Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

…In the 25 years since I graduated from college, such demands have relentlessly ratcheted up. The quantity and complexity of the mental work expected of successful students and professionals have mounted; we’ve responded by pushing ever harder on that lump of gray matter in our heads.

The result has not been a gratifying bulking up of our neural “muscle.” On the contrary, all the mental effort we’ve mustered over the past year has left many of us feeling depleted and distracted, unequal to the tasks that never stop arriving in our inboxes. When the work we’re putting in doesn’t produce the advertised rewards, we’re inclined to find fault with ourselves. Maybe we’re insufficiently gritty; maybe, we think, we’re just not smart enough. But this interpretation is incorrect. What we’re coming up against are universal limits, constraints on the biological brain that are shared by every human on the planet. Despite the hype, our mental endowment is not boundlessly powerful or endlessly plastic. The brain has firm limits — on its ability to remember, its capacity to pay attention, its facility with abstract and nonintuitive concepts — and the culture we have created for ourselves now regularly exceeds these limits.

The escalating mental demands of the past quarter-century represent the latest stage of a trend that has been picking up speed for more than 100 years. Starting in the early decades of the 20th century, school, work and even the routines of daily life became more cognitively complex: less grounded in the concrete and more bound up in the theoretical and abstract. For a time, humanity was able to with this development, resourcefully finding ways to use the brain better. As their everyday environments grew more intellectually demanding, people responded by upping their cognitive game. Continual engagement with the mental rigors of modern life coincided in many parts of the world with improving nutrition, rising living conditions and reduced exposure to pathogens. These factors produced a century-long climb in average I.Q. scores — a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect, after James Flynn, the political philosopher who identified it.

But this upward trajectory is now leveling off. In recent years, I.Q. scores have stopped rising or have even begun to drop…Some researchers suggest that we have pushed our mental equipment as far as it can go. It may be that “our brains are already working at near-optimal capacity,” write the neuroscientist Peter Reiner and his student Nicholas Fitz in the journal Nature. Efforts to wrest more intelligence from this organ, they add, “bump up against the hard limits of neurobiology.” This collision point — where the urgent imperatives of contemporary life confront the stubbornly intractable limits of the brain — is the place where we live at the moment, and rather unhappily. Our determination to drive the brain ever harder is the source of the agitation we feel as we attempt the impossible each day.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. It entails inducing the brain to play a different role: less workhorse, more orchestra conductor. Instead of doing so much in our heads, we can seek out ways to shift mental work onto the world around us and to supplement our limited neural resources with extraneural ones. These platforms for offloading, these resources for supplementation, are readily available and close at hand…

We, too, extend our minds, but not as well as we could. We do it haphazardly, without much intention or skill — and it’s no wonder this is the case. Our efforts at education and training, as well as management and leadership, are aimed principally at promoting brain-bound thinking. Beginning in elementary school, we are taught to sit still, work quietly, think hard — a model for mental activity that will dominate during the years that follow, through high school and college and into the workplace. The skills we develop and the techniques we are taught are mostly those that involve using our individual, unaided brains: committing information.

The limits of this approach have become painfully evident. The days when we could do it all in our heads are over. Our knowledge is too abundant, our expertise too specialized, our challenges too enormous. The best chance we have to thrive in the extraordinarily complex world we’ve created is to allow that world to assume some of our mental labor. Our brains can’t do it alone.

Annie Murphy Paul, from “How to Think Outside Your Brain (June 11, 2021)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call (224 consecutive days. Amygdala to the rescue)

When there are discrepancies between expectations and reality, all kinds of distress signals go off in the brain. It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday ritual or more mundane habit like how you tie your shoes; if you can’t do it the way you normally do it, you’re biologically engineered to get upset. This in part explains people’s grief and longing for the routines that were the background melodies of their lives before the pandemic — and also their sense of unease as we enter a holiday season unlike any other. The good news is that much of what we miss about our routines and customs, and what makes them beneficial to us as a species, has more to do with their comforting regularity than the actual behaviors. The key to coping during this, or any, time of upheaval is to quickly establish new routines so that, even if the world is uncertain, there are still things you can count on…

Routines, rituals and habits arise from the primitive part of our brains telling us, “Keep doing what you’ve been doing, because you did it before, and you didn’t die.”

…So the unvarying way you shower and shave in the morning, how you always queue up for a latte before work and put your latte to the left of your laptop before checking your email are all essentially subconscious efforts to make your world more predictable, orderly and safe…

…Our brains are literally overburdened with all the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Not only is there the seeming capriciousness of the virus, but we no longer have the routines that served as the familiar scaffolding of our lives. Things we had already figured out and relegated to the brain’s autopilot function — going to work, visiting the gym, taking the kids to school, meeting friends for dinner, grocery shopping — now require serious thought and risk analysis…

But it’s mundane routines that give us structure to help us pare things down and better navigate the world, which helps us make sense of things and feel that life has meaning…

The truth is that you cannot control what happens in life. But you can create a routine that gives your life a predictable rhythm and secure mooring….

