Wanna Be Smarter? Read A Book That Doesn’t Make Sense

By Boonsri Dickinson | September 16, 2009 12:55 pm

KafkaPlaying brain games aren’t the only way a person can get smarter these days. It turns out reading Kafka can also pump up your brain muscles.

In a recent study, University of British Columbia researchers asked volunteers to read a shortened version of Kafka’s nonsensical story, The Country Doctor. Another group of participants read a version that had been rewritten so the events made more sense. After reading the story, the volunteers took a grammar test that asked them to identify the structure of letter strings in the text—and those who read the first story scored higher.

The scientists think their results show that when a person is exposed to unusual circumstances, he or she is motivated to learn new patterns. Science Daily reports:

According to research by psychologists at UC Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia, exposure to the surrealism in, say, Kafka’s “The Country Doctor” or Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” enhances the cognitive mechanisms that oversee implicit learning functions… .

“The idea is that when you’re exposed to a meaning threat—something that fundamentally does not make sense—your brain is going to respond by looking for some other kind of structure within your environment,” said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB and co-author of the article. “And, it turns out, that structure can be completely unrelated to the meaning threat.”

Granted, even if you run out and rad Kafka, since you’re reading this online, perhaps you should be scared that Google is countering the effects by making us all stupid.

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Image: flickr/ Jim Greenfield

CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
MORE ABOUT: intelligence, Kafka
  • http://drvitelli.typepad.com Romeo Vitelli

    Reading James Joyce will turn us all into Nobel laureates then.

  • http://arkonbey.blogspot.com Arkonbey

    So, we should read Chuck Palahniuk’s new novel? Where’s the line between nonsensical and just bad. For instance, as a former USCG aviator, I find Tom Clancy’s assertion that a CH-53 can land on the deck of a 210 foot cutter to be nonsense (Clear and Present Danger. I was bored and it was handy). I also find it incredibly stupid and I certainly won’t be reading Clancy as it makes me feel dumber.

    typo alert: “rad Kafka” my new band’s name.

  • Art

    @ Arkonbey- Chuck’s novels make sense, if you make sure not to use realism as a critical point. Within the framework of the story, everything makes sense, you just have to pay a little attention as not to miss any of the foreshadowing. How can you hate on the guy who wrote Fight Club. I agree about the Clancy thing. Rad Kafka sounds like a dance to me.

  • Art

    @ Boonsri- I agree about Google making us dumb. I didn’t even have the will to finish the article about that very subject.

  • http://arkonbey.blogspot.com Arkonbey

    @art: Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Palahniuk Fan! Pygmy was too much for me, though. I couldn’t make it past the first chapter; it was like reading un-reversed manga. Maybe I’m too old?

    Actually, given that thought, maybe I SHOULD try Pygmy again (Even if “Operation Havoc” sounds a bit too much like “Project Mayhem”).

  • Nova Terata

    I guess this means I should give Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson another chance. I’ve read most William Burroughs, Kathy Acker, and THE QURAN! but KJA stopped me in my chair

  • john raguso

    Try reading Proust’s Swann’s Way, in the original french. Even in english it seems to go on and on while you’re trying to make sense of what’s happening. Add the language barrier and, VOILA!!— you’ve boosted your iQ 20 or 30 points.

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