Friday, January 28, 2011


When little Joanie says, "No one ever taught me how to cook. I just learned by osmosis by always being around my mother. I learned unconsciously by absorption":I say, tell me more! Osmosis is simply described as the transfer across a semipermeable membrane, of water from a low solute concentration to a solution of high solute concentration to establish equilibrium. Small solute particles such as sodium and potassium ions will also transfer across the semipermeable membrane to equilibrium. All of us have learned much, as Joanie says, of what we know, by metaphorical osmosis. The transfer of information or water, by osmosis, from the less dense to the more dense will gradually produce equilibrial density without much energy expenditure. The presence of the semipermeable membrane and the degree of permeability adds selection to the information transfer. Because this is a passive transfer we often don't know the origin of much of the information we take for granted. Since however, as we need for life, to maintain an osmotic pressure gradient that maintains solutes in a non-equilibrium state as well, between the intracellular milieu and the extracellular milieu, energy is required to refine the passive osmotic process. The energy to maintain the osmotic gradient metaphor is defined as the energy of active learning! It is volitional and identifiable! Dorothy and Martha were two laboratory dogs I inherited from Johnny Watt when I took his place as a Teaching Fellow in Anatomy in 1959. Once a week on Tuesday and Thursday they would lie quietly for me for 6 hours as I cannulated the femoral artery and vein of each and injected various hypertension producing drugs into them, measuring the change in solute concentrations that hypertension could manipulate in the extracellular and intracellular spaces as established by the measurement of the inulin space. This activity prompted me to think in general of how the energy expended in manipulation or learning is analogous to the energy to establish osmotic pressure gradients that are so necessary to augment the process of passive osmosis! Energy produces work! The conversion of energy to work is always imperfect and the wasted energy is given off in the way of heat. Study is, directed work provided by energy, and is also imperfect and is accompanied by an energy loss. Intelligent study will render energy conversion to work, more efficient and lose less heat. Or if you are like me, a lousy wood chopper, you will convert that energy to highly inefficient work, and get bloody hot in the process. Entropy! We can't just depend on passive osmosis and permeability only, in our intellectual or physical world. Active learning harnesses osmosis with the addition of creating a selective osmotic gradient that requires energy, transformed to work plus heat, to maintain life and intelligent life!

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