Field of Science

The mind is a mysterious place

Limits free us? Do we need constraints to create? "We break out of the box by stepping into shackles." On a related note, in How To Write A Lot, the main message is that to be a prolific writer, you have to allot time to write, like 9-11 am every day, which seems like a constraint as well.

Those annoying songs that get stuck in your head are called "earworms". But how do earworms start?

Male-to-female transexuals have brains that are physically similar to other men's. Mostly. But also, the 24 individuals examined had "a smaller thalamus (the brain's relay centre) and putamen (an area involved in motor control) and increased gray matter in the right insula and inferior frontal cortex (regions involved in representing the body, among other functions)." The researchers speculate that this difference could arise from "a constant rumination about one's own body". So I wonder, can thought processes change not only which brain cells live or die, and which are connected to which, but also the actual amount of gray matter?


  1. Some people believe creativity can only happen in the presence of constraints. If you can do anything, then what is considered creative or novel? I feel like it's one of these 'definitions by contrast' things.
    On 'earworms' I was reminded of this story:
    From ‘Shostakovich: Music on the Brain?’ (which I highly recommend) by Dajue Wang.
    It was shortly after the war. A new patient came to my clinic and as he entered the room I recognized him at once as our most celebrated composer. After the usual preliminaries I ask- ed him what his problem was and he explained that he had a piece of metal embedded in his head and wondered whether it should be removed. In some surprise I said I thought it was probably advisable, but asked him how it came to be there. During the war, he explained, he had been in a city which had been under siege and he had been injured when a shell exploded in the street near him. Medical care had been limited and it was only after he recovered that the fragment of metal had been discovered. I sent him to the X-ray department so that I could check exact- ly where the fragment was, and a few minutes later I was examining the still-wet plates. I saw at once that the fragment was deep inside the brain and I felt it was certainly better that it be removed. I told the patient this, but he seemed uncertain and reluctant to accept my advice. Eventually he explained why. Since the fragment had been there, he said, each time he lean- ed his head to one side he could hear music. His head was filled with melodies – different each time – which he then made use of when composing. Moving his head back level immediately stopped the music. I took him back to the X-ray department and this time I plac- ed him in front of the fluoroscope. On the screen I could see the outline of his skull and the fragment of metal within it. I asked him to move his head in the way he had described and on the screen the piece of metal could clearly be seen moving in his brain. The direction of the movement suggested that it was located in the temporal horn of the left ventricle (a hollow
    cavity within the brain filled with cerebrospinal fluid), the very part of the brain, of course, that is concerned with hearing. I had never encountered such a case before and was uncer- tain of the best advice to give my patient. I therefore took the problem to my superior, the surgeon-general of the armed forces and our country’s leading neurosurgeon. He examined the pa- tient and the X-rays and after careful consideration advised that the fragment be left where it was. ‘After all’, he smiled, ‘a German shell will have done some good if it helps produce more music.

  2. I wish I could experience things like this, where the brain behaves in erratic ways.


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