A new study published in the Archives of Neurology on January 23 reported a strong association between cognitive activity and beta-amyloid deposits in the brain. Beta-amyloid is the protein that destroys brain tissue in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Study researchers from the University of California in Berkley found that cognitive activity throughout a person’s early and middle life had a direct impact on the degree of beta-amyloid deposits. The more cognitive activity, the fewer deposits. The kinds of cognitive activity reported in this paper are well within the reach of everyone, such as reading, writing (including writing letters and emails), going to the library, and playing games. Although genetics certainly plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, working your brain to slow or prevent its development is an option for everyone. And it’s free!
Previous research, including the Nun Study, which I wrote about in Just Think, has demonstrated an association between cognitive activity and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, but this is the first study to identify a physical explanation for what is happening in the brain as a result of cognitive activity.
In an interview with Science Daily, one of the paper’s authors, William Jagust, MD, said, "There is no downside to cognitive activity. It can only be beneficial, even if for reasons other than reducing amyloid in the brain, including social stimulation and empowerment....And actually, cognitive activity late in life may well turn out to be beneficial for reducing amyloid. We just haven't found that connection yet."
The University of Minnesota's Weisman Art Museum re-opened earlier this month after being closed for a year due to an expansion project. My husband and I went to the public reopening event to check out the new galleries.
I saw a mother holding hands with her young son (maybe 7 years old?) and overheard her say to him: "That's what art does. It makes you go 'huh?' And then you stop and think."
This summer, my husband and I made a day trip to Stockholm, Wisconsin, a tiny town on the Mississippi with a population of about only 100, but many art galleries and shops. I found this mug at one of the shops.
In the current issue of First Things, editor R. R. Reno writes about the danger that arises when critical thinking operates more in fear of error than desire for truth.
Clear-minded and scrupulous analysis clears the underbrush of error—a very good thing to do—but it cannot plant the seeds of truth; it burns away the weeds but won’t fertilize the fields. To do so we must be receptive rather than cautious. We need to develop the habit of credulity, which literally means the capacity and willingness to accept or believe, for that is the only way truth can enter into our minds.
A mentality too quick to find reasons not to nurture convictions runs the risk of ending up more empty than accurate.
If we see this danger—the danger of truths lost, insights missed, convictions never formed—then our approach to reasoning changes, and the burdens of proof shift. We begin to cherish books and teachers and friends who push us, as it were, onto certain trains of thought, romancing us with the possibilities of truth rather than always cautioning and checking our tendency to believe. Errors risked now seem worth the rich reward of engrossing, life-commanding truths—the truths that are accessible only to a mind passionate with the intimacy of conviction rather than coldly and critically distant.
Read the entire piece here: "Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking." Scroll down; it starts in the middle of the page.
When I was in first grade, a boy in my class--whose name I remember but will withhold out of courtesy--threw up. He was sitting at his desk and out it came, all over the floor with a splash. The teacher managed the episode calmly and professionally, directing all of us, except the boy, to go out into the hallway, with half the class on either side, and sit single-file along the brick wall. The uniformed janitor then arrived and we all knew why. We next saw our teacher walk the sick boy down the hall toward the office, presumably to his waiting mother.
It seemed a long while until the janitor emerged again. He walked through the middle of our group, pushing his industrial-sized metal bucket and mop. For some reason, his walk out of that room and down the hall, is one of my most vivid memories of grade school. I watched him and wondered if he had pictures of anyone in his wallet. I wondered if he was lonely. I wondered if when he left school at the end of the day whether anyone listened to what he had to say. I remember wondering those three things about him. That janitor, his walk and those questions, have continued to nudge themselves into my mind from time to time in all the years since.
This week I watched a documentary that caught my eye because it was about the inner lives of janitors. "The Philosopher Kings," released in 2009, films and interviews eight janitors who work in some of the most elite colleges and universities in America, including Stanford, Caltech, Princeton, Cornish College of the Arts, Cornell, University of Florida, Duke, and University of California Berkeley. It's a fascinating and moving documentary that reveals the challenges these eight have overcome in their lives, the dreams and goals they are pursuing, the sacrifices they make for others, what they learn from the institutions at which they work, and their significant inner wisdom.
The film is punctuated with a number of great quotes, including this one from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Do you think the porter and the cook have no anecdotes, no experiences, no wonders for you? The walls of their minds are scrawled all over with thoughts.
They shall one day bring a lantern and read the inscriptions.
Calvin College hosted the 2008 Festival of Faith and Writing on April 16-18 and I was one of the 2000+ attendees. Spending a couple minutes on Google should link you up to many fine reviews of the conference and of specific presentations. Personally, I recommend the reviews on Life In the Slow Lane as a good place to start. I’ll not reinvent the wheel here and so will take a different tack, because I don’t want to let the event go wholly undocumented on this site.
At this conference, the exchange of ideas is so massive--as evidenced by the multitude of presentations to choose from and the stacks of books and periodicals in the exhibit hall--it is amost paralyzing. Like a tourist in New York City, one could never hope to sample all the offerings. It must be sufficient to absorb the overall milieu and pick a few paths to explore at closer range.
The milieu to be absorbed was one of reading, writing, thinking, and studying. Despite the fact that multiple presenting authors made a point of saying their work and life were about the heart/soul and not the mind, no one translates life--personal or universal--onto the page with integrity without generous application of mental power. And self-discipline. The joy was in seeing such an outpouring of work, from multiple faith traditions, that was an organic product of mind and heart/soul. I came home with a fresh supply of role models.
A major tenant of modern literary writing is ‘no ideas but in things,’ but I find ideas/concepts in and of themselves exciting. Here are some ideas or snippets of ideas from various presentations that I brought home like souvenirs: the deep and necessary connection between prayer and writing (Mary Karr); what makes writing moral? (Mary Gordon); confession alone does not equal truth (Leslie Leyland Fields); living and finding meaning in life is to bear the burden of mystery (Elizabeth Strout); whether or not your dreams come true, God is God (Uwem Akpa); stillness, silence, waiting (Haven Kimmel); "narrative theology" in the lives of the many instead of the headlines of the few (Krista Tippett).
I also came home with five new books, all but one purchased from the Eighth Day Books table: Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett; She Got Up Off the Couch, Haven Kimmel; Outlands, Robert Finch; Thirty Days, Paul Mariani; and Looking Before and After, Alan Jacobs.
The conference’s website offers links to author websites, lists of publications, and other resources.
By day I'm a freelance medical writer. After hours I do another kind of work. Creative writing, spiritual writing, essaying. This blog arises from those after hours. I write about work/vocation, meaning, hope, imagination, faith, science, creativity/writing, books, and anything else I feel the impulse to write about. I hope these short posts provide camaraderie for your own creative and spiritual life.
In the Celtic Prayer Book, Aidan Clarke wrote that the soul is like a bridge, "bear[ing] the weight and accept[ing] the contradictions of the two-way flow between God and the world." I like this metaphor of the soul as a bridge and have been thinking about it in relation to one's work. I’ve always thought that God wanted his people to saturate the world, all industries, all domains. Here in the pool business. Here in the advertising industry. Here at an arts center, at a hospital. God's bridges everywhere—God to world, world to God. But there's a catch to the...
For readers who are tempted to think that finding and traveling one’s path is as simple as identifying your passion on a vocational questionnaire and then never losing sight of that passion, this story may cause you to think again.
On New Year’s Day I started rereading Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I first read it the summer before last after a short writing retreat, and it seemed appropriate to start the year with a review of this book’s gems. If you do any kind of creative work, or think about doing any kind of creative work, whether or not it’s your day job, I commend this book to you.