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Computational power vs. wisdom?

On 6th of January BBC1 News reported that research shows that brain ‘power’ starts to decay earlier than was thought … Reasoning powers diminish from age 40 or so

Nigel Pocock


Is an implied brain ‘power’ only about ‘reasoning’? This statement is extremely simplistic; making good judgements is far from being a matter of brain ‘power’ alone.

Thinking is being able to arrive at a sound judgement, and in this, breadth of consideration is key. This means experience, and research suggests that it takes at least 10 years to develop expertise.

Brain development continues in its main components unevenly until age 30, while brain cell development can continue throughout life.

It has been argued that the brain actually becomes more efficient as it ages, ‘doing more with less’. But what is going on in the ageing brain?

With ageing, the brain starts to rely more on the left hemisphere, which functions to slow down the rate of decay.

Apoptosis (‘pruning’) of underused/not used neurons/synapses, a form of natural selection, occurs, so that the most useful cognitive structures are harnessed more efficiently.

A person’s identity lies in the skills and competence they have learned over decades. As they do this, they develop pattern recognition.

However much talent and genius a young person has, they cannot exhibit skill and competence without experience, and the neural patterning that facilitates this.

While the brain comes pre-wired for some things (hearing, touch, vision, psychomotor behaviours, e.g., walking) it is not for others. Parts of the cortex can write its own software.

The groups of attractor cells can then deal with increasing complexity through a process of recognition of patterns that can then be applied to new problems, the essence of ‘wisdom’. In developing pattern recognition through templates developed within groups of attractor cells, memory becomes selective.

It has to, or the brain would become filled with mental debris. Memory then selects according to an inventory of virtues and values (for good or evil) that have been previously acquired.

The variable that is strongest in longevity studies is ‘prudence’. Prudent people are careful people. They are more likely to take care of themselves, in every sense.

Part of this prudent (wise) attitude would probably be best fulfilled in being part of a social structure or local community that is goal-orientated, involves all members of the group, is prosocial, creative and imaginative, fits tasks to match individual skills and gifts, is possibly multigenerational and multicultural, but has a homogenous core value system that pulls the group together. Thus, prudent people are likely to be more educated, to exercise more, and to watch their diet. At the same time, most of these socially positive behaviours impact the cardiovascular system, which is strongly correlated to brain disease and brain health. People with socially positive goals and life styles are also likely to be more physically active, and this is multiplicative in its benefits.

A wise person is likely to be a healthy person who lives long enough to enjoy the benefits of the pattern recognition.

Thus, good problem-solving does not rely on computational power alone, but a complex interweaving of values and a prosocial commitment. There is more to life than a Rubic Cube. (Stereotyping will be the theme of the next article).

(Phots: Pixabay)





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