A Colossal Waste of Brain?

https://i0.wp.com/th03.deviantart.net/fs70/PRE/f/2011/158/d/4/waste_pipe_brain_by_tossu_sama-d3i9p05.jpgJust over two years ago I arrived on a grey little campus smack-bam in the middle of the Cape Flats. My almost-nineteen year old mind had mistakenly thought that I would be spending my student life very close to the beautiful Stellenbosch.

Nevertheless, as first years we were told that “the people make campus” and that soon we would grow to love this place.

I remember intense frustration. I told my parents that I couldn’t have a decent conversation with anyone without them throwing around some crazy rare medical disease or SOMEHOW connecting the topic to the health sciences.

Case in point: using the Afrikaans phrase, “Magie vol, ogies toe” – roughly translating to, “Tummy full, eyes shut” – invariably results in someone mentioning some or other “gastro-ocular muscle”. Which of course is non-existent, but we tend to think we are rather clever and witty.

Coming from a high school career where I debated my heart out, I felt restricted. There I would be trying to have a conversation about the state of the nation’s economy and how education is most probably one of our most important solutions and the only response will be no, no, health care actually is. Which kind of loses its impact when it is a soon-to-be-doctor telling you that.

Here we are; students who had to be absolutely brilliant to make it into Med School; who represented their province and sometimes their country in all spheres you could possibly consider. Students who had to be able to apply their minds; to think laterally.

And we come here and we purposefully narrow our minds down such that individuals outside our field struggle to connect with us (surprise-surprise, it’s not simply because we’re all unsociable geniuses).

I think as a first year it is a game, a matter of pride to prove just how INTO your course you are and so you load every sentence with as many medical terms you can remember. But at some point the game becomes a sad reality.


A while ago I met a young man who, after first vehemently apologising for what he was about to say, told me that he feels that studying medicine is a huge waste of brain. His dad is a doctor.

I feel inclined to agree with him. We work so hard and we burry ourselves in cramming every possible fact into our heads that the completeness of the world hurries us by.

Last year I was fortunate enough to meet a group of talented young leaders from different faculties of my university. Once we started talking Freud and Vietnam and recessions it felt as though a dusty room in my mind had been restored. How amazing to feel such completeness of mind, to be able to consider problems in a holistic manner.

Yesterday in a lecture about the physiology of hearing, the lecturer asked us, “If a tree falls in a forest with nobody to hear, does it make a noise?”

She then went on to explain that, since noise is our subjective experience of vibrations going through a series of conversions until it registers in our brain as sound, the physiological answer is no.

Forgive me, for I was irritated that physiology had ignorantly attempted to explain philosophy.

And today, while explaining “racoon eyes” – a common clinical presentation when one has fractured some component of the anterior cranial fossa – the doctor told my class that he thinks a racoon is the same animal that releases a really bad smell when it is scared. He is an excellent lecturer though and certainly brilliant. It was kind of cute…

Do you agree with me yet?

One last bit of brain:

In neurology, we learn that mathematical, language and writing abilities are localised mostly in the left hemisphere of the brain while spatial visualisation and analysis (think: the more creative stuff) are found in the right side of the brain.

I can’t help but think that using one hemisphere continuously and underutilising the other (which actually proved its worth by helping you through high school) is just not good for you.

A friend of mine is staying up late at night to play the piano and tired as she is, she looks great. Another friend is reading again, and I can just see the cogs in her mind working (non-anatomically, of course).

I am taking a bit longer to discover what it is that used to make me tick, but once I find it (or the many “its”) I will be sure to make my brain a little less lopsided.

I think perhaps it is not what we study that makes us dumb… it is how we study it.







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