Talking about the brain very simply. Very, very simply.

January 23, 2013 at 11:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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I’ve just come across, as perhaps you already have, the Up-Goer Five Text Editor.

It tests what you type in the box (in English) against a list of the most commonly-used words. The ‘ten hundred’ most common — presumably described that way because ‘thousand’ isn’t a common enough word.

Now, I’m not altogether in favour of this. What’s the point of having all those gorgeous words to play with if you don’t use them and, by using them, encourage other people to use them too? The connection between language and thought is, shall we say, contested — philosophers have been arguing over it for ages and show no signs of desisting any time soon — but I’m tempted by George Orwell’s 1984 view here: simplify and restrict language, and you risk restricting the minds that express themselves through it.

On the other hand, I am in favour of clarity, and using language carefully. And it’s a fun challenge.

So here’s my off-the-cuff attempt to explain why neuroscience is hard.

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The brain is a very hard thing to understand. It’s full of very many bits and pieces, such as cells and the things inside them, which talk to each other in very many ways. That makes for a problem: how do we get a grip on all those conversations inside the cells and between cells? Understanding has to be done bit by bit, and there are lots and lots of bits. Too many for any one person to get their head around. Together, those bits make up us. They allow us to think, feel, act, believe and be the amazing humans we are.

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If you’d like to try it yourself, the link is here.

 

 

Why Good Writing Matters

January 9, 2013 at 10:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 120 Comments
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A hand about to write

Years ago now, I recall a senior scientist who’d read a piece of my work saying doubtfully, ‘It’s very well-written. Very literary.’ The implication was clear: ‘But is it good science?’

With hindsight, I can agree: that particular effort wasn’t ace. I can’t even remember its title, and the obscurity’s well-deserved. What did stick was my surprise that my colleague (undoubtedly a good scientist) saw good science and good writing as not just independent, but even perhaps opposed, since science is all about precision and language is irretrievably vague.

Years later, I still have a problem with this. Continue Reading Why Good Writing Matters…

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