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Biotech Science

Adult Brains Grow From Specialist Use 260

Posted by kdawson
from the use-it-or-lose-it dept.
Xemu writes "Researchers at University College of London's Institute of Neurology have discovered that taxi drivers grow more brain cells in the area associated with memory. Dr Eleanor Maguire says, 'We believe the brain increased in gray matter volume because of the huge amount of data memorized.' She warns against the use of GPS and says it will possibly affect the brain changes seen in this study. This research is the first to show that the brains of adults can grow in response to specialist use." London cabbies, unlike their American counterparts, have to learn the layout of streets and the locations of thousands of places of interest in order to get a license.
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Adult Brains Grow From Specialist Use

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  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @04:22PM (#17279326) Homepage Journal
    If you train it and work with it it will grow and remain strong.

    My bulging typing fingers and keen google-foo are testament to that.
    • by Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @04:26PM (#17279362)
      If you train it and work with it it will grow and remain strong.

      My right arm and wrist are stronger than my left ... not sure how it ever got that way.
    • I prefer squats with my grey matter.

    • Cause or Effect? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @04:43PM (#17279518)
      Do taxi drivers' brains expand to provide more memory, or do people with poor memory just forget to become taxi drivers?

      A huge problem with any of these correlation studies is determining, accurately, which way the cause->effect relationship runs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by peragrin (659227)
        while i agree with you it's more like drivers who get lost easily don't tend to last long as a cab driver.

        Also while there are some cab drivers who should be doing something else, There are those whose only real talent is directions and locations.

      • Re:Cause or Effect? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by slamb (119285) * on Sunday December 17, 2006 @06:08PM (#17280190) Homepage
        EmbeddedJanitor asked
        Do taxi drivers' brains expand to provide more memory, or do people with poor memory just forget to become taxi drivers? A huge problem with any of these correlation studies is determining, accurately, which way the cause->effect relationship runs.

        A good question, but RTFA:

        Dr Maguire said: "We are now looking at the brains of taxi-drivers before they start training, and at those of retired cabbies to see whether that area of the brain gets smaller when it is not used."

        Hopefully they'll actually follow the pre-training drivers through all the way through training so they don't compare future wash-outs with present successful cabbies rather than future successful cabbies with present successful cabbies. If so, it should go a long way toward answering your question.

        The ultimate would be to compare the same population of cabbies vs. bus drivers (control group) through their entire careers. Obviously that'd be a long-term study, and it will become impossible when "the Knowledge" is obsoleted by GPS mapping software. (I say "when" rather than "if". It will happen sooner or later.)

        • by timeOday (582209)

          The ultimate would be to compare the same population of cabbies vs. bus drivers (control group) through their entire careers. Obviously that'd be a long-term study, and it will become impossible when "the Knowledge" is obsoleted by GPS mapping software.

          I wouldn't assume GPS will have any effect. Who knows, maybe people will learn the city faster and more thoroughly by repeatedly seeing themselves move through a computer-generated map.

          There seems to be an assumption that people won't learn what they don

          • Re:Cause or Effect? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by slamb (119285) * on Sunday December 17, 2006 @09:07PM (#17281578) Homepage
            There seems to be an assumption that people won't learn what they don't "have to" learn (I've heard this argument against PDAs too). But maybe people just learn what they're repeatedly exposed to, or things with emotional connections. Technology may or may not interfere with that. It's not a question I would guess at the answer without some evidence either way.

            I generalized from similar observations:

            • Now that I have a cell phone with a good phonebook, I no longer memorize phone numbers. (I remember phone numbers I called 10 years ago, but I don't remember phone numbers I now call all the time. There's no need.)
            • Now that cashiers have cash registers, they no longer do basic arithmetic. (Sadly, most don't even remember how to do the arithmetic. They were all instructed in elementary school, but it didn't stick...)
            • Now that cashiers have bar code scanners, they no longer remember prices. (But they do remember the typed codes for fruit and vegetables.)
            • Now that I have Eclipse toolhints, I no longer remember Java library functions' argument orders.
            • ...

            In general, it seems that when it's more convenient and about as effective to use a machine as to do something by hand, people will no longer take the effort to do it themselves. And memorization (of prices, phone numbers, street names, anything) is way harder for people than for computers.

