The Near-Sighted Monkey

Handout for 16th Unthinkable Mind Class

Dearest Unthinkable Mind Students,

In place of your daily diary entries you’re writing me a letter describing your surroundings. I’m especially interested in the people around you and what they are saying.

I’m doing this exercise and writing letters to you as well. Here is yesterday’s.

Professor Old Skull

Crayon on paper: colored between a Wednesday and a Monday by The Unthinkable Mind students. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Taught by Lynda Barry

Assignment: Use plain old crayons and color three images with the intent of getting as much of the crayon on the page as possible. Color for one hour in silence, one hour listening to a WPR interview with Iain McGilchrist on hemispheric differences of the brain and then coloring while doing something else like watching a movie or talking to friends or listening to music or eavesdropping in a cafe or re- listening to a WPR interview with Iain McGilchrist on hemispheric differences of the brain. Can something as simple as coloring a picture increase our ability to sustain an open sort of concentration and remember more of what we’ve heard?

Answer:  Doodling and the default network of the brain (Lancet)
and  also this: “Doodling may help memory recall” (BBC)

21 students made 63 pictures between a Wednesday and a Monday.

First round of homework from the Unthinkable Mind class, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Assignment: Use plain old crayons and color three images with the intent of getting as much of the crayon on the page as possible. Color for one hour in silence, one hour listening to a WPR interview with Iain McGilchrist on hemispheric differences of the brain and then coloring while doing something else like watching a movie or talking to friends or listening to music or eavesdropping in a cafe or re- listening to a WPR interview with Iain McGilchrist on hemispheric differences of the brain. Can something as simple as coloring a picture increase our ability to sustain an open sort of concentration and remember more of what we’ve heard?

Answer:  Doodling and the default network of the brain (Lancet)
and  also this: “Doodling may help memory recall” (BBC)

This is a letter from Lynda Barry to the students in The Unthinkable Mind which begins on January 23, 2013 at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. The class is composed of 21 graduate and undergraduate students; eight with interests in the sciences, eight with interests in the humanities, and five wild cards.

It’s a writing and picture-making class with focus on the basic physical structure of the brain with emphasis on hemispheric differences and a particular sort of insight and creative concentration that seems to come about when we are using our hands (-the original digital devices) —to help us figure out a problem.

No artistic talent is required to be part of this class, but students must have an active interest in learning about the physical structure of the brain, how memory, metaphor, pictures and stories work together, the relationship between our hands and thinking, and what the biological function of the thing we call ‘the arts’ may be.

This is a rigorous class with a substantial workload. Along with twice weekly writing, picture making, and memorization assignments, students will be required to complete a handmade book using visual and written elements by the end of the semester.

Before the first meeting, students will have read the introduction to Iain McGilchrist’s book on the brain’s hemispheric differences, “The Master and His Emissary” (Download Introduction) and will have memorized Emily Dickinson’s poem number 937

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind —
As if my Brain had split —
I tried to match it — Seam by Seam —
But could not make it fit.

The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before —
But Sequence raveled out of Sound
Like Balls — upon a Floor.

Class activities, assignments and relevant material will be posted on this tumblr page throughout the semester.