Rachel Carsons who wrote the definitive work Silent Spring in 1962, her classic exposition on the potentially disastrous role of DDT which caused such damage to wildlife, birds, bees, agricultural animals, domestic pets, and even humans; has said  “If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in, the chances are very high that you will interest other people as well.”

I am interested in maintaining my cognitive reserve, which includes my ability to concentrate, pay attention and remember.   Since I learned about neuroplasticity; a concept which has only been part of the lexicon of medical terms for the past 20 years, I have realised that the maintenance of my cognitive skills is dependent on the use I make of my cognitive potential on a day to day basis.

Daily Rituals

Hence I have certain daily practices like doing the Sudoku problem in the Cape Times, as well as checking out the daily bridge problem.   Another attention and memory skill I attempt to do on a daily basis is Mindsparke, see http://mindsparke.com/    Whilst today a subscription needs to be purchased on a monthly basis to practice this sophisticated training when I started practising Mindsparke it could be purchased on a CD.    I have great faith in this exercise which involves some complex multi-tasking such as remembering both visual and auditory cues simultaneously.   The participant has to pay attention to the incoming cues delivered to two sensory modalities, and then make an appropriate response on the keyboard.    I have offered many of my students a copy of this CD (after getting permission from the creator), but so far I have not found anyone who has performed the exercise in the long term.

Another interesting daily task which can be done on the internet can be found at this link https://www.setgame.com/set/puzzle   I invite you to follow the link and engage in the game.  It is not too difficult to follow the instructions offered, and you may well find it an interesting challenge.   As you improve at Setgame, you will find you can perform the task in less time on each attempt.

Facility with Numbers

I am not a great mathematician, nor am I a graduate in any form of the “hard” sciences.   Despite my lack of academic study in chemistry, or physics, I enjoy numbers puzzles.   For the past six years, I have been attending monthly meetings offered by Alison, a retired teacher of mathematics.   She offers her expertise and vast experience to a small group of local members of the University of the Third Age.   At our monthly meetings, Alison offers as some challenges which involve just over an hour of concentrated thinking, whilst the rest of the morning is devoted to conversation and chat.

Some of the topics we have discussed over the years include Magic Squares, Pascal’s Triangle, Nine and some multiples of Nine, Farey’s sequences, Bayes Theorem and Matrix Multiplication.   These topics may sound somewhat esoteric to the uninitiated, but they can all be tackled with matric level mathematics.

Today we were given some tasks on the qualities of Polyhedra, which are solid shapes with flat faces and straight edges.   The pictures illustrating this blog will give you an idea of what a polyhedron looks like.   It was such fun making these models with toothpicks and jelly tots!

Here is a challenge!

My challenge to you the reader is to follow the links I offer to both Mindsparke and Setgame.   It will help to ensure that your cognitive reserve is not only maintained, but also enhanced.   Let me know in the comments section how you fared!

Burning the Candle at both Ends

They say you cannot burn the candle at both ends, but today in the middle of summer I managed to do just that.   At 8am this morning, just after sunrise,  I was on the tennis court playing in a Tournament at my local club to mark the start of the summer season.   By the time the heat of the day had developed, the tennis match was completed, and I was having a swim at the local gym to refresh myself after the physical exertion of running around hitting a tennis ball.   This evening was the time to play croquet which continued until sunset after 8pm.   There is no doubt in my mind that the best part of a summer day is in the early morning and the late evening.   How grateful and lucky I am to have the facilities, the lifestyle and the health to take advantage of the long summer days of the South African summer.


In addition it is said there is no such thing as multi-tasking.   I have found a very special way of performing more than one activity at the same time.   Walking my dogs in the evening has been part of my routine for the last fifty-five years.   I have always had a dog and once your canine companion knows that he is going to have a walk in the evenings, there is no way that activity can be skipped for even one day.   However during my evening foray onto the croquet lawns, my opponent and I have the place to ourselves which means that I am able to take my Whippets along for their daily evening run around.   They have a wonderful time chasing each other on the lawns, disturbing the birds and finding other canine things to keep themselves active and busy.  Simultaneously I am having a good time playing a game that I love.   How’s that for multi-tasking?

What the Experts Say!

I have always found some resistance to the certitude many experts display when they announce that multi-tasking is not possible.   I feel that we spend an awful lot of our time multi-tasking in all sorts of ways.  Driving a car is an activity which involves using our visual ability to scan for objects that may be in our way, our auditory senses to listen for sounds which may be a harbinger of danger, whilst simultaneously handling the gears with our hands and the accelerator and break with our feet.   We may be enjoying a conversation or listening to the radio at the same time.   However, I do agree that texting and driving is not a good idea – even if it were legal!


I would like to rephrase the popular description of the inability to multi-task.   I believe that activities requiring a high degree of concentration and skill may be compromised when performed simultaneously.   However, so many undertakings that occupy our daily activities do in fact incorporate a degree of multi-tasking.

What about a pilot or the captain of the ship.   They must be at one and the same time aware of a wide range of tasks that need to be accomplished.   A surgeon doing a tricky operation must be cognisant of the tasks needing to be performed by his whole team whilst he is performing the delicate work of the operation.

It is well known that women are better at multi-tasking than men.   Being a mother one’s time and attention is constantly divided by the needs of the various members of the family.   A mother may be preparing a meal whilst helping the children with their homework.  In between she may be called away to the phone or have to answer the door-bell.    Her efficiency may suffer, and her tension levels may be challenged, but her ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously will remain sustained.

Mark Williams on this Topic

I recently returned from an international conference on Mindfulness where Mark Williams who is so well known for his work on teaching sufferers of depression hoe Mindfulness can assistt hem in improving their attitude to the illness and their capacity to improve their coping skills with a change of attitude.

He did an experiment with the live audience to illustrate the impossibility of multitasking.   In front of the audience of about a hundred people, he challenged them to count to ten in their minds, and raise their hands when they had completed the task.   “That took you two seconds“, he determined after the demonstration.    And now, he challenged the audience to say, “Mary had a little lamb who followed her to school.”   A similar methodology of timing brought the demonstrator to the conclusion that it took three seconds for the audience to say the selected phrases in their minds.   “And now,” Mark announced, “I would like you to say; ‘Mary’, followed by the number ‘one.’   Then ‘had’ followed by the number ‘two’ and proceed in this way until the end of the sentence.    See how fast you can perform that task and indicate to me when you have finished.”

“You see.   Instead of taking you 2 + 5 seconds, that took you 15 seconds.’ He announced with great delight.   “So performing the task of counting and interspersing it with reciting a nursery rhyme leads to inefficiency,” he declared.   However, I fail to be convinced that this particular example can be representative of multi-tasking in all its manifestations.

I retain the belief that the ability to multitask depends on the situation and the degree of complexity of the tasks at hand.   You may well disagree with me, because you will then be in good company!