Essay Smart Brain
When you were born you were, as all babies are, deaf, dumb, blind, and helpless, but immediately the external world began to act upon you. Then began the process of mind-building. You began to experience sensations of heat and cold, of hunger, of pain. The eyes began at once to recognize the light, the ears to become aware of sounds. After a time, objects were made clear to your sight and certain sounds were recognized. You learned your mother’s face and voice, and, little by little, became acquainted with all the objects in the world of home. You began to use your limbs, and in this also you were at work building your mind. We do not sufficiently realize that every aimless movement of the baby has in reality a great purpose—that of creating brainpower sufficient to enable the baby to control itself in all its voluntary movements. We do not think that the fluttering hands and little kicking feet are really building brains, but this is so. And all of life’s experiences have been building brain for you ever since.
Professor Elmer Gates tells us that only about ten per cent. of our brains are cultivated, that there is a vast field of brain possibilities lying undeveloped in each one of us, and that these possibilities are to be developed through cultivation of the senses. So while I have been talking to you of the care of your body, I have been advocating that which will in reality develop mind.
We have learned that certain areas of brain govern certain movements of body. For example, anatomists know not only where the general motor area is located, but they can indicate the very spot where any special motor-force is generated.
In the case of a mill girl who was subject to epilepsy and had pain in her right thumb at each attack, it was decided to remove the part of the brain which governed the motions of that thumb. This they could do because they knew just where that motor-center lies, and yet they were able to take out no more than that, for when the wound was healed she had full use of all of her hand except the thumb.
We may know that by exercising a certain organ we are building up a certain part of the brain. For example, the man who has cultivated his hearing until he can hear sounds inaudible to ordinary men, has made for himself more brain-cells in the hearing area. If he has cultivated his sight assiduously, he has created more visual cells. If his touch has been cultivated, his brain has received new touch sensation-cells. And Professor Gates asserts that his mental ability has been thereby increased. You will be interested in hearing of his experiments with animals and what he has learned therefrom.
He says he has demonstrated that it is possible to give to an animal or a human being more brains, and consequently a better use of the mental faculties. During twelve months, for five or six hours a day, he trained dogs to discriminate colors. He placed several hundred tin pans, painted different tints, in the yard with the dogs. At one time he put their food under pans of a certain tint. When they had learned to go at once to these pans for their food, he changed the color. Again he arranged it so that they would receive an electric shock if they touched pans of any color save the particular one. They soon learned to avoid all the pans except those of this tint. So, by many different methods, he trained them to recognize shades and tints until they could discriminate between seven shades of red and as many shades of green, and in many ways they manifested more mental ability than any untrained dog. While these dogs were being trained, another group of dogs were being deprived of the use of sight by being kept in a darkened room.
At the end of the year both groups of dogs were killed and their brains dissected. He found that the dogs kept in the darkness had less than the usual number of cells in the seeing areas, and the cells were smaller, while the dogs which had been trained to discriminate between tints and shades of color many times a day had a far greater number of larger and more complex brain-cells in the seeing areas than any dog of that age and species ever had before. “Therefore,” says Professor Gates, “mind activity creates organic structure.”
Prof. Gates discovered other things of equal importance. He carried his observations to successive generations, and found that the fifth generation was born with a far greater number of brain-cells than could be found in animals not descended from trained ancestors.
This is not only interesting, but of value. You will remember, in our talk concerning your value, we spoke of your value to the race, and learned that in cultivating yourself in any direction you were adding to the welfare of future generations. That was only a general statement, and now you can see how it can be. You see that if you can make more brains for yourself you are also making more brains for your posterity. Or if you fail to make brains for yourself, posterity will in like degree be defrauded.
Many people have the idea that we are obliged to be satisfied with our dower of mental ability, and so are excusable for failing to reach as high a level as some others. If we really believed that we could create brains we would not sit down and sigh over small mental capacity, but go to work at once in building minds for ourselves.
And first, we must learn to control our thoughts and make them go where we send them. In too many cases thoughts wander here and there, with no power governing and guiding them.
When we are sauntering in the wood we sometimes come upon pathways, and we know at once that many, many footsteps of men or animals have been needed to make the paths. If those who walked here had wandered each in his own way, no path would have been made. One pair of feet going often over the same ground will make a path. So the thoughts, traversing the same areas of brain, will make records on the brain-cells which we may call paths. Every time a thought follows the same line it creates a deeper impression, and makes it easier to go over the same territory again. In this way habits are formed. If the thoughts are good, the habits will be good; if evil, the habits will be bad.
It is not hard to understand how much easier it is to form a habit than to overcome it. The emotions, like the thoughts, create habits; but, more than this, they create actual physical conditions.
It was my pleasure and profit once to have a conversation with Professor Gates in his laboratory, and he showed me an instrument wherein he condenses the breath. He then subjects it to a chemical reagent, and by the precipitate formed he knows what was the mental condition of the individual, whether he were angry, sorrowful or remorseful. In five minutes after a fit of anger he finds the excretory organs beginning to throw out the poison which anger has created. Only five minutes suffice to create the poison, but half an hour is none too much to eliminate it.
Think what must be the bodily state of one who is constantly irritated or angry, who feels jealousy, hatred, or revenge. With body poisoned by these malevolent passions he cannot feel well, for his physical organs cannot do good work unless fed by pure blood. Professor Gates finds that the benevolent emotions create life-giving germs in the body; so, to love others is not only helpful to them, but it also gives us new life.
Anger, worry, hatred, jealousy, are suicidal emotions. We cannot for our own sakes afford to indulge in them, while from selfish reasons alone we should be incited to kindness, generosity, sympathy, and love.