            If the software works well enough that cabbies can reliably enter an address and find the street, why should cabbies be made to remember all the street names? And if it works so well that it can reliably pick an optimal route (including traffic, construction, etc.) why should they even remember how to get anywhere?

            In fact, I predict they'll start depending on it before it's reliable. The test will go away, and for better or for worse, there will be a lot more cabbies out there, and they won't be able to get around very well when the computer acts up, just like a lot of businesses now can barely sell anything when their cash registers act up. It will be a pain to get to certain streets because the database is wrong, and cabbies will unknowingly avoid certain more optimal turns/intersections because the software can't navigate through them.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by aussie_a (778472)

              Sadly, most don't even remember how to do the arithmetic. They were all instructed in elementary school, but it didn't stick...
              I'm sure people said the same thing about morse code.
        • by timeOday (582209) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @07:41PM (#17280918)
          I'm surprised they even bothered if it's not a longitudinal study. "This just in, basketball makes you taller. Those who give up on basketball don't develop legs as long as those who stay with it throughout professional basketball careers."
      • by StikyPad (445176)
        I think it's safe to assume that most taxi drivers do their jobs because it beats being a janitor. It's possible that some drivers are fulfilling a lifelong career goal, but I'm pretty sure most of them are just people who noticed Yellow Cab was hiring that day.
      • Re:Cause or Effect? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by dirgotronix (576521) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @10:26PM (#17282052) Homepage
        I'm a cabbie.

        I was in a motorcycle accident in 2001 which caused serious short-term memory issues in my brain. I started driving a cab in february of 2006, and I have noticed an increase in my short term memory.

        When I first started, I would have to ask my passengers to give me directions one turn at a time (and in my mind, I was repeating that single direction) in order to get to the destination. Now, I can generally get anywhere on address alone, or, at a minimum, remember the address all the way through the trip, despite having various conversations, remembering turn by turn directions, avoiding accidents, etc.

        I'd say I agree with the studies, from personal experience.
    • by rolfwind (528248) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @05:42PM (#17279968)
      Interesting you mention typing. I touch-typed with a regular QWERTY keyboard for at least 10 years, and two years back, I switched to the DVORAK layout. These days, people look at me in disbelief if they know I can program computers, but I start fumble with a regular keyboard. My muscle memory has completely changed over to dvorak and I can't type QWERTY worth a damn. I am a relatively quick learner (learned fluent dvorak by forcing it on myself in 8 hours of concentration) too.

      My mother used to be fluent in French, being a translator. She hasn't used the language in 20 years. She has almost forgotten it completely as she can't make sentences so easily. (Though I am sure she can get back into it 100x faster than a newcomer).

      It is almost like the brain is a muscle. After Terry Shiavo died, the autopsy found that her brain shrunk to the size of grapefruit.

      I wonder if there is a correlation of speed of learning and speed of forgetting and the brains that "erase" (or shove aside) old info faster take in new information easier.
      • by spoco2 (322835)
        Just as a question, have you found the switch to DVORAK to be worth it? I mean, with the losing the agility on pretty much every other keyboard around, do the benefits really outweigh that loss?
        • by rolfwind (528248)
          Yes, pretty much - I mean I can generally type faster (English) than before and the pain in my wrists went away (it usually happened while typing long letters with QWERTY). For programming, the characters like semicolon, brackets and stuff may be about the same as QWERTY as DVORAK in convenience, as DVORAK was not generally made for that.

          It presents no problem on my computers (Ubuntu, Mac OSX, Windows XP) as they all can switch your layout in software. The worst operating system with this is actually Micr
          • by spoco2 (322835)

            Yes, pretty much - I mean I can generally type faster (English) than before and the pain in my wrists went away (it usually happened while typing long letters with QWERTY).
            Ah, yeah, the pain in wrists would be about the only thing that would make me switch... which I don't get... so no need for me :)
    • by chgros (690878)
      First time I've seen the brain called a muscle.
    • That is a stupid statement. The mechanism by which muscles grow, and the mechanism by which brain cells organize/reproduce are ENTIRELY different.
  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Sunday December 17, 2006 @04:26PM (#17279364)
    Does memorizing the names and stats of baseball players make your brain grow?

    What about people who memorize every little detail of Star Trek?

    Or is it that only people with the additional brain mass CAN memorize all those items?
    • by FyRE666 (263011)
      Believe me, anyone who's taken a cab in London probably won't have gotten the impression that a London cabbie's ability to memorize the locations of thousands of streets has anything to do with their towering intellects ;-)
    • by HappySqurriel (1010623) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @04:51PM (#17279586)
      Or is it that only people with the additional brain mass CAN memorize all those items?

      Trust me, memorization has very little to do with intelligence and more to do with exposure and motivation to memorize a subject ...

      I honestly don't think it should be a surprise that working with an area of your brain would increase its "strength." This is (effectively) what practice is ...

      Take any person who has never learned a musical instrument before and examine the impact of musical stimulus on their brain. Spend 8 hours a day for the next year teaching them musical theory and composition as well as several instruments and then examine the impact of musical stimulus on their brain. Being that they've practiced and learned a lot about music, one would expect that their brain would suddenly become far more involved in the musical experience.

      At the same time, one of the questions of a study like this would be what would the consequence of television be on a person's brain? For the most part television would be training the brain in a way which would not be particularly useful in any pursuit and yet many/most people have a ton of exposure to this influence.
      • I honestly don't think it should be a surprise that working with an area of your brain would increase its "strength." This is (effectively) what practice is

        No surprise, yes, but often overlooked or disregarded. There have been studies on the brains of older folks and Alzheimer patients that have shown that people who make an effort to be stimulate their brains in later life (by reading, taking classes, learning music, etc.) tend to fare better than their counterparts. I wonder why it is that when people
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gad_zuki! (70830)
        Depends on the television shows of course. I dont like this general dismissal of an entire medium. When peope say it about the web, the geeks get all up in arms, but the geeks do the same thing to tv.

        TV is mostly entertainment. So its really not that different than me driving my ass to the comedy clubs downtown. I'm "engaged" in the same way, yet we dont see so much PC hysteria about this or other forms of entertainment. Well, we do with videogames, but again its a double standard depending on who is com
    • by nietsch (112711)
      Not that I read TFA, but the blurb suggests they tested experienced cabbies, not fresh ones. It would be interesrting to see fresh graduates compared to those who failed the exam. Your hypothesis would suggest that a very sizable portion (the ones with 'normal' size memory regions) would fail for the exam and not try again. That is very testable, how many people ultimately fail this exam? I think it is not a lot, as it would mean that you'd have to throw away all the time you had invested in learning those
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pilgrim23 (716938)
      If you consider what a NEW development in the real history of man Writing is, Memorization was not just a good idea, it was all we had! if you look close at the great works of various tribes of man that come from before writing: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, the poetic Edda, early portions of the Sutras, etc. And if you look at later works such as the Janist Canon and the Koran; Rhyme scheme was the technique used to insure the passage of a piece of information unchanged down through the generations. Th
    • That's a good question. It reminds me of the episode of Next Generation where Geordi's VISOR (yeah, it's an acronym - stands for Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement) causes a subspace disruption because of some odd property of the region of space the Enterprise was traveling through, and Data's positronic brain ... actually I forget how it all ended up.
    • I think we won't need a study that those nuts... ...will have missed to train and develop the brin cells needed to learn to use a shower.
    • Well, the reason they looked at London cab drivers is because of the massive amount of spatial information they have to know. The hippocampus was first shown to be involved in spatial memory in rats in the '70s (if memory serves), though it is also known to be involved in episodic memory.

      The original idea was that the hippocampus holds a map of spatial environments, and so if someone has a very large amount of spatial knowledge, maybe their hippocampal anatomy will reflect that. This hypothesis is supported
    • What about people who memorize every little detail of Star Trek?

      Bones: Dammit Jim. I'm a doctor, not a cab driver!

  • 'We believe the brain increased in gray matter volume because of the huge amount or data memorized.

    Did these scientists have a "control experiment" done? The very usage of the word "believe" scares me. That means that there could be another scientist who might *not* believe.

    May be those brain cells grow because of the working environment these taxi drivers find themselves in. In this case, they see so much traffic in their particular work day - maybe.

    • Well, ideally there should always be another scientist who doesn't believe ... that's what keeps the bulk of science and its practitioners honest. All this scientist is saying is "here's our interpretation of the data, others will follow with their own interpretations and hopefully more experimental evidence." Doesn't scare me at all: it's the correct attitude. Where I do get nervous is when I hear something along the lines of "we've proven that the brain increased in gray matter because of the huge amount
    • by zCyl (14362) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @04:46PM (#17279556)
      Did these scientists have a "control experiment" done? The very usage of the word "believe" scares me. That means that there could be another scientist who might *not* believe.

