Bundled nerves are the brain’s fibers and when you exercise them they grow. Brains are not made of meat like muscle, but the workout is the same. The more you flex your brain, the stronger it becomes. How do you learn to thread needles? By threading needles. Want to learn how to thread a needle really well? Thread one thousand needles. Repetition is the weight-lifting of learning. The brain is just a numbers game.
As the physique of a body is sculpted by physical exercises, the shape of a mind is sculpted by mental movements against resistance: the higher the hurdle, the greater the leap. You see, tucked into the corners of most brains are orderly arrangements of equipment: stations for coordinating swallowing muscles, ropes and pulleys for moving arms and legs, gears for churning out language, machines for crunching numbers, labs for interpreting fragrances, stretchable red plastic monkey bars latticing the imagination, a screen onto which is projected a cinematic version of reality, a bare space on the second story for spiritual calisthenics, sound-proofed with mats and candied with stained-glass windows and a carousel near the lobby for dreaming and falling in love. Of course, the equipment will vary from brain to brain – one gym may have a spectacular sound system while another gym of the same age might have lost it to malfunction or catastrophe or may never even had one to begin with – but regardless of these individual differences, in every brain the weights are heavy. And they aren’t going to lift themselves. In other words, learning doesn’t happen by magic. I try to make it a habit. I usually stop at the brain on my way home from school . . . jog on the treadmill for a while, swim some laps, think a few sit-ups at least, but some days, I tell you, it is all I can do to drag myself onto the sofa, slouch in front of a television screen and point myself toward it.