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Cities with a happy mind

Posted by on in Neuroscience
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In many ways, a city’s culture is a reflection of the collective mindset of its people. Though it might not always be obvious, the way a city looks, feels and functions is, in most cases, a physical manifestation of its mental attitude: countless neuronal-waves rendered into roads, parks, gardens, buildings and, most importantly, human conduct.

Recently I was in Italy with my family and wherever we went, from Rome and Venice to Florence, we could feel the mind of its people, the influence of its culture and history, as though it were a physical presence. In whatever we saw, felt, tasted and touched, there was a touch of Michael Angelo, Da Vinci and Raphael, an amalgam of aesthetics, engineering and art that produced a unique, unmistakably Italian flavour.

From the magnificent murals, paintings and sculptures of the Renaissance masters, to a humble pavement, curving sensuously around the neck of a city road, we could feel the ‘mind’ of a whole nation—millions of creatively busy brains, working with collective diversity to uphold a united value system.

As a neurosurgeon I found this cultural homogeneity in cities that celebrate creative diversity, astonishing, much like the brain itself where millions of neurons work diversely but in the united cause of sustaining life and scripting character.

Despite living in a lagoon, water-borne diseases are unheard of in Venice: the water is sparklingly clean, fresh and fragrant, holding up centuries old history in pristine condition. Despite being thronged by a huge number of tourists year round, Venice is spotlessly clean and cruises like a well-oiled machine on its serene waterways, celebrating life with remarkable tranquility, amidst boat taxies and ambulances that serve a population made up largely of tourists.

The story is the same in the Vatican, the high seat of Christendom, where the Pope presides over his global flock amidst perfectly preserved works of Michael Angelo in a pristine chapel of love and peace. Here too we felt the same, uniquely Italian tug that had carried us through the beguiling sights of Venice, with great pride and pleasure. Nowhere is this delight more exuberantly visible than among the men who take you through the city of Pisa on their tourist rickshaws.

The people of these cities take genuine pride in their cities and exhibit a feeling of delight that appears to spring from deep inside their minds and waft across roads, waterways, churches, monuments, schools and parks and, in the end, through life itself. Just like our brains, within the skull of these highly organized cities, countless people with varied but connected energies work together, giving them life and lending them their unique charm.

At the base of this wonderful ‘skull’ is discipline. Over years, and again much like the human brain, these cities have mastered the art of assessing and fulfilling needs, anticipating and warding off threats, managing complex processes and organizing millions of different pieces into a unified, well-orchestrated exercise.

Once externalized such positive mindsets can help preserve the integrity of human systems and protect their environment, culture and heritage. It needs to be understood that mindsets have a profound influence on the social, environmental and economic well-being of nations. And just as positive and disciplined mindsets can conjure miracles like the Roman cities I visited recently nations mired in adverse mentality tend to forever languish in a limbo.

It is time that we too started taking pride in our towns and cities and created a new world that is diversely creative and yet, much like the brain, organized to work cohesively. A world that preserves the past, invents the future and upholds a culture that is distinctly Indian.

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Guest Tuesday, 26 September 2017