      Welcome to the real world of science, where conclusions are not solid, facts are not certain, and evidence is only an indication. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by niconorsk (787297)
      From TFA:

      In the study, researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL's Institute of Neurology carried out scans on the brains of 35 cabbies and bus drivers, all men. Various psychological tests were also carried out. Using bus drivers meant that any brain differences found could not be explained by driving stress, or dealing with passengers and traffic in London. The one big difference between the two is that bus drivers stick to routes, while cabbies have to learn the layout of streets and the locations of thousands of places of interest to get an operating licence.

      So clearly they had thought of that particular possibility. What concerns me though, is how they know that their brain matter has grown rather than just having large memory centers from the start. They should probably do the same experiment with cabbies preparing for their exam and take the measure before and after.

    • If you want someone to tell you without a doubt what the facts are, then you want religion, not science. Oh, and the facts they tell you will be wrong, but at least they will be confident about it.
    • I live in London, and I agree that learning your way around London traffic is very demanding, especially all those "Blue Book runs", but I suspect its the effect of breathing in diesel fumes all day that make the taxi drivers' brains grow. (It might also be the need to learn to make insulting remarks about other drivers in 47 different languages.)
  • London cabbies... (Score:5, Informative)

    by soliptic (665417) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @04:27PM (#17279374) Journal
    See The Knowledge [wikipedia.org] and the references from there. I think it is only required for taxicab drivers (ie "Black cabs"), not minicab drivers.
  • london streets (Score:3, Informative)

    by endx7 (706884) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @04:32PM (#17279424) Homepage Journal

    London cabbies, unlike their American counterparts, have to learn the layout of streets and the locations of thousands of places of interest in order to get a licence.

    London is also harder to get around, due to the way street names in London work.
    • Re:london streets (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gilgongo (57446) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @05:27PM (#17279858) Homepage Journal
      One side effect of London cabbies having to do "The Knowledge" to get a license is that it creates a market for cheap, illegal cab drivers to fill the supply gap brough about by having such an exclusive system. With hoards of unlicensed cabbies around, women get raped, uninsured road accidents happen, tourists get ripped off and legitimate cab fares are sky high.

      I am a Londoner, and I think the sooner the GPS makes The Knowledge a prerequisite of licenced cab driving irrelevant, the better. The times I've been to NYC and got a cab it's been paradise in comparison.

      • Maybe navigation in New York is easy. In San Francisco you have to act as navigator yourself for taxi drivers, but for some reason they don't pay you for your work. In London I can step in a cab unprepared and know that I can get to even obscure little streets with the minimum of hassle.
      • by jb.hl.com (782137)
        With hoards of unlicensed cabbies around, women get raped

        Which is precisely the point a (fairly disturbing) Transport for London cinema ad made a few months back. Bit OTT, sure, but I guess in one way or another entirely necessary.
      • by Tim C (15259)
        and legitimate cab fares are sky high

        The unlicensed ones aren't exactly cheap either, in my experience. Still, I live far enough out (Zone 6 on the District Line) that them not having any idea how to get back to the centre of London is revenge enough for me on those thankfully rare occasions that I have to get a cab home.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by James Youngman (3732)
        Many of the smaller UK cities (Birmingham, Manchetser and Leeds, for example) have licensed hansom cabs, too. But the key thing is that they also regulate their minicabs too. It's possible to do both.


        So the problem is not that London regulates its black cabs. The problem is that it doesn't regulate the minicabs.

  • Old news for nerds? (Score:5, Informative)

    by the_humeister (922869) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @04:32PM (#17279428)
    Studies were published in the year 2000 [pnas.org]. Why is this now getting attention? Actually, come to think of it, I think it got attention back then too.
    • by BitHive (578094)
      Glad to see I'm not the only one who remembers this. Anyone that likes these kinds of stories should look into Neuroplasticity [wikipedia.org] research. The brain's capacity for reorganization is enormous.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by blakestah (91866)
      Yeah, I was suspicious of it then, too.

      The taxi drivers have a 20% reduction in anterior hippocampus. And
      a 7-8% increase in posterior hippocampus.

      Therefore the brain grows from experience!
      http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/97/8/4398/F2 [pnas.org]

      Then they went on to show a correlation with time as a taxi driver,
      but it was only significant if they removed one outlier, a process
      that COULD NOT POSSIBLY HAVE BEEN important to their statistical
      finding.
      http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/97/8/4398 [pnas.org]

      That part of the brain h
  • American cabbies are usually fine, but then again ....

    I once had this cab driver who picked me up from Fairbanks International and didn't know the way to Ester.* He was actually angry at me for "wasting his time" and wanted me to call 911 for directions and eventually dropped me back off the airport and wanted $25 for his trouble. (!)

    *Ester is a little village a few miles from Fairbanks on a major road that anyone of speaking age who's lived in town for more than a month can give you directions to. I know w
  • by Sciros (986030)
    Well that's good news because now I can say that playing MTG and Guild Wars and reading comic books has been simply to increase my brain size. Nothing to do with being a huge nerd. Oh, wait.
  • People have no idea what the phone numbers are for their friends/family as they've all been programmed into speed dial.

    • In the year 2525, if Man is still alive,

      Arms and legs have nothin' to do,

      some machine be doin' it for you.


      Apparently this applies to our brains as well as our limbs.
    • by rubycodez (864176)
      pfft, I can't even remember the speed dial assignments, I just scroll down my contacts list and hit call. funny we still call it "dialing a number", phones haven't had a dial for more than two decades.
  • Does this mean... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kiba Ruby (1037440) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @04:43PM (#17279506) Homepage
    Does this mean that programmers are more logical than people?
  • "She warns against the use of GPS and says it will possibly affect the brain changes seen in this study."

    So we shouldn't use technology because it interferes with their study? Or maybe they just think that somehow humanity will become smarter and more efficient as adults make new brain cells specific to a task? Darwinian natural selection issues aside, it sounds like something straight out of Frank Herbert's series.
  • "GPS [Global Positioning System] may have a big effect," says Dr Eleanor Maguire, who led the research at University College London. "We very much hope they don't start using it. We believe this area of the brain increased in grey matter volume because of the huge amount or data they have to memorise.If they all start using GPS, that knowledge base will be less and possibly effect the brain changes we are seeing."

    So, Construction Workers shouldn't use heavy equipment because it could effect their muscle

  • Damn. I wish taxi drivers would grow more brain cells in the region of driving ability, or in the "direction finding and map reading" area.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FyRE666 (263011)
      In defence of London cabbies, it's hard to fault them on their ability to drive or navigate between two points. I've no idea how they manage to stand 8 hours a day of London traffic without becoming raging psychopaths though...
      • by dangitman (862676)
        you simply MUST read a book by Will Self called "The Book of Dave" - it's about a London cabbie who goes psychotic on "The Knowledge" of London streets. It's even part science fiction/fantasy. If you haven't read Will Self, it's time to start. He's the current master of British literature.
  • It's true (Score:3, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @05:27PM (#17279854) Homepage Journal
    I've found my Bullshit Lobe doubling in size since I entered the corporate world.
  • by KarmaRundi (880281) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @05:38PM (#17279942)
    "Soc. At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality." Translation nabbed from here [muohio.edu]

    Bet he would have hated Google. All we have to remember now is how to use it and a few key words.

  • by 56ker (566853) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @05:46PM (#17279998) Homepage Journal
    London cab driver (visiting my mum's cousin):-

    No map required, took us directly to the street - no problems - good tip

    American cab driver (picked me up from Dallas Fort Worth airport)

    Said he "used to live there", had a map - was only 6 miles from the airport but he managed to get lost, take about an hour or two to get there (had this insistence he must drop me off at the correct number) and ended up charging less than what was on his meter out of embarrassment.

    So, yes I'll take a London cab driver (or walking/public transport if I'm in America) vs their American equivalent any day of the week. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by StikyPad (445176)
      Well you sure convinced me! I mean if a sample size of 1 per set isn't enough to draw a conclusion, then what is?!

      Anyway, as long as we're on anecdotes, when I was in Japan, I asked the cab driver to take me to a well-known club, even using what Japanese I knew, plus a Japanese accent with my English (which actually works better than trying to speak Japanese in many situations). Apparently the language barrier was too steep, so I just showed him the flier with the map all written in Japanese. Instead of
    • London cabbies have a distinct advantage over their American counterparts. They finished laying out all the roads in London shortly after the Romans left. By default he doesn't have to learn anything new :p

      Of course the system of laying them out and naming them is only known to the madman that created them. Finding your way around on the English roadways is definitely a skill based on good memory and a lot of experience (getting lost a dozen times).

