Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Overcrowd

I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it - there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle "A Study in Scarlet" in the character of Sherlock Holmes.

The March 2005 National Geographic issue focused on recent research into how the mind works. Seemed like many scientists would agree with Sherlock on many important points. Apparantly the more we use our brains in any particular way, the more our brain optimizes to those functions. Sounds reasonable, right? But the studies also found that those who spent many hours on any form of minutia had the relevant lobes expand to the detriment of adjoining areas.
"An MRI study published in 2000 by scientists at University College, London, showed that in London taxi drivers the rear portion of the hippocampus was enlarged compared with those of control subjects, confounding the long-held notion that the adult human brain cannot grow. But the bonus in brain tissue may not have come free of charge. On average, the front portion of the hippocampus was smaller than normal in the taxi drivers, suggesting that the effort to build an increasingly detailed mental map of the city had recruited neighboring regions to the cause."

I found that a bit worrisome, but referenced in the same article ["bigger brain"] a similar study from Germany on people learning to juggle indicated the brain can change conformation back if you change your habits. (In this case, the studied folks stopped juggling.)

Wired's May 2005 article "Dome Improvement" has got me thinking again because of the counterclaim by that surveyor/professor that intelligence in the general population is rising. Practical experience suggests otherwise, as do other standardized tests. Careful analysis make it clear that its largely visual intelligence he's referencing. That would seem to go with the National Geographic study. People's visual abilities may be increasing at the expense of other forms of knowledge processing.

Another article discussed a widespread perception that there are fewer and fewer new gamers who enjoy puzzle/reflective paths.

And my point is?

Everything we do has a cost. Our brains may not be efficiently used, but our time & capacity for any particular activity is not infinite. We micro-focus at the expense of other studies, and even capacity for study. I have found, in practice, that trying to learn D'ni (Myst's make believe language) cut into my ability to keep French, Spanish, & other real languages relatively usable. (Calling myself fluent would be seriously pushing it.) I felt bad at one point for letting so much of popular culture slide beyond me. Well ~ better those ephemerals than anything else I could name! Knowing every major movie plot takes up memory. Learning Klingon takes up language capacity. At some point wisdom suggests dropping most non-essential extras into our mind's recycle bin & defragging the little grey cells!

So. I'm definitely going to be stressing logic studies for the children, though they have already had more than most. Logical systems allow you to retain information far more efficiently ~ another point an old Sherlock story pointed out. It was established in an earlier tale that Sherlock knew from the sort of mud a person had on their clothes which part of the city they had been in. How did he do it? Had he memorized every street in London? Sherlock replied that he had studied the geography of the land, and the knew the major areas of commerce...and deduced their effects. Elementary.

Wonder if that would help those taxicab drivers?

(written last May. Finally finished!)

Monday, September 05, 2005

Labors and rest in Him

This has been a wild week and a weird labor day weekend.

Katrina's damage had us praying/worrying about friends for most of the week and crying with another acquaintance who lost several members of her extended clan. Felt inside the missing friends were probably okay but how can you truly relax until you know for sure? Thankfully they were able to send word this weekend. In other news, Cyan has just announced major cutbacks, though it sounds like they can save the company for now. I feel peace about this too. I am convinced God has something good in mind, as rough as it seems right now. Two neighbors were buried. Recognized the names, but we didnt know them well. We heard some very anti-Christian noises kicked off by Robertson's comments and by ill-tempered folks who apparantly don't like Bush's nominee. Some Christian broadcasters have had alot to say about the ugly noises made as well. Hard not to notice where things seem to be going but still the internal calm and sense of victory in Jesus reigns in our hearts.

Tom has had some tough evenings lately, and more trouble sleeping, but as near as we can tell its because he's reaching a new level of healing.

Honestly, things have been strangely peaceful at our house given all thats going on. The kids have gone swimming at Water Country. Tom and I saw his folks midweek. (Found myself led to pray a lot that day without knowing why, though I've had plenty of reason to pray all week!) Its enough to make me feel a little guilty. So many people have suffered lately. But its not that we don't have plenty to worry and and stress over, just seems like we've had more grace to rest in God's hands.

I've definitely felt God's grace over us this weekend. Its been pretty blessed for my immediate family. We've seen penguin documentaries and favorite mystery shows I haven't seen in forever. My duckling a la orange came out extremely well. etc etc

Gotta wonder what next week will have for us all.