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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

November 11, 2008

brains and brainos

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 12:17 pm

Last May, I fretted that my friend, the lawyer-poet Roberta Beary, often sends me links to articles about unhappy and depressed lawyers (and sleep deficits, too). Such referrals often make me worry a bit about my image. Similarly, my weblog buddy Stephanie West Allen of Idealawg apparently thinks about me whenever she reads or writes about deteriorating Baby Boomer Brains, which she calls neuroboomeritis.  That association probably started when I wrote the post “peridementia and the aging knowledge worker” in June 2005. But, it could be based on the garbled messages she occasionally gets from me (at times when my friend Laurie Hyde Smith says I’m writing/typing in Martian, due to fatigue).

Or, Stephanie might have just been reading my foggy mind, when she emailed me yesterday about her latest posting on the subject — “Worrying about your brain sliding into cognitive decline?: Here are ways to sharpen your lawyer brain” (Idealawg, Nov. 10, 2008).  Did she know (or notice at this weblog), for instance, that lately I keep typing words totally different from the one I meant to write?  They’re not typos but Brainos. My fingers and brain produce misplaced, irrelevant words — usually starting with the same letter as the word I intended.  Because spell-check doesn’t catch them, and I’m a lousy proofreader, this is perilous behavior for someone who writes and posts in public.

Stephanie is far more optimistic than I that we can do much to delay Boomer Braino Syndrome, much less reverse the declining cognitive skills that come with the aging process.  She especially believes that physical and mental exercises can help. See, e.g., her post on “Improving your lawyer brain and mind” (October 18, 2008), and last January’s report on a new Brain Gym in San Franciso, called vibrantBrains™.  Luckily, at least one of my f/k/a Gang persona is optimistic enough to keep hoping for a cure.  So, we were pleased to learn from Stephanie’s October piece that new research suggests “exercise keeps brains from deteriorating,” with the researchers concluding:

“We can safely argue that an active lifestyle with moderate amounts of aerobic activity will likely improve cognitive and brain function, and reverse the neural decay frequently observed in older adults.”

Yesterday’s post at Idealawg continues that theme:

“So what keeps some brains younger than their chronology? Experts point to a prescription of neurobics. This concept includes life-long learning, trying new things, a healthy diet, social interactions, sleep and physical activity. ‘Exercise can actually increase neurogenesis and increase the size of the hippocampus,’ says Dr. [Vincent] Fortanasce, … . ‘Exercise also increases youth hormones. And novelty, doing new things, builds branches.'”

Let’s hope they’re right and Boomers get the message and act on it.  On the other hand, younger readers better not get too complacent.   This morning, I found the following blurb in Harvard Magazine‘s latest The College Pump column (“Oddments,” Nov-Dec. 2008):

Warnings: Affixed to the door of the office of professor of economics Andrei Shleifer on the second floor of Littauer Center is a news clipping headlined “Brain aging found to start at 40.” The piece reports on the work of Bruce Yankner, professor of pathology and neurology at Harvard Medical School, who is investigating how human brains change between ages 26 and 106. “If you are more than 40 years old,” it reads, “the news may not be good.”

By the way, whether you’re concerned or thrilled that “During the past few decades, a mounting body of evidence has shown that animals possess a number of cognitive traits once thought to be uniquely human,” you might find the article “What Makes the Human Mind?” (Harvard Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 2008) interesting.  It explores the work of professor of psychology, organismic and evolutionary biology, and biological anthropology Marc Hauser, who has written widely on human and animal cognition. Hauser has attempted to isolate the aspects of human thought that account for what he terms “humaniqueness.”  There’s some good discussion, with this summary of “the distinguishing characteristics of human thought” — four broad capacities animals do not appear to have:

“These include: the ability to combine and recombine different types of knowledge and information in order to gain new understanding; the ability to apply the solution for one problem to a new and different situation; the ability to create and easily understand symbolic representation of computation and sensory input; and the ability to detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input.”

“Across the board, Hauser says, there are signs that animal evolution passed along some capabilities ‘and then something dramatic happened, a huge leap that enabled humans to break away. Once symbolic representation happened, if the combinatorial capacity was there, things just took off. Precisely how and when this happened, we may never know’.”

Okay, enough punditry.  It’s time for some poetry. My friend John Stevenson turned 60 last month, but appears to have all his mental faculties intact — perhaps because of all that kayaking and hiking, plus acting, writing, etc., he does.  Here are a few haiku from the latest issue of Upstate Dim Sum (2008/II), which appear to speak of journeys and passages.

free of details
the full moon
from a train window

seated between us
the imaginary
middle passenger

Shoo Fly Pie
a place where I always stop
when I’m out this way

looking both ways
I find
the sun

I tighten the belt
to my son’s car
Father’s Day

[Frogpond, Volume 31:3 (Fall 2008)]

after the play
my grown son tells me
I was good

. . . by John StevensonUpstate Dim Sum (2008/II)

p.s. Dr. Fortanasce recommends “novelty, doing new things” to build new cognitive branches.  John’s been doing just that, writing “one-breath” poems that don’t even seem like haiku or senryu to some of us old fogeys.  Here are two for your consideration:

still committed to the truth
but so tired of
winter poems

dust devil on a dead planet

…. by John Stevenon
“still committed” – Frogpond Vol. 31:2; UDS 2008/II [Ed. Note: a rare double-tell-em]
“dust devil” – Roadrunner (Vol. 8:3)

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