Jonah Lehrer’s piece in the Boston Globe got us thinking (or, at least, trying to think — our brain has been subject to Shanghai for six years now):
Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.
Um. Hmmm. This doesn’t bode well for Shanghai, one of the largest, most crowded urban environments on Earth. But wait, there’s more.
One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.
What our brains need, Lehrer concludes, are parks. Real parks, with lots of tall trees, a diverse mix of plants and animals, and grass you can stroll upon. What our brains need, it seems, is to get out of Shanghai. Sure there are Shanghai parks that meet some of these criteria, but just think how dumb you’ll get navigating the city’s stimuli-stuffed streets on your way there.
Less than two weeks until Spring Festival. Until then, we’ll be on our roof sitting next to our Christmas tree.
Source: Andrew Sullivan