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  • Our Amazing Mind
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    “MARY, where did you put my fishing reel?”

    “On the top shelf of the cabinet in the garage,” the fisherman’s wife replied without hesitation. Though she had put the reel there six months ago, she answered immediately, as if the information were right in front of her, a part of her present consciousness.

    Although she was unaware of it, uncounted numbers of impulses from her senses of sight, hearing, touch, and so forth, had bombarded her nervous system

    every waking second of that past six months. Of that total, eight hundred million of these impulses were important enough to get through to her higher brain center, according to researchers. Yet out of that tremendous mass of information in its “files,” her mind was able to sort out the answer and put it into speech.

    While she was doing this, the bombardment of more millions of bits of information continued. At the same time her mind was guiding her in cooking a special dish for her husband’s supper​—all this with ease, a routine matter.

    It is impossible to describe the many-faceted activities of the housewife’s mind as she did all these things at once. How was it possible? What was involved? Actually, scientists know a few of the things involved but practically nothing about how the mind’s memory “file” works with such speed and precision. Let us look for a moment at the brain, instrument of the mind.

    The Human Brain

    The human brain, on the average, weighs about three pounds. Brain sizes vary, but the old theory that brain size determines intelligence is a fallacy. Another false idea is that man uses only a small percentage of his brain. There is apparently no part of the brain that is never used. However, this does not mean that anyone’s brain capacity is ever fully

    used. The question appears to be, How well does he use it, by exercising his mind and storing worthwhile memories in it?

    The brain is made up of a soft, jellylike tissue. Encased in the skull, it is surrounded by protective membranes and is cushioned against shocks by the cerebrospinal fluid, which is a plasma that “leaks” from certain blood vessels. Large arteries carry to the brain a richer supply of blood than to any other part of the body, for it uses about one fourth of all the body’s oxygen consumption. However, the brain is extremely efficient. One investigator says that half a peanut provides enough power for an hour of intense mental effort.

    The brain is composed of several parts, each having special functions, performing connectedly and interdependently. The part that we are most concerned with at present is the “higher” section, which takes in primarily the cerebrum, with its external layer of gray matter, the cerebral cortex. However, the other parts of the brain cannot be ignored in considering any function of the mind.

    Learning

    We start learning from infancy. A baby must learn nearly all but the most elementary things. A baby’s brain can be likened, in a way, to a road map that has been roughly “sketched out,” having main outlines, but few interconnecting roads. The general mental organization has been inherited, but most other connections have to be made as the child takes in information from a world that is all new to him.

    What does the learning process involve? How, for example, did the wife put into her mind the location of the fishing reel so that it “stuck” and could be recalled as needed?

    Researchers have suggested certain possibilities. One is that learning, which involves memory, does not increase the number of cells in the brain, but stimulates the nerve fibers to grow extra branches, which communicate chemo-electrically with other nerve cells. Other changes may also be made, as discussed later. Exercise of the brain is therefore essential for mental growth. A brain neuron (nerve cell) has to be used. Otherwise it tends to “wither,” much as an unused muscle does. Not that it completely dies so that it cannot be used at all, but a brain not exercised has a much harder time learning. It will remain immature, not developing the “connections” that it should.

    A brain little used is like a library that has only a few books. There is a real scarcity of information. The individual is poorly equipped to face the challenges of life. On the other hand, one who has been brought up in a criminal environment may have put wrong things in his mind and may be very shrewd in the ways that bring “ success ” criminally, but lacking in the qualities of honesty, mercy and love. And the person who has hate or jealousy in his heart and mind​—what does he have to draw upon for guiding his actions? A person who thinks negatively all the time and who sees only the faults and mistakes of others has excluded all the

    good “books” from his memory “library,” and so has only “books” that feed his hate and critical attitude. Such an individual may be very clever in creating trouble, justifying himself, and so forth, but he should change and begin to develop good patterns of sincere interest in others and in the good things around him.

    All of this demonstrates the importance of using our minds on profitable things, really learning. When a person spends his time in idle pursuits, his mind is also “idling.” It is, in a sense, “wasting,” just as his time is also wasted. The Bible recommends keeping the mind on good things. (Phil. 4:8 ) And the apostle Peter wrote to Christians: “The time that has passed by is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries.”​—

    1 Pet. 4:3 .

    Some people will excuse themselves from mental activity with the expression, “I’m too old to learn.” This is not true. It is found that people continue learning at a high rate until their late forties and, actually, learning ability in many persons continues at a high level until the end of their lives.

    Sometimes old persons do not answer questions as readily or react as quickly as young people. Why? This is not always due to a slowing down in the nervous system, but is often because older persons are more conservative and cautious. They are more hesitant to make choices under pressure. They have had more experience and often

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