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Maximum Brainpower

February 20, 2013

A lifetime of experience leads us to habitual thinking. Humans evolved early learning and habitual thinking for survival in a static world. But in a changing, fast paced world we must ‘unlearn’ some of our old experiences to give ourselves freedom to learn new things without the mental rigidity of previous experience.

The book goes into great detail on brain function, diseases, and case studies demonstrating some interesting results. First, mental rigidity doubles from the age of 37 to 61. The advent of video games like Pac-man in the 1980 produced a generation of superior hand-eye coordinated pilots than before. Hand/eye coordination for most people activate the parietal lobes of the brain, however experienced gamers primarily use the prefrontal cortex instead. Interest fact, the adult brain has 41% fewer neurons than a newborn infant.

The idea that the brain needs exercise just like the body does is a wonderful realization. Adults of any age can/do produce new brain cells (neurogenesis) – creation of new neurons happen in the middle of the brain and then move outward to it’s final location. How much your brain changes/expands (plasticity) is directly proportional to the level of mental effort. Daily life, although tiresome is insufficient to challenge the brain effectively for improvement. This exertion actually stimulates the brain to build and even repair itself.

We all know changing our behavior is difficult, but it is also stressful. The number of life changes you experience in a period of time is a great predictor of the odds of illness from mild to severe. Interestingly, these life changes do not have to be negative to cause illness either. Even an amazing string of good fortune can cause enough change/stress to weaken the immune response and make us susceptible to illness.

Multitasking is  disastrous to mental health. Comparison to the attention span of a dog on meth.

Multitasking is nothing but a way to mess up more than one thing at a time.

Hacking the brain can be done by first understanding how it’s wired to respond to certain situations. A psychological experiment was done on soliders that demonstrated the importance of matching anticipated challenge and actual abilities. “The mind will stop expending resources if the chance of success is low.”

Hope and a positive outlook in life have healthy effects on lifespan. An example of this is the ‘anniversary effect’: a disproportionate number of people seem to die after important events. A famous example of this, is 3 of the 5 founding presidents dying on the 4th of July: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe. Interesting fact, American men tend to die before their birthday, while American women tend to die after their birthday. The author speculates the difference can be explained by the man’s focus on birthday’s as a time to reflect on accomplishments, while women focus on birthday’s as a time of closeness and attention from loved ones.

The placebo effect is another great example of the power of the brain to heal the body. Helplessness and hopelessness have very different effects on outlook. Comfort leads us to cognitive rigidity and then mental decline from the lack of challenge. Hope and despair are self-fulfilling prophecies. Hope allows us to persevere through a helpless situation.

The most important skill we can learn to continually challenge our brains, is the ability to unlearn. The ability to look at experiences without the quick and easily solutions from our past, instead looking at them and doing the hard thinking required to analyze them.


From → Books

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