Knowledge of Education

Mental Structures

Mental structures are affect-relations which constitute intelligence.


There is a biological basis for mental structures as they are encoded through neural connections in the nervous system (Kandel, 2001; Squire & Kandel, 1999).  Kandel (1989), a Nobel-prize winning neuroscientist, concluded from empirical evidence that:

Learning produces changes in neuronal architecture (p. 103)…. Whereas short-term memory does not require the synthesis of new proteins … the consolidation of long-term memory … does require new protein synthesis (p. 109). … [T]he long-term process differs from the short-term process in two important ways:  one, the long-term process requires translation and transcription, and two, the long-term process is associated with growth in synaptic connections.  (p. 115) …. Our evidence suggests that learning produces enduring changes in the structure and function of synapses... (p. 121)

Kandel recommended further study on the “… the power of experience in modifying brain function by altering synaptic strength…” (p. 123, italics added).  Dewey (1916) likewise knew the power of experience in affecting our thinking and learning, especially in the context of intentional activity that is meaningful to the learner (see Chapter 11, Experience and Thinking, Democracy and Education).

Greenspan and Benderly (1997) emphasize the role of emotion in how we organize what we have learned:  “In fact, emotions, not cognitive stimulation, serve as the mind’s primary architect” (p. 1, italics added). 

They identify the importance of emotion during human experience:  “… each sensation … also gives rise to an affect or emotion….  It is this dual coding of experience that is the key to understanding how emotions organize intellectual capacities …” (p. 18).  

Kandel and Greenspan could very well be discussing the same mental phenoma using different words. Greenspan's 'emotion' may be the agent for what Kandel refers to as altering of synaptic structures and strengths of synaptic connections. Frick (2015) discusses the implications of this in the Theory of Totally Integrated Education (TIE) and integrated knowing.

'Intelligence' is not defined here, but taken as a primitive term. For further reading: