Football fans, for example. Mention the World Cup and all of a sudden they’re a mine of information, able to recall who scored every goal and how, why, where and in what position they played for every year since man first kicked a studded boot against an oversized pig’s bladder.
Music buffs probably know the lyrics of every number of every album ever recorded in your favourite genre. And even the ‘blondest’ blonde could give a chemistry lesson when it comes to cosmetics.
So it’s not that we can’t learn – just that most of us are selective when it comes to subject matter. It must also be said that, thanks to the internet, we’re pretty lazy too. No longer do we need to trawl to the local library to research our interests, while actually opening a book may be far too tiresome. Intelligence doesn’t really come into it. I’ve known people who can barely string two words together consistently get high marks in exams – simply because they’re able to absorb facts, figures and statistics like a sponge. At the other end of the scale, some geniuses have been distinctly underwhelming when it comes to academia.
Winston Churchill is a case in point. Despite his lacklustre record at school, he went on to become Prime Minister, a brilliant wartime strategist, a prolific writer and historian, and a not bad painter into the bargain. Einstein was another student who failed in every subject except maths and physics. He believed firmly that genuine creative thought was lost when it came to learning by rote. Preferring to keep his mind free for exploring the universe, he refused to clutter up his brain with memorised information but relied instead on reference books for whatever he wanted to know.
That being said, the human brain’s capacity is infinite. According to Carl Sagan, one brain can store information that “would fill some twenty million volumes,” adding: “The brain is a very big place in a very small space.” Even more astoundingly, the brain takes in 100 million bits of data simultaneously from our various senses every second.
Author and scientist Peter Russell agrees: “The more that is learned about the human brain, the more its capacities and potentials are found to go far beyond earlier speculations. Memory is not like a container that gradually fills up. It is more like a tree growing hooks onto which the memories are hung. Everything you remember is another set of hooks on which more new memories can be attached. So the capacity of memory keeps on growing. The more you know, the more you can know.” - The Brain Book.
No one has ever yet discovered all there is to know about the brain. Even after years of study and research by neuroscientists, it remains unchartered and unfathomable. We do know, however, that the brain is extremely hard-working and highly selective. Although millions of messages enter every second, the reticular formation - a network of nerves within the brainstem - screens out non-essential information, sending only the most important to the cerebral cortex and from there into our consciousness. The brain also scans itself. Each second, 8-10 waves sweep through the brain, creating moments of high sensitivity and allowing for stronger signals to be identified and dealt with.
The brain needs exercise. Like any muscle, the more we use it the stronger it becomes, while lack of use can result in weakening the brain, even causing it to fade away. That’s why reading, doing puzzles, conversation and studying of any kind can help us retain our thinking abilities well into old age. Scientists believe that the brains of people who stay mentally active have 40 percent more connections between nerve cells than people who don’t.
And, far from the previous view that brains are fixed by our genes at conception, researchers have since found they can change. Ronald Kotulak, the Pulitzer prize-winning author writes: “No one suspected that the brain was as changeable as science now knows it to be.....The brain is not a static organ; it is a constantly changing mass of cell connections that are deeply affected by experience.” – Inside the Brain
It’s also nice to know that the human brain - “the most complex object in the universe” - is cleverer than computers. Dr Richard M Restak says: “The performance of even the most advanced of the neural-network computers has about one-thousandth the capacity of.....a housefly.”
Good to know we're cleverer than that!
According to the Daily Mail (July 16th 2012), and following an international study, women are now thought to have higher Intelligence Quotas than men for the first time since tests began.
James Flynn, a world-renowned authority on IQ testing says: "In the last 100 years the IQ scores of both men and women have risen but women's have risen faster. This is a consequence of modernity. The complexity of the modern world is making our brains adapt and raising our IQ."
One possible reason why women are mentally outstripping men is the need for working wives and mothers to multitask. However, it could be that women have always been potentially more intelligent than men 'and are only now realising it.'