I am a philosophy student and I have noticed that there are some days (rarely) in which I simply can not absorb. A lot of times I will work extra hard to concentrate but find that it is simply useless and a waste of times. Is it necessary to take breaks from intellectual work? I always just assumed the mind could handle whatever you could feed it, is this false? Are there things in which I can do to improve my concentration and productivity in situations like this? Or do I just need to slow down? Thanks, Josh

Brains, like the rest of us, need rest; I wouldn't be bothered by the occasional hazy day. Simple tips include getting enough sleep, getting some exercise, drinking tea or coffee in moderation -- all the obvious stuff. A little less obvious: some sort of meditation practice. Take a look at http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1865567 or http://www.news.wisc.edu/13762 for some information on a recent study that might be to the point.

You asked: is it necessary to take breaks from intellectual work? The answer I'd suggest is that, necessary or not, it's good. Intellectual activity is valuable, but so are many other things, and a well-rounded life would include a few of them. Listen to some music; socialize with friends; learn to play squash; volunteer at a soup kitchen; cook a tasty meal -- you get the idea. Things like that are valuable for their own sake, and who knows? Time away from thinking may bring you back refreshed and full of ideas.

I bet none of this comes as a surprise. But sometimes it helps to be reminded of what we already know.

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