MIT is of­fer­ing RM1m to those who go against the norm to bring change

New Straits Times - - Opinion - syed­ The writer is a for­mer NST group ed­i­tor

Can we, in Malaysia, go through the same process here and move away from con­ven­tion and ‘pan­tang-larang’ (taboos)?

SOME peo­ple are try­ing to un­earth real ge­niuses the un­con­ven­tional, bizarre, ec­cen­tric and out-of-the­o­r­di­nary way. They of­fer a hefty reward to “rule-break­ers” or those who go against the norm but, at the same time, still man­age to bring for­ward a cut­tingedge in­no­va­tion.

The Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (MIT) an­nounced on Fri­day that it would award US$250,000 (RM1.1 mil­lion) to a group or in­di­vid­ual for this kind of dis­obe­di­ence.

“This idea came af­ter a re­al­i­sa­tion that there’s a wide­spread frus­tra­tion from peo­ple try­ing to fig­ure out how we can ef­fec­tively harness re­spon­si­ble, eth­i­cal dis­obe­di­ence aimed at chal­leng­ing our norms, rules or laws to ben­e­fit so­ci­ety,” the uni­ver­sity’s Me­dia Lab web­site says.

MIT is a pri­vate re­search uni­ver­sity in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, of­ten cited as one of the world’s most pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties.

So, the caveat is “re­spon­si­ble, eth­i­cal dis­obe­di­ence”. But, still, the fact is, it is a bold and coura­geous move to get the best ac­com­plish­ments. Can we, in Malaysia, go through the same process here and move away from con­ven­tion and pan­tanglarang (taboos)? I doubt it, I really do. That is why we are eas­ily con­tented with what we have.

“You don’t change the world by do­ing what you’re told,” says Joi Ito, the di­rec­tor of MIT’s Me­dia Lab. “You get it for ques­tion­ing author­ity.”

He men­tioned the val­ues em­bod­ied by peo­ple like the Rev Martin Luther King Jr and Galileo, the peo­ple who cre­ated the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency mir­ror web­site.

The el­i­gi­bil­ity re­quire­ments for the above com­pe­ti­tion are sim­ple: “The re­cip­i­ent must have taken a per­sonal risk in or­der to af­fect pos­i­tive change for greater so­ci­ety.” The win­ner will be an­nounced in July.

Risk-tak­ers, take note.

The other in­ter­est­ing piece of news is one car­ried by BBC on Fri­day about how to train your mind to have a su­per-size mem­ory, to for­get about for­get­ful­ness.

Scans re­veal that while mem­ory cham­pi­ons’ brains are noth­ing special in terms of anatomy, they do show changes in brain con­nec­tiv­ity, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists.

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists, it is said, are able to train peo­ple with or­di­nary mem­ory skills to turn them into peo­ple with mas­ter mem­o­ries. The learn­ers could re­mem­ber lists of names at a time and showed sim­i­lar brain con­nec­tiv­ity pat­terns.

“A good mem­ory is some­thing you could learn and you could train (for),” said lead re­searcher Dr Martin Dresler of the Rad­boud Uni­ver­sity Med­i­cal Cen­tre in Ni­jmegen, the Nether­lands.

“And, if you use these strate­gic mnemonic train­ing mem­ory strate­gies, you can really con­sid­er­ably in­crease your mem­ory, even if you have a very bad mem­ory at the start,” he told BBC.

The find­ings, based on brain scans of 23 world mem­ory cham­pi­ons, are pub­lished in the sci­en­tific jour­nal, Neu­ron.

This could be the an­swer to peo­ple with mem­ory lapses, or those, upon reach­ing a cer­tain age, fear that they may end up with de­men­tia, mem­ory loss, se­nil­ity or have trou­ble re­call­ing names and streets. The only thing un­cer­tain about the re­port is whether the ages of the peo­ple be­ing trained are es­sen­tial.

The sci­en­tists could train peo­ple with typ­i­cal mem­ory skills to see if they could im­prove. Some were given train­ing in tech­niques used by mem­ory ath­letes, oth­ers had mem­ory train­ing that did not in­clude mnemonic strate­gies, while the rest had no train­ing at all. Af­ter six weeks of train­ing for 30 min­utes a day, the sub­jects all had an­other brain scan.

The re­searchers saw a big in­crease in mem­ory pow­ers for those who were given train­ing used by mem­ory ath­letes. They went from re­call­ing an av­er­age of 26 to 30 words from a list of 72 to re­mem­ber­ing more than 60. This group also showed changes in brain con­nec­tiv­ity.

“In a sense, they really de­velop brain pat­terns that re­mind us of those of mem­ory ath­letes,” says Dr Dresler. “This spe­cific pat­tern in brain con­nec­tiv­ity ap­pears to be the neu­ro­bi­o­log­i­cal ba­sis of these in­creased and su­pe­rior mem­ory per­for­mances.”

Me­moris­ing. Some Malaysian stu­dents are adept at it.

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