CultureCulture
What a Brain WantsThe advent of the well-thinking trend
Kim Hwa-young  |  hwa0_2@yonsei.ac.kr
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승인 2008.11.27  19:08:37
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DID YOU know that your brain contains about 100 billion neurons, which is about 16 times the total number of people on Earth? Moreover, though the brain weighs only about 2% of overall body weight, it uses up to 20% of the body’s energy, while controlling the entire body. If the concept of “well-being” has prevailed until now, well-thinking recently has risen to the surface. These days, people are not satisfied only with getting and staying in shape, as well as eating healthily; their area of interest has extended to the brain. Well-thinking is not yet commonly known among people, but interest in numerous products like games and food beneficial to the brain have signaled the growth of this trend. The era of well-thinking has emerged.

How it started

Let us take a look at what well-thinking means. Well-thinking literally refers to the act of thinking well and using the brain effectively. In order to boost the effectiveness of the brain, both the left and right hemispheres should be used evenly. In the past, more focus was placed on the rational and logical aspects, which are the left side’s domain. Currently, however, creative and emotional aspects, dealt with by the right side, are being more emphasized in comparison to the past. Therefore, it can be said that well-thinking aims to integrate functions of both sides of the brain.

Recently, research on the brain science field of study has become active in Korea, which has led to an escalated public interest in studying the brain. More brain-related research projects conducted by Korean scientists have been reported in international scientific journals. In 2004, as many as 1,470 studies were reported, while only 42 studies were reported in 1991. As more has been found out about the brain, more books on the field have been published. In the first half of 2007, up to 20 books on developing the brain have been published. In regard to this, Kim Hye-sun (Employee, Kyobo Book Centre) comments, “Due to positive responses toward books on the topic, they are constantly selling well.” Furthermore, last year, in only one month, 20,000 copies of a brain-related book, written by a neurology professor were sold, despite the depression experienced in the publishing world.

 

Causes of the trend

   
 Books about the brain

There is an even more fundamental reason behind people’s boosted interest in the brain: contemporary people have been abusing their brains. They have been under constant stress, and thus well-thinking came into their sights as a gateway toward reducing stress. This can be better understood in a historical context. Homo sapiens evolved by standing and walking on two feet. Since the brain is also a sort of muscle, as human beings came to walk and exercise, the brain evolved as well, developing so that humans became able to think with complexity. Throughout previous eras, and until the agricultural age, people consumed lots of foods which were nutritious to the brain, and worked in order to gather food. By providing the brain with nutritional elements and giving it enough stimuli by exercising the body, our ancestors could keep their brains fit during their everyday lives. “Eating natural food and exercising have been what human beings have practiced for millions of years. However, as the ages of industrialization and information occurred, people have ceased to exercise like they used to, and began to eat harmful, instant foods. The brain resists such practices. Depression, which is much more prevalent these days, intensified as a result of excessive amounts of stress that are hard to endure,” says Lee Hyung-gun (Director, BRAINTROPIA Co. Ltd.). “Even with a mere work out, taken together with fruits and vegetables, a person can keep his or her brain in a good condition,” says Lee. Many people are aware of this fact, but what they do not know is that by not heeding this advice, they are intensifying the tiring of the brain.

Another reason for the well-thinking trend can be the overall deterioration of a person’s calculating ability and memory due to secularization of digital machines such as cell phones. This phenomenon is called digital dementia*. In a survey conducted by an online employment website called Saramin (saramin.co.kr), out of 885 adults, 63.5% have claimed to have experienced digital dementia. In fact, in this digital era, it is highly likely for an individual to experience digital dementia, or a similar sort of symptom, at least once in life, considering numerous people’s dependence on digital machines. As a result, well-thinking has emerged as a way to revive their memorizing and calculating ability.

The current well-thinking trend has been advertised mostly by commercialization products beneficial to the brain. As a matter of fact, much of the attention it gains is derived from  parents’ ardent concerns about making their children smarter. “Since it is difficult to select useful information in this current flood of knowledge, when choosing information that is advantageous for their children, parents are inclined to blindly choose products advertised to be beneficial for the brain,” says Lee. Likewise, well-thinking has been used as a marketing strategy by companies to promote and differentiate their goods from other products.

