Lifelong learning is not only possible, it is essential to our quality of life as we age. The old adage “use it or lose it” is especially relevant to our ability to retain a sharp and inquisitive mind.
For many years, scientists thought that the human brain simply deteriorated over time. But new research from neuroscientists and psychologists reveal that the middle aged brain actually reorganizes itself, improves important functions, and helps us to adopt a more optimistic outlook on life.
Barbara Strauch, science writer for The New York Times and author of The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain, proclaims:
“If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can. The trick is finding ways to keep brain connections in good condition and to grow more of them.”
Strauch goes on to refer the work of Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, who studies adult learning. Taylor has discovered that continued brain development and richer forms of learning require us to “bump up against people and ideas” that challenge our perceptions and our way of thinking on a wide variety of topics and issues.
In addition, intellectual stimulation can bring a new spark to the emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives. In her book, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, author Barbara Sher recommends that learning something new and doing something creative are sure-fire ways to overcome burnout and sorrow.
Fortunately, in our modern society, there are limitless opportunities to expand our horizons and stretch our philosophical and intellectual comfort zones via the Internet. Here are four examples of web sites that offer free online lectures and courses:
- Ted.com— “Riveting talks by remarkable people”
- Forum-Network.org— “Thousands of lectures by some of the world’s foremost scholars, authors, artists, scientists, policy makers, and community leaders”
- Epicurious.com— “Around the World in 80 Dishes,” a video based series of cooking classes
- BBC.co.uk/languages— 12-week online courses for beginners in German, French, Italian, and Spanish
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