"Genius is in-born, may it never be still-born."

"Oysters, irritated by grains of sand, give birth to pearls. Brains, irritated by curiosity, give birth to ideas."

"Brainpower is the bridge to the future; it is what transports you from wishful thinking to willful doing."

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Recently, I have a brisk email exchange with an old friend of mine in Singapore, who  told me that he had now reached 55 and would be retiring at the end of this month.

In my email response to him, I had shared with him the following advisory:

"... according to most cognitive scientists, the 7 tenets of successful navigation through the silver hair cycle,  are:

1) to remain physically active, including exercising;

2) to indulge in intellectually hyperactive and stimulating activities;

3) to stay socially active, with widening circle of friends, new and old;

4) to have a well balanced diet;

5) to maintain satisfying relationships with loved ones;

6) to have a good rest and sleep well;

7) to  have meaningful spiritual pursuits.

The first 3 are crucial in order to entertain the remaining 4... "

Somehow, our exchange went into brain cells, when he wrote back, as follows:

"... Recently I heard a scientist sharing that as we aged, there will be dead brain cell and recently research found that it can be replcement with another type of cell which I forget its name. To produce this cell, we just need to do three things:

1. Exercise;
2. Fast 24 hours; 

3. During fasting, do or think of only good things and happy one; 

At the end of 24 hours, the brain will produce this cell and replace the dead one... "

As brain fitness and cognitive enhancement has always been my pet subject,  I responded as follows:

"Interesting theory. As far as I know, you are probably referring to "neuroglia" or glia cells.

You would certainly remember what I had shared with you many years ago: true brain power is essentially a function of the inter-connectivity of all our brain cells, and also the richness of those synaptic connections.

The more actively we use our brains, especially from the standpoint of everyday problem solving and strategy formulation, and also keeping our environment stimulating and novel, the better will be our brains.

All the brain cells (or neurons) are thus charged up, i.e. all the synapses are powered up to link them in multitudinal directions. The neuroglia are believed to be those regenerative cells that come about in the bridging and sustainability of the synapses, which scientists call the "myelination process". 

Yes, neurons die, in fact at the rate of roughly 100,000 a day, after our 21st birthday, according to one brain scientist. However, it has been established that neuroglia regenerates.

Interestingly, scientists believe that neuroglia have a regenerating volumetric capacity of 10:1, when compared to neurons.

Albert Einstein's brain was believed to have more neuroglia deposits than most other people's brains, based on the brilliant investigative work of Dr Marian Diamond of UCLA Berkeley. She is one of those scientists, who strongly believes that a sustainable stimulating environment will always keep our brains in ship shape.

So, is Dr Ellen Langer of Harvard University. You will certainly remember her work, as embodied in her classic book, 'Mindfulness', and its "sequel", 'The Power of Mindful Learning'.

Our brains will naturally wear out, due to ageing and disease, but our brainpower stays more or less in good shape, as long as we continue to use more of them in our daily lives.

For this reason, I believe, our senior stateman Lee Kuan Yew fears so much about retirement from an active life after he had stepped down during the nineties. With his beloved wife gone, and detachment from the political arena, and from the international advisory circuit, I am worried about his cognitive health.

Likewise, to navigate successful ageing, as mentioned in my earlier email, the first three tenets, i.e. keeping ourselves physically active, staying intellectually hyperactive, and maintaining a socially interactive lifestyle, are critical factors.

Research studies on all the long-living folks around the world, e.g. in Okinawa, Pakistan, northern Italy, have already attested to these factors, other than diet... "

In the end analysis, use your brain everyday, particularly in a challenging manner as well as in novel ways. Otherwise, you might lose your mind.

As my good friend, Dilip Mukerjea, has often advocated:

"It's not your AGE, but your USAGE that boost your brainpower!"

I like to leave here an inspiring quote from one of my favourite creativity experts, Doug Hall, also author of 'Jump Start Your Brain', among other titles:

[He was also a one-time marketing whizkid with Procter & Gamble, and now runs The Eureka! Ranch as a creativity consultancy, serving as its founder and CEO.]

"The secret of geniuses' accomplishments does not lie in what they have, but in how they use their brains."

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