Health & Lifestyle

Mind Games

  • The Delta Shuttle Sheet
  • -
  • March, 2003

by Karen Feld

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You can almost feel the rumble of brainpower among D.C.’s 5 million residents. After all, information is the hot commodity in the nation’s capital. That’s because information is power here in the city that many of the world’s leading policy- and decision-makers call home. Washingtonians are responsible for mapping the future of the world — the president and his cabinet, the U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court Justices, and researchers at the National Institutes of Health — to name a few. They rely on a sophisticated network of information that flows into D.C. from both foreign and domestic information and intelligence sources — including the CIA, the FBI, INTERPOL and the British Secret Service. Another, more informal network, made up of foreign ambassadors on Embassy Row and visiting world leaders, ensures that on any given day, some of the brainiest people on the planet will be gathered in our nation’s capital.

But if you want to know what really seals the deal about which is the brainiest city, what unquestionably trumps the arguments of my two fellow editors, it’s this: Only D.C. has the Orangutan Language Project, a part of the Smithsonian Institute out at the National Zoo. The animal language study, “Thinking About Thinking,” challenges the greatest minds in the complex field of animal cognition. In plain terms, this is a think tank — in a city filled with the most prodigious and prestigious examples of the form — for orangutans. That’s right: Washington D.C. is so smart that even its apes rate a think tank.

Top that, New York and Boston.
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D.C. is a “whole brain” city — logical and analytical left-brained politicians and lawyers live and work alongside the right-brained, intuitive artists. On the left, so to speak, we’ll claim the many elected officials who are Rhodes Scholars, including sitting Sens. Dick Lugar and Paul Sarbanes. On the right lobe, actress Helen Hayes was born here; the historic U Street neighborhood counts Duke Ellington, opera star Madam Evanti, and poets Langston Hughes and Paul Dunbar among its own. And of course the capital’s monuments, public buildings and memorials are larger-than-life examples of the work of the world’s best architects and sculptors. The seat is also the seat of creative and analytical scientific work, such as the continuing labors at the U.S. Human Genome Project.

Beltway outsiders rely on D.C.’s power to produce change in the world. In fact, people from across the country come to D.C. to speak their minds, hoping to create change, and to pursue the American dream — to run for president. All résumés are geared to the White House. “Why not me?” they ask, even if the candidacies are occasionally preposterous.

And Washington’s gray matter is flexible and resilient. That’s why those doing business with the government are able to adapt to the political party in power each election cycle. Washington also has active minds that brainstorm 24/7. That’s why its several hundred nonprofit think tanks continue to thrive. Fuel for brainstorming (oxygen) is easy to come by, with more than 400 miles of recreational trails, including the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath and the Mount Vernon Trail. Brain-wave measurements show that exercise increases the speed of the decision-making process by 35 milliseconds. And here’s some food for thought: Follow up a workout with dinner at one of the district’s many ethnic restaurants that cook food with turmeric, which is found in curry powder. It contains curcumin, which has been found to slash brain plaque.

-KAREN FELD

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