Saturday, January 02, 2010

How Do You Jiggle Your Synapses?

'Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.'
--from a recent New York Times article on training the aging brain. We liked the reminder about the need to confront thoughts contrary to our own.
UPDATE: With Baby Boomers beginning to hit the retirement age (and with this cohort group being among the most attentive readers) we're beginning to see an avalanche of coverage about how to better maximize our brains. Here are a couple of other recent articles we noticed on this topic (here and here).

23 Comments:

At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Mike Q said...

Does that mean we have to start watching Fox News?

 
At 5:05 PM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

I love the idea of 'jiggling ... synapses'. It's a good thought. We should try it more often, it might lead to fewer wars, challenge all our basis prejudices and stereotypes.

 
At 5:47 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Perish the thought, Mike. Let's try to find some other way to do that. And Elisabeth, perhaps we could just elect more women to public office. I imagine that would reduce war.

 
At 11:59 PM, Blogger Kass said...

I jiggle synapses every day by reading a variety of blogs, and yours is especially rattling.

 
At 12:03 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for supplying that smile, Kass.

 
At 9:04 AM, Blogger Britta said...

I have two mental warm-ups I do each day: the puzzles at www.setgame.com and the geo quiz at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/geobee/today.html#/quiz

 
At 10:10 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Interesting stuff, Britta. Thanks. I'm going to check those out, and hope others might also.

 
At 11:54 AM, Blogger Kim said...

I have been contemplating attending some right wing rallys in my neck o' the woods lately, mostly to sharpen my tools. Then again, I get juggled enough just reading about it. Or is that jiggled? Jaggled? Jeggled?

In other words it makes me all shook up. I guess I'm doing what I ought.

 
At 12:00 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kim, I agree. I think it's not merely important but crucial for writers (and really anyone who wants to stay informed) to keep up on what a broad range of people are saying and thinking. My throwaway line to Mike Q. notwithstanding, I do watch a good bit of Fox now and then and closely read such outlets as the National Review, the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, three major bulletin boards for right-wing thought. I tried to attend a tea party a few months ago, but never made it there. If they come back around this region, I hope to stick my head in to see what it's all about.

 
At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Listen to Bob Bennett in the morning and Rush in the afternoon- then add in Mike Gallagher and Hugh Hewitt as needed. Do this for 2 weeks and may be your mind will be reborn and refreshed. For you Libs that look down on radio- Bennett, Gallagher and Hewitt are on 1420 AM and Rush is on 1100.
Memo to JE- don't forget to check the oil.
Out.
NAG

 
At 1:29 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

To the contrary, I think that regimen would mostly turn one's brain to mush. The rightie wingnuts on the radio are 90% about entertainment (a word that I find hard to use in the context of their idiocy). They rarely make coherent arguments, which you at least have to pretend to do in conservative journals when you're writing, as opposed to spouting whatever foolish notion pops into your head while perched in front of a microphone.

 
At 1:41 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

The radio wingnuts are well-named in Rush's case, as the "dittoheads." Nothing in politics is more tribal than this lowest-common-denominator lashing out at anyone and anything that attempts to be thoughtful. It's the zenith of that ancient strain of anti-intellectualism in American culture, a strain that has always been present but is currently in ascendancy. Gods forbid people should perform their civic duty and actually make their own decisions and think for themselves!

Over the past couple of weeks, since the latest "terrorist incident," I've finally figured out that "PC" is the new "commie" in terms of the wingnut rhetoric. Why this came late to me as a revelation I can't explain; perhaps it's because I usually avoid this crap and get my neuron-jiggles elsewhere.

The bottom line is that engaging with the rightwingnuts isn't a good practice for jiggling the neurons, precisely because there's nothing there to engage with. There are no arguments, there is only emotionalism. There are no thoughts that can be discussed, because if you don't agree with them and shout "ditto!" you're The Enemy, and there are no political agendas beyond totalitarian servitude.

Once again George Orwell had it right, when he observed that the West will have finally given in to the totalitarian impulse when the totalitarian rhetoric is all about Freedom. Which it is.

 
At 1:42 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, I can add little to that besides saying "amen."

 
At 9:22 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Case in point: Karl Rove just said on Fox News of the Obama administration: "We've got the gang that can't get its act together." This, from a guy who quarterbacked eight years of epic incompetence and corruption.

 
At 9:45 AM, Blogger Kim said...

John, do you ever watch The Daily Show?

This was from December, about Gretchen Carlson dumbing down her commentary...

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-december-8-2009/gretchen-carlson-dumbs-down

I've never appreciated baby talk or dumbing down. Water seeks its own level.

