Big Data: 100,000 words

globe staff illustration/ap

100,000: That’s the number of words in some Sanskrit texts that scholars — called pandits — can recite verbatim from memory. Complete recitations can sometimes take six hours, a feat of memorization that’s been called the “Sanskrit Effect.” Turns out, memorizing these mantras actually changes the shape and function of the human brain. MRI scans of pandit brains showed that numerous regions were physically larger than those in the control group, according to research published in the journal NeuroImage. That prompted study co-author James Hartzell to ask this question in a piece for Scientific American: “Does the pandits’ substantial increase in the gray matter of critical verbal memory organs mean they are less prone to devastating memory pathologies such as Alzheimer’s?” The answer: “We don’t know yet, though anecdotal reports from India’s Ayurvedic doctors suggest this may be the case.”