Learning & Habit Loops

This section draws on teachings from Neuroscience of Learning, Dr. Britt Andreatta, a lecture on Lynda.com [1].


Growth v. fixed mindsets & Learning. According to Dr. Britt Andreatta in her lecture, The Neuroscience of Learning, “Potential is defined as the capacity to develop into something in the future, or to do something more than you can do now.” Potential is unrealized ability. And, crucially, the process of learning is how any potential may become fulfilled: by learning something new, a being’s capacities grow [1].

Cosmos hopes to foster a “growth mindset” meaning the perception that growth is possible and neither realities nor futures are “fixed.” Philosophically, Cosmos embodies the belief that there is always untapped potential (in the form of natural, intellectual, cultural, creative or other forms of capital) to be utilized for optimal or positive transformations. This ties in with the notion of Cosmos as a representation, and frame, for “playing the infinite game.”

A growth mindset aligns with and celebrates the eternal force of change, aka flow (this further ties in with having a process orientation) . A fixed mindset emphasizes structure, and feels exaggerated pain and resistance when structures are destroyed or substantially reconfigured. As Dr. Britt Andreatta reports in The Neuroscience of Learning , a growth mindset is conducive to learning; in fact, a growth mindset can lead to a “culture of continuous improvement.” Moreover, she says that people “substantially improve” and better fulfill their potential when they are told “you will be compared to yourself” (meaning: your prior scores on this task) and “we’re looking for improvement” rather than “You will be compared to others” [1].

According to Andreatta, a fixed mindset has been shown to not be conducive to learning, or to self-actualization. It suggests things just are as they are, and one can do little to change them.

Reflections on the reinforcement of “fixed mindsets” in the present-day dominant culture, and the radical need for “growth mindsets” as reflected in Cosmos’ design. Let it be noted that t[he status quo system champions the notion that humans are helpless to change the present day system, that capitalism is natural and inevitable, and so on (thereby preserving the present day, suboptimal, system). The status quo culture profits from coercing people to constantly compare themselves to others; one’s low-self esteem correlates closely to one’s high rate of consumerism, which is how the profiteers in the status quo system capitalize on your artificial/manufactured misery. The depletion of ALL forms of a person’s natural capital (including one’s self-respect) is directly tied to the profit margins of the wealthy elite. Such profiteers are quite literally extracting people’s hope of attaining authentic happiness from them, and selling it back to people at a marked-up price on the consumer market. This process gradually erodes the natural capital of most of life on Earth in exchange for the greed-driven hoarding of abstract financial capital in the coffers of a surprisingly also unhappy few. What a sub-optimal system!

Not surprisingly, the status quo culture emphasizes structure because hegemonic/hierarchical structures are how inequitable power distributions are maintained. Through aggressive, ubiquitous and manufactured means of enculturation, the population stays convinced that present structures cannot be dissolved, and so the unsustainable, maladapted (some say"cancerous," i.e. self-consuming) status quo system secures a desperate extension of its short-term"life"at severe long-term expense. Despite its maladaptation (its inappropriate development of an infinite-growth profit game within a finite system of natural capital,and one that is dependent upon ongoing exploitation—see also, cancer), all it knows how to do is secure its own continuation.

So, we must be doomed?

Unless there is learning.

By contrast to the above: a"growth mindset"involves comparing your present status just to yourown past status; this mindset posits that there is always unmanifest potential intrinsically dwelling in the present conditions that is ripe to be leveraged for transformational change. It is radical in light of the status quo context, and yet extremely organic/human/alive to embrace and ally with change, to say"The world needs continuous remaking as our understanding and insight grows. We have the right, the honor and the duty to participate meaningfully in the natural flows of change with the tides of time."

Bloom’s hierarchy of learning. Dr. Andreatta deepens the understanding of how learning occurs through Bloom’s hierarchy of learning (see image below). In fostering learning processes among its members (esp. with regard to building out system capacities that required distributed and engaged member intelligence in the system—that is, strenghtening the human “web” of knowledge and skills distributed throughout the user base for improved functionality and system resilience), Cosmos would ensure that members are engaging with all six ways of working with new knowledge (to amplify the impact of undertaking member training for the long-term).

