Use Your Brain

I’m not assailing your IQs. Moreover, I’m not even blaming you; I’m on your side! Allow me to clarify: when I’m calling you dumb, I’m saying that you’re not very street-smart. I’m sure you’re envisioning a slender baller in a wife-beater who’s checking out what’s up, but try to restrain yourself. When I say street-smart, though, I’m thinking more along the lines of being resourceful. Perhaps being physically circumscribed by your situation but not letting that limit what you can accomplish.

I’ll give you an example. During the late ninth century, Al-Battani, the Arab astronomer and mathematician, posited fundamental concepts that were paramount to Copernicus’s drafting of the heliocentric model of the solar system. In Al-Battani’s time, the telescope was yet to be invented for 700 years and the computer for more than 1100 years, two vital tools needed for anyone hoping to divulge the secrets of the cosmos.

You could say that this guy was pretty damn resourceful. In the past, ingenuity and resourcefulness were not traits solely reserved for scientists and engineers, but were part of the human identity. Ingenuity and resourcefulness are not innate qualities but are developed over years and years of hardships and struggles, words that appear all too foreign to the denizens of developed countries.

As a race, we no longer rely upon our brains to face our challenges but rather conscript the help of iPhone apps to tell us what to eat when we’re dieting, or to calculate how much to tip after a classy meal. We didn’t always have the technology crutch. During the period of antiquity, ordinary Greek citizens would memorize perfectly volumes of epic Greek poetry. Ancient Greeks had no databases other than their minds to store these tales. These myths conveyed the fundamentals of Greek culture and belief systems, so failure to preserve them would mean a detrimental blow to their civilization’s identity. So be like them and use that slew of cool mental capacities that we’ve selectively developed.

But philosophy aside and practicality in mind, what’s wrong with a little technological help? A lot, it seems. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that by the end of the century, average global temperatures will rise by 2-11.5 degrees Fahrenheit due mostly to increases in carbon emissions. You might feel bulletproof and embrace the sun’s challenge after surviving the record-crushing high temperatures of last summer, but sorry to break it to you: we have to share this planet with a myriad of other species that probably wouldn’t appreciate that kind of talk. Nature has developed the world’s ecosystems to withstand very narrow temperatures and so even the most minor of disturbances to that gentle balance may lead to the extinction of the organisms that rely upon it. Organisms pivotal in our diets and keep our world spinning the way we know it. But ingenuity isn’t all dead. For example, scientists have conceived of a plan to move an asteroid into a location where the gravitational forces from the earth and the sun cancel out and then disintegrating it with an electromagnetic mass driver to create a layer of dust around the earth. This layer can serve as a second atmosphere that can absorb many of the sun’s hot rays and keep temperatures from spiking too fast. If this isn’t ingenuity, then I don’t know what is. But like a disease, you can treat the symptoms, but they’ll just keep coming back until you cure the underlying source. In the case of climate change, that source is too much carbon dioxide emissions from manufacturers, vehicles and electricity. Because we’ve become accustomed to living our lives with the ease technology offers us, we’re forced to pay the consequences. Not only will our brains suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s, resulting from mentally unchallenging lifestyles consuming our elderly, but eventually our planet will also give up on us. So I’m not asking you to take Katy Perry’s words to heart when she sings about throwing her phone away. But if you’re thinking about keeping up with the new iPhone craze, think about how you’d get around without it. A little human ingenuity can go a long way.

Faisal Chaabani is a fifth-year neurobiology major. He can be reached at