Dr. Toshio Hayashi, Doctor of Engineering
Professor, Osaka Prefecture University
Director, Research Institute for Advanced Science and Technology (RIAST)
Recent medical research has shown that various diseases are influenced by how the patients deal with their state of minds. People with active minds maintain their youthful energy longer. What can we do to heighten our brain activity?
Development of human brain
What is the structure of our brain like? How does the brain develop? Cerebral physiology has seen great developments. However, there still is much that is unknown about our brain. Our brain is truly amazing. What we know up to this point includes that the human brain is created at an early stage of embryo development and that cerebral nerve cells are already made by the time of birth. Within the brain, the brain stem (all living animals have it, and it controls the functions necessary for survival such as the functions of the heart and internal organs) and the cerebral archicortex (which controls basic instincts such as appetite, sexual desire, sleep, desire to belong to a group, and emotions such as pleasant and unpleasant feelings, fear, anger,etc) are basically completed while in the womb.
On the other hand, among animals of higher order, humans have the highly developed cerebral neocortex that can create nerve cells (some say there are 14 billion nerve cells!). This cerebral neocortex does not fully function at the time of birth. In the following years, suitable stimuli start to activate (to connect motor nerves and sensory nerves) the nerve cells in the neocortex. This is why children grow up well in many aspects if they receive appropriate stimuli that develop the nerve cells in the neocortex. The archicortex is more or less completed at the time of birth, but it of course can develop even further after birth. What is important here is that the archicortex requires “to be loved” and is responsible for the cultivation of aesthetic sentiments.
Humans cannot live without “being loved”. Only those who grew up being loved can learn to love as they grow older. With the help of a good archicortex, the neocortex will be activated efficiently. Even with hard work, efficiency will not improve without cooperation from the archicortex. In order to activate the nerve cells in the neocortex, information or stimuli from outside the brain have first to be perceived as “pleasant” by the archicortex. This is when the activation of the brain improves and the systems to process information in the neocortex are most efficiently completed. On the other hand, if the information or stimuli are perceived as “unpleasant”, the activation of the brain does not occur and the neocortex is suppressed to grow any further.
Move the fingers and talk in a loud voice
What does the activation of the nerve cells in the neocortex mean? Nerve cells in the neocortex consist of 14 billion sets of motor nerves and sensory nerves. These sets create the network (synapses) in which they contact each other and make up a living nervous system. The importance lies in how many sets of nerve cells we can activate in our lives. We can activate the nerve cells by providing “stimuli”. Moving fingers and talking aloud lead to activation by providing appropriate stimuli in the large part of sensory to motor domains in the cerebral neocortex. In this sense, starting abacus learning as young as possible is useful in activating the brains of young children. However, if children learn to use the abacus without wanting to do it, there will be no positive effects. If they come to like learning the abacus and move the beads on the abacus with fun, they will receive benefits from this experience. There is a key in making abacus-learning fun for young children so that they will grow to like it.
Development of the right side of brain by the abacus method of mental calculation
The human brain consists of the right brain and the left brain. The shapes of these two parts are similar, but differences have been gradually found in their functions. The left brain is also referred to as the digital brain. It controls reading and writing, calculation, and logical thinking. The right brain is referred to as the analog brain. It controls three-dimensional sense, creativity, and artistic senses. These two work together to allow us to function as humans. The Japanese are thought to speak Japanese with their left brain, and this allows their left brain to be more efficient. On the other hand, westerners also utilize their right brain to learn their languages, so their right brain is usually more efficient. It is natural that young Japanese students are better at mathematical calculation than students in western countries who are the same age. It is also natural that, because of the better development in their right brain, students in western countries are more creative and original than Japanese students.
In recent years, some have argued for the necessity of the Venture Promotion in Japan, but in order to foster this type of environment we need to develop an education system that would train the students’ right brain first. In addition, it is also found that if one trains the right brain, it is less likely to get dementia. Here, I would like to introduce the abacus method of mental calculation. In the abacus method of mental calculation, the learners manipulate abacus beads in their head to carry out a calculation. This had led us to speculate that this operation was effective in training the right brain or the analog brain. Thanks to the development of cerebral physiology and machines that can accurately measure the amount of blood flow in the brain, recent studies have proven that the abacus method of mental calculation is extremely effective in activating the right brain. This validated the speculation we had before. Therefore, I would like to ask all the abacus teachers to teach all learners the abacus method of mental calculation, no matter how briefly it may be. I consider the completion of abacus learning the mastery of the mental calculation.
Having grown up to be workers in various work places and providers for their families and contributors to society, many people retire from the forefront of the society and start the second stage of their lives. For these people, it is very important to live ample and healthy lives. In order to achieve this way of living, they have to remember to activate their brain as much as possible. There are many different ways to activate the brain, and one of them is the calculation with the abacus. In the abacus method of calculation, the abacus is not only the best way to exercise fingertips, but also positively influences the right brain to be activated. Although it may take a little more time than for younger people, activation in the cerebral nerve cells certainly does occur even at the age of a hundred. In this case also, they have to come to like the abacus first. Throughout the lifetime there is truth in the saying that you do well at what you like.
A “master of life” is a person who has a cooperation of the archicortex and the neocortex throughout their lifetime. To become a “master of life”, we have to always aim high. There is happiness in this process to achieve the goals of our life. We all shine by pursuing our dreams with high hope and something to live for. The higher the goal of our growth, the better our lives are. If the purpose of life is the process to achieve this goal, then I believe that the abacus education can be one of the significant guidelines for life. I would like us all to be “life-long healthy people with abacus”.
(This article is the summary of a lecture presented in Nikko Kinugawa, Tochigi, Tochigi prefecture on July 30th, 2000.)