Friday, December 16, 2005

My Poor Brain

The post below reminded me of something else I wanted to mention: I am 32 years old, and find that it is noticeably harder for me to grok new models and concepts than it was, say, five years ago. That is to say, it takes more time and more mental effort for me to understand things that do not directly relate to things I already know about. I worked at my current job for a month or so before I actually understood the underlying philosophy to what I was doing--I actually blogged about the meeting I was sitting in when it finally hit me what we were working on.

This is a well known phenomenon, I guess--it is generally understood, in academia for instance, that new schools of thought and modes of study come in with the new faculty and the old ones don't leave until the faculty who study and/or championed them retire. This is so well understood in mathematics that the Field's Medal, which is the Nobel Prize of the discipline, cannot be won by anybody over 35--it's part of the rules. But it's only lately become clear to me that it's not just that people get set in their ways, or like to stick with modes of thinking in which they're familiar, but that the brain is physiologically becoming fixed. The neural connections have already formed, and there just aren't that many more left to fuse.

Well, I'm depressed. I'll never win that Field's Medal now.


Tarn said...

on neural fusing: I'm willing to admit that maybe it's true, what with the limited number of neurons, and the decrease in rate of nerve cell regeneration [with age]; ~but~ perhaps I'm just an optimist, or maybe I'm still too young to hit that learning curve plateau, whatever the case, I still like to hold on to the idea that we may be limited by certain physiological factors, but not restricted. I mean really, how much of that glob of grey does the "science community" really understand? I was just reading an article about people who have had half of their brains removed when they were children to control seizures and guess what: many people end up living with above-average IQs. And then there's those cases of "normal" people who find out later in life that they have huge chunks of brain missing and never even knew it! In cases like these, I think "mind-over-matter" mentality works (okay, is it possible to ignore the western-bias toward the head here? Instead, let mind/mentality = spirit/attitude/persona) Maybe now that you've gone beyond the so-called age-related turning point of learning, maybe it's just that you need more meditation, since you're getting less sleep (statistically confirmed), or perhaps you don't spend enough time playing with your doggie-dog anymore... in other words, dude, what happened to that acupuncture guy?

Rebecca said...

And I think this all relies way too much on the newness of the idea problem, the pressure to constantly produce something new, and be on the cutting edge, even avant-garde, if you will. Such a modernist way of thinking! So progressivist! Wisdom comes in many forms, and I think it's just that (for me at least) we get tired of thinking in the same ruts, and only when we think across those ruts (acupuncture much?) will our interest be piqued enough to have similar insights/in-depth thoughts as when we were youths? (See this)I must say that I wasted my late twenties (okay not entirely, but erm, let's say instead I gave my late 20s to my students), at least in terms of intellectual growth and "new ideas." I remember going to India for a few weeks in Dec 2000-Jan 01 and actually having an "idea." which at the time kind of freaked me out--it had been so long, and it was clear this was something missing in my ostensibly intellectually-driven life.

And so, it's not a loss--I refuse to think of it as a "loss." It's a growth. You're better able to sort the crap from the: huh, that's interesting, and so less stuff interests you, less stuff is truly revolutionary. Not a loss. A growth.