Some people are trying to unearth real geniuses the unconventional, bizarre, eccentric and out-of-the-ordinary 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 cutting-edge 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 pantang-larang (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.

Syed Nadzri is a former NST group editor

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