Dr. Andreatta’s elaborated on the hierarchy using examples from applying this in her own grad student curricula [1]. These generalized applications of each segment of the hierarchy could be studied with respect to Cosmos’ development of curricula re: its need for self-training (i.e., training members to its systems, even as members are in the process of innovating said systems.)

Developing new habits. In developing good habits, both positive and negative reinforcement, when transparent and unified, works wonders to affect learning. Cosmos intends to provide generous rewards for progress, as well as implement penalties for inappropriate conduct. Dr. Andreatta shared an interesting story about how both , working in tandem, can optimize for the desired outcomes.

Stockholm, Sweden. Speeding drivers getting punished in the traditional ways (receiving a ticket, being forced to pay a fine, perform community service or do jail time) was doing nothing to discourage speeders. So stakeholders “actually took all the research on habits and used it to design a new way of handling an issue.” They made a device that monitors a driver’s speed as you go through an intersection. If you go over the speed limit, it shows you a thumbs down. And it takes a picture of your license plate and sends you a ticket with a fine to pay. AND. If you are not speeding and you drive through the intersection, it shows you a green thumbs up. And it takes a picture of your license plate and you are therefore entered into a lottery to win the pool of the fines coming from speeding drivers! As a result of this new system, speeding went down 22%. Because it was not only punishment that was motivating, but additionally the chance of a positive reward is motivating. People don’t even have to get the reward—it’s the chance of getting a positive reward that is enough. [1]

We could experiment with mirroring the success gleaned in this story in Cosmos. For example: Say a member completes a task (tied to a goal) successfully. The member may be rewarded directly by peers through LC, AND/OR can expect to earn C> as a result of the “meaningful impact” of their task’s completion. The degree of C> a task earns is kind of like entering a lottery, because 1) it’s hard for an individual to parse ahead of time what the likely C> value for their completed task will be (in other words, what impact Cosmos will assess the task to have had, and thus the reward attached to it in retrospect.) Also, re: C>, there may be multiplier factors at play affecting your rate of reward—also hard for an individual to parse, upfront. Therefore, it’s kind of a fun unknown—not exactly like a chance to win a lottery, but a similar “hope of personally-gratifying outcome for positive contribution.”

HABIT DESIGN. According to Dr. Andreatta, we can modify existing behaviors and habitual patterns in our lives through a simple, accessible process (listed below). The idea behind why this model is supposed to work is that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Retrieval is crucial: the more you engage with a task or a goal, the more you develop those pathways in the brain.

  1. A clear cue that starts the behavior. Something you see or hear. That is the trigger .
  2. Break the goal into a sequence of baby steps. Immediately after the trigger, if you do the next one small thing, that is the action.
  3. If the action is completed, you receive a reward .

Imagine this elegant process framed through Cosmos’ interface. After naming a goal, perhaps the system helps you break down some of the steps to get there (or, at the very least, the very next step, with the remainder left ambiguous. The overarching goal would be your “Guiding Star” and the immediate next step would be you “Near Star.”) [1]

Then, perhaps the system prompts you to program triggers into your user experience, tied to these goals. Perhaps triggers look like notifications, emerging at key moments, that prompt the user to undertake one little action in the direction of their goal. Or maybe when you enter a chosen “space” for working on something, a countdown clock or progress bar brings your attention to the main task. Or maybe the dashboard is programmed for a ritual “sequence” of spaces or activities that are offered each time you log in, or at different times of the day or week, reflecting all your multiple goals and enabling progress toward them in dynamic “balance” with one another.

The system may even inquire about (or simply observe) existing habitual patterns of the user, and collaboratively explore opportunities to “attach” triggers to existing patterns. For example, if a user’s goal is to write a book and they want to integrate more writing time into their day, AND the user is already in the daily habit of fraternizing in social writing-support forum/discussion groups on the platform, perhaps the system would suggest (or the user would manually program) that the user be prompted to spend just 10 minutes writing immediately before, or immediately after, a writing-group socializing session.