 

Brain training games

   
 

Sudoku, a logic puzzle

 

One of the fields that gained attention through the well-thinking boom is the game industry. In January 2007, a brain activating game software called “Everyday DS Brain Training,” produced by Nintendo DS, was launched, initiating a fad called “brain fever” and proving its popularity. In spite of this, however, its effectiveness is another matter. Brain training games have some effects, but these are only temporary and are not very relevant to the actual training of the brain. Concerning this matter, Park Hyung-bae (M.D., Ph.D., High Performance Brain Institute) says that, “When one is in a resting state, the brain produces theta and alpha waves. When concentrating hard, beta waves are produced, and in a tense and excited state, high-beta waves are released. Nonetheless, when one plays games for the brain, high-beta waves are produced. This means that games do not have lasting effects on the brain. The brain has a desirable speed for reacting, which is 5/1000 seconds per stimulus, and one needs consistently  to practice reacting at that speed in order to get accustomed to it. Games are just games, after all.” One way to practice would be to read, think, write, and talk about certain issues. Lee suggests a good way to practice this in real life: “Every morning, I read a book while enjoying a bath, and think about what I have read walking on the way to my workplace. When I arrive, I write down a summary of the book, and talk about the content of the book when I chat with my colleagues.”

 

Food nutritious to the brain

   
Various types of brain food

In June 2008, a TV program “MBC Special” introduced a case which proved the effectiveness of healthy food for the brain. The broadcast case concentrated upon elementary school students in the United Kingdom who used to achieve very low grades, but who became much smarter after a year of consuming brain-healthy food. The students, who often missed classes and participated in school violence, became calmer and their everyday behavior improved on the whole. As this case implies, continuous ingestion of food nutritious to the brain helps the brain significantly. Food beneficial to the brain can be divided into two types: natural foods and artificial products.

People are already aware that certain natural foods are good for the brain, such as black sesame, walnut, blue-backed fish, soybean, and seaweed. These natural foods actually react in developing one’s brain, containing abundant amounts of minerals and vitamins that help treat all sorts of illnesses like dementia and adult cognitive diseases.

Along with the already well-known natural foods good for the brain, the food industry has been producing well-thinking products. Foods that assist the brain to maintain the best condition, called brain food, are manufactured by the food industry, as consumers interested in taking care of their brains increased. Due to the rising demand for the health of the brain, which is the center of both body and mind, the food industry introduced products with ingredients good for the brain, in a variety of forms like milk, chocolate, tea, and drinks.

 

Prospects of well-thinking

This well-thinking trend could be beneficial to both individuals and society as a whole. “It has been proven that there is a distinct difference of more than 30% in terms of efficiency between those who eat brain-healthy food and those who do not. If the work productivity of Korea goes up by about 30%, this will bring about tremendous amounts of profit. This is why a substantial amount of research should be done on this subject, and the government should lead people to prepare for the well-thinking era,” says Lee. In World Science Forum 2008 Seoul, in April 2008, President Lee Myung-bak announced that more support will be put into Korea’s brain research sector so that it can become one of the top seven countries in the field within ten years. As for what each individual could do themselves, Lee Hyung-gun comments, “Habits are important because they carve a circuit on the brain. Activating the transfer of information within the nerves of the brain and forming a good circuit are the essential points of well-thinking.” However, since not many people are aware of how much eating brain-healthy food, exercising and studying help their brains, schools and society should promote and teach such ways of life.

In order to live a well-thinking life, individuals should try to think a lot. There are lots of ways to think. One of them is to contemplate one’s own identity, and to identify one’s own study style based on the fundamental understanding of the self. Another effective way of thinking would be to think horizontally, crisscrossing other fields, by reading books on a broad variety of subjects. For instance, unlike the past, when people working in the field of law mostly concentrated only on that sector, it is important for progressive thinkers to collect knowledge from a variety of different subject areas, such as humanities, astronomy, and physics. Lastly, because thinking hard, exercising, and eating nutritious food are the three prerequisites for well-thinking, people should work on all of these three factors simultaneously, as well as harmoniously. People excessively focusing on only one easy factor, such as simply consuming brain food, will surely fail.

*           *         *

The well-being trend highlighted a healthy body and, as a side effect, people have become much too interested in their looks. Recently, however, people have started to turn their attention to the brain, which is a mental factor. Due to the fact that people have started to strive at making a healthy brain and reaching spiritual well-being by doing so, well-thinking seems to be a positive trend. Yet, much of the interest in well-thinking lies in simple commercialization, and thus caution should be taken so that it does not only become a temporary fad. As anthropologist George Dorsey argues, “The more you use your brain, the more brain you will have to use.” Since the brain has infinite capacity, why not use it to its full extent through sensible and pragmatic means of well-thinking?

 

   

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