Site Map
Playful Optimism
Section › 4   Set    Search  Previous Next


Reservations   Contents    

Optimism on Behalf of the Brain

Hooray for the brain and what it can do.
Hooray for much else too.

Why not be optimistic about learning an old dog new tricks? There are research findings that support it may be done - figuratively speaking.

1  Not so dormant after all

In the British Medical Journal (BMJ 2007;335:1288-1289 [22 December]), Rachel C Vreeman and Aaron E Carroll listed unfounded beliefs espoused by physicians and the general public, and one such belief is that we use only 10% of our brains. But we use far more than 10 percent of our grey matter. Carroll and Vreeman searched for evidence to support or refute the ten percent claim, and found:

The belief that we use only 10% of our brains has persisted for over a century . . . This myth arose as early as 1907 . . . Evidence from studies of brain damage, brain imaging, localisation of function, microstructural analysis, and metabolic studies show that people use much more than 10% of their brains. Studies of patients with brain injury suggest that damage to almost any area of the brain has specific and lasting effects on mental, vegetative, and behavioural capabilities. Numerous types of brain imaging studies show that no area of the brain is completely silent or inactive. The many functions of the brain are highly localised, with different tasks allocated to different anatomical regions. Detailed probing of the brain has failed to identify the "non-functioning" 90%. Even micro-level localisation, isolating the response of single neurones, reveals no gaps or inactive areas. Metabolic studies, tracking differential rates of cellular metabolism within the brain, reveal no dormant areas. [Highlighting added]

The authors conclude among other things that the "prevalence and endorsement of simple medical myths point to the need to continue to question what other falsehoods physicians [and others] endorse."

2  Room for improving with age too

There may still be room for improvement in the use of one's brain. Learning in itself promotes the growth of synapses in the brain, even in old rats, Marion Diamond at the University of California has documented. Ronald Gross writes:

We actually can get smarter as we grow older, if we provide our brains with the right encouragement and environment in which to "do its thing" . . . Your brain responds positively to being challenged by a rich environment and . . . can even continue to grow new cells and connections. It operates best when properly stimulated by interesting complex materials, as long as it has methods for processing them effectively. (Gross 1999, 25, 29)

Recent research findings show that cells in the brain areas that are involved in memory and learning, are able to regenerate.

So why not be optimistic about learning an old dog new tricks even when getting elderly with one or more non-fatal brain damages? You can grow synapses. Being optimistic is likely to be good for your health in its own right, researchers have found.

When people have a severe illness . . . maintaining optimism is important . . . [A] positive mood may itself help by improving the body's ability to resist disease.

Unrealistic optimism may actually lead people to practice better health habits. . . . Optimists also seem to recover faster from illnesses . . . Optimism is associated with good coping strategies, as well as with good health habits. Optimists are active copers who try to solves problems rather than avoid them . . . [M]ost optimists are "constructive optimists" . . . but a few optimists are "naïve optimists" who believe that everything will turn out all right without any active efforts on their parts [avoidant copers] . . . [U]nrealistic optimism . . . keeps people happier, healthier, and more likely to recover from illness. (Smith et al. 2003, 522-523)


Playfulness Counts ☼

Many of our greatest thinkers locate their capacity for original and profound thought in their imaginative abilities, first developed through creative play in early childhood. - Sharna Olfman Psychology Professor

Homo ludens, playing man, can be liked by kittens. Playful ones need to be well protected so as not very much harmed as they grow into their innate stature.

In higher mammals learning is done with zest in the care of the family - one or more. Much playfulness indicates that learning of biological value is possible. Homo ludens (man the player) is not to be looked down on. Some rank homo ludens en par with homo sapiens.

