Monday, January 12, 2009

makes sense...the city hurts your brain

From Jonah Leher, over at, via a friend of mine.

"THE CITY HAS always been an engine of intellectual life, from the 18th-century coffeehouses of London, where citizens gathered to discuss chemistry and radical politics, to the Left Bank bars of modern Paris, where Pablo Picasso held forth on modern art. Without the metropolis, we might not have had the great art of Shakespeare or James Joyce; even Einstein was inspired by commuter trains.

And yet, city life isn't easy. The same London cafes that stimulated Ben Franklin also helped spread cholera; Picasso eventually bought an estate in quiet Provence. While the modern city might be a haven for playwrights, poets, and physicists, it's also a deeply unnatural and overwhelming place.


The reason such seemingly trivial mental tasks leave us depleted is that they exploit one of the crucial weak spots of the brain. A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to constantly redirect our attention so that we aren't distracted by irrelevant things, like a flashing neon sign or the cellphone conversation of a nearby passenger on the bus. This sort of controlled perception -- we are telling the mind what to pay attention to -- takes energy and effort. The mind is like a powerful supercomputer, but the act of paying attention consumes much of its processing power.


Richard Serra said...

A: I enjoy the city as much as I enjoy wasting money on 'perfumed' cigarettes.

Q: so do you enjoy aspects of the city

A: is the city so different than this conversation or that conversion

Archi-Phreak said...

For me, the appeal of The City is precisely that Unnatural quality that it has. The noise, the architecture, the life flowing all around you all the time. It's as exciting as it is sometimes frustrating and unnerving. "Give me The City, or give me death".

madeleine said...

I'm certainly not advocating a wholesale abandonments of cities, more like a reminder to sometimes step away, or at least to find a quiet place to let the mind breathe...