Monday, December 15, 2008

Minding the Mind

I was wondering the other day – does intellectual growth, the appetite to learn, also fall in a bell shaped curve – rises steeply for a while and then starts to peter down soon after?

This thought came from musing over my reading habits – I am and have always been a voracious reader. Books have been my addiction, my companions and my escape throughout my life (I nurse my emotional wounds not with food or alcohol, but with my well-worn, time-tested comfort books).
But if I look at the kind of stuff which I find myself reading these days, instead of scaling and seeking intellectually challenging books, I find myself unerringly aiming for the stuff which I used to read maybe twelve- fifteen years ago. (I have also noticed that I no longer pick up books which have very small font or are very bulky. But that might be just age and failing eyes). These books – my bubble gum reading of then, have suddenly become my staple diet – which leads one to wonder about brain cell atrophy or brain cell laziness and all that.

And this phenomenon seems to be happening across the board – be it the television shows, the magazines, or even the conversational ambit which I operate in.

I have been mulling over this and I believe that are three possible hypotheses.

The first hypothesis is the one I have already mentioned. Namely, like the physical growth-peak-decline (I would assume one hits the peak somewhere in the mid twenties), so with the mind. Thus, the athlete who is at the top of his prowess at 22 only to find that his reflexes and his strength are ebbing five years later – so with the intellectual who attains this pinnacle of cerebral attainment, only for it to de-grow in a few years. (And of course this happens with the lesser mortals such as yours truly, who are neither athletes nor intellectuals).

The other possible explanation for this could stem from the unique state of the generation – a generation brought up on Internet, leet speak and text messages which has been conditioned to use only a minuscule part of the brain and has been accustomed to get all inputs in a ready-to-eat, easily digestible format. This would in effect discourage any heavily intellectual pursuits because well – the value which is obtained is neither immediate and also, there is a definite benefit-effort mismatch – why spend so much time and energy pursuing something, where one can get distractions in a much easier format? The twitter phenomena as it were - not blogs, but micro blogs. Everything in byte sized pieces - caused by and resulting in low attention span.

The third hypothesis springs from a life-stage, age, societal flux kind of area. If real life, earning one’s livelihood, responsibilities are quite difficult enough without having to grapple with leisure activities which also task and challenge one’s mind. So the popcorn stimuli are exclusively escapist in their nature.

I would like to believe it’s the last one – well, because then it becomes a conscious choice rather than an involuntary (physiological or environmental as the case may be)and worrisome one.

What do you think?

P.S. all of you who are scaling intellectual Mount Everest’ as you grow older, kindly refrain from stating that – my lethargic mind has been tying itself into discomfited knots as it is.


Lekhni said...

Good post. Here are my additions:

Hypothesis #4 - our information overload increases with age.We now carry around what we remember of our education, work-related info, current affairs, books we read and other stuff. As info overload increases, maybe we become more reluctant to consciously add to it by reading "good books" which we might remember? ;)

Hypothesis #5 - stress. The more the stress, are we drawn more to mindless books as opposed to books that will make us think?

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Hmm...the same happens/ is happening with me too. So, I'm tending towards Lekhni's second hypothesis. It feels awful though!

manuscrypts said...

Great post!! there could be another hypothesis that goes with your name - cynicism. What's the point with raising the bell curve to new heights when you don't even know where it leads to/ whether it matters. And, as the summit goes higher, you find the crowds thinning, and the number of people you can relate to becomes smaller. Your need for social conversations/ acceptance wins over your interest.
But i will say this, you can push yourself, and its not binary (either/or) you can tread both worlds - at least as much stretch as your legs would allow :)

Epiphany said...

Hypo# 6 - it is just a everything else...I tend to read similar books in a bunch and then move on to a different kind...i thought that was the norm but apparently not...don't worry one of these days you'll just get fed up of all the crap and look for something intellectually stimulating ;)

narendra shenoy said...

Very well written. And Lekhni's hypotheses are so intuitively true, as well. Info overload and stress more than age, brain degeneration (which, by the way, acc to latest research, doesn't set in till much later).
Instant gratification dwara internet is a good hypothesis too. We just want one line answers these days.

Lovely post. Makes one think.

On a different note, while books are second to none as far as escape from emotional distress is concerned, food and alcohol aren't too bad either.

Rada said...

