There was an interesting exchange of comments following a July 7th entry (“What’s it all about”) that begins with the argument (by CCb at anom@anom.com) that “brain fitness training” is unnecessary, for someone who is still engaged in reading and scholarship. [CCb, might I suggest that you and other commentors at least identify yourself with a first or last name? It doesn’t even have to be real. I just prefer imagining that I’m communicating with an actual human being.]

Dave Blake, a scientist at the Medical College of Georgia who qualifies as an expert on these matters, disagreed. He noted that the neurological losses that contributed to age-related decline require SPECIFIC forms of learning-driven exercises to drive corrective neurological changes that are not directly addressed by maintaining an older active life of reading and scholarship. After reading these arguments, CCb (who may actually be Roseanne Roseannadanna) said “Maybe you’re right. Never mind”.

Dave is right. We have actually conducted controlled trials, which we’ll soon report, that shall show that one hour of intense scholarly work/day has zero impact on your brain fitness, as measured by indices of a) memory; b) thinking; or c) processing speed. Cognitive psychologists have been slow to realize that practicing remembering does not contribute significantly to its enduring improvement. The reason: All of that ‘memory practice’ is exercising brain machinery that is more fundamentally defective, in how it encodes, and in neurological terms represents those things that you are trying to deliver to memory, or recollect from it. Fixing THAT requires a substantially different class of exercises that focus on improving representational fidelity, processing speed, and the modulatory processes that amplify memory encoding and that vivify retrieved memories. The brain fitness programs that we have developed at Posit Science are precisely neurologically targeted to address these more fundamental aspects of neurological deterioration and failure.

At the same time, it should be emphasized: Continuous acquisition of new knowledge and experiences is also very important for sustaining and continously elaborating every older individual. Unless you want to allow the Person that resides within your skull to be stuck with the same old information and stories (which your relatives and pals are going to get very sick of hearing over and over again), you had better ALSO continue to work earnestly at gathering new information, and at living life so that you have a continuous stream of NEW stories to tell! Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous (CCb) is absolutely ‘right on’ in extolling the virtues of continuous scholarship in THIS regard. But just as critically, you ALSO have to keep your operating, remembering, thinking, action-controlling brain in tip-top operational shape, to sustain reasonably high-fidelity and high-speed and facilly-remembering capacities of content-acquisition, content-manipulation (cognitive) and output-generation, hopefully to the end of life. THAT requires targeted ‘brain fitness training’.