Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Neural Darwinism.

Now, I’ve always ascribed to the dictum ‘use it or lose it’. If you don’t use your muscles they become weaker and if you don’t use them at all, as in the case of someone wheelchair bound, they atrophy. Getting yourself out of breath expands the capacity of your lungs. Swimming, and particulary swimming underwater is especially good in this respect. Putting stress on your bones strengthens them. Those whose bones remain unstressed for a length of time, like astronauts, rapidly lose bone mass.

I’ve always thought that the same rules apply to the brain. If you don’t make any mental effort, your ability to make mental effort declines. I feel that this equally applies to those rather vague cognitive functions like imagination. And this article lays it all out very neatly.

14 comments:

mark croucher said...

Bloody hell. My brains lept in evolutionary scales just trying to read all that!

Didn't understand a word of it in truth.

Neal Asher said...

Well Mark, your second sentence demonstrated that you did.

Neal Asher said...

The article refered to is basically saying that the brain cells you use more, get more of the body’s resources and grow more connections to other brain cells. In fact, new brain cells will grow in those areas of the brain you use most, or put the most pressure on. Those brain cells you use least, get less, and will even die. The brain is always optimising itself to how it is used.

From this we can surmise that if there are particular brain cells that deal with concepts like morality, honesty and integrity, you won’t find many of them between Tony Blair’s ears, or floating around in the head of any politician for that matter. Use it or lose it.

It also demonstrates that intelligence is probably more or a case of nurture rather than nature. You CAN increase your intelligence (whatever that is) with effort. And stupidity is less about what you’re born with and more about what you do with it.

Kirby Uber said...

i've suspected this for some time. i curse the time i've spent with internet pornography... it all makes sense now.

Joe said...

Hmmm, I am currently diving deeply into the quantum headfuck space of Hal Duncan's second book, Ink, so going by this theory my brain is now the cerebral equivalent of Herakles. Which may be true but I am also confused. In a good way.

Anonymous said...

Neal I thoroughly agree.

I work in the IT industry as a contractor and occasionally go through phases between contracts. In my last gap earlier this year I was 'between' for several months and genuinely felt that the grey matter deteriorated away from the bussle and contact of the office.

The first couple of weeks back in the job were an absolute horror, not helped by the fact that my latest employers have a rather novel attitude towards organisation and communication which made it a nightmare to settle in. I decided to seriously increase the fruit & veg intake and started taking omega 3 supplements and now I feel like an alpha geek again. Unfortunately all that gym time I spent during my time off is now slowly unravelling and the muscles are going in the opposite direction...

C'est la vie, now I know what the giant whelk in Sable Keach was going through. I am sure my cranium is changing shape too... hmm I think I will postpone the trip to the salon and leave my hair longer ;)

There are some really interesting discussions about the way that intelligence manifests: speed of thought; logic and mathematical prowess; creativity and coordination; indeed why not in terms of humane or moral intelligence?

MR

Neal Asher said...

Maybe it’s having been raised by parents who were both teachers – my mother a primary school teacher and my father a lecturer in applied mathematics – that’s given me the learning bug. I almost resent time spent not shoving something into my head. This manifests in all sorts of strange ways. If I’m sitting on the crapper I always like to have something to read. For quite a while the Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable sat by the bog. When I’m weight training I always want something to read during the brief resting sessions. Previously that was Bill Bryson’s Troublesome Words and now it’s a book about prescription drugs. I give myself a headache working through some of the more obscure articles in science magazines. I try to intersperse my fiction reading with non-fiction, do crosswords and other puzzles, absorb stuff from documentaries. Presently Caroline and me are learning Greek (with good reason) and before we were learning German.

Most people don’t do this sort of thing. The last books they read were while they were at school and they seem to take the view that ‘this is the level I have reached and I can go no further’. Then, as the years advance, they do nothing to tone up that muscle between the ears, and their thinking becomes hard-wired. It’s horrible talking to people like that and realising that not only are they offering their hard-wired response to something and not thinking about it, they’re not even capable of thinking about it. Try to force them out of their groove and you can see the pain in their expressions. It’s all vey sad.

Drake Bodan said...

This leads to interesting conclusions about why human behave the way they do. The minds desire for novelty could be the brains push for exercise. Why we seem to lunch from crisis to crisis, if there is no crisis we engineer one. Man, I'm starting to sound like Heinlein .... not sure if that's a good thing.

Neal Asher said...

Now you're being too casual, Drake, lunching from crisis to crisis.

All this sort of stuff is why, as you get older, time seems to pass more quickly. When you repeat things - driving to work, making coffee, whatever - your brain just edits them out, and as you get older more of life is repetition. Sometimes a day will just seem to have disappeared ... that's because you didn't do, see or think anything different on that day.

Kirby Uber said...

Sometimes a day will just seem to have disappeared ... that's because you didn't do, see or think anything different on that day.

sure, sure, but then explain why i only remember bits and pieces from the last time i was in Thailand? i *know* there was new things going on there...

or, at least, so i was told.

Neal Asher said...

Yep, I too have times like that. I think it's the brain's survival mechanism kicking in and trying to stop you remembernig things for your own sanity.

S. F. Murphy said...

Neal, that explains so many people that I know at my place of work.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
Flyover Country, US

Alex Cull said...

Someone somewhere said that mental exercise, such as solving crosswords, may even help against Alzheimers. Also, owners of the Nintendo DS can play Dr Kawashima's Brain Age game, marketed as entertainment but with a serious brain-improving purpose underlying it. Myself, I think that remaining highly curious about the world is one key to staying young, mentally. Also, playing computer games generally helps me to stay sharp. That's what I tell the wife, anyway.

Richie said...

Neal, you mentioned that you do weight training in addition to the mental exercise you get from reading/writing etc.

I think this combination of physical and mental challenge is vital for personal health. Often, we neglect one or both of these.

Recently, I started doing dance classes and god was it difficult. It demands a high level of physical and mental concentration-almost like a martial art. If anyone gives me any trouble, I'll cha-cha-cha them into submission.