— Kate Murphy, from “Pandemic-Proof Your Habits” (NY Times, November 28, 2020)


Note:

  • My Morning Walk to Cove Island Park. 224 days consecutive days.
  • Photo: Daybreak. December 13, 2020. 6:53 am. 47° F. Cove Island Park, Stamford CT

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

“So, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?”

I’d never heard that question before, hovering close to cliché and thumping me with its gravity at the same time…

“What do you think of the moment before you sleep?”…

“Why don’t you tell me about a dream?”…

“The dream is asking you the same question as I am, because it’s the only question . . .”

~ A. K. Benjamin, from his new book titled Let Me Not Be Mad: My Story of Unraveling Mind (Dutton, June 11, 2019)


Photo: (via poppins-me)

Friend of My Mind

Often when he was starting a new project, he didn’t know what was driving him, as if his thoughts had developed an independent life and a will of their own, as if they were merely waiting for him to finally think them, as if an investigation he was about to begin already existed before he had started working on it, and the path leading through everything he knew and saw, everything he encountered and experienced, already lay there waiting for him to venture down it. And probably that’s just how it was, given that you could only ever find what was already there.

Because everything is always already there.

~ Jenny Erpenbeck, Go, Went, Gone


Notes:

  • Post title “lifted” and post inspired by two quotes found in Beth’s post on “Alive on All Channels” titled a Friend of My Mind:
  • Martha Beck: “Think of a problem that’s had you stumped for a while: Your preschooler won’t nap, you can’ make yourself exercise, you need to cut expenses without sacrificing quality of life. With this challenge in your mind, read a few paragraphs in several totally unrelated books. Then relax. Play with your cat, wash the dishes, watch the neighbors through binoculars. Think of the problem periodically, then drop it again. This process encourages eureka epiphanies, like those moments in TV dramas where the brilliant doctor or sleuth gets the “ping” of insight that solves the case. Your first few ideas may not be perfect—many will be awful—but there are more where they came from. Once you begin encouraging the right brain to churn out solutions, it will do so more and more abundantly.”
  • Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong, TED talk [12:00-12:17]: “The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is, but that you can see the world as it isn’t. We can remember the past and we can think about the future, and we can imagine what it’s like to be some other person in some other place. And we all do this differently.
  • Art: Francesco Clemente with “Friendship (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

Onward people, onward.

~ Linda Gregg, excerpt from “We Manage Most When We Manage Small” in “Too Bright to See / Alma: Poems


Source: Tatterdemalion

It’s been a long day

God has mercifully ordered that the human brain works slowly;
first the blow,
hours afterwards the bruise.

Walter de la Mare, from the The Return.


Notes:

It’s been a long day

breathe-gratitude-long-day


Notes:

It’s been a long day

paul-apalkin

Here is what I love about the brain:
How it remembers.
How it sews what soft it can
into a blanket for the nights
when I am cold with trouble.

~ Sean Patrick Mulroy, from “The Offering” in Tap Lit Mag (Fall/Winter 2016)

 


Notes:

Miracle. All of it.

eye-sleep-face-skin

Each hair on your head is replaced every 2 to 7 years
A hundred hairs fall out every day and new ones grow back in their place

And look at your fingernails – they’re completely new every six months or so

The lining of your stomach and intestines
gets pretty beat up — it’s constantly exposed to acid and bile
and so those cells get replaced every few days

Every few weeks, your outer layer of skin is completely renewed

Every four months you have a fresh army of red blood cells
A hundred million new cells are born every minute and a hundred million old cells are destroyed
It’s actually the breakdown products of these red blood cells that turn your bruises and urine yellow

Every 10 years, you’ve got a new skeleton
a special team of cells breaks down old bone
and another builds new bone

Every 15 years your muscles are refreshed
You might think you gain and lose fat cells when you gain and lose weight
but the actually just get bigger and smaller
Over the course of 25 years though, most of them turn over

But there are a few things that stick around for your entire life

About half of your heart stays with you from birth to death because those cells
are replaced very slowly

Certain parts of your brain add a few new neurons over the course of your life
but the vast majority of your neurons developed before you were born
It’s the connections between those neurons — the circuits that store memories —
that are constantly changing

And there’s one more part of you that lasts your whole life (your eyes)
Months before you were born,
little cluster of cells stretched and filled themselves with transparent protein
As you grew, even after birth, more and more fibers were added, but that center endured
This is your lens the window through which you are watching this video right now
and its core has remained the same since the moment you first opened your eyes

~ Adam Cole and Ryan Kellman, excerpts from Your Body’s Real Age


Notes:

  • Photo:  Bang Sang Hyeok #305 (via Precious Things)
  • Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.

 

secret, disciplined, generous and unfathomable

owl-dream

Not the bald image, but always –
undulant, elusive, beyond reach
of any dull staring eye

– lodged
among the words, beneath
the skin of images: nerves,
muscles, rivers of urgent blood,

a mind
secret, disciplined, generous and
unfathomable.

– Denise Levertov, excerpt from Williams: An Essay from Selected Poems


Notes:

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