What is your counsel?
Question: What is your counsel?
Tommy Thompson: If I was a benevolent dictator, I would want America and Americans to understand this country and to get involved. This is our government. I have so much difficulty with those pessimists; you know, the backbenchers . . . the ones that are always criticizing and blaming everybody. This is their country and they’re part of it! Don’t sit on the sidelines! Get out and support a candidate! I don’t care who the candidate is. I hope it’s me. Learn how to vote, you know? Keep your kids in school! They can’t do well without doing that. You know, you have a civic responsibility. You brought that child into this world. And whether you’re married or not married, you have a responsibility. Make sure that child gets an education. And make sure that child stays in school. And you Mr. and Mrs. Citizen of America, you have a responsibility. Don’t blame somebody else for your mistakes and your problems. You have to fess up that you’re part of this creation and part of this world. And you have to learn how to vote. And you have to vote . . . you have to participate in this great country we call America. And the only way we can do it is by all of us being involved. And every single one of us have a stake in how our country’s perceived internationally; how our country is doing domestically; and how we’re gonna become energy independent; how we’re gonna clean up the environment; how we’re gonna improve education; how we’re gonna transform healthcare; how we’re gonna win the peace in Iraq; and how we’re gonna develop better international relations. And every single person has got a stake in making this happen. I liken those people, you know, that are always on the backbenches, always criticizing you and me Tommy, as individuals who get up in the morning and eat grapefruit and suck lemons all day. I want people, you know, with a passion of doing good, of making America, you know, better! And make yourself better in the process. You know, do what is necessary to improve yourself and your family. And do what is better to improve your city, your state, and your government. You’re there . . . You’re on the earth for a short period of time. Make your time mean something.
Recorded on: 7/6/07
Thompson asks Americans to make their communities better.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.
- Polarization and extreme partisanships have been on the rise in the United States.
- Political psychologist Diana Mutz argues that we need more deliberation, not political activism, to keep our democracy robust.
- Despite increased polarization, Americans still have more in common than we appear to.
Most elderly individuals' brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.
- "Super-agers" seem to escape the decline in cognitive function that affects most of the elderly population.
- New research suggests this is because of higher functional connectivity in key brain networks.
- It's not clear what the specific reason for this is, but research has uncovered several activities that encourage greater brain health in old age.
At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.
As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can't always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That's part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.
But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old "super-agers" perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.
Just as sharp as the whippersnappers
To find out what's behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.
First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants' brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.
The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we're not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one's self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.
The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item "sticks out"). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.
An image of the brain highlighting the regions associated with the default mode network.
How to ensure brain health in old age
While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how "gracefully" the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. "We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager," said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. "It's not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That's one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to."
To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of "use it or lose it" appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it's unlikely to help you keep your edge.
Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There's also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.
For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don't have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.
We have a new range of skills coming to Big Think Edge this week, including communication, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence.
- At Big Think Edge this week, we delve into ways you can make your conversations sing. So to speak.
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