The default mode for an apex predator is ‘energy saver,’ and it’s why lions laze about on the Serengeti. Humans are no different, and if we have two options, we’ll instinctively reach for the choice that uses the least amount of energy. It’s like this: If you’re hungry and sitting in front of a perfectly cooked steak, you aren’t going to chase down, kill and pluck a nearby chicken. You’re going to eat the steak. Or, if you’re more of a herbivore - you can replace steak with felafel and hunting chickens with - I don’t know - making tofu from soya beans.

What took me a long time - like thirty-five years to figure out, is that we also want to save our mental energy. That’s why studying is tough, your mind wanders, or you get bored; your brain wants to stop and save that mental energy. It’s exactly like when you are running, and your legs start aching. Your whole body is telling you to stop and save that energy for the hunt.

It’s one of the things I find hardest about parenting. I can’t tell my kids how to flip that switch and tip their minds into concentration mode, only that it’s a switch that exists. And if they can figure out how to turn it on and hold it on? Well, that’ll be when they catch intellectual chickens and discover all kinds of things, like distant worlds, galaxies, and homemade MRI machines.

A photo of the sign that is underneath the head of the participant inside the homemade MRI machine by Tom Sachs.

Photo: Zoe Laughlin

Originally written for the Sachsian Syndicate.

Previously: TGIM 38 - “The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.” (Bucky)