Notes from Dr. Laura Otis’ LMC Distinguished Speaker Presentation at Georgia Tech

Dr. Laura Otis presenting in GT Library's Ferst Room.
Dr. Laura Otis presenting in GT Library’s Ferst Room.

Today, Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication invited Emory University’s Dr. Laura Otis to give a presentation in the Library’s Ferst Room. Dr. Otis’ presentation was titled, “The Surprising Antics of Other People’s Minds” [read the abstract here].

In Dr. Otis’ work, she aims to show with data that she has collected from interviews with an admittedly small number of English-speaking people from the United States that:

1) visual thinking and verbal thinking are not opposites and they cannot be separated,” 2) there is no such thing as a visual thinking type or a verbal thinking type–every mind is unique, and 3) visual and verbal inclinations are not destinies. Anyone can develop visual or verbal skills with practice.

She also offered two suggestions for literary studies:

1) refer to visual imagery in readings, because this might help include more students who may feel excluded by verbal readings, and 2) take reader’s visual imagery seriously, because this might help reconnect the reader to creative writing as co-creator of its imagery.

You can download my handwritten notes on Dr. Otis’ talk and the Q&A session from the event as a PDF from here.

I enjoyed Dr. Otis’ presentation, and it provided me with a new insight into something that I had already read and thought about but in a more biological sense: we each think differently, because our brains are wired differently. Our experience of the world and life, which includes our biology, environment, and culture, leaves its indelible trace on our brain’s physical wiring. As we live, our brains wire themselves to accommodate new memories, abilities, and ways of thinking. It makes sense that all of these experiences would shape our thinking, but more importantly, we can exert our own conscious control over our thinking by adopting reflective practices and training/practice to improve abilities that we already have to greater or lesser degrees.

Slicing Brains to Map Connectome in the New York Times

Ashlee Vance has an interesting piece on brain mapping through the physical thin slicing of brains in the New York Times here. It was in this article that I first read about the “connectome,” or the individual wiring of our brain:

“You are born with your genes, and they don’t change afterward,” said H. Sebastian Seung, a professor of computational neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is working on the computer side of connectomics. “The connectome is a product of your genes and your experiences. It’s where nature meets nurture.” (par. 5)

The connectome reminds me of Greg Egan’s Diaspora or Greg Bear’s Blood Music as biological humans are converted into citizens in the former or a part of the cooperative noosphere in the latter. The brain has to be taken apart in order to recreate the individual’s memories and ways of thinking as a disembodied intelligence.

What does a life of science fiction thinking, writing, and discourse do to one’s connectome?