Mental Atrophy

In Biology classes, students learn a phenomenon called atrophy, which is physical organs losing their functional value due to the decay of their cells arising from constant non-use over a prolonged period of time. A few years back, I read about an incident of a Romanian girl who was chained down for a large number of years, and that made her bodily movements almost naught. By the time the rescuers reached out to her, she was physically worn out with her legs and hands almost losing their functional value. The doctors, subsequently, had to do a lot of therapy sessions to get her back on her feet. If you are confined to a dark room for an unusually long period of time, with no access to light, it is highly likely that you will lose your eyesight as your eyes go atrophy. In the deep waters of oceans, fishes do not have eyes because sunlight does not reach there, leading to a situation where eyes have no function to do, so over a period of time, the fishes’ eyes went atrophy.

Similar to physical atrophy, there is something called mental atrophy which is equally dangerous. Mental atrophy is tapering of one or more faculties of mind to non-functional mode when they are not put into use for a significant period of time. Unlike physical atrophy which is evidential, mental atrophy happens beyond man’s visible spectrum, and that makes it even more potent for self-debilitation without his conscious knowledge. In other words, mental atrophy pushes all that part of your intellect, which you do not use, into the no-man’s land in your brain and makes you gradually oblivious of them — the scientific community is almost in unanimity that cerebral cortex is the seat of mind, so the no-man’s land that I have mentioned is somewhere in cerebral cortex.

In simple definition, mental atrophy is memory loss arising from mental absenteeism. Hence, mental atrophy can be better understood using memory as a yardstick. Have you experienced like you knew and remembered something till a few moments back but cannot remember now? I am sure you did, so did I. This has nothing to do with mental atrophy as it is a temporary but recallable loss of memory. However, we also experience inability to remember things which we used to do or were in the realm of our immediate mental space till recently but had not been used for a while. And we fail to remember them even after constant efforts to recall, or sometimes we, finally, might succeed in our effort to recall. This is the first sign that some of our mental faculties are preparing to go atrophy because they have been pushed into the direction of the no-man’s land in cerebral cortex. Continued penchant to not put any effort to revisit the mental faculties will lead to them miniaturizing themselves into non-functional mode.

We are used to people saying that they lost track of the things that they were once good at doing. As a matter of fact, they are referring to the attrition happened to their skillset with which they excelled in their respective fields. The faculties that are prone to such attrition are abilities, capabilities and skills. Intelligence and wisdom, however, cannot be decayed by atrophy, rather, like the therapy sessions the doctors undertook to get the Romanian girl back on her feet, intelligent thinking and wise decisions are the therapy routes to reverse atrophy of the decayed faculties. Imagine that you were once an excellent chef who could dish out, without the aid of any culinary manual, cuisines savored by one and all. The recipes were in your active memory in ready-to-use mode. But a prolonged break from that profession did deplete your culinary expertise, for the skills of recipes that were active in your immediate memory had been pushed into the non-man’s land, i.e., went atrophy — an illustrative example of what happens to your skills when they are not used for a long period of time.  

I came across many people who excelled during their studentship but, subsequently, had failed or did not live up to the mark in their post-university life. Though factors like hard work, discipline, etcetera, matter, their decline in performance has something to do with mental atrophy, too. The vigor with which they used their mental faculties took a downward turn as they went through the rigors of life. They had stopped using some of their skills that made them the best students of their class or college. Over a period of time, they even forget that they used to use some of  their faculties in sterling ways, and thanks to the idling and the consequent atrophy of such built-in faculties, they will not be able to churn out results as they used to do at the colleges.

What makes us to undergo mental atrophy? Confiding to comfort ones and the resultant routinization of the way of living are major contributors to mental atrophy. Comfort zone is the personal enclave in which man feels satisfied with the way he is going about his life. Comfort zone creates a false identity of all-good, hence, a trap of being a perfect ground for mental atrophy. The zone allows us to put into use only those part of our intellect that is needed to generate the comforts as defined by the zone, and we get sweet-slumbered within the zone. A school of thought in Anthropology argues that every man carries inside him the repertoire of knowledge and information from the time the modern man had started to roam around the earth, i.e., 93000 years. If we go by this argument, human intellect is unfathomable. In addition to decaying the faculties that we stopped using, comfort zone draws a line on the usage of this unfathomable intellect, consequently, makes the faculties beyond this line to go atrophy. Over a period of time, if you feel discomfort inside the comfort zone of your life, that is an indication that unused part of your intellect — both that which you stopped using and the never used — is making noises as they are struggling to retain their relevance in the face of the continued fall into the abyssal plains of atrophy. If you listen to such discomforts, you can reverse mental atrophy, like the doctors did therapy sessions to the Romanian girl.

Listening to the discomforts of your comfort zone means that you have started to think intelligently about the limitedness of the comfort zone that you cozied yourself in. In other words, you become aware of the damage being happened to your intellect as you continue to stay in the comfort zone. Intelligent thinking opens up new avenues to break out and explore and, wisdom chooses the best avenue for you. In order this to happen, do not miss out the last noises of hope made by your fading-out intellect.

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