I wonder if there’s a certain point in time in our lives when we stop adding new things to our brains.
I think about it this way – from the moment we’re born to a certain point, we are constantly cramming things into our brain. We are learning language and social interaction and mathematics and how peek-a-boo is a brutal assault upon our souls.
Then, at a certain time, we plateau out a bit. We place ourselves into a spot where we’re pretty sure we have the necessary basic knowledge to get on well in our lives. Sure, we might learn new things here and there, but they seem more like enhancements than learning absolutely new things. I’d put that maybe our late teens or so.
Then something weird happens.
We start recycling.
We start retelling ourselves stories from our past. We start revisiting old anecdotes.
It’s as if we’ve run out of space for new memories, and instead pull out the old ones to give us the illusion that we are still mentally active.
An interesting thing about this is that in doing so, we’re still making new memories – we just are starting from an existing one. Radiolab did an interesting show about the mechanisms of how we break and recreate memories constantly:
I don’t know for sure, but I think there’s something to that. I think there’s a certain laziness going on there – that we spend less effort “remembering” (by which I mean rebuilding memories using a previous story as a template) than we would spend making new memories.
I have a feeling it’s probably a lot better for us to try to keep in that cram-your-brain-full-of-stuff frame of mind. I think there are three great reasons:
First, it’s fun to learn new stuff.
Second, you know all those movies where there’s the one guy in the bar crying into his beer over some long-lost opportunity or long-lost love? Who wants to be that guy? I mean, really?
Third, there is a school of thought that suggests it is not the case that we stop learning things because we get old and feeble, but that we get old and feeble because we stop learning things.
So, you can do what you want, but me, I’m going to operate off the principle that maybe there needs to be more new stuff in my brain and less tears in my beer.
If you catch me reminiscing, feel free to tell me to knock it off.