This I Believe

Nandini - Scottsdale, Arizona
Entered on August 7, 2006

Today I learned that (1) neurogenesis can in fact occur in the nervous system of adult vertebrate animals. I learned that (2) my professor is just as nervous about talking to a student one-on-one as I am about talking to a professor. And I learned that (3) a mint julep can be made with sugar, ice, mint leaves, bourbon, and more ice.

(1) Neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons, was up until very recently, thought to be an unobserved phenomenon in mature vertebrate brains. They said that once you passed the critical developmental period, that was it. If you lost neurons after that, you were out of luck. The ones you had left just had to pick up the slack. Then, researchers met the adult male canary.

The adult male canary, upon being unable to behave and mate normally due to a lesion in the song-learning region of his brain, grew new neurons in response to his deficit.

I bring up this phenomenon of “neurogenesis” for reasons more than the simple fact that I like how the word “neurogenesis” sounds. I bring it up because how exciting is the idea that a simple need to learn can induce such a momentous event as the birth of a new neuron? How exciting is the idea that even when you’re an old and wizened curmudgeon in your nineties, it might be possible for you to learn something that induces such a profound physical change in your brain? They say your capacity to learn diminishes as you get older, but how exciting is it that that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case? That adulthood doesn’t have to be synonymous with tediousness and monotony of day after day of waking, working, and sleeping. I may not manage to change the world, but so long as I keep learning, I could experience a minor miracle with the birth of a new neuron in my brain.

(2) I went to office hours today to speak with my professor. I went to office hours and asked him some questions and watched him dance around and fidget as he answered. And as I was leaving it dawned on me that he was nervous. Intimidated. By me. And it was heartening, to know that there are other people out there as unsure and clueless in their social interactions as I am. This is probably something I knew before today- but there’s knowing, and then there’s knowing.

(3) I have very little to say on the subject of mint juleps except that I was watching a special about the Kentucky Derby and so I learned how they were made. And it was a nice to way to round out my 3 Things I learned Today.

It occurs to me now that I decided to write this essay simply because I wanted to share a new dream that popped up in my soul today. I want to learn. I want to learn and learn until there’s a little pop in the deep recesses of my cerebral cortex and a cell emerges where before there was nothing. In other words I want to learn until my brain explodes. This dream is most likely ridiculously far-fetched and unattainable, but I will pursue it regardless. Because learning, gives my life purpose. And in that, I believe.