The first hypothesis is obiously wrong and not supported by any scientific data. Similarly, if the third hypothesis was correct, our parents and grand-parents would not have had the time to persue intellectual persuits either. Remember, even they had responsibilities...even they had to earn a living...

I can partly agree with your second hypothesis. But part of the answer also lies in manuscrypts' comments. I agree with him in that there is a general tendency towards of mediocrity, the easy way out..

Soulmate said...

The third hypothesis fits very well with me.. :-((

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Lekhini - yes, these too work. But as a counterpoint to that, does one's mind actually have more information? Few years ago, I had mind full of twenty odd subjects which one had to study + telephone numbers of everyone + birthdays + etc etc. Now most of these have been outsourced or forgotten - to cellphones, online so on and so forth. So im not sure the brain has actually too much clutter in it in the first place. Stress - yes, my hypothesis 3 was meant to be stress in a way ( though you articulated it much better!)

nandini - glad to know im not the only one!!

Manu - Thats a valid one too. And as you say, you can definitely tread both worlds. The point is why does one not?

Epiphany -books were an example. its across the board. But maybe you are right.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Naren - I wsant talking about brain degeneration in quite the alzheimer's sense or quite decrepit old man. But in terms of apetite to learn and a marginal slowing down in reflexes. And yes, nothing wrong with food and alcohol hehe.

Rada - so it boils down to a conscious dumbing down of self because its the easy way out.

soulmate - me too I think.

Shachii said...

My comments at

Mo said...

Wonderful thoughtprovoking evocative post. :)

On a serious note, for me it's mostly stress. At the end of the day, I seek the comfort of familiarity, like I seek comfort food.

Short attention span could be to blame too, since blogs and twitter give us fast food kinda reading material as opposed to the nine-course meal of a book. But nothing can sate you like a good book, can it?

Australopithecus said...

same here reading Biggles and Louis Lamours these days.

Wodehouse doesn't count.

Pinku said...

hey Old woman!!!

am not quite sure how old u are though i doubt you are much older than me.

As for this condition, I would say its mostly stress....I do at times do serious reading but then mostly its back to soft reads which dont make me do too many mental acrobatics...

we all seem to be in the same chill yaar!!!

Btw I enjoy Tom and jerry of all TV programs where will you classify that???

Arunima said...

Who is this Pinku? When you were called Old woman,I could feel the pain too. let me go check this blog and shoo away these kids.

Coming back to the post, as far as I am concerned, I go with conscious dumbing down of self because its the easy way out.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

shachii - read and commented there!

Mo - shush child. Hmm nothing can sate like a good book yes. at least i still go to libraries and bookstores to smell books. that hasnt changed

austro - wodehouse doenst count yes. wodehouse and c&h is eternal. im back to christies ( fifth round I think)

pinku, no i dont think im much older than you. though im probabaly much more jaded. Stress could explain it temporarily i guess - but not the constant decline.

arunima hehe - where have u been woman? long time.

AmitL said...

Hi,Cyn-LOL...I was wondering the very same things myself, when I returned from Baroda last, when I'm there,my mind is relaxed,I get a number of good books/inspirational and mystery from there, to read when here.(Dxb)...and,I've been doing this since the last six years...And,I finally end up either reading Archie/papers/mags or sitting in front of the idiot box..In fact,my most intellectually stimulating activity at present,is,honestly,blogging..thankheavens for good writers like you..ahem!!:)And,do you know, I totally found the culprit while in Baroda-it is indeed the idiot box...coz,u know,with so many choices,once you get home,you begin surfing and surfing and surfing the channels,and,everyday,there'll be at least a few serials/movies you love.:)Good luck at coming back to the reading phase again..keep me posted.

Thanatos said...

I think it's #3, although I get the feeling it's sometimes a convenient excuse at times...

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Thanatos - yes, it can be a very handy excuse. Sometimes its sheer laziness I suppose.

Amit glad to know other people in the same boat!

Ram said...

Brilliant. I have been giving this issue the meaty part of my brain, for sometime.

I refuse to try new books. One pretty girl recommended Shantaram so vociferously I began to suspect she was getting a cut from the publishing house. But I still dint pick up the book. I choose to not see her again. It seemed a simpler option.

shub said...

This has bugged me too. I put it down to age and lack of time (ha) at first, now your post has me wondering again. I blame the internets too.