Professor Adrijana Visnjic Jevtic summarises that play is precious to the child, and that is why it generates play and organises it. There are many sorts of play, and she does not say 'good play' or 'fair play' in the preface that these points are taken from. What should be done is to go for good and sound play. Good play enables a complete development, stimulates exploring the environment, and managing it. When playing thus a child develops cognitively, builds self-confidence, matures socially and advances motorically. Fit play takes a child to a higher level of development. It is thereby a co-creator of the child's overall development. Such play unquestionably contributes to a child's upbringing and education. (cf. 2013, 10-11) Dr. Winsome Gordon:

A simple game of hop, step and jump offers various mathematical experiences. It involves addition and subtraction, shapes and design. Children in their daily lives learn quantities,"half full", handful, lapful, pocketful, they learn about money, especially the small denominations, they know long and short, and so on. (in Knight 2003, 6)

1. Look and find: animals wonder too

There is a difference between finding out on the one side, and being told and shown on the other. Finding out first-hand is usually expensive in some way or other. It takes time, for one thing. Learning from the hard-won experiences of others can be fit for schooling. Good schooling is largely that.

Some books teach much and serve as repositories of gathered knowledge and knowhow. Knowhow is usually productive, where as bookish knowledge may not always be put into use very easily. It is fine to weigh alternatives if any fit ones can be found. It is good to be nicely taught, at any rate.

(1) Finding out often rests on the ability to see (observe) for yourself, on insight. The ability to observe can be trained. Just gaze at a thing for some time. (2) Being informed by others, an institution or the large society, is more convenient and conformised in general. That is something hard that so many have to deal with. It is also well to bear in mind that good schooling and gathered information may foster insights. It happens in science too.

It endangers the natural learning process if formal schooling stiffens and mars the inborn zest of learning. In spite of such schooling, some manage to keep the inborn love of learning intact throughout life. It is fit to preserve some playfulness, and also these higher gifts in life and not ignore to cater to imaginative development either. Imagination is a wonderful gift. "[A]n innate, evolved capacity for . . . "imagistic thinking" . . . is [a] crucial factor that has made our high-level creative problem-solving abilities possible. From this perspective, it is in large part thanks to our capacity to form and manipulate mental imagery that humankind has been able to . . . develop our complex cultures and technologies," Nigel J. T. Thomas sums up in "Mental Imagery", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition)

Imagery is remembered fairly well. Stories can evoke mental images and foster learning. And: "Mental imagery clearly plays a role in many mental activities. For example, memory often proceeds by way of imagery." (Amy Kind, "Imagery and Imagination", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP)

Albert Einstein on the value of imagery:

Einstein When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking. - Albert Einstein

Imagination is the highest form of research. - Albert Einstein

You get the picture.


Some hindrances are for good, some for bad, and some come in between the two. As for mother play, it may go well even if it may hinder the offspring in some way or other. For example, (1) a chimpanzed mother may hinder her infant to get away from her by playing with it. That could be for the good of the offspring, even if he does not understand it. (2) On other occasions when offspring persists in trying to "in trying to attain a desired objective," the chimpanzee mother can react by tickling or grooming their children rather than by punishing them - playing with them. (3) "Mothers of small infants frequently stared down at them intently . . . Mothers were also observed to caress their infants, either gently stroking them with their fingers or making a few idle grooming movements whilst gazing down at their babies. All mothers kissed their infants by lightly putting their lips to some part of their bodies."

Further, "All chimpanzee mothers were seen to play with their infant, and . . . the frequency of this behaviour depends on the age of the offspring concerned and may vary between different mother-offspring pairs: this maternal play . . . possibly functioned to distract the infants for a while." (Bruner, Jolly and Silva 2017, 420, 422, 423)

So chimpanzees play. Crooked plays may have been taught some of them when they become cannibal gangs.

This is to say that being instructed (taught through play) can blend with inborn, native curiousity and brightness (intelligence) and trigger off insights - at least lots of adapted behaviour. What is learnt, is what is contained as ideas resulting from life experiences meeting lessons. Learning is in part what is contained in isolated ways, in integrated ways, and all is rooted in memory. If we don't remember a thing on all levels of mind, we have not learnt a thing.

