and then onto a handbook of Applied Cognitive Neuroscience. And just as his first academic year at CFRCE was coming to a close, he emerged an expert on cognitive neuroscience. The seminar that he gave kept the audience spellbound. Though prepared with extensive power point slides, Rajeev ignored the slides and let his flow take hold of his speech and gave a presentation that was truly marvelous. That seminar was also the first professional seminar he had given. Rajeev Rao had emerged a bright young neuroscientist in the making…
…And the very next academic year, he had conquered another great field, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning via Python programming from the huge book by Russell and Norvig and programming via Tensor Flow from a dedicated computer at CFRCE…and was soon into another fine topic, -Computational Complexity…
The purpose of the Advanced Learner's program had been fully justified by having Rajeev Rao as one of the most worthy students who had set himself on the path of actualizing his deepest potential.