Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: What Are Words

How Can A Brain Scientist Help A Writer?


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

Brain

Image courtesy of Miranda Knox ~ http://www.sxc.hu/profile/Obscenity

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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Book > Brain > Heart ~ Literary Magic . . .


Ever had someone tell you that your response to an event is more important than the event itself—that, essentially, we co-create the world of reality and our interpretation of things is the prime mover of meaning?

Consider—folks’ responses to the death of a loved one shows a range of reaction that spans states of being that include: the urge to commit suicide to join them; massive depression that ruins the rest of their lives; passage through the “normal” stages of grief; and, the reaction of individuals who, though grieving for themselves, are joyful their loved one has gone to a “better place”

Certainly, the old saw, Think Positive, has many and varied possible manifestations; and, even the worst events can bear a load of wisdom that enriches our lives.

So, perhaps you’re wondering if this blog is still about Reading, Writing, and Publishing? :-)

Let me reassure you:

Ever had a book’s story seem more real than everyday life?

Ever had fiction teach you a life lesson in three days that had eluded you for years?

If so, you’ve proven that your interior sense of meaning has creative power that can shape the outer, “real” world

The Book > Brain > Heart formula is the Reading journey.

Writers use the formula, Heart > Brain > Book.

And, “Heart”, in this context, can include realms that others refer to as psychological and metaphysical.

The Brain part of those formulas is worth exploring more deeply, too.

Luckily, Annie Murphy Paul wrote an opinion-piece for The New York Times called, Your Brain on Fiction.

Here are a few excerpts to help you decide to read the full article:

“Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.”

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.”

“These findings will affirm the experience of readers who have felt illuminated and instructed by a novel….Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.”

So, do you believe reading fiction can help you solve life-problems?

Many writers admit that writing fiction has helped them come to grips with reality

Are you intrigued with the idea that fiction might be able to improve your interpretation of life-experience?

Naturally, which fiction you choose to read is a crucial factor in how the formula works—the wrong fiction could mess you up, eh?

Do you think writing the wrong kind of fiction can mess up a writer’s life?

Have any personal insights about Literary Magic you’d like to share in the Comments?
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Inside The Writer’s Mind


So far, we’ve had 29 Author Interviews and this is certainly one way to attempt to get inside the mind of a writer.

We’ve explored the writer’s mind in many ways here but one in particular stands out: Why Do Humans Write?

If you’ve read more than a few posts here, you’ve probably come across a mention or two of Book Island.

Book Island is a special place in the virtual world, Second Life, that lets me meet and interact with Readers, Writers, and Publishers on a regular basis.

We attend events with Open Mic readings, engage in discussion groups, and, often, just hang out at the Writer’s Block Cafe :-)

One of the Book Island Regulars, who’s also the Correspondent for the Island Newsletter, is writer Barbara Blackcinder.

She gave me permission to copy one of her blog posts here.

Get ready to enter the Mind of a Writer………

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Where Did My Writer Come From?

When I say my character walks in the darkened night, under branches that shine with the mist, dripping on me as I pass under them, it is because I have walked under that branch and wondered how I would say it when I would write it down later. I have always been a writer, whenever my mind wasn’t occupied by taking care of some aspect of life. When my mind wandered, it wrote.

My life is one of scenarios occurring one after the other. Some were frightful, some became frightful as I wrote them in my head. Some threw boogie men at me left and right while I navigated a tunnel, dark, cluttered with garbage, and a box just large enough for someone to hide behind until the very second I passed by. But when I successfully passed through without such an attack, I was relieved, and had another eerie scene in my storage case, as well as one of success.  I may have had to clean my underwear when I returned home though.

My mind was inwardly facing since I knew that I was thinking instead of reacting. Although I thought about things that had to be thought about, it was always from the perspective of another eye deep inside my head. It was me, but I could see myself acting, reacting, scared and joyful. This dichotomy of thought was myself and my writer. They’ve been around for over fifty years and know they always will be together.

Until The End
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Visit Barbara Blackcinder’s Blog
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