You Can’t Teach an Old Brain … or Can You?


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In her New York Times article “How to Train the Aging Brain,” Barbara Strauch discusses ways in which people in middle age and beyond can keep their brains strong and nimble. Although there is no lack of evidence that certain brain functions, such as memory, tend to weaken in aging people, scientists now agree that brains not only continue to develop but actually become more capable of discovering big-picture patterns instrumental in problem solving. However, it is essential that aging people practice their brains’ functionality by maintaining and fostering connections between acquired knowledge and today’s changing perceptions of almost every subject. Continue reading

Stop Making Sense


Image by Dan Nevill*

Adult human beings are chronic sense-makers. Surrounded by dizzying ideas and sensations, we work to make them manageable: we classify things so that when we encounter something new, we can drop it conveniently into a folder in our mental file cabinet. When we’re working on a project, we focus on that exclusively and block out all “distractions.” This narrowing and organizing is necessary, of course; without it, we’d too be confused to ever get anything done. But might such confusion also be an asset?

For years I was an avid spelunker—that is, I liked to explore caves. My experiences visiting them have taught me a valuable lesson about imagination. Let me explain. When you enter a cave, you turn off your everyday sensory expectations; you step into a dark, mysterious world different from the one to which you’re accustomed. But as you spend six, eight, ten hours underground, you adapt to your environment and acquire an alternate way of seeing. When you finally emerge, however, the real shock comes: after hours of blackness, the colorful aboveground world is more vivid than ever. It stimulates your visual receptors. But in that moment you’re too overwhelmed for your usual organizational mechanisms to kick in. Instead of defined objects, you see floating blurs of color and texture. This may be disorienting, but it’s also liberating and, literally, eye-opening! Continue reading