“Measure of Reality” Alfred W. Crosby

For any of you interested in History of Science and its impact on society, this is a must read.

The Measure of Reality
explores another angle of the “Guns, Germs and Steel” line of investigation. Namely, the origins of why did the West, a crude, backwater region; evolve to its significant role in the modern world. Crosby postulates that a shift of Western mindset from qualitative to quantitative thinking, from 1250 – 1600, triggered this power shift.

He provides fascinating detail on many, varied topics such as the development of quantitative music notation (required to perform complex, polyphonic music) and the adoption of double entry bookkeeping. This last required the adoption of “Arabic” numerals before being feasible. Think about a ledger kept in Roman numerals.

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New neural pathways

Small triumphs. I learned how to do a backwards crossover today in my ice skating class. What’s a backwards crossover? Skating backwards in an arc generated by picking up one foot and crossing it over the other foot. No big deal, unless you are 42 and decided 3 months ago that you wanted to learn how to skate and you are as terrified as I am of falling on your tush on that cold, hard ice. The old adage is that it is much harder to learn new things, especially those requiring physical skill, the older you get. This may be true, but it is really hard if you don’t even try. And the older we get, the more reluctant we are to look stupid, and the less we are willing to take risks. I’ve been reading lately about the latest research in brain neuroplasticity. What they’ve found is that the brain continues to build new neural pathways throughout our whole lives, as long as we require our brains to perform new functions such as learning a new language or a new motor skill. Every week I go to my ice skating class and every week I get just a fraction better. What I learned last week, as difficult as it was then, is much easier this week. This must come from the brain creating stronger neural connections. And although children can pick things up faster, I have found that I’m learning as fast if not faster than most of the kids in the class because of my better ability to focus my attention. Focused attention also creates new neural pathways. Go brain go.

The Mind and the Brain – Schwartz and Begley

In The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force brain researcher Jeffrey Schwartz and Wall St. Journal reporter Sharon Begley explore the extraordinary discoveries in brain research over the last 20 years. When we were growing up we were taught that the brain pretty much is fixed by age 10, and after that no new neurons are made. For a 100 years it was believed that if you had a stroke and lost functioning over one part of your body as a result of damage to the brain, you just had to live with it. New imaging techiniques in the last quarter century have enabled researchers to precisely map functioning of different parts of the brain, down to the millimeter. What has been discovered is that new neural pathways are being forged in the brain throughout our whole lives, depending on how we use our mind. Wherever we focus our attention is where new neural connections will be made.

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