Your Brain on Fiction

The New York Times • March 17, 2012

Grow your brain. Author Annie Murphy Paul touts the neurological benefits of reading fiction, as demonstrated by recent research showing that simply reading sensual metaphors or action sequences elicits the same response in the brain as experiencing them in real life. According to University of Toronto psychology professor Keith Oatley, "Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life."

I'm delighted to read a sensible short apologia for fiction-reading. Science is certainly running fast in trying to extract meaning from brain activity. Last fall I was fascinated by this news clip and the brief associated video—" Scientists use brain imaging to reveal the movies in our mind." The NY Times must have been mining a vein with this brain stuff. Witness this article from a few days past " The Brain on Love." ( Michalko)

Do E-Books Make It Harder to Remember What You Just Read?

Time Magazine • March 14, 2012

Un-stickiness. Anecdotal evidence points to the troubling possibility that information read on a screen just doesn't register the same way it would if consumed via hard copy. This is an important issue to consider as academics and publishers push for e-textbooks as a means of keeping costs down and content current.

Mostly I've thought that the success of e-textbooks was about convergence on a new set of digital conventions that reflected an understanding of what people really did when they used a textbook. Then those conventions needed to be available across a critical mass of e-reader hardware. Oh yeah, and then publishers had to get comfortable with a changed textbook business model. This article suggests e-textbook success may be more elusive and require attention to different disciplinary learning dimensions. The successes over the last 12 years have been around online learning in science and technical disciplines. See, for instance, Connexions. ( Michalko)

Why Finish Books?

The New York Review of Books • March 13, 2012

Never ending. Author Tim Parks ponders why some readers might fail to finish a book and concludes it's probably okay: "There is a tyranny about our thrall to endings. I don't doubt I would have a lower opinion of many of the novels I haven't finished if I had." Read this article and get liberated.

I've never read anything by Mr. Parks (and there's a lot) so I'm unable to judge his claim that he'd be happy to have readers declare his novels finished when the reader decides. I know that I have a stack of paperbacks that are anywhere from 60-75% read—what do they have in common? They were all begun while traveling but didn't get completed during a round trip. Now there's not enough left in each book to warrant taking it on a new trip. How about something on the book jacket that declares the reading time? Or better yet books that are shelved by round-trip air travel times. For further reading about such idiosyncrasies see Terry Belanger's volume. ( Michalko)

Innovation, Abundance and the Lesson of Aluminum

Innovation Tools • March 14, 2012

Compared to what. Check out this excerpt from Peter H. Diamandis' and Steven Kotler's  Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think . The history of aluminum, from discovery to automated production, provides an allegorical framework for any precious resource that technology suddenly makes cheap and ubiquitous—like digital content.

Good story about aluminum. Partly explains why the Washington Monument, which was finished in 1885, was capped with an aluminum pyramid weighing 100 ounces. The story is fascinating. Much is made of the words "Laus Deo" being inscribed on one face of this capstone. The facts via Snopes are here. ( Michalko)

The New Science of the Birth and Death of Words

The Wall Street Journal • March 16, 2012

Evolutionary. A new paper on Culturomics uses Google data to track when words are born, when certain spellings and usages rise to dominance, and when they fall out of use. Who knew that there were 27 spellings for "Sioux," or that "persistency" is on its way out?

This approach to new insights and knowledge is now getting mainstream attention. The article is a good reminder to go play with the Google ngram viewer. There's a nice visually striking set of graphs produced with that tool here. When did salsa finally beat ketchup? ( Michalko)

Above the Fold Quiz

According to an item in this week's News and Views section, what discovery system helps researchers contact archives to request information, arrange a visit, and order copies—all from one search?

Get the answer.