The Near-Sighted Monkey
Dear “Write What You See” Class (Art 548)
Here is the homework page I handed out on Wednesday. The writing exercise is an adaptation of the Wednesday post-colloquium exercise from Dan Chaon .
The link I sent you to the extended “To The Best of our Knowledge” - WPR’sSteve Paulson’s interview with Iain McGilchrist can also be found here.
I look forward to seeing you in The Image Lab at 4:30 on Monday.
Sincerely,
Professor Chewbacca

Dear “Write What You See” Class (Art 548)

Here is the homework page I handed out on Wednesday. The writing exercise is an adaptation of the Wednesday post-colloquium exercise from Dan Chaon .

The link I sent you to the extended “To The Best of our Knowledge” - WPR’sSteve Paulson’s interview with Iain McGilchrist can also be found here.

I look forward to seeing you in The Image Lab at 4:30 on Monday.

Sincerely,

Professor Chewbacca

Dear Students,
Here is a link to the interview with Iain McGilchrist I mentioned at the end of Wednesday’s class. I’d like you to listen to it while you are drawing.  It’s about an hour long.
Interview 
Transcript.
Sincerely,
Professor Chewbacca
P.S. Keep repeating Emily Dickinson’s poem #1603 aloud and in your head. You will need it soon.

Dear Students,

Here is a link to the interview with Iain McGilchrist I mentioned at the end of Wednesday’s class. I’d like you to listen to it while you are drawing.  It’s about an hour long.

Interview

Transcript.

Sincerely,

Professor Chewbacca

P.S. Keep repeating Emily Dickinson’s poem #1603 aloud and in your head. You will need it soon.

Dear Unthinkable Mind Class,

Here are some of the three demon heads you colored while watching and listening to various presentations about hemispheric differences in the brain.

And these are some of the things from the ‘test’ we took on what you remembered about Iain McGilchrist’s work.

I’m looking forward to speaking to each of you one on one in the next two days.

Love from,

Professor Lynda (AKA “Old Skull”)

Question: 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: Scientific research says YES.

Read: Doodling and the default network of the brain (Lancet)
And: “Doodling may help memory recall” (BBC)

Excerpt from transcript: Wisconsin Public Radio’s “To the Best of our Knowlege. Steve Paulson speaks to Iain McGilchrist about hemispheric differences in the brain:
Paulson: What about at a more personal level for those of us that think that “Oh, we have sort of become too analytical, too clock-driven?”  We’ve kind of lost sense of just knowing the world at a sort of more intuitive level.  What can we do?
McGilchrist:  Well, if you’re asking for something practical that you can do on a daily basis, and I think that may be what you’re getting at, I think you could, for example, engaged in meditation.  I think this is helpful, particularly mindfulness.  Mindfulness means stopping all that busy mental stuff where you’re already conceiving things and you’ve already got them represented somewhere in a category abstracted in your brain and you’re already actually just attending, non-judgmentally, to what is.  That’s about what presence is, the right hemisphere, rather than what gets literally re-presented in the left and much to my delight in the last year research on mindfulness which is recommended now as treatment for a lot of mental conditions is shown that lo and behold it engages largely widely distributed networks in the right hemisphere in the brain, exactly as you expect it to do.
( full transcript)

Excerpt from transcript: Wisconsin Public Radio’s “To the Best of our Knowlege. Steve Paulson speaks to Iain McGilchrist about hemispheric differences in the brain:

Paulson: What about at a more personal level for those of us that think that “Oh, we have sort of become too analytical, too clock-driven?”  We’ve kind of lost sense of just knowing the world at a sort of more intuitive level.  What can we do?

