Posts Tagged ‘brain’

Reading and the Brain

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Reading a book leaves us with new neural pathways. Gail Rebuck (Humans Have the Need To Read)

Reading can be learned only because of the brain’s plastic design, and when reading takes place, that individual brain is forever changed. Maryanne Wolf

Readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative… using brain regions that closely mirror those involved when people perform, imagine, or observe similar real-world activities. Washington University

We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically. – Gregory Berns (Emory University)

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Photo: My grandson, Spencer, 5 months old

Connections

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.– Ray Bradbury

The human brain:

  • 85 billion neurons (nerve cells)
  • Each neuron is unique
  • Each neuron connects to 10,000 other neurons
  • That’s up to 1,000 trillion connections possible

The universe is not composed of mere matter, but of mind stuff. – Charles Birch

Photo: ‘Facebook’, my limestone bookends inspired by a Polynesian mask.

Read To Babies

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

Reading and brain development are linked almost from birth. A baby’s brain grows quickly (tripling in size in the preschool years) as the brain cells make connections with each other. What creates those connections? Reading and singing to a baby; playing with a baby; touch and eye contact. By six years old, a child has the most brain connections he or she will ever have. A baby who’s been introduced to books will start school with many literacy skills in place.

The amount of time the child spends listening to parents and other loved ones read continues to be one of the best predictors of later reading.– Maryanne Wolf

Reading and thinking can enhance each other. It’s our brain’s ‘plasticity’ that enables us to learn to read – reading creates brand new neural pathways and these then become the basis for new thinking. (More reading quotes here).

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 Spencer and his Dad

How Bees See Us

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

The honey bees’ ability to learn faces is unexpected. – ‘Good With Faces’, Scientific American

When I first started beekeeping, older beekeepers often said their bees recognised them – now we have proof it’s true. Honey bees’ brains are the size of a sesame seed with only a million neurons (we have 100 billion), but bees can learn patterns, navigate, communicate, count, tell time, measure, and memorize. Research now shows they can also recognise human faces. Bees were trained (with a sugar water reward) to identify a human face, front and side view – and after training they could instantly identify the same face rotated 30˚. Honey bees do not have distinctive facial markings, so why have they evolved this ability? It’s due to their pattern-recognition skills but I wonder if it also evolved as bees formed a close relationship with humans over the last 20,000 years. Here’s how I might look to a bee with it’s many-faceted compound eyes:

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The life of the bee is like a magic well: the more we draw from it, the more there is to draw.’ — Karl von Frisch

Reading is Empathy

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Research shows that far being being a means to escape the social world, reading stories can actually improve your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings. – Keith Oatley (The Psychology of Fiction)

Likewise, Tolkien believed that fantasy “offers not an escape away from reality, but an escape to a heightened reality”. When we read fiction we enter an imagined world, perhaps far from reality, but it’s the characters that we attach to. It’s this emotional connection with characters that provides an understanding of real life interactions. Children begin to develop true empathy for others from four years old and onwards – hearing and reading fiction enables them to walk in another’s shoes. An example for older children is Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor which shows the young reader something of what it was like to be a black child growing up in the 1930s; an incredibly moving story of hope despite hardship.

While reading, we can leave our own consciousness, and pass over into the consciousness of another person, another age, another culture. – Maryanne Wolf

 

Creativity, Google and Mad Men

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

The imagination of the good artist or thinker produces continuously good, mediocre, and bad things, but his judgment, trained and sharpened to a fine point, rejects, selects, connects… All great artists and thinkers [are] great workers, indefatigable not only in inventing, but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering. Nietzsche

Imagine, a new book by Jonah Lehrer – author of Proust was a Neuroscientist – is about creativity and the brain. Lehrer believes that creativity is our natural state and, like Neitzsche, he stresses the role of synthesising:

The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense… the capacity to synthesize becomes ever more crucial as information continues to mount at dizzying rates.

Perhaps synthesising is another word for the endless mulling, rewriting and editing that writers go through. David Ogilvy was one of the original 1960s ‘ad men’ referenced in TV’s Mad Men. He described the creative process of writing advertising copy as ‘a slow and laborious business’ of redrafting and editing (read his full letter here).

Does the ‘dizzying’ internet make us more creative? In a fascinating essay about the brain and computers, Jim Holt argues that while the internet sharpens many cognitive skills, it may be the enemy of creativity. The problem is that the web can be distracting (rather than reflective) for the brain and it barely engages with deeper levels of thought. Holt calls Google a ‘memory prosthesis’. That might be true but it does make synthesising a blog a lot of fun.

Talent develops in tranquility. Goethe

More: editing; and writing and computers

 

Pigling Brains

Monday, July 25th, 2011

‘Tell all the Truth but tell it slant. Emily Dickinson

There’s talk of compulsory laptops and iPads for primary schools, but evidence suggests that books should be the priority for children. A good novel is more likely to engage the brain than a screen. Reading is a ‘neuronally and intellectually circuitous act’ (Maryanne Wolf) – or to put it another way, a novel encourages the reader’s brain to be active in the construction of the story. Wolf also argues that more indirect the writing the more enriching it is for the brain.

Clive James comments on this (in Cultural Amnesia) in his essay celebrating the eloquence of Beatrix Potter. He recalls how his own children were fascinated by slant and mysterious phrases such as ‘eight conversation peppermints with appropriate moral sentiments’ and ‘Alexander was volatile’ in The Tale of Pigling Bland (one of the great character names). James concludes that

Children like to hear good things said a thousand times.

Writing in the Shallows

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

I was writing a story on an iPad near Christchurch last week. Writing tools such as computers have become flexible, but perhaps less intimate, and I wonder if it affects my writing.  When Ted Hughes began writing on a typewriter he noticed he became less concise. Writing by hand had made him invest more in each word:

every year of your life is right there, wired into the communication between your brain and your writing hand… things become automatically more compressed, and, perhaps, psychologically denser.

The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr, brilliantly examines how our brains react to computer use ( read a great essay about the book here). He says that working on computers can be distracting (rather than reflective) for the brain — so it stays in the shallows, barely engaging with the myriad connections at deeper levels. In that case the iPad might be okay for writing because you can fade out all but the sentence you’re on. But my iPad trial was interrupted by the earthquake — which came from the shallows with terrifying force.

Photo: Allen Carbon