Rewarding. First and foremost, the system (mindfulAI) would want to ascertain “What rewards are compelling for you?” Or as Andreatta says, “What rewards would make your brain go, ‘Yeah, I should do this again!’” [1] In keeping with the responsivity principle, the system would strive to tailor rewards to what users express as having value to them. This is true for the system to “prompt the taking of rewards” even if those rewards are not offered by/inherent to the Cosmos system itself. [The notion that Cosmos can interact with and have effects on people’s lives holistically, with effects not strictly limited to embodiment ON the virtual platform.] For example: " You did it! Congrats! You’ve earned yourself a hot bath!" Or “You’ve earned some C>!” Or “You’ve earned a break of 30 minutes listening to THIS favorite podcast that’s at the top of your media queue!”

The system could reward with C> for actions taken, and also “announce” to your sponsors/followers/peers that you are making progress on your goals, through which announcement your peers can choose to send you LitCoin. Rewards do not have to be “tangible” capital, either: they can be as simple as hearing a tone or seeing a “reward screen” that lights up the pleasure centers of the brain [1].

One key take-away, per Andreatta, is that you don’t have to reward forever—only until the habit is formed. This is relevant for building up system-essential, but not necessarily intuitive, habits. For instance, encouraging the user to regularly vote (or otherwise contribute meaningfully) on pending proposals that may affect their own user experience, or training members to perform key functions/roles within the social systems, e.g., community guide, editor, moderator (etc.) Not suggesting that Cosmos would cease rewarding essential contributors for valuable work, simply that: sometimes, the habit of serving a certain social role is self- aka intrinsically-rewarding, e.g. serving as a mentor or mediator to beloved peers, but tangible rewards may need to be put in place to initiate the new habit participatory pathway in a user.

According to Andreatta, “if you want someone to learn a new system fast, plan for multiple short exposures” to the practices of using the new system, using learning enhancement principles (e.g. social rewards, music), using retrieval (i.e. can you remember what you did last time? Show me, and then i’ll take you on to the next step of learning.) and reward for successfully doing things with the system. This is how intensive, rapid learning can take place and thus an overall market edge can be gained by the company utilizing these methods. (COSMOS)

HABIT FORMING. REWARDING. POSITIVE-FEELING-GENERATING (BEING “KIND” AND SUPPORTIVE AS A NORM, modeled in social and technological ways.) “Kindness that’s habit-forming.” A key distinction: Cosmos is concerned with amplifying feedback loops that lead to self-realization, and in parallel is concerned with replacing patterns not conducive to human self-actualization (many of which will creep in by osmosis through exposure to the “outside world”‘s status-quo cultural environment). Cosmos does strive to help effect new habit formation and learning in members. The platform itself seeks to be “habit-forming” insofar as it is gratifying to use, “fun to play the game.” But Cosmos values “off-platform” success just as well as on platform. For example, say Member A ( as an inspired result of using Cosmos), authentically determines that they want to spend less time on the platform and more time focused on writing. Or, Member B had defined on Cosmos that she was looking for work in her field, and then ( perhaps indirectly through her focus on that goal or through serendipity in her social network) found that work outside of Cosmos. Member A might ramp up how often Cosmos is “muted” or “turned off;” Member B might update the goals & parameters in their dashboard to reflect these life changes and how they intersect with her goal attainment. In both cases, Cosmos would attribute value/success to itself, because even though the linked activities are occurring off the platform, they correspond to users’ progress toward stated goals on the platform . And since Cosmos is ultimately concerned with whether its members needs are getting met… there you have it. (There is an admittedly fine line between habit-forming and addictive: it is important that Cosmos not seek to intensify a member’s overall use, per se, but that the value measured by participant interactions/activities intensifies, and/or the progress toward their goals, and successive goal-striving and goal-attainment, is showing a growth trend. See also Addiction in Limiting/Negative Feedback Loops.)

Even just witnessing a progress bar “level up” can be inherently rewarding… continue on to Leveling Up!