Many grownups who have long since graduated from school have told me that once you leave an academic environment and stop doing homework, you become worse at studying for exams. They’ve told me to take my GRE or GMAT or the dozens of other useless tests out there just to get them out of the way. I think they mean that once you get a job and join the rat race, you don’t really need to think anymore. Let’s face it, most jobs just don’t require that much thinking. If you’re doing groundbreaking research in string theory, I’m very happy for you. But I’m talking about the other 99.99% of the people on the planet. The first couple of months of a new job might be challenging because you’re learning the ropes, but after a while, your day-to-day tasks become mechanical and don’t require much more than a pulse.
One of the most terrifying things for me is a job that causes my brain to atrophy and turn to jello. I think the brain’s like a muscle. Use it or lose it. The average human being has 80-90 billion brain cells. That’s almost equal to the number of stars in the Milky Way. Your brain starts out weighing 1.4 kilograms, but after age 20 you’ll lose a gram of brain every year. We all know the horrifying symptoms of an aging brain: forgetfulness, senility, dementia, even Alzheimer’s. I’m not saying all elderly people become this way. (My maternal grandmother is still very sharp.) In fact, age often comes with greater wisdom. I’m saying this is a potential downside of aging.
As if all this is not bad enough, I suspect that not exercising my mind will cause me to become dumber because the neuronal connections in my brain will decay. When I think about this, I cannot help but crawl into a fetal positon and cry.
So how can I keep my mind sharp? A quick Google search turns up tons of results, along with an exhaustive list that includes somewhat contradictory advice like “9) avoid dehydration” and “16) don’t drink too much water.” (This list also states the recreational use of laughing gas kills brain cells. Oops.) I believe doing a brainteaser or thinking about a math problem is healthy, but hey, that’s just me. To that effect, I’ll be attempting to answer IBM’s monthly brainteaser. (It’s a link shared with me by the cofounder of Artsicle. Thanks, Scott.)