Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Brain Rules: science and practice

Inter­est­ed a good, non-tech­ni­cal, sum­ma­ry of the impli­ca­tions of recent brain sci­ence in Brain Rules-John Medinaour dai­ly lives? Biol­o­gist John Med­i­na offers that in his arti­cle below (as part of our Author Speaks Series) and in his new book: Brain Rules: 12 Prin­ci­ples for Sur­viv­ing and Thriv­ing at Work, Home, and School. Enjoy!

(Note: John will be in the Bay Area on April 8 and 9th, speak­ing at Google and San Jose Rotary).


Brain Rules

– By John Med­i­na

Go ahead and mul­ti­ply the num­ber 8,388,628 x 2 in your head. Can you do it in a few sec­onds? There is a young man who can dou­ble that num­ber 24 times in the space of a few sec­onds. He gets it right every time. There is a boy who can tell you the exact time of day at any moment, even in his sleep. There is a girl who can cor­rect­ly deter­mine the exact dimen­sions of an object 20 feet away. There is a child who at age 6 drew such life­like and pow­er­ful pic­tures, she got her own show at a gallery on Madi­son Avenue. Yet none of these chil­dren could be taught to tie their shoes. Indeed, none of them have an IQ greater than 50.

The brain is an amaz­ing thing.

Your brain may not be near­ly so odd, but it is no less extra­or­di­nary. Eas­i­ly the most sophis­ti­cat­ed infor­ma­tion-trans­fer sys­tem on Earth, your brain is ful­ly capa­ble of tak­ing lit­tle black squig­gles from a piece of bleached wood and deriv­ing mean­ing from them. To accom­plish this mir­a­cle, your brain sends jolts of elec­tric­i­ty crack­ling through hun­dreds of miles of wires com­posed of brain cells so small that thou­sands of them could fit into the peri­od at the end of this sen­tence. You accom­plish all of this in less time than it takes you to blink. Indeed, you have just done it. What’s equal­ly incred­i­ble, giv­en our inti­mate asso­ci­a­tion with it, is this: Most of us have no idea how our brain works.

This has strange con­se­quences. We try to talk on our cell phones and dri­ve at the same time, even though it is lit­er­al­ly impos­si­ble for our brains to mul­ti­task when it comes to pay­ing atten­tion. We have cre­at­ed high-stress office envi­ron­ments, even though a stressed brain is sig­nif­i­cant­ly less pro­duc­tive. Our schools are designed so that most real learn­ing has to occur at home. This would be fun­ny, if it weren’t so harm­ful.

Blame it on the fact that brain sci­en­tists rarely have a con­ver­sa­tion with teach­ers and busi­ness pro­fes­sion­als, edu­ca­tion majors and accoun­tants, super­in­ten­dents and CEOs. Unless you have the Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science sit­ting on your cof­fee table, you’re out of the loop. My book is meant to get you into the loop.

12 brain rules

My goal is to intro­duce you to 12 things we know about how the brain works. I call these Brain Rules. For each rule, I present the sci­ence and then offer ideas for inves­ti­gat­ing how the rule might apply to our dai­ly lives, espe­cial­ly at work and school. The brain is com­plex, and I am tak­ing only sliv­ers of infor­ma­tion from each sub­ject non-com­pre­hen­sive but acces­si­ble.

A sam­pling of the ideas you’ll encounter:

-For starters, we are not used to sit­ting at a desk for eight hours a day. From an evo­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, our brains devel­oped while work­ing out, walk­ing as many as 12 miles a day. The brain still craves the expe­ri­ence, espe­cial­ly in seden­tary pop­u­la­tions like our own. That’s why exer­cise boosts brain pow­er (Brain Rule #2) in such pop­u­la­tions. Exer­cis­ers out­per­form couch pota­toes in long-term mem­o­ry, rea­son­ing, atten­tion, prob­lem-solv­ing tasks, and more. I am con­vinced that inte­grat­ing exer­cise into our eight hours at work or school would only be nor­mal.

- As you no doubt have noticed if you’ve ever sat through a typ­i­cal Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion, peo­ple don’t pay atten­tion to bor­ing things (Brain Rule #4). You’ve got sec­onds to grab some­one’s atten­tion, and only 10 min­utes to keep it. At 9 min­utes and 59 sec­onds, some­thing must be done quick­ly’ some­thing emo­tion­al and rel­e­vant. Also, the brain needs a break. That’s why I use sto­ries in this book to make many of my points.

- Ever feel tired around 3 o’clock in the after­noon? That’s because your brain real­ly wants to take a nap. You might be more pro­duc­tive if you did: In one study, a 26-minute nap improved NASA pilots per­for­mance by 34 per­cent. Even so, the brain isn’t rest­ing while it sleeps. It is sur­pris­ing­ly active. And whether you get enough rest affects your men­tal agili­ty the next day. Sleep well, think well (Brain Rule #7).

- We’ll meet a man who can read two pages at the same time, one with each eye, and remem­ber every­thing in the pages for­ev­er. Most of us do more for­get­ting than remem­ber­ing, of course, and that’s why we must repeat to remem­ber (Brain Rule #5). When you under­stand the brain’s rules for mem­o­ry, you’ll see why I want to destroy the notion of home­work.

- We’ll find out why the ter­ri­ble twos only look like active rebel­lion but are actu­al­ly a child’s pow­er­ful urge to explore. Babies may not have a lot of knowl­edge about the world, but they know a whole lot about how to get it. We are all nat­ur­al explor­ers (Brain Rule #12), and this nev­er leaves us, despite the arti­fi­cial envi­ron­ments we’ve built for our­selves.

Back to the jun­gle

What we know about the brain comes from biol­o­gists who study brain tis­sues, exper­i­men­tal psy­chol­o­gists who study behav­ior, and cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tists who study how the first relates to the sec­ond. Evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gists have got­ten into the act as well. Though we know pre­cious lit­tle about how the brain works, our evo­lu­tion­ary his­to­ry tells us this: The brain appears to be designed to solve prob­lems relat­ed to sur­viv­ing in an unsta­ble out­door envi­ron­ment, and to do so in near­ly con­stant motion. I call this the brain’s per­for­mance enve­lope.

If you want­ed to cre­ate an edu­ca­tion envi­ron­ment that was direct­ly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you prob­a­bly would design some­thing like a class­room. If you want­ed to cre­ate a busi­ness envi­ron­ment that was direct­ly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you prob­a­bly would design some­thing like a cubi­cle. And if you want­ed to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over.

In many ways, start­ing over is what the book is all about.

John Medina-Brain RulesJohn Med­i­na, author of  “Brain Rules,” is a devel­op­men­tal mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gist and research con­sul­tant. He is an affil­i­ate pro­fes­sor of Bio­engi­neer­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton School of Med­i­cine. He is also the direc­tor of the Brain Cen­ter for Applied Learn­ing Research at Seat­tle Pacif­ic Uni­ver­si­ty. His arti­cle on exer­cise and the brain was select­ed by the Har­vard Busi­ness Review (Feb 2008) as one of its “Break­through Ideas for 2008.”

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

2 Responses

  1. Timray says:

    and alas every auto­di­dact knows this.…

Leave a Reply

Categories: Author Speaks Series, Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness, Peak Performance, Professional Development

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

Search in our archives

Follow us and Engage via…

RSS Feed

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)