Mental Structures

Mental structures are affect-relations which constitute intelligence. Complexity of mental structures increases when learning occurs. In general systems, affect-relations are the connections among system components.

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). 

Bertolero & Bassett (2019) describe mental structures by the strength of neural connections:

Using data from hundreds of participants in the Human Connectome Project, our lab and others have demonstrated that brain-connectivity patterns establish a “fingerprint” that distinguishes each individual. People with strong functional connections among certain regions have an extensive vocabulary and exhibit higher fluid intelligence—helpful for solving novel problems—and are able to delay gratification. They tend to have more education and life satisfaction and better memory and attention. Others with weaker functional connections among those same brain areas have lower fluid intelligence, histories of substance abuse, poor sleep and a decreased capacity for concentration. (p. 29)

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, bolding added).  Frick (2018) discusses the implications of this in the Theory of Totally Integrated Education (TIE) and integrated knowing.

For further reading: