The Left Brain Speaks The Right Brain Laughs: A Look at the Neuroscience of Innovation & Creativity in Art, Science & Life from Viva Editions
Table of Contents:
1. You & me o Peeling the ignorance onion o Left & right A new and improved left-right oversimplification Sorting out the left-right dichotomy o The picture within a picture o What are we doing here? 2. Animals & people o Different perspectives on reality o Evolution The power of long times and large numbers Evolution predicts what already happened o A frog, a puppy, and Richard Feynman walk into your cranium First dose of jargon: neurons, axons, dendrites, and synapses Your inner puppy and inner Feynman o How to greet a saber-toothed tiger…or chess player Reaction timescales Positive and negative feedback o The reality interface The inescapably subjective nature of our realities The realities of whales, dogs, and trees (and naked people) o The power of perspective 3. Life & death o Emergence o Being alive and awake Your stupid, bottom-up, parallel, unconscious processors Your brilliant, top-down, serial, conscious thinkers o We are pattern recognizers and model builders First impressions Prejudice o How come novels work? Theory of mind o Sentience and consciousness Consciousness threshold Consciousness spectrum o Free will o The essential weirdness of death o Good, fast, or cheap: pick two 4. Talent & skill o Talent Whence talent? Skill o Like ringin’ a bell The wetware The signal The transition from playing notes to playing music o Talent or skill? Neural pruning and synesthesia Brain size Perfect pitch: talent or skill? o Nature & nurture o Prodigies Child prodigies Adult prodigies o Skalent fuel 5. Intelligence & intuition o We can’t separate intellect and emotion o Learning Recipes and algorithms Plasticity Education Memory Answer resolution o Thinking with your guts The feeling of knowing Priming o Priming your guts 6. Analysis & creativity o The canyon floor and the mountain peak o Tools for thought The binding problem Reduction of the inconceivable Words Mental tools—the power of scratch paper o Lateral thought Synesthesia Neural resonance, coherence, and flow Language as spatial resonance Releasing your inner savant o Creativity People use tools to analyze and create 7. Alone & together o I was a loner until I wrote this chapter o Are we a hive? The death of my inner rugged individualist Extending the consciousness feedback loop to others Imitation and simulation Well, are we? o Value The creator and the beholder Engagement and novelty Our subjectivity has a lot in common Right people, right place, and right time Common sense is neither o Does Friendship Define us? o Significance 8. Art & science o The good, the bad, and the valuable o In it for the buzz The glorious hopelessness of art and science o Neuroasthetics in art and science: Ramachandran’s rules Ramachandran’s rule of grouping—dissonance to consonance Ramachandran’s rule of peak shift—exaggeration Ramachandran’s rule of contrast—boundaries Ramachandran’s rule of isolation—heuristics and approximation Ramachandran’s rule of peekaboo—bait Ramachandran’s rule of abhorrence of coincidence—bullshit meter Ramachandran’s rules of orderliness and symmetry Ramachandran’s rule of metaphor Ambiguity o Veronica How music works Elvis Costello’s “Veronica” Musical resonance o Art & science Good work if you can get it o We have a lot of subjectivity in common 9. Innovation & discovery o Facing challenges o Making better use of our brains The quest Stress and focus Defocusing into insight Meditation and prejudice Perspective-altering techniques Insight comes half-baked o Invention and discovery 10. Staring at a picture within a picture within a picture o Left-right, up-down, front-back o Obsessive pattern predictors need lots of education o The neuroscience onion Neuroscience has issues Neuroscience’s dark matter problems Experimental difficulties Skepticism is warranted o So here we are
The Left Brain Speaks, but The Right Brain Laughs  is an edgy, irreverent, accurate look at neuroscience for a lay-audience with emphasis on innovation in art and science.
