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Entertainment is brain exercise


Image credit: The Daily What! Mind Reading Shock!!

I have never for one minute thought reading fiction was a “waste of time.” but it is nice to have that belief confirmed with empirical evidence. There is evidence that reading for entertainment can “improve” your brain.

According to a recent Independent article:

“Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading”

The article Brain function ‘boosted for days after reading a novel’ says:

“research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain.

Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition – for example, just thinking about running, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study.

“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

That is great.

We can be confident that even when reading for entertainment we are exercising the “muscle of the brain.”

I wonder if we could be selective about this. Will different genres exercise different parts of the brain?

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So you’re considering switching to eBooks?

Here’s a graphic I picked up from Online Universities (thanks to E-book Nation). The data is specific to the USA but I think it’s worth anyone considering possible purchase of an eBook Reader, or a tablet for reading purposes, reading through it.

For example, you might conclude from this that such a purchase will probably mean you read a lot more. That you are more likely to buy new books than just borrow them. That you will be able to get books more quickly and there will be more to select from.

However, you will be less likely to share your books with others. And you will prefer to use a printed book when reading with a child.

(Click twice on image to enlarge).

Brought to you by: OnlineUniversities.com

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Judging the internet – and books

Normally I enjoy getting a new book. A chance to leaf through for a general impression and then get stuck into reading.

But I have one that I must read, and I keep putting off. For some reason it doesn’t appeal. Now, after reading the Telegraph article, Internet rules and laws: the top 10, from Godwin to Poe, I know why.

The article refers to DeMyer’s Second Law: “Anyone who posts an argument on the internet which is largely quotations can be very safely ignored, and is deemed to have lost the argument before it has begun.”

quote-mining-fundie-quote-mining-fallacy-demotivational-poster-1211866892Obviously very relevant for creationists who love to go in for quote mining.

But that is what is wrong with the book. Leafing through one just gets an impression of huge numbers of quotes.

For fun (and to postpone the actual reading) I scanned one chapter and did word counts. This chapter had only 20% of material actually written by the author. The rest were quotes. Talk about letting others do the heavy lifting!

So I am not impressed. But I might do more of this in the future. When I need to judge a book – scan a chapter and determine the proportion of quoted material.

It’s worth reading this article on internet rules. So much of it rings true. Something I must watch, though, is my tendency to use exclamations. The Law of Exclamation says: “The more exclamation points used in an email (or other posting), the more likely it is a complete lie. This is also true for excessive capital letters.”

Thanks to Pharyngula (I didn’t know we had a rule book!) for the link.


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Holiday reading

Most New Zealanders celebrate Christmas and New Year with family events, holidays, relaxation and fun at the beach. For many of us it is a chance to catch up with our reading – I’m certainly looking forward to getting into a number of books I have recently purchased.

Many magazines publish lists of recommended books at this time of the year. It’s noticeable, however, that these lists usually contain few, or no, science books. The NZ listener was no exception (Best books cds & dvds of 2007) with only one science-based book included. The Publishe& Editor of Edge, John Brockman, comments on this (Third Culture Holiday Reading):

“Given the well-documented challenges and issues we are facing as a nation, as a culture, how can it be that there are no science books (and hardly any books on ideas) on the New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year list; no science category in the EconomistBooks of the Year 2007; only Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker’s list of Books From Our Pages?”

He laments the way that “official culture” seems to ignore science, despite its critical importance:

“But science today is changing our understanding of our universe and species, and scientific literacy is indispensable to dealing with some of the world’s most pressing issues. Fortunately, we live in a time when third culture intellectuals-scientists, science journalists, and other science-minded writers-are among our best nonfiction writers, and their many engaging books have brought scientific insight to a wide audience.”

The Edge lists a number of science-related books published in 2007. I have read three of them and will be attempting to get a number of others.

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