An internationally recognized authority on the relationship between stress and mental functioning explores how the same mechanisms that lay the basis for human creativity and expertise can also set us up for cognitive stagnation.
Cognitive psychologist Breznitz (Memory Fields, 1992, etc.) suggests that “our [unique] ability to find solutions buried in our experience is a hallmark of human creativity,” yet to be matched by any computer. It is the basis of an expert's rapid intuitive grasp of a situation. But it has a downside as well. With the assistance of Hemingway (co-author: The Fifth Wave: A Strategic Vision for Mobile Internet Innovation, Investment & Return, 2012, etc.), Breznitz explains how our major cognitive strength is also a potential weakness, leading us to overlook danger signals or new possibilities and trapping the brain in the “tomb of experience.” Breznitz cites research that demonstrates the proclivity of the brain to take shortcuts—e.g., automatically accepting a solution to a problem based on past experience. In a rapidly changing world, to adapt by unlearning old ways can be critical to survival. Mental rigidity, writes the author, can create a vulnerability for Alzheimer's disease and dementia later in life. However, this need not be the case. “[T]axing mental challenges” are necessary at every stage of our lives. By embracing them, we create cognitive reserves that can slow down mental deterioration even as our brains age. Despite the known problems caused by chronic stress—anxiety, depression, immune disorders, etc.—and despite the fact that any change can be stressful, it is necessary if we are to avoid mental stagnation. Among Breznitz’s recommended activities, reading ranks high.
A refreshing look at a well-worked topic.