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The Method To My Madness

By Elizabeth Major on September 18, 2015 in Other

Photo: Martin Offiah

Photo: Martin Offiah

I am told I am a flake. A transient hippy, I apparently can’t stick to anything; I move around too much, have my head in the clouds, never wear shoes and always seem to be disappearing on people. I make radical decisions and book last-minute flights. I have problems with long-term relationships and constantly look out for the next new thing in my life. Last year was aerial acrobatics and fire twirling. This week I am getting a gun license. Next on my list is Krav Maga.

Leaving my capriciousness aside, there is something to be said for the constantly evolving brain. Known as neuroplasticity, the brain does in fact change and adapt when exposed to new experiences, behaviours and skill sets. Languages, juggling, skydiving, musical instruments, puzzles and Sudoku all enhance our cognition, perception and memory. This can be used for rehabilitation, prevention of Alzheimer’s or to improve our intellectual capacity.

A year of doing The Sydney Morning Herald’s quick crossword has definitely improved my loquaciousness, if only to shake the dust off the wider reaches of my vocabulary and bring such magnificent words as I am using in this sentence back to my daily vernacular. Twirling fire has certainly augmented my ambidexterity, cognitive innovation and psychomotor reflexes. Aerial acrobatics relies on problem solving, balance and mitigation of fear response (in which attention and focus diminishes significantly). Shooting is shown to better a person’s spatial reasoning, spatial focus, visual acuity and decision making, while an exercise like Krav Maga should send oxygen-rich blood into my brain, delivering it the nutrients required to react, think, grow and defend itself against stress. In defence of the nomadic lifestyle, cognitive stimulation and social engagement are important aspects of travel, while learning a new language actually increases the physical size of your brain.

When it comes to new experiences, our brains are actually shameless pleasure seekers. Attracted to novelty, the midbrain area known to neuroscientists as the substantia nigra/ventral segmental area (SN/VTA) seeks out stimuli that are new, different, or unusual. This in turn enhances our cognitive function and memory. The capacity to learn actually expands when we constantly give the brain shiny new things to discover. Think of the brain as the gift that keeps on giving.

In light of this, we can understand the implicit ideal of emotional intelligence that lies within the term ‘worldly’, or the validity of ‘life experience’ over academic achievement. The ability to travel alone through Mexico and avoid the imminent death that leers behind every Mucho Libre mask is a highly transferable life skill that I appreciate more than my first degree. I probably learnt more about writing by living on a boat in Indonesia than I did actually studying writing at university, and I would argue that postgraduate legal theory is best understood anecdotally, particularly if an experiential comparison can be made.

Was it not Nietzsche, the philosophical genius, who once claimed that “one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star”? So please, don’t call me a flake, stop rolling your eyes and asking if I will ever settle down, accept that I don’t like footwear and abandon your senseless reasoning of my inherently maniacal movements, for they are all necessary tools in the development of my latent genius.