Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Reading This Blog Rejuvenates Brain!

OK, not exactly. It's not a new discovery, and it's not specifically about this blog, but there is a great deal of evidence to support the contention that....wait for it....wait for it....continual learning prevents the deterioration of brain function! (And this blog helps with continual learning, so BANG! A connection!)

Seriously though, engaging your mind in the process of learning new things is a vital component in ensuring your continued mental agility. Here's why:

Our brain's processing power is a function of its neuronal connections. Our brains, as adults, weigh in at between 1,300 and 1,400 grams, about 2% of total body weight. On average, our brains have about 1012 (one trillion) neurons. Octopuses, which are considered to be very smart animals, only have about 300 million (3x108). That's a enormous difference. But it's not just how many neurons we have that matters. It's how many connections we have between our neurons. Each neuron has about 7,000 synaptic connections to other neurons. And according to research done by Posit Science,
"Reduction in the schedules of inputs and actions that engage the brain that are required to continuously refine existing skills and drive new learning. Often referred to as 'brain disuse.'"

The fact is, we can lose vast numbers of those connections with disuse. As we get older, perhaps we get "stuck in our ways" and lose interest in learning new skills of acquiring new bodies of knowledge. Our brains just do the same repetitive tasks, millions of available connections shut down and atrophy. And once we lose capacity, it is very difficult to regain it. So we need to keep learning.
"Some studies suggest that having a low level of formal education and poor linguistic skills is a risk factor for cognitive decline in later life. However, other studies have not found this association. Nonetheless, many studies on humans and animals suggest that lifelong learning is beneficial in preserving cognitive vitality in later life. One such study, published in the February 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that frequent participation in mentally stimulating activities is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Mental stimulation is not limited to formal education and can include everyday activities..."

Now, I want to preach a bit to the luddites out there (who probably aren't reading this, so it'll be up to you to pass on this message). The internet is such a vast storehouse of learning, it's a shame you don't take better advantage of it. Remember, it can help keep your brain healthy!

A bit of personal stuff: One of the reasons I'm in the process of garnering an MBA degree is because I want to understand how to run a business and create wealth. But a nice by-product is the exercise my brain is getting. And blogging, forget about it. I'm learning stuff I don't even want to know.

So, keep on learning! And in 20 years you may actually remember your name!