Learning is very much memory-rooted. It is good to be able to remember accurately and much to get solvent, if that can be, but also to organise the memories into larger "chunks" of comprehension. There are books on helping us to retain material, on jogging the memory in itself, and many techniques that are said to improve it. (Buzan 2010a)

Insights, on the other hand, have an intuitive component. Many hindrances may be overcome. It should help to know of some of them in advance, presumably. Be on the alert as to such as:

  • Complacency in conflicts and stopping or just holding on to things (mentally as well) instead of feeling zest of learning.
  • Willpower of others misused or drawn into inferior or unsuitable channels by associates.
  • Outer motivations may turn into set-backs. Learning is good in itself, and hardly requires being manipulated or controlled by authority figures all along.

Coping with exams may be all right, depending on how reasonable and sensible they are and how well prepared you get. But good learning and good learning routines are often interfered with negatively by cramming. It is a sad fact that reveals that very much public schooling gives distorted learning. It takes joy of learning and of living in many students.

You should make efforts that matter to increase the winning streaks and reduce the losing streaks in your way. So play well, for: "Knowledge is constructed through play . . . play and work become complementary activities," assert Joe L. Frost, Sue C. Wortham and Stuart Reifel, and speak of successful playwork programs in Europe. "Good play leaders respect children and play," they also tell. (2012, vi, vii). Should we enlarge on the idea to factories, student factories (universities), and adult lives. Maybe. 'Play' is a word with manifold meanings. They include sport games, football games (yes, they are played), chess, video games and thetre plays. Natural and frisk play is for enjoyment too.

Work may be tiresome, and play may envigorate. Time for play aside, it could help some to count how many half-hours you spend in studying each day, draw it on a neat chart and sum up each week - and next reward yourself a little bit for well done learning work.

Keep good company if you can, and do not get much involved with inferior people. Teachers are not all alike.

2. Speed of writing and scientific processing is fit knowhow for a student

Get into an all right study routine all of your own and "get into the flow" of learning, of studying, reading, writing, and counting - whatever (See Gross 1999, index). Try to stay matter-of-fact, sachlich, for the alternatives may cost money, time, influence and good connections.

Attain to the speed you need:

  • Reading skills can be trained.
  • Get the needed speed in processing information such as term essays and much else - many skills can be quite automated.
  • Study efficiency also when it comes to preparing for lectures and books and going through the notes afterwards.
  • Effective use of time is different for a learner than what many teachers assume.

Study time is costly, and knowhow in the matter gives far greater yields than blunt learning. There are many details of it. But most important: Time well spent in academic study is on memorisation, so that bits of learning enter the long-time memory (LTM), where they can stay for long without too much deterioration. There are good guiding rules for how to go ahead throughout. Not all who know of these good parts of a study, apply them well. Also, if you are learning skills, other factors get into the matter.

Learn from handbooks on scientific writing that verbosity is of very little value. Some disciplines are different, though. But in general it should be good to be rational and fair about one's language processing, by learning and sticking to hard-won rules of Plain English that you can find. (see Gross 1999)

3. Learn to live with great uncertainties by relaxing and other arts of living

Much, unsound stress has to be combatted, because stress breeds many and alarming diseases, if there is much of it. There are three things to bear in mind:

  • Reduce your general stress level in order to cope well.
  • Learn to cope well and then relax as part of yogi-fit lifestyle.
  • Some persons are more stress resistent than others. Know their little "secrets" to be on the safe side Some are in textbooks on psychology. (Cf. Kottler and Chen 2011)

Great uncertainty may be awfully hard to deal with for conform minds. There are many levels of uncertainty, and unsettled topics. For example, is play a good thing in social life among adults? Some forms of play are, such as card plays (poker not included). The roots go back to preschool years. Between four and six children can play more cooperatively, expand social relationships, and reflect their developing personalities in their relationships.

