Inside Your Brain

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of work exploring cognitive science.  Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks and This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin are both excellent books exploring the responses of our brain to music. Levitin focuses on healthy brains, while Sacks explores the pathological; how people with autism or synesthesia experience music. Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf, describes how reading developed throughout history and the effect it had on our neural circuitry.

iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind (Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan) takes this idea of neural plasticity and raises it to a new height of sensationalism, equating neural rewiring with evolution and claiming the current generation of “Digital Natives” have profoundly different brain structures than older people. Today’s youth are apparently growing up in digital world with underdeveloped frontal lobes and weak interpersonal skills. A bit much if you ask me. If kids’ brains can adapt to new technologies so quickly, then they can easily accommodate other forms of media and skills of social interaction.

Norman Doidge’s genre-defining book The Brain That Changes Itself suggests as much: our brain is much more malleable and flexible in how it processes phenomena than previously thought.  My Stroke of Insight is another gem by Jill Bolte Taylor. The author experienced a stroke in her left hemisphere, and describes the process from within, a process she was acutely aware of due to her job as a neuroscientist. Read my review here

Second Annual Grown-Up Science Fair

The Treehouse Group’s  Grown-Up Science Fair was such a success last year we’ve relocated to a bigger venue. This year we’ll be at the Rivoli on May 9, as part of the city-wide Science Rendezvous festivities. Doors at 8 pm. With generous support from innovative law firm Gilbert’s LLP, the philosophy is to explore science in a decidedly non-scientific way, with music, arts & crafts, drama and games. Other highlights:

– Meet Steve Mann, U of T’s resident cyborg

– Play periodic table twister;

– Can you pass an 8th grade science test?

– Compete for a meeting with a patent lawyer from Gilbert’s LLP to examine your invention ideas;

– Learn the “science of pool” with Rivoli’s resident pool expert Cape Breton Red and volunteers from Let’s Talk Science from 6 pm – 8 pm upstairs;

– Join us for the Grown-Up Science Fair after-party in the Rivoli back room with live DJs from 11:30 pm – close;

Get Involved! The Treehouse Group is looking for “scientists at heart” to contribute by making a project for the Grown-Up Science Fair. Have an idea? Want to help out? Email

To check out pictures, videos and podcasts from last year’s Grown-Up Science Fair, or if you’re looking for science project ideas, check this out.

The “Evils” of Technology

The media was very busy this season warning parents about video games and social networking sites, claiming they would make your kids dumber or even turn them into sociopaths.  It was a breath of fresh air, then, to receive a copy of a media release from the MacArthur Foundation announcing the results of a massive four year study of the effects of technology on teenagers.  The Berkley authors conclude that engaging with a wide range of technology, including web content, social networking sites, cell phones, and video games, is of crucial importance in healthy teenage development.  Teens who use more technology than their counterparts faired better in the job market and in social circles.

The tendancy to blame new media for corrupting the youth is as old as the printing press.  Neil Postman’s anti-technology books Amusing Ourselves to Death, and Technopoly seem quaint in comparison to Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur.  I’m reminded of the lyrics to the Dylan song Ballad of a Thin Man: “… something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Keen?”.  Read more of my commentary in Browse and Get Smarter.


Welcome to the Treehouse

It’s been a busy couple of months for the Treehouse Group, including the launch party for the International Year of Astronomy at the Gladstone Hotel.  Check out highlights here and our Flickr feed here.

We also just wrapped up the second Toronto ideaXchange at the Design Exchange in conjunction with ArchiTEXT, where attendees gorged themselves on jellybeans and brainstormed around the ideas of architecture and poverty.  We also made 3D models of utopian Toronto communities and witnessed Minister of Children and Youth Services MPP Deb Matthews learn how to DJ.

Coming up is our first overseas event: The Bangalore ideaXchange: Envisioning Bangalore 2020. More info here or on this little known website called facebook.

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