 
At 11:14 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I do watch it occasionally, Kim, and while I admire it in ways, I am torn a little about the show in certain ways, which I'll try to explain later today when I have a little more time.

 
At 11:54 AM, Blogger Kim said...

Without even knowing your reasoning, I can say I agree about being torn.

Again, it is the flip side of the FOX infotainment as news coin. It's NOT news and far too many take it as such, at which point they are just as guilty as the dittoheads.

What is good for the left is also good for the right. As long as it's only considered entertainment, it's valid. The minute it is considered news, it's diluted and invalid.

 
At 12:42 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Aren't you getting at the distinction between "hard" news and "soft" news here? In fact, while The Daily Show has never tried to present itself as anything but satire and entertainment, they have once or twice scooped the "real" news shows. I like the show's honesty about its satire and politics, I like their willingness to mock everyone pretty much equally, and in some ways they show respect BY mocking.

When Tom Snyder was near the end of his career, and needed the occasional guest host to fill in for him, he chose Jon Stewart as his first choice. I have to say, that imprimatur from one of the greatest late-night talk hosts, ever, makes me pay attention to whatever Stewart does. And I think Snyder chose well.

 
At 3:53 PM, Blogger Kim said...

Art, your point is well taken.

Ahhh, if only Faux had a sense of humor. I find their reports funny, sometimes I cannot understand how on earth people can take it seriously. Glenn Beck makes me laugh, but usually after I cry first. (without the aid of Vicks vaporub under my eyes).

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good point about the missing sense of humor, Kim. Smart people tend to have one, while dunces mostly don't. Faux News is full of oh-so-serious dunces, and is produced for dunces.

 
At 12:08 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Okay, to get back to Kim's question about why I'm so torn about the Daily Show...Jon Stewart of course has a brilliant way of delivering meaningful criticism of public events through humor. And of course it's crucial to his role that he does so in a way that gets young people to pay attention to current affairs/current events/news/whatever you prefer to call it in much higher proportions than traditional outlets do (though I do think that's overblown a bit, judging by the teens and 20-somethings I've quizzed).

But I also think he's A). hamstrung by the venue of it appearing on a comedy channel (which means that context dominates and sometimes overwhelms the underlying message), B). less effective than he should be for all the clowning and swearing he does, and C). undercuts his own effectiveness with the whole tired trope of reverting to poking fun at himself as a pretend news anchor whenever someone feels the sting of his sharp stick.

What he does is quite in keeping with the utterly legitimate and centuries-old tradition of using humor to mount serious critiques of serious issue. But if he were somehow to address the three points I made above, I think his stuff would be two or three times as effective as it is, without losing much of its cultural cache, if any.

When I think of him and this larger subject, I'm always reminded of an incredible, transformative interview David Letterman once did with Jessica Lynch, the young American soldier captured in Iraq. The Bush White House and Pentagon used her capture to spin a whole campaign of bullshit about the supposedly heroic events surrounding it, in a pathetic attempt to try to invent some credibility for its pre-emptive war policies. She never went along with those lies, and one of the first appearances she made on national TV to tell her real story was on Letterman. He sensed the importance of the moment, and completely dispensed with the jokes, as he masterfully led her through her story, while signaling to the audience that something more serious was going on here. It was brilliant TV as well as a crossover from comedy to news.

I'll look for the video later and post the link so you all can judge for yourself. But anyway, I just wish the Daily Show had more of that tone and approach than it does.

 
At 1:24 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I've seen Stewart do that, too, though, on more than one occasion. I also recall the time when he was on as a guest to that point/counterpoint show on Fox, and he was serious the whole time, refusing to be funny, and really showed them to be the buffoons they are. They tried to josh him into making jokes, and he basically said, "I'm not your trained monkey." And I've seen Stewart turn an interview serious on his own show; it's not the usual thing, but it isn't the usual thing on Letterman either.

I agree that the show could be even better than it is. I see your point. On the other hand, if it crossed that line into David Frost territory, it would die in the ratings. People really WANT to be entertained, even getting their news; for better or worse, and I think mostly worse, we need to face up to that. So I don't agree with your point C, for that reason: I think the self-deprecating humor, which Stewart has always done, even before this show, is part of what makes him charming and easy to get along with. It's clear that he doesn't take himself seriously., which I think helps when he presents a serious subject.

 
At 1:31 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That's pretty persuasive, Art. I think you're probably right. We just disagree slightly on the most appropriate (and effective) way to persuading people to eat their vegetables when it comes to news and public affairs. And you've also convinced me to watch Jon more often. Come to think of it, I also linked some years ago to a wonderful commencement speech he once gave at his alma mater, William & Mary. Here's the link:

http://workingwithwords.blogspot.com/2004/05/commencement-season-again-to-mark.html

 

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