March 27, 2015

Can you tell I like reading about the brain?

Memory, Time, and Self
This article from The New Yorker introduces us to Lonni Sue Johnson, an artist who suffers from amnesia due to encephalitis that damaged several areas of her brain, including the hippocampus. It's a fascinating look into what sort of knowledge she has retained, what scientists are hoping to learn from her unique brain, and how she has learned new things since she became ill. Recently I've found myself thinking a lot about time -- what it is and how we perceive it. This article gave some insight into that as well: "'We tend to assume that she experiences life the same way as the rest of us do, from moment to moment, and just doesn't store anything,' Turk-Browne [a researcher] told me. 'This assumption seems wrong. It underestimates the role of memory in perception--our ongoing experience is always being informed by the past.'"

In Aeon Magazine, Charles Leadbeater looks at memory loss from a different angle -- dementia. In this piece, he examines the philosophical tradition surrounding questions of how our sense of self/identity is connected to our memory. He ends up siding with Heidegger and saying that our "selves" are ultimately defined by our relationships. This allows him to offer an uplifting strategy to people struggling to care for their loved ones with dementia.

Turbulent Psychosis
My husband is pursuing a Master's degree in mechanical engineering, and one day this week he came home and told me about turbulence. So of course I was excited to tell him that just earlier that day I had read this post from Brain Pickings about how Van Gogh's "The Starry Night" depicts light in a way mathematically similar to the way turbulence works. (I was going to try to define turbulence for you here, but now I'm realizing it'll just be better to send you to the Wikipedia page. I guess "chaotic flow" is a simple description.) Even more interesting is the fact that only Van Gogh's paintings from his psychotic period contain this mathematical turbulence, while the paintings from his calmer periods do not. "While it’s too easy to say Van Gogh’s turbulent genius enabled him to depict turbulence, it’s also far too difficult to accurately express the rousing beauty of the fact that in a period of intense suffering, Van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most supremely difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind, and to unite his unique mind’s eye with the deepest mysteries of movement, fluid and light."

Writers Coming Together
Here's an interview from Cool Hunting with the founders of an Australian company that describes itself as a "publisher, studio, shop, and grammar school." Anybody wanna open something like this with me?

Alright, that's it this time. I appreciate you reading my newsletter, and I would love it if you shared it with your friends/enemies/acquaintances/etc. :) Have a good weekend!