Thursday, February 3, 2011

NOVA | Magic and the Brain

A program on the telly last night got me thinking about writing.

Because the brain processes visual stimuli in particular ways, magicians can fool us.  Likewise, hypnotists succeed not through some mystical powers, but through a form of mind control that leverages the realities about how the mind works.  It is probably more accurate to call it “mind encouragement.”

There’s a lesson in here for those who work in the Department of Content Creation, Narrative Sub-Division.  That is, a lesson for those who want to write clearly. 

Writing is mind control.  (Yeah yeah, I should be calling it “mind encouragement” but mind control sounds so much cooler.)  Just as the magician wants to control what the audience sees, the writer wants to control what the reader thinks—the flow of ideas into the reader’s mind.  And just like the magician or the hypnotist, the writer does this by leveraging what we know about cognitive processes:

Readers (of English) seek out certain information in certain places within sentences and paragraphs.  Effective writers (of English) design their sentences accordingly. 

I’ll say more about this in subsequent posts.  But here is a start: The Science of Scientific Writing by George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan.  The paper is aimed at those who write scientific papers, but the rhetorical principles apply to all non-fiction writing.

And here is a little something from the PBS website describing last night’s broadcast of Nova Science Now:

Program Description

Are the secrets behind the world's greatest magic tricks actually wired into the human brain? Eccentric magicians Penn and Teller and Las Vegas trickster Apollo Robbins team up with neuroscientists to reveal how our brains process visual information. Can you really believe your own eyes?

NOVA | Magic and the Brain

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