Writing about the brain is one of the Black-Diamond challenges of science writing. We all think we know what’s going in our heads, and yet the cells and neurotransmitters and signal patterns don’t fit comfortably into our everyday metaphors. Linguist Mark Liberman at Language Log regularly writes devastating posts about how lousy a job journalists sometimes do writing about neuroscience news–especially when the research touches on our pat assumptions and stereotypes. (”See, women really do think differently…” etc.)
I’ve written a lot about the brain in the past (including a book about the dawn of neurology), but now I’m setting out to write a column every month for Discover about our gray matter. The first one is now online: it’s about how we perceive time. The first thing I had to do was throw out the metaphor of the clock, because it just doesn’t do a good job of capturing our brains’ beautiful strategies for gauging the flow of now into yesterday.
As I write these pieces, I hope that readers will leave comments–neuroscientists if you’re out there, and everyone else. I hope to get things right; I expect to get things wrong; and I’m prepared to learn along the way.
[Image: Fabiola Medeiros, reprinted under a Creative Commons licence]