Chapter 8 • Skill Building

This section of each chapter offers exercises to help in building or strengthening the thinking tools of that chapter. The following skills exercises are meant to break some of the "mental adhesions" that occur over time even within the most limber of minds.

Thinks to Do

  1. Read a list of random numbers between 0 and 9 at a rate of about one every 3 seconds. For example: 7, 9, 4, 0, 3, 8, 2, 5, 1, 6.
  2. After each number is read, ask people to write down the number and what COLOR that they associate with each number.
  3. Collect the answers. These will be called "Answers #1".
  4. Two to three weeks later, repeat the experiment, but change the order of the numbers. For example: 3, 6, 5, 9, 4, 1, 7, 0, 5, 2, 8.
  5. Collect the answers. These will be called "Answers #2".
  6. Compare Answers #1 with Answers #2. A person with synesthesia will have all or most of the same number-color pairs on both Answers #1 and Answers #2.
  7. This experiment can also be done using letters instead of numbers.
  • Being Mindful. Make some bread, preferably with fresh herbs. Feel the gooey texture of the dough, smell the fruity scent of the yeast, taste the pungent rosemary or earthy oregano, observe the magic of the bread rising. Put some Neopolitan songs into the iPod and transform the kneading of the dough into a new form of dance. Take mental note of each sensation, especially the smell of the bread while it bakes in the oven. And the next time you smell freshly-baked bread, see how much of what you experienced comes back to you in multi-sensory form. In short, be mindful.
  • Memory Inventory. Memories are stored in various places in the brain and are reconstructed on the fly. That bread you remember making last week is not in just one spot of gray matter, and the more you are reminded of it, the stronger the links between all the other parts that come to mind: the color of the bowl, the sound of the timer, the feel of dough on your fingers. The more you strengthen those connections, the longer they last. This exercise helps to strengthen those memories:
    • Find a quiet place to think with ample time to relax a bit. Think back to your earliest memories. (A photograph album can help.) Try to re-envision where the memory took place, who else was there, what happened to make it last. Try to create details -- but remember that the brain will create details that weren't there to begin with (which is one reason why couples don't always remember past events exactly the same). Many memories are of significant or emotional events. See if you can recapture that emotion as well.
  • Cultivate Polymathy. Delight in being a dilettante. Aim at being an amateur. As G. K. Chesterton wrote, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." Did you ever have a yen to play the bongos? Paint a landscape? Learn ballroom dance? Study quantum physics? Did you never sample any of those interests, not because of a lack of time, but because you hesitated, fearing that you might not do them well enough? Well, do them anyway. Expand into as many different directions as your life will permit and time will allow. Learn Esperanto, play bridge, make doughnuts: even if you cannot become accomplished in what you assail, you will develop a better appreciation for those whose talent and dedication takes them further along their more difficult roads. In the meantime, you will be developing a wider set of spark-inducing neural networks for whatever else you do and do well. Remember that, although Einstein played the violin, it's pretty clear he never played Carnegie Hall. Celebrate amateurism and reap the benefits of doing more than you thought you could.
  • Word Web.[2] An exercise for divergent thinking. Items: a stopwatch or timer, paper, something to write with.
  1. Set the timer for three minutes and do not stop writing until the timer sounds.
  2. Write down all the words that come to mind when you think of the word "spring." [3]
  3. When the timer sounds, look at your list of words. Now make a map of your associations [a mind-map with categories -- see example below]
  4. Look at your map. Did words associated with different meanings of the word "spring" come to mind? Take note of your most unusual associations.

A word web based on the noun "button".

  • Degrees of Separation. [4] Items: paper and something to write with.
Open any book and point to a word. If the word is not a noun, pick the noun closest to the word you chose in the text (note that the noun should not be a proper noun). Write the word down. Make room for three words to the right of that word by drawing dashes. Now open the book to a different page and select another noun. Try to connect the two nouns by using no more than three connecting words. Now try to find two words to connect your nouns.... Finally try to connect your nouns with just a single word.

Synthesizing | Conclusion
  1. ^ http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/syne.html#bio
  2. ^ From Your Creative Brain by Shelley Carson, pg. 150
  3. ^ Or any other noun, preferably one with possibilities of multiple connections.
  4. ^ From Your Creative Brain by Shelley Carson, pg. 151