Use Your Brain

October 26, 2014

Chicago Ideas Week Brain Board via Ink Factory

The Brain is Wider than the Sky –Emily Dickinson

I’ve always had a fascination with the brain. It’s a part of the body, like the vast oceans, that are puzzling and filled with mystery and the unknown. Through science, we are learning more. But I’m not sure the brain gets the respect it deserves.

Last Sunday, I attended a session about the brain at Chicago Ideas Week. Comprised of talks from several notable speakers, this session resembled an afternoon of TED talks about the brain. Speakers included actress Marilu Henner, Columbia Professor of Psychology Carl Hart, Keck Graduate Institute Professor (and author) Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Sex author Kayt Sukel, University of California-San Diego Professor Patricia Smith Churchland and best selling author and doctor Deepak Chopra.

Sitting through the various discussions, there was no doubt that these were “heavy hitters” in the world of the brain and psychology. I enjoyed the talks as they really got me to not only think, but to think differently.

I found that some of the sessions felt too clinical, like a PhD student delivering a thesis. During moments like these, my mind wandered a bit and I felt like I needed a Cliff-Notes version of the talk.

One of the reasons I decided to check out the talk was Deepak Chopra. I’ve always admired and enjoyed his teaching which combines science and spirituality. While I found Chopra’s talk highly entertaining, I had hoped he could provide more scientific proof that meditation is good for the brain. I know it to be true when I’ve tried it, but what does science say? What did he have to say about it?

The highlight of the afternoon, for me, was Marilu Henner, the actress from television’s Taxi and author of the book Total Memory Makeover. Truth be told, I knew she was a Chicagoan who grew up close to where I did and that I used to love Taxi. I had heard vaguely that she had a pretty good memory, but had no idea she was one of twelve people documented with Highly Superior Autobiographic Memory.

Her talk was high energy and the pace was fast because she was cramming in a lot of great comment in a limited time. She talked about the four types of memory retrieval: horizontal, vertical, mushrooming and sporadic.

Listening to Henner, I remembered a college friend who always seemed to have a photographic memory of events in her life. I was always a bit envious of this ability to recall the past. Truthfully, I’m not sure I want to remember every detail of my life, but I did like Henner’s rationale why its good to have a strong memory:

“A strong autobiographical memory is our greatest defense against meaninglessness in our lives.”

At one point, an audience member threw out a random date more than 20 years ago. Henner was able to recall, with little hesitation, what she was doing that day.

All in all, I enjoyed Henner’s high-energy delivery and passion for her topic. I could feel it was important to her that her audience be able to remember more moments in their lives and I could appreciate the tips she gave us. Honestly, I could have easily watched her talk for an hour or more.

I have a feeling I won’t ever have a memory like Marilu Henner does, but I look forward to reading her book and implementing some of her tips so I can un-bury some of my memories.

Graphic recording this talk (at the top of this post) from The Ink Factory.