Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
Rats, worms, and Albert Einstein
If you’re doing something else while reading this email, your brain would like you to stop.
Today’s New York Times tells us that technological multi-tasking hinders the learning process hard-wired into our memories. Scientists working at the University of California, San Francisco discovered that rats whose brains were constantly stimulated did not create a persistent memory of their experiences. Theorizing that rats and people have neurological commonalities (a thesis I prove numerous times a day), they suggest that the same thing happens to humans.
A University of Michigan study likewise found that people learned much better after walking in nature rather than walking in a city. It seems that you and I need downtime to let our brains solidify their experiences and turn them into permanent long-term memories. Reading this essay while watching the news, listening to music and climbing on a Stairmaster may seem like an escape from the rat race, but rats would apparently disagree.
Nonetheless, we multitask away. Short-term mobile games are bestsellers, filling the few free moments we have during the day. There’s always email to check and video to watch. My grandfather witnessed the invention of the shift key and the electric typewriter—I sometimes wonder what he would think of us. But I’m a technological Neanderthal as well; my first dictionary did not include the word “computer.” Our staff taught me how to Tweet last week; now I need to find our Facebook page (wall? site?).
By contrast, Albert Einstein observed: “I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” Bertrand Russell believed that “a happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live.”
Jesus would agree. The Bible tells us that he “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). He taught us, “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
Jonathan Edwards, America’s greatest theologian, assured us, “Though God is infinitely above all and stands in no need of creatures, yet he is graciously pleased to take a merciful notice of poor worms in the dust.” I am such a worm. My brain and my soul both need times today to be quiet with our Father. I would guess that yours do as well.
Jesus called his disciples to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). When will you accept his invitation today?