Updated: Apr 7
Obviously, I was much too cool for my double period of Religion and Philosophy on a Friday afternoon. I alternated between clock watching and doodling instead, physically present but mentally anywhere else. Who knew that I would end up admitting how much I miss being intellectually stimulated?
During the establishment of the Roman Empire, the ideological birth of today’s civilisation, Cicero proclaimed that ‘cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.’ In the modern context of shrinking attention spans and online distractions, is it any wonder that ‘edutainment’ – the blending of education and entertainment – is finding traction amongst all age groups? Of course, eating is a necessity for the body, but we don’t half enjoy it more when we actually like the food! So, to build on the Roman philosopher’s belief, perhaps we can cultivate our minds by enjoying our learning. Nourishment for the mind doesn’t just have to be through stodgy times tables; engaging intellectual stimulation can be pretty tasty too.
So, here are two main ways you can benefit – psychologically and socially – through channelling your inner nerd!
PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF INTELLECTUAL STIMULATION
Karl Weick, an American organisational theorist, coined the idea of ‘sensemaking’. To grasp some truth about our shifting reality, we must personally structure the unknown in order to be able to act within it. These attempts at universal comprehension provide us with a chance to test, refine and abandon our views based on an analysis of their credibility. The more we learn about the world around us, the more sense we can make out of it. If we can make more sense of the world, we become more effective agents for positive change within it. We increase our ability to productively shape our own lives as well as the lives of others. Express gratitude for the world you live in by taking time to understand it more.
Lottie’s blog that covers the details of Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of the ‘Flow State’ could not be more relevant to our personal learning. A study from Edinburgh Napier University uses the specific context of education to provide further evidences that ‘to intellectually stimulate the students, the learning activities should encourage them to engage in deep learning.’ This state of deep focus is incredibly rewarding and promotes the production of feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and other endorphins. My friends thoroughly enjoy taking the mick when I visit what I call my ‘mind-palace’, but we all know that getting ‘in the zone’ is where the magic happens!
Richard’s post on ‘Neuroplasticity’ has provided us with some great insight into the way our brain applies fresh knowledge to create new pathways. In the specific context of our personal desire to learn, Dr Joe Dispenza’s announces that by learning, you are ‘changing the fabric of you because you’re instructing your body chemically to understand what your mind has intellectually and philosophically understood, but it’s not enough to do it once.’
For me, the key take-away in terms of neuroplasticity is the consistent application of your new information. It’s not just enough to recite your times tables – can you tell I wasn’t the biggest fan of Maths?! Rather, it’s all about really engaging with new information to deeply etch these new pathways that are lighting up in the power grid that is your brain. Once these new patterns become engrained, they become part of the new you that Dr Dispenza was on about above!
Even mindfulness meditation is proven to physically enhance the brain – nurturing a mindful state as our default setting epitomises the power of our brains and their flexibility. In the Harvard Health Publications, Sara Lazar concisely summarises that ‘our data suggests that meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well-being.’ Harvard = Clever.
SOCIAL BENEFITS OF INTELLECTUAL STIMULATION
Formal, enforced study can make the process of learning feel quite restricted. Sophie von Stumm’s proposes that intellectual curiosity is a key agent in academic performances as she tracks the importance of a ‘Hungry Mind.’ In 1750, Samuel Johnson observed that ‘curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.’ Let’s focus on this idea of generosity of the mind. Being open to constant learning requires humility and allows us to find intellectual stimulation in every corner and context. We can learn something from anyone and everyone; we all have vastly different experiences. If you listen well, people will teach you amazing things about life. Make your friends your tutors – learn from your bogan buddy!
We should also be aware of our social responsibility as world citizens sharing a place on Planet Earth. Being open to further learning in politics, economics and social awareness means we are equipped to thrive as effective civilians. By covering Goldberg’s Five Factor Model, von Stumm highlights how conscientiousness can be linked to personal development. Although, Neil Postman claims that we are ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ as show business threatens to hijack current affairs. Whether in print, online, through broadcast or dialogue, let’s do our best to engage with current affairs in any way we can to contribute positively to our community and our world. Think globally, act locally.