The brain under siege

The European Brain Council at its Brain Awareness Week (held March 13-19, 2023) recognized ill-health of the brain as “a global health emergency”.

Chess players are, to some extent, exempt from this dire warning of planetary mental degeneration. Indeed, especially Nigel Short, Britain’s chess superstar. Nigel listed attentively to Professor Michael Crawford’s opening address about Brain Nutrition, before the 2009 Howard Staunton Memorial tournament at Simpsons in the Strand, and went on to score a convincing competition victory. Professor Crawford, recipient of the Rising Sun Medal from the Emperor of Japan, advocated a marine based diet for brain improvement. Accordingly, Nigel devoured an entire shoal of Simpson’s Dover soles during the competition, and went on to score a glorious victory.

Now Professor Crawford, the distinguished zoologist of Imperial College London, who regularly advocates both chess and marine based nutrition as sovereign remedies against mental degeneration, is about to publish his latest book, The Shrinking Brain.

Importantly, his co-author David Marsh also mentions the restoration of Darwin’s full conception of evolution, which is often overlooked.

In all six editions of The Origin of Species, Darwin refers to there being two forces in evolution: natural selection and conditions of existence. Of the two, he writes, the latter is the more powerful. This thesis was trashed by August Weismann, who published a paper on “The All Sufficiency of Natural Selection”.

It was based on cutting off the tails of mice, but sadly subsequent murine generations continued obstinately to produce tails. This, of course, amounted to mutilation, not “Conditions of Existence”, which was Darwin’s felicitous expression for what we now call the environment. The supreme importance of the environment was lost. Seas, lakes, rivers and air polluted the creation of marine seabed deserts, by trawling the floor and overexploitation (New York was once the oyster capital of the world) with disregard for the pivotal importance of marine nutrients for brain health. Yet, the brain evolved in the sea 500 million years ago, when it could only use marine nutrients for its structure and function. In Crawford’s book, the authors wonder why, not long after the explosive evolution of mammals, so many species abandoned the land for life in the seas. The only thing which could have brought about this migration was the brain, ineluctably attracted by the tempting fruits de mer.

Rule Britannia was built from fishing boats. In Queen Elizabeth I’s time, about 50% of her income came from cod and other fish and seafoods. As an island nation, we have always had a deep relationship with the produce of rivers, lakes, and seas.

When Crawford was a child, his father used to take his family to Crammond Inn at the mouth of the River Almond, entering the Firth of Forth. The Inn was renowned for its seafood, which was gathered by the owner early morning from the shore, fresh for the evening dinner. This great estuary was teaming with fish. In 1965 returning from Africa, Professor Crawford took the family on a trip down memory lane to Crammond Inn, only to be greeted with a Department of the Environment admonitory notice: Danger: Mussels unfit for human consumption. The estuary had been killed in his own lifetime. The local vets warn people that if they take their dog for a walk along the shore, to put them on a leash, in case they eat the toxic seafood.

The Port of Leith was once a busy fishing port. It is now a tourist attraction. This sad story of reckless environmental destruction has visited many other fishing ports around our coastline which was once a source of wealth and health. Perhaps the most notorious current scandal is that of the Tees Estuary and Whitby, where thousands of crustaceans continue to perish, officially for reasons unknown. Of course it can have nothing to do with nearby industrial-level pollution.

An earlier warning of Tireisian proportions came with Crawford’s 1972 book, What We Eat Today, warning of the impending attack on brain health. Graham Rose, reviewing that book, wrote in the Sunday Times (5th November 1972) that unless attention was paid to the specific needs of the brain, we would soon become a race of morons.

Professor Crawford’s new book is an outstanding example of science at work. Evidence is found and gathered, a hypothesis is constructed, which is then put to the test. The costs of mental ill health are staggering in their impact on national and global economies.  The EU’s audit of the costs of ill health in 2005 was €386 Billion — with brain disorders representing the highest cost of all. Naysayers denied this, due to clever new diagnostics, but repeating the calculation with the same diagnostics in 2010 ended with a disastrous increase to €789 billion.

Meanwhile in the UK, Dr Jo Nurse at the Department of Health in 2007 estimated the cost of brain disorders at £77 billion. By 2010 he estimated this to have risen to £105 billion. These figures represented more than the combined cost of cancer and heart disease. Further confirmation came from the Wellcome Trust in 2013, with a figure of £113 billion. Today the figure would be even more astronomical.

I introduced this column with mention of The European Brain Council’s Brain Awareness Week, 2023, which recognised ill-health of the brain as “a global health emergency”.

Validation: the hypothesis proved true.

The Shrinking Brain will be launched this week, at 6 pm on June 7 at The Proud Galleries, 32 John Adam Street, just across the road from Charing Cross. Professor Crawford’s co-author is David E Marsh.

And finally, two prodigious games from our own enfant terrible, Nigel Short, from the above illustrated tournament at the London chess epicentre and pre-Covid lair of the grilled Dover Sole: Simpsons-in-the-Strand

Short vs. Sokolov

Short vs. Werle

Raymond Keene’s latest book “Fifty Shades of Ray: Chess in the year of the Coronavirus”, containing some of his best pieces from TheArticle, is now available from  Blackwell’s . His 206th book, Chess in the Year of the King, with a foreword by The Article contributor Patrick Heren, and written in collaboration with former Reuters chess correspondent, Adam Black, is in preparation. It will be published later this year.  

A Message from TheArticle

We are the only publication that’s committed to covering every angle. We have an important contribution to make, one that’s needed now more than ever, and we need your help to continue publishing throughout these hard economic times. So please, make a donation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The human brain — and the sea

In a previous column I cited Goethe’s impressive description of chess as “the touchstone of the intellect”. This quotation is firmly grounded in the verifiable text of Goethe’s play

Read More