Children who in turn are judged to have positive prosocial behaviors are likely to have more friends than inhibited children. Caregivers are able to promote prosocial development in the preschool years by helping children understand how their behavior affects others, and teach children how to resolve conflicts and develop interpersonal negotiation skills, and much else. (Frost, Wortham and Reifel, 2012, 149)

Among the theoreticians, Erik Erikson maintains "there is a relationship between make-believe play and wider society. Make-believe play permits children to learn about their social world and to try out new social skills. Moreover, play facilitates the understanding of cultural roles and to integrate accepted social norms into their own personalities. For Erikson, as for Piaget, play promotes a child who is socially competent." (Ib. 150)

As for studying or cramming, is learning speed reading useless or a help? It depends. Since there is little research on it, you may be left to try to find out yourself if comprehension dwindles as the reading speed increases; whether you need in-depth reading or just skimming stuff; whether grand claims suffice or the evidence is there and is good enough. (WP, "Speed reading"; Konstant, 2003; Buzan 2010b)

Consider that some "studies show that as reading speed increases, comprehension drops. This means you're not taking in the information, which defeats the purpose of reading . . . I like the fact that when I'm reading a book or article I can take a few moments to pause and think about an idea. With speed reading, these moments are gone . . . Speed reading anything you need to truly comprehend is probably a bad idea." (Cited: Thorin Klosowski. 2014. "The Truth About Speed Reading." Lifehacker.)

Learn to let your deeper and wiser levels of mind deal with present uncertainties as far as reasonable and also as far as your deep mind may take in (process tolerably).

It can be hard to deal with typical sides to being marred, with debased morality, awkward living standards. You need to try to augment your winning assets, and don't get your good sides thrashed.


Learn to observe and listen in relaxed ways and do not speculate so much that it steals useful time by and by. Inspect and cope, and stay with the mainstream as long as it suits you.


Playfulness, imaginative activities, good learning, optimism on behalf of the brain and mind, study tips, learning and study, Literature  

Bruner, Jerome S., Alison Jolly, and Kathy Sylva, eds. 2017. Play: Its Role in Development and Evolution. Washington DC: International Psychotherapy Institute.

Buzan, Tony. 2010a. The Memory Book: How to Remember Anything You Want. Harlow, UK: BBC Active / Pearson. ⍽▢⍽ Bloated, enticing titles don't fatten the cabbage: a reality check could be fine. Just try to remember anything that happened in your life before you got two years old -

Buzan, Tony. 2010b. The Speed Reading Book: Read More, Learn More, Achieve More. Harlow, UK: BBC Active / Pearson. ⍽▢⍽ There is a knack to reading, and different ways of reading, such as skimming, in-depth study, rehearsal reading, and so on. If you master to read faster, you may read more. And if you also manage to retain the increase of words better and organised them too to get more comprehension, there is a clear gain. If. Despite many great claims, there are not so many studies on speed reading.

Cutts, Martin. 2013. Oxford Guide to Plain English. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Frost, Joe L., Sue C. Wortham, Stuart Reifel. 2012. Play and Child Development. 4th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Gross, Ronald. 1999. Peak Learning: A Master Course in Learning How to Learn. Rev. ed. J. Tarcher/Putnam. New York.

Knight, Raymond I. 2003. The Games Children Play: The Foundation for Mathematical Learning. France: Division of Basic Education Primary Education Section, Unesco.

Konstant, Tina. 2003. Teach Yourself Speed Reading. London: Hodder and Stoughton Educational.

Kottler, Jeffrey A., and David C. Chen. 2011. Stress Management and Prevention: Applications to Everyday Life. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Santer, Joan, and Carol Griffiths, with Deborah Goodall. 2007. Free Play in Early Childhood: A Literature Review. London: National Children's Bureau. ⍽▢⍽ The authors focus on free play from birth to seven years old. From different professional perspectives they demonstrate it is vitally important that children have opportunities for free play in their early childhood.

Jevtic, Adrijana Visnjic, and Biserka Petrovic-Soco, eds. 2013. Play and Playing in Early Childhood. Conference Book. Zagreb, HR: European Scientific and Professional Conference (OMEP).

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

Playfulness, imaginative activities, good learning, optimism on behalf of the brain and mind, study tips, learning and study, To top    Section     Set    Next

Playfulness, imaginative activities, good learning, optimism on behalf of the brain and mind, study tips, learning and study. User's Guide   ᴥ    Disclaimer 
© 1998–2019, Tormod Kinnes, MPhil [Email]