      "Street signs telling you what road you are on, st

  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @05:56PM (#17280098) Journal
    Sounds to me like using a GPS means there is more space in your skull for your brain to expand to deal with interesting tasks rather than mundane crap like how to get from A to B. I think I'll get one today.
  • London cabbies, unlike their American counterparts, have to learn the layout of streets and the locations of thousands of places of interest in order to get a licence.

    Because all American cities are laid out in square grids of exact size and cabbies drive from one end to the other in a continuous loop like little yellow trains.

    Yes, yes, I know London is complicated, but come on now.
  • by cvd6262 (180823) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @06:08PM (#17280182)
    Recommending that GPS units shouldn't be used because it would cause a change in the person's brain is ridiculous unless the benefit of *not* changing the brain is good for anything other than the task the GPS does.

    American Scientist had an episode where they taught a seeing girl braille, and tested her ability while doing an fMRI. The sections of her brain that fired during the test were associated with tactile processing. Then they blindfolded her for 100 hours, and retested. This time, her visual cortex was firing. The brain is dynamic and can repurpose unused neurons. This may be why people can no longer remember 7-digit telephone numbers: We all have PDA/cell phones to do it for us.

    Is this bad? Not unless you value the ability to remember phone numbers.

    Would it be bad if London taxi drivers no longer knew every little alleyway? Not so long as they could still accomplish their task.

    BTW, I had a very different experience with a cabby in Paris. I told him where I wanted to go and he handed me a road atlas and said, "Trouvez-le."
  • This research was reported 6 years ago [bbc.co.uk] - why is it surfacing again?
  • I read an article 5 or 6 years ago that predicted this change of thinking, that the smartest/brightest individuals wouldn't be the ones that knew everything, but the ones that could figure out information the fastest. Google, wikipedia, gps are all articles that allow you quick access to information. The authors argument that this will hinder our mental thought process ignores the fact that google, wikipedia, gps are all pretty useless unless we know what we are looking for in the first place.
  • by Ranger (1783) on Sunday December 17, 2006 @07:51PM (#17281014) Homepage
    Plato putting words in Socrates mouth had this to say in Phaedrus [upenn.edu] about how the art of writing destroys memory. So this is nothing new. I think this GPS destroys memory story breaks the record for old news, 2,400 years old:

    Socrates: At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts.

    But when they came to etters (i.e–writing), This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit.

    Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
  • This does not necessarily mean that there are more brain cells. Increased volume of gray matter can result from the growth of more interconnections between existing cells. Recent studies of mammalian brains suggests that new brain cells may form in adults, but there is a lot of uncertainty about this.
  • In other news... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ultranova (717540) on Monday December 18, 2006 @06:30AM (#17284222)

    Med-I-Cal, Inc. has filed a patent on a revolutionary new method of improving muslce tone. From an interview with company CEO Mr. Smith:

    "After long and expensive testing, we have found that repeatedly lifting heavy objects for as little as 15 minutes each day causes muscle mass in adults to increase and the amount of body fat to decrease without any of the side effects our current line of hormonal products may, under extremely rare circumstances and with no liability to us, show. We are seeking to bring such objects with an easy to grip handle into the market within the next 10 years."

    Mr. Smith also stated that the makers of many piratical weightlifting products currently flooding the market would face "heavy consequences" and proceeded to pick up and throw a car towards a 3rd-story window in a fit of hormone-induced rage. Luckily a passing taxi driver was able to stop the car in midflight and bring it down safely with his amazing psychokinetic powers, the result of strenuously exercising his brain for years beyond human limits.

    Mr. Smith and the taxi driver then engaged in a superpowered fight that reduced most of downtown into smoking rubble. The fight ended in a draw when the smoke caused the combatants to lose sight of each other and wander off. The taxi drivers union settled out of court to use their mind powers to restore the city, heal the injured and raise the dead, a task that took them approximately 15 minutes. Mr. Smith, being the head of a large corporation, was not accused despite having started the fight.

Lisp Users: Due to the holiday next Monday, there will be no garbage collection.

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