Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

How Can A Brain Scientist Help A Writer?

I think a lot about words; and, my favorite word is “Word” :-)


Image courtesy of Miranda Knox ~

We all use them but most of us rarely think about how words do what they do

Like the way they can cause things to happen — even a bad novel makes us see things and have feelings about them.

And, the very same words coming out of two different mouths can have radically different effects.

I even have a special page on this blog about words and how we share them.

My thinking about words stays fairly close to the idea that our minds are much larger than our brains.

The mind can soar to heights that the brain sometimes has difficulty dealing with

But, the brain is there and has a clearly important function.

So, there’s a neuroscientist named Livia Blackburne and she has a blog called A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.

I’ll let her describe it:

“I started this blog when I was a neuroscience graduate student at MIT, conducting research on the neural correlates of reading, where I took the analytical approach I used for my experiments and applied it towards the process of writing and publishing. After earning my doctorate, I’ve switched to full time writing….The goal of this blog remains the same though: study pieces of writing, break it down into component pieces, and try to see what makes it work.”

Livia has two novels and an essay on Amazon.

I recently read her essay, From Words To Brain, and I’ll share a few excerpts:

“In this essay, we’ll go on a tour of the reading experience. Using Little Red Riding Hood as a guide, we’ll follow the story through the brain. We will move systematically through the levels, from early visual processing through sensory imagery to the social and emotional experiences that ultimately give a story meaning. Whether you’re a storyteller yourself, or just someone who appreciates stories, we’ll explore just what it is that transforms a page full of words to an experience with the power to move us and leave us changed.”

“For most of human history, written language didn’t even exist. Reading as a cultural invention has only been around for a few thousand years, a snap of a finger in evolutionary terms. We have not, and will not within any of our lifetimes, evolve a genetic program for reading. Yet our brains are so adept at this skill that it becomes as reflexive as seeing itself.”

“Many people report seeing or hearing a story play out in their mind as they read. From this, you might say that a story is like a film reel, and the brain projects it into our imaginations. While this analogy does somewhat hold, it is not the whole story.”

“We can also ask about the brain activation in the person telling the tale.”

“The experience of reading a story doesn’t end after the last page. This is when the real processing begins….We remember the events that happened, not the words used. But then, this brings up the question of what we actually do remember, and how we remember it.”

“We began with written words and followed their decoding in the reader’s mind through their comprehension and finally interpretation. Notice that the story has undergone a transformation. When it’s on the page, it’s immutable and objective. As soon as the reader sees the story, it takes on a new life, relying on the reader’s knowledge and life experience to take shape. Eventually, the narrative expands beyond that, taking on nuances and worldview from the reader’s community. And finally, some stories find resonance, spreading from reader to reader and setting in action changes that affect the world.”

I highly recommend buying and reading this essay.

Personally, Livia’s exposition about Brain activity really set my Mind to thinking
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4 responses to “How Can A Brain Scientist Help A Writer?

  1. Martina Sevecke-Pohlen February 19, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Alexander, I was looking for a blog like Livia Blackburne’s for ages. Thank you for writing about her :-))


  2. Barbara Blackcinder February 26, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Wow, a neuroscientist from MITG becoming a writer… and I just thought it was a hobby?? ;-)


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