Timothy J. Xeriland, Ph.D. Candidate


Tim Xeriland

Hi! My name is Tim Xeriland and welcome to my site.  While an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, I became fascinated in the mind/body problem. I approached the dilemma from a philosophical and psychological perspective and earned degrees in both disciplines. Then, I went to graduate school at the University of Texas at Dallas and studied the issue from a neuroscience perspective. To conclude my studies, I spent a solid year researching and writing a book, Schrödinger's Cat and Pavlov's Dog . The premise of the book is that the brain receives inputs from the environment through direct perception (à la Gibson) and that nonlinear dynamic processes in the brain uses these inputs to create consciousness.

To model these nonlinear processes, in particular self-organization, I turned to computer programming. To do this level of programming required quite a bit of study and in the process I earned a fourth degree in computer science with a strong concentration in mathematics. This allowed me to build some sophisticated artificial neural network (ANN) computer programs. Because consciousness is such a nebulous concept, I decided to focus on learning (i.e., how the mind learns), which can more easily be quantified.

With one ANN program that I created, the computer started out knowing nothing about faces, but after subsequent trials it learned to determine the age of faces. When I plotted the learning process in phase space, it became clear that when the network learned it fell into an attractor (a concept well-known in physics and mathematics). The metatheory I postulated is that when learning occurs an organism's nervous system also falls into these same type of attractors.

A model in and of itself is not directly falsifiable. Therefore, the best method to test a model is to determine what the framework would predict and test how accurate those predictions are. For example, if learning requires formation of an attractor as predicted, do the elements that facilitate the development of an attractor also facilitate learning (such as feedback)?  Since I have been teaching for over 14 years I have a lot of experience in how students learn.

What I have found is that most assessments actually shut down the learning process.  As soon as students would get their grades, they would stop caring about the material unless it was to argue their score.  This got me thinking that if learning requires a strong attractor and we know that dynamic feedback produces and maintains attractors in nature then shouldn’t we be using this same kind of feedback for the learning process? 

Currently, I am working on my Ph.D in Educational Psychology & Educational Technology (EPET) at Michigan State University and plan to research assessment and its implications to the learning process.

On another note, I love to travel. I have been all over the world. In the past few years, I have been to India, Peru, Fiji, Belize, Vietnam, Kenya, New Zealand, Thailand, China, Australia, Nepal, Costa Rica, and Ireland just to name a few!