The part of the brain most responsible for complex thinking, the frontal lobe, has shrunk to nearly half its normal size in 62 percent of Americans over the past ten years “due to lack of meaningful use,” according to researchers at MIT’s Institute of Cognitive Science.
The finding, published Thursday in the journal Mind Matters, is likely to spark a national debate about the pros and cons of thinking. Those in favor of it argue that the brain, no less than the body, is an extraordinary tool with many benefits for any person willing “to play with it a bit and learn how to use it,” said Sarah Caldwell, a former cognitive fitness coach at Rick’s Brain Gym in Minneapolis.
Caldwell, 34, was laid off last month along with the entire staff at the Brain Gym, which closed four days after its grand opening on November 18. The owner, Rick Brooks, said that despite offering lifetime memberships free of charge and with no strings attached, only two people signed up.
“I don’t get it,” said Brooks, slumped in his desk chair as professional movers carted away boxes of unopened arithmetic and vocabulary flash cards. “The U.S. has a full-blown epidemic of idiocy going on and yet everyone’s still obsessed with physical exercise and joining physical fitness clubs—so you’ve got all these really stupid people lifting weights and riding stationary bikes, trying to firm up their muscles and improve their core, their cardio, whatever.”
“But what about bulking up mentally?” Brooks continued. “What about doing a mental push-up? Why are people with puny brains afraid of breaking a cognitive sweat? Complete imbeciles will hire a personal trainer to work off a flabby gut, but they won’t hire a mental fitness coach to work up a single thought. What dummies!”
Caldwell, the former cognitive trainer, attributed Americans’ neglect of mental fitness to the fact that the brain is hidden, covered up by the skull so that no one can see it.
“If people had glass skulls,” she said, “they’d be more ashamed of walking around in public with a brain the size of a Brazil nut.”
Those opposed to thinking argue that the election of Donald Trump as president means the American people have no interest in ever again using their brains, preferring instead to drag their bodies around, for the rest of their days, unguided by thought or mental activity of any kind.