Charles Dickens, perhaps the greatest of the Victorian novelists, was a man of strict routine. Every day, notes his biographer Claire Tomalin, Dickens would write from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. After that, he would put his work away and go out for a long walk. Sometimes he walked as far as 30 miles; sometimes, he walked into the night. "If I couldn't walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish," Dickens wrote.
According to engineering professor Barbara Oakley, author of the new book A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), Dickens wasn't just a guy who knew how to keep himself healthy. Rather, his habits are indicative of someone who has figured out how to make his brain function at a very high level. And for this, Dickens' walks were just as important as his writing sessions. "That sort of downtime, when you're not thinking directly about what you're trying to learn, or figure out, or write about—that downtime is a time of subconscious processing that allows you [learn] better," explains Oakley on this week’s episode. We learn about her new book—and how you can train your brain to learn more efficiently.
This episode also features a short conversation with neuroscientist Lucina Uddin, author of a recent paper finding that autistic kids have less brain flexibility, as well as a discussion of recent research suggesting that musical ability is innate and that fist-bumps are far superior to handshakes as a greeting, assuming you don't want to spread germs.