McGilchrist:  Well, if you’re asking for something practical that you can do on a daily basis, and I think that may be what you’re getting at, I think you could, for example, engaged in meditation.  I think this is helpful, particularly mindfulness.  Mindfulness means stopping all that busy mental stuff where you’re already conceiving things and you’ve already got them represented somewhere in a category abstracted in your brain and you’re already actually just attending, non-judgmentally, to what is.  That’s about what presence is, the right hemisphere, rather than what gets literally re-presented in the left and much to my delight in the last year research on mindfulness which is recommended now as treatment for a lot of mental conditions is shown that lo and behold it engages largely widely distributed networks in the right hemisphere in the brain, exactly as you expect it to do.

( full transcript)

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)

Coloring pages tacked to wall before the first “Unthinkable Mind” class taught by Lynda Barry at The University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Students were asked to pick an image to color while listening to an interview with Iain McGilchrist about his book “The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World”.

Hand-out for the first “The Unthinkable Mind” class taught by Lynda Barry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Links to video and audio mentioned in the hand-out

1) Four-Minute Diary timing video

2)  Carl Sagan talking about the brain and strolling down the corpus callosum in his Hush Puppies.

3) A very young Michael Gazzaniga talking about early split-brain research in the late 1950s. Note: The first part of the video (monkeys) might be disturbing to some people. The second part (humans) may be mind blowing to some people.

4) Interview with Iain McGilchrist on the brain’s hemispheric differences conducted by Wisconsin Public Radio’s Steve Paulson

Question: Why are you coloring pictures in a class that is supposed to be about the brain?

Answer: Read this:  Doodling and the default network of the brain (Lancet)

and  also this: “Doodling may help memory recall” (BBC)

Question: About how long does it take to completely cover an 8.5 x11 inch piece of paper with a solid coat of crayon wax?

Answer: About two hours —-or two episodes of American Horror Story

Question: Is there a trick to it?

Answer: Layering. And also knowing that the process can be frustrating at first but then, somehow, you get into it and something like a relationship with the image itself develops. But it’s frustrating. The paper tears or wrinkles, the wax won’t lay down. But this is exactly how you get to know the materials, by seeing how they act together and how they act with your hands, the one that colors and the one you barely notice that adjusts the paper in minute ways and holds it steady. What is that hand doing while the other one colors?

Don’t be frustrated by the frustrating parts. Keep figuring out the crayon and the paper, what they are, how they act. Look closely at the wax track the crayon is leaving on the paper. What’s making the wax come away?  What colors do you seem to keep picking?

"Some sense of the action lies in the queer kind of sympathy that the artist is able to call up for the thing he is [coloring]. The true amount of mental sympathy that the student can give to a subject he wants to [color] creates a sense of life in the picture. From this sense of life, the picture begins to have value all its own…"

Jan Gordon, “A Step-Ladder to Painting”

Question: What kind of pictures are you coloring?

Answer: It almost doesn’t matter. In The Unthinkable Mind Class we’re using images from dollar-store coloring books, Sesame Street characters, Batman, Rappers, Hello Kitty, screaming teddy bears holding knives, The Creature, Astro Boy, My Little Pony, Gorillaz, very bad mermaid drawings, Pokemon, and many other images you’ll easily find if you search for ‘coloring pages’. Pick four pictures and print them out on different kinds of paper. Rougher paper is better but even copier paper will work. Buy a box of 24 crayons. Color those crayons down and peel the paper down in order to color some more. Cover the whole page and notice what happens as you color— move from satisfaction to frustration to satisfaction to confusion to worry to satisfaction again, but keep going until the page is fully covered. Put them up on the refrigerator and stare at them. What just happened?

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.

Excuse me, may I blow your mind? BOTH HEMISPHERES! Iain McGilchrist is deeply loved down here in The Near-Sighted Monkey Lounge!

Renowned British psychiatrist and author, Iain McGilchrist, delivers a lecture entitled Our Mind at War. Drawing from research in his latest book, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, Dr. McGilchrist explains how an over-reliance on ways of looking at the world characteristic of the left hemisphere may be partially responsible for the increase in mental illnesses globally, including depression. His lecture was produced in collaboration with the Literary Review of Canada.