Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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The Usefulness (or Lack Thereof) of Brain Metaphors

This 2007 Antlantic article on multitasking doesn’t have a ton of stuff you haven’t read before (our brains really can’t handle it, it wastes more time than it adds, etc.). However, there’s one paragraph in particular that played off something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’ve argued in the past that one of the great things about the internet is that it offers us an amazing metaphor for how the brain functions. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about whether that’s actually true or we just want to believe it’s true. Every generation has found a new and “better” metaphor for the brain, mostly based on the most prevalent and power technology available.

The author offers this up: “And before the age of modern technology, theology. Further back than that, it’s hard to voyage, since there was a period, common sense suggests, when we didn’t even know we had brains. Or minds. Or spirits. Humans just sort of did stuff. And what they did was not influenced by metaphors about what they ought to be capable of doing but very well might not be equipped for (assuming you wanted to do it in the first place), like editing a playlist to e-mail to the lover whose husband you’re interviewing on the phone about the movie he made that you’re discussing in the blog entry you’re posting tomorrow morning and are one-quarter watching certain parts of as you eat salad and carry on the call.”

As usual, not sure where I fall on this one quite yet, but it’s fun to think about.

February 9, 2009