I am calling you a Google-head if your attitude towards learning is “why should I learn it if I can google it?” Of course, google now being shorthand for internet search, I could just as easily substitute Bing, Yahoo or others for Google and the problem would be the same. What problem? Let me illustrate with a personal example. I was born in 1946 and was supremely healthy for the next 50 years. Suddenly, in one year, I was diagnosed with cancer and myasthenia gravis, and suffered a catastrophic knee tendon injury. I recovered, except from the M.G., from which there’s no recovery. Still, my health remained good, my cognition above average, my endurance was more like a 50 year old than a 66 year old. Weirdo that I am, I continued my habit of reading a book a week, formed in 1969.
Suddenly, March 11, 2016, despite over 50 years of healthy eating, regular exercise and rare alcohol use, everything good about my physical body crashed in the form of a stroke. I was standing at the stove, preparing dinner, reflecting on all my good fortune, when my left foot began turning into water. That’s how it felt. Fortunately, somehow I knew this was a stroke, and I grabbed for my cellphone as I crashed to the ground, paralyzed. I lay there helpless, as our two cats were nosing me, aware that something was wrong (maybe they were worried about not getting fed tonight). Gradually, I became aware that it was my entire left side that was paralyzed, and I was able to call 911 using my right hand. My dominant thought was “I hope I left the front door unlocked so they don’t have to break it down”.
During the next two months of rehabilitation, I was tested both physically and cognitively. Physically, it was a very uphill battle, but cognitively, I now seemed to be renewed. Please don’t read this as boasting, I can’t take credit for it. But the lead speech therapist, whose main responsibility was cognitive testing, told me something shocking. After he had failed to stump me in any test or problem, and finally ran out of materials to test me on, said I tested higher than anyone he worked with his entire career, including people who never had a stroke. I could see for myself that I was able to solve problems that I would have previously given up on. We both theorized on how this could be. When I told him about my reading habits, that was his ah ha moment. Reading and learning new stuff creates new neural pathways in the brain. I apparently developed so many alternative pathways that I didn’t need. They were there, and the stroke destroyed some old pathways and stimulated the use of new ones that had been dormant.
Now, the warning. Hopefully you will never suffer a stroke, dementia, or other nervous system breakdown, because if you are not reading and memorizing, learning and organizing your thinking, but instead entertaining yourself by passive watching, and using internet search for more entertainment instead of information to learn, you are probably not developing much in the way of new neural pathways. When you need them, they may not be there. A good friend visited me in my second week of rehabilitation. He said he was nervous about what he would find. Would my personality be different? Would I have lost my sense of humor? Would I be able to think and communicate? He had friends and family members who suffered strokes and were never the same person. He was relieved, I was actually funnier and quicker than before. I ascribe that to being a readaholic, not a Google-head.