What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.

If you're feeling sleepy and want to wake yourself up — and have 20 minutes or so to spare before you need to be fully alert — there's something you should try. It's more effective than drinking a cup of coffee or taking a quick nap.

It's drinking a cup of coffee and then taking a quick nap. This is called a coffee nap.

It might sound crazy: conventional wisdom is that caffeine interferes with sleep. But if you caffeinate immediately before napping and sleep for 20 minutes or less, you can exploit a quirk in the way both sleep and caffeine affect your brain to maximize alertness. Here's the science behind the idea.

Perfection is unattainable: Learning English as a lingua franca (ELF) involves approaching the language as a tongue shared by non-native speakers around the world rather than as a lingo that must be mastered to native-speaker level. Letting go of the idea of speaking 'perfect English' could do wonders for Japanese students' confidence.

They’re not just used by behavioural scientists: a Skinner box can be a useful device for training pets, especially pets with a reasonable amount of smarts, like parrots or rats. It can automate the process you may have already used with your pet, where “correct” behaviour is rewarded – walk to heel, get a doggy snack.


Skinner boxes are also pretty expensive. So Katherine Scott, computer vision and robotics expert, electronics ninja and rat owner/trainer, has built her own, which she intends to release as an open source device when she’s finished refining it.

, which Wald saw instantly, was that the holes showed where the planes were strongest. The holes showed where a bomber could be shot and still survive the flight home, Wald explained. After all, here they were, holes and all. It was the planes that weren’t there that needed extra protection, and they had needed it in places that these planes had not. The holes in the surviving planes actually revealed the locations that needed the least additional armor. Look at where the survivors are unharmed, he said, and that’s where these bombers are most vulnerable; that’s where the planes that didn’t make it back were hit.

School is a place where children are compelled to be, and where their freedom is greatly restricted — far more restricted than most adults would tolerate in their workplaces. In recent decades, we have been compelling our children to spend ever more time in this kind of setting, and there is strong evidence (summarized in my recent book) that this is causing serious psychological damage to many of them. Moreover, the more scientists have learned about how children naturally learn, the more we have come to realize that children learn most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school.

A team of Japanese and German researchers have carried out the largest-ever simulation of neural activity in the human brain, and the numbers are both amazing and humbling. § The hardware necessary to simulate the activity of 1.73 billion nerve cells connected by 10.4 trillion synapses (just 1 percent of a brain’s total neural network) for 1 biological second: 82,944 processors on the K supercomputer and 1 petabyte of memory (24 bytes per synapse). That 1 second of biological time took 40 minutes, on one of the world’s most-powerful systems, to compute.

In the study, 10 untrained Goffin’s cockatoos faced a puzzle box showing a nut behind a transparent door secured by a series of five different interlocking devices, each one jamming the next along in the series. To retrieve the nut the birds had to first remove a pin, then a screw, then a bolt, then turn a wheel 90 degrees, and then shift a latch sideways. § One bird, called Pipin, cracked the problem unassisted in less than two hours, and several others did it after being helped either by being presented with the series of locks incrementally or being allowed to watch a skilled partner doing it.

Cognitive neuroscientist Sid Kouider of CNRS, the French national research agency, in Paris watched for swings in electrical activity, called event-related potentials (ERPs), in the babies' brains. In babies who were at least 1 year old, Kouider saw an ERP pattern similar to an adult's, but it was about three times slower. The team was surprised to see that the 5-month-olds also showed a late slow wave, although it was weaker and more drawn out than in the older babies. Kouider speculates that the late slow wave may be present in babies as young as 2 months.

In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don't really concern our lives and don't require thinking. That's why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.

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