Three recent stories lead me to my opening topic for the year: The value of open-mindedness. This characteristic — a state of receptiveness to new ideas — affects how we perceive and process information. It’s a quality I look for in my doctors, and which I admire especially in older people.
Piece #1 — On the brain’s maturity, flexibility and “cognitive fitness”
For the first piece, I’ll note a Dec 31 op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times: This Year, Change Your Mind, by Dr. Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and author. In this thoughtful essay, he considers the adult brain’s “mysterious and extraordinary” power to adapt and grow: “I have seen hundreds of patients with various deficits — strokes, Parkinson’s and even dementia — learn to do things in new ways, whether consciously or unconsciously, to work around those deficits.”
With appropriate and very-real respect, I question Sacks’ objectivity on this subject — he’s referred some of the most outstanding (i.e. exceptional) neurological cases in the world. And so it may be that his careful reports are perfectly valid but not representative; for most of us, the adult brain’s capacity to establish new circuitry for language learning or music appreciation may be limited. What his stories do show is that unimaginably strange things happen in our brains, at least occasionally. And maybe we should just accept that and take notes (as he does so carefully), and keep an open mind. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*