This is your brain on …

I was thinking about the brain again this morning, about all the varieties of brains, all the differences in how different brains learn, all the influences on it, the elasticity of it. I was looking in the mirror, drying my hair when I thought, “in my next life, I want to study the brain.”  The next thought was how some people would tell me: “why not do it in THIS life.”  And then I looked at myself full in the mirror and my reflection and I had a good laugh at that thought.

Here’s why: my brain don’t work that way.  It will have to be in the next life, if there is one, because in the 45 years of knowing this brain, we know that it doesn’t learn from “study.”  Unless I can read a literary work about how the brain works and what that means, or see a movie that depicts the difference, or be told a real-life story about how it works, well, I’m not going to be able to “study” the brain at all.

I don’t learn any differently than I think.  I learn in circles, sometimes concentric, sometimes overlapping, and sometimes it is just an upward spiral.  It is what frustrated me about History in high school, that I couldn’t remember dates, but once I was told a story about how people lived and what influenced the choices they made, it all began to make sense.  I still have a hard time connecting European history with American history–most likely because they were taught at different times with minimal connectors between the two.  But what was I tested on?  What was important to the teachers back then: dates. Time periods. The names of the presidents — in chronological order.  I think it is why I had trouble with language and science, too.  Too much was required of me to simply remember rather than understand. (Or, there were no teachers who could figure out how to explain something so it was memorable.)

But here’s the thing about that: I also recognize that there are some people for whom this IS the way they learn.  Time and space work well for them; they can see the chronology in their heads in ways that make sense.  While in my head, they are sort of a “date soup.”

I am learning to appreciate the difference (and if you haven’t read Rev. James Ford’s words on difference today, please do so now).  I’m learning to appreciate how brains work and about how we all need people to be different.  Some need to attend to the chronology; others need to spin out in the distance; and still others need to work between as interpreters? as directors? as lovers of the difference within and among humanity?  We all have our gifts, often times these gifts are dictated by the way our brains interpret what they see, feel, and hear.  Some can only give back what is put in.  I understand and value that.  Others require things to be put in their brains in unique ways (stories, poems, dance) before they can begin to form the words that give that information meaning. 

The thing is, we tend to approach all people as if they interpret information in the very same way we do.  Just as we approach theology and culture from our own tinted prisms, we humans are most easy when we are surrounded by those who interpret info in the same way we do.

I can’t study the brain.  But I can be awed by those people who do.  Who knows?  Maybe this old brain has just enough elasticity left to embrace difference, to stretch beyond my comfort zone, and learn to take data in and find the language to interpret it for others whose brains work just like mine.


About TinaLBPorter

I write poetry and blog at And I'm thrilled to be writing with you.
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4 Responses to This is your brain on …

  1. leakelley says:

    I love the way you think and the way your brain works!
    I also relate.


  2. uuMomma says:

    Shannon, after reading your earlier blog entry, I get why you are thinking about the brain a lot, too.

    Charlie, thanks for the suggestion. And I think I understand what you were saying about the doors of perception, etc.


  3. Charlie Talbert says:


    I think you would like Jay Winik’s book, The Great Upheaval.
    Its subject is the interconnectedness of the United States, France, and Russia in the years 1788 to 1800. Its focus is on the stories of everyday life, and on personalities – Washington, Robespierre, Catherine the Great, Napoleon, Louis XVI, Voltaire, Jefferson and many more – and how their lives intersected in ways we never learned about from the silo approach to teaching history.

    Back to your main topic. I think the brain can grasp facts about itself, but never really understand itself. Every door of self-knowledge that’s opened is into a room with more doors, infinitely. Even so, friends and I had this pretty well figured out in our undergraduate years, in that heady atmosphere of academic inquiry, but we never wrote anything down, and now it’s gone!


  4. Shannon says:

    hey! I kind of am getting a kick out of your blog today. I also LOVE the brain. I took a class in college about infant development which was heavily brain study. I loved it. I have been tossing around a blog post about brains and learning in my head lately but have just been too overwhelmed by life this week to think too much about it.


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