Ransom Stephens scientist, author, speaker
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The Left Brain Speaks The Right Brain Laughs, by Ransom Stephens
Neuroscience for lay-people that uses irreverence, wisecracks, and a physicist’s eye for scientific accuracy to convey what makes us all tick and how we can tick better. With as little jargon as possible, each chapter builds a background for the reader to understand the interplay between what we too often think of as separate topics. Starting with a new and improved left-brain/right-brain oversimplification, each chapter investigates the inseparable interactions of seemingly distinct concepts, all building to a working understanding of innovation and creativity in art, science, and life. Using examples ranging from hanging out in bars to playing guitar to cave people hunting hippos to surfing to impressionist art to the most important failed experiment of all time, we address consciousness, value, hops and malt, why we mourn each other’s deaths, and why we do what we do for money. “…so cleverly written that it offers both an amusing read and an illuminating discussion of brain science…Stephens disproves the black-and-white schisms and bring us more discerningly into shades of gray (matter) — sorry, but his tongue-in-cheek style is contagious…We all have the ability to innovate, as Stephens writes, and he helps us understand how not only why, but how. We can start by leaving our own stable models of reality behind, and give our own brain room to expand. And, as this eye-opener of a book shows, expand it will.“ -Patricia Gale, Blogcritics
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Presentations
Ransom has prepared several fascinating presentations to help get the word out: For science fans: o The Pictures within the Pictures of Neuroscience and the Great Questions o The Reality Interface o The Spectrum of Consciousness For everyone: o Problem Solving, Jokes, and Aha! o The Essential Weirdness of Death o Where Does Talent End and Skill Begin? o The Depth of Our Dependence on Each Other Business keynote: The Keys to Innovation: Priming your brain to percolate brilliant ideas For educators and the educating: Idea Prejudice and the Case for Art in Educating Scientists and Engineers For writers: Get Inside Your Reader’s Brain: The neuroscience of how to make readers laugh and cry
From Chapter 1:
Excerpt from section 1.5: What are we doing here? …and why are we in this hand basket? I don’t know what you’re doing here, but I want to understand how brains work for the same reason that I want to know how anything works—for the buzz of understanding and putting that understanding to work. With a concept of how the pieces fit together, how the whole emerges from the parts, you and I can be better: better partners, better friends, better components of planet earth. Every user manual or help file I’ve read has taught me better ways to use tools. Our brains are tools and I’d like an edge. I admit it. I want to be better. I also want you to be better. Hopefully, we can figure out how in this book. That’s what we’re doing here, best case scenario. Worst case, we have a few laughs. In The Left Brain Speaks but the Right Brain laughs, we’ll pay a lot of attention to creativity because the brain itself is an instrument for creating. In an ongoing rush of experience, our brains create the reality of our worlds. We'll investigate the neuroscience processes that lead to amazing feats in the arts and sciences, what happens in the brain when we get those “ah ha!” light bulb moments as well as when we derive a solution/invention/masterpiece through the deliberate process of hard work. We’ll keep the jargon to a minimum. Check the bibliography if you want maps of every sulcus and gyrus in your brain and if you want functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI), positron-emission tomography (PET) scans, and so forth. That said, we won't shy away from brain physiology when we need it, or when it's too irresistibly fascinating (or funny) to pass up. As a physicist, I'll provide some scientific insight of how physical systems work. As a veteran researcher who can see beyond the preliminary results of a brand new science, I’ll provide guidance to where neuroscience is probably headed, where we should be skeptical, and what's not likely to change as the field matures. One last thing before we get rolling. Instead of sequential info-dumps, we’re going to circle around concepts and build on them in subsequent chapters because it’s easier to learn when you encounter something separate times at increasing levels of complexity. Each time a subject comes back around, I’ll remind you what we already covered so, hopefully, you won’t need to turn back. Gird your loins!
Nibbles:
<from page 35> I find it strange that there are no nerves in our brains. The thing is packed with neurons, axons, dendrites, myelin—all that stuff that nerves are made of—but we can’t feel anything inside our brains. A surgeon can go in and poke around while you’re wide awake, and you won’t feel a thing. How weird would it be if we could feel our own thoughts? Contemplating your goal to become a guitar legend would tickle the space just behind your forehead; envisioning a bird in flight, soaring on thermal breezes above the sea, would make your occipital lobe itch. The medical industry could save a fortune in imaging devices. “Well doc, it hurts when I picture her with that guy.” “Heartbreak is tough, son.” “Seriously, right here in the back of my head, a rip-roaring pain.” “Oh. Take an aspirin and write a poem.” <from Pp 82-83> Clark Kent writes an investigative blog for The Daily Planet, but now and then he comes upon nefarious individuals who plot against the continued harmony, such as it is, of life on Earth. At such times, Clark steps into a Starbucks, takes out his cell phone and, while talking loud enough to annoy everyone, removes his glasses and transforms into Superman, tights and all. < BTW, this is from Pp 82-83 of The Left Brain Speaks The Right Brain Laughs > But back on his native planet Krypton, he doesn’t have these superpowers. No, Clark’s talents can only be expressed under the light of a yellow sun like ours. Under the red sun of Krypton, Clark has no remarkable talents other than a journalist’s ability to crank out two thousand words a day. Did Clark’s super talent result from nature or nurture? <from page 174> Scientists have proven that true objectivity is impossible because the experimentalist can never be removed from the experiment. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle gives a precise, dare I call it objective, measure of the minimum possible level of subjectivity. Isn’t it just like science to be so objective about its subjectivity? Those scientists are so cute. Art has nothing like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Artists will fly ever closer to the flame, forever distilling meaning into feeling and sharing it in more ways, despite their absolute, primal understanding that they can never make the perfect connection. Quite appropriate epitaphs for each, don’t you think?