If you have always had the urge to learn to play and instrument, learn to write like Mark Twain, or paint like Picasso, but just never got around to taking a class— don't despair. According to recent studies, neuroscientists now say it's never too late. It turns out; the biggest hurdle isn't an aging brain.
There can be no doubt, humans are born to learn. New born babies instantly begin to learn from their new surroundings. They respond to stimuli, to mother, to sights and sounds, as if by osmosis soaking it all up.
As life progresses the list of learning experiences in no way diminishes. New languages, music, crafts and skills all cry out to those who love to learn. The broad spectrum of opportunities to learn new skills seems limitless. But what about the often heard lament: "I'm just too old?" Is there any truth to that popular belief?
Popular adages about teaching old dogs and new tricks, and the like, just serve to reinforce a defeatist belief that advancing into old age brings with it an inevitable demise in the brain's abilities. Does this conventional belief hold up under scrutiny?
It is well worth considering what an incredible instrument the brain is. Scientists who have devoted lifetimes to studying this miraculous wonder have described it as nothing less than the most complex object in the universe. A Soviet scientist described the human brain as an entire universe inside the skull. Clearly, the brain is an awesome and remarkable piece of equipment.
Throughout history it has been fashionable to liken the brain to something more understandable in the everyday world. Now, in the age of supercomputers, it's only natural that the brain is likened to the most complex man made thing developed thus far, namely, a supercomputer. Yet, current knowledge suggests this oft used analogy is rather discourteous to that 3 pound miracle inside your skull.
Brain scientist Stephen Pinker stated about the human brain and computer comparison that "even the most powerful supercomputer is only equal to the nervous system of a snail." Another scientist, Dr Richard M Restack, stated that the "performance of even the most advanced of the neural network computers...has about one ten-thousandth the mental capacity of a housefly."
Increased study of the brain, particularly throughout the 90s, has shown the brain to be a phenomenally adaptable piece of equipment, something that remains true even into old age. It is by no means static, but in a constant state of flux and changes according to what you spend your time thinking about and what you feed your mind on. Age, of itself, has a great deal less bearing on this than conventional wisdom has led many to believe.
Some years ago, a 20 year long experiment was conducted in Australia on people between the ages of 60 to 98. The experiment revealed that any decline in mental performance was only one percent a year, and that some didn't experience any decline whatsoever. The latter were those with an insatiable appetite for learning and who enjoyed stimulating and creative activities.
Andres Segovia, one of the greatest classical guitarists of all time, was still mesmerizing audiences with intricate and complex finger work way into his 90s. Also in the field of music, Irving Berlin, remembered for White Christmas and There's No Business Like Show Business, was still performing and composing at 92.
Arthur Rubinstein, Polish pianist and outstanding chamber musician, was still performing at 94. His zest for life was encapsulated when he said that "to be alive, to be able to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings - it's all a miracle. I have adopted the technique of living life miracle to miracle."
Indeed, it seems a zest for life and an unquenchable sense of wonder is highly necessary in maintaining brain power into old age.
The brains of those who keep mentally active are found to have 40 percent more connections (synapses) between their brain cells (neurons) than do those who tax their brains very little. Incidentally, it is estimated that the total number of all possible connections that can be made between our brain cells exceeds the total number of estimated particles in the entire universe. There's plenty of scope for new pathways in there.
Granted, there does seem to be some loss of brain cells with advancing age, but it is found to be dramatically less than was once believed. The belief that old age by itself hampers our ability to learn is largely a myth.
So if you want to learn something new, a foreign language, a musical instrument, maybe you want to become an artist or write poetry, or just learn new behavioral patterns, then you can.
This truly incredible miracle inside your head, this most complex piece of matter in the entire universe capable of holding information that would fill some 20 million encyclopedic volumes, is capable of handling the new skills and talents you want to acquire.
So learn something new! Even if, like just about everyone, you are somewhat older (and probably wiser) than you used to be.