COLUMN: Continual learning makes brain better

Farm Forum

The brain’s main mission is to coordinate the body’s efforts to perpetuate and procreate itself. All other mental activities tend to be subordinate to this mission.

To accomplish this mission, the brain often uses shortcuts. These shortcuts in thinking are sometimes used because pondering is impractical, for example, when one is being chased by a predator. Sometimes it is because we lack information, so we just guess or use “common sense.” Sometimes it is because we lack the motivation to think deeper.

Thinking deeper about things, while exciting and entertaining for some, is painful and frightening to others. While getting more information and considering more options are clearly enjoyable to some people, it can be confusing and frustrating to others.

I have heard, more often than I would like to think about, that people are happy to be out of school so they don’t have to study anything again. This may explain why our state library could be closed with less public protest than if we had closed a strip joint. But I digress.

While the brain wants to arrive at simple solutions quickly, those solutions are quite often not the best solutions for the body’s long term survival. These mental shortcuts limit our options to fight or flight, where deeper thinking can disclose threats to be imaginary or manageable. They can diminish people to good or bad, when close observation can unveil the complexity of being human. Mental shortcuts can reduce reality to truth or lie where strong reflection may reveal reality has no connection to truth or lies.

Mental shortcuts taste good, but are often not healthy. They often produce solutions that are perfect for a particular case, but not good enough to repeat. Very rarely are they good enough to mindlessly repeat from generation to generation, regardless of place or circumstance. Using one size fits all solutions will most often prove problematic.

Though probably not the best thing to do while under attack, it is useful to learn and practice “critical thinking” when we are not under threat. It is useful to reflect on our successes in order to determine what caused the events to occur as they did, and what could have gone wrong. We can learn a lot from examining plans gone bad.

Repurposing “failures” can prove advantageous. We can benefit from probing why our successful plans gave us unintended, and often undesirable, consequences. We can push the possibilities of our existence or prepare for an unknown future by running “what if?” scenarios.

Reviewing the activities of others allows us to benefit from the experiences of others without much, if any of the associated cost. Seeing from the view points of others allows us to improve our own vision. Paying attention to and reviewing our feelings and actions while interacting with other people puts us in position to better manage our relationships.

Deep thinking does not abandon or threaten the brain’s main mission of preservation and procreation, it prepares it to better fulfill that mission.

Lawrence Diggs, Roslyn, is an author and professional public speaker. Write him at