Understanding the brain
WILLMAR -- As scientists delve into the mysteries of the brain, humanity knows more than ever about this 3-pound organ and how it functions. What still eludes us, however, is how the brain makes each person unique and creative, says author Michae...
WILLMAR -- As scientists delve into the mysteries of the brain, humanity knows more than ever about this 3-pound organ and how it functions.
What still eludes us, however, is how the brain makes each person unique and creative, says author Michael Sims.
"Individuality comes entirely from this lump of wet clay between the ears," he said. "We've just begun to chart the shore of a still unknown continent."
Sims addressed some 300 people Tuesday at the fifth annual conference on the brain. The event, sponsored by the PACT 4 Families Collaborative and hosted at Willmar High School, brought together teachers, mental health professionals and early childhood specialists to discuss and learn about enhancing brain development among children and adolescents.
Participants had the chance to choose from among a smorgasbord of speakers, on topics ranging from eating disorders to brain-based gender differences. Organizers particularly zeroed in on the brain's resilience and how to counter the effects of potentially harmful influences such as poverty or high-risk family background.
Sims, the keynote speaker, has written several books. His most recent work, "Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form," was a New York Times Notable Book and a Library Journal Best Science Book.
Of all the brain's accomplishments, creativity is the most unique and the hardest to pin down, Sims said.
The brain is equipped with all the raw materials that help make human beings creative -- including the ability to read, to write and to use and understand language, he said.
"Reading is one of the great examples of the brain's resilience and flexibility... Reading is just one of the many ways the brain defines language," he said.
Reading and writing helped pave the way for humans to connect across wide distances and to foster developments in commerce and science, he said.
Yet writing and the use of language also are highly individual.
"In writing you convey so much more than you realize. Everything is self-expression. There's always an emotional constituent behind it," Sims said.
A reader can open a book a thousand miles away, and the book will continue to speak in the author's own voice, he said.
Modern-day Americans are reluctant to trust their brains, however -- and often even look down on people who are perceived to be brainy, he said.
"If we admire the brain so much, why is intellectuality or bookishness presented as a bad thing? We do live in a noticeably anti-intellectual era in a frequently anti-intellectual nation," he said. "We brag about the brain but we constantly sneer at the idea that exercising it might lead to satisfaction."
By trusting in their brain's capabilities, humans can lead a rich, resilient and expressive life, he said. "The brain primes us with all the materials we need to respond creatively."