Tag Archives: Brain


A2There’s a world of difference between book smarts and street smarts – between braininess and savvy. The first has its place, but the second is much more useful. Being smart is the ability to logically think things out. Being sharp is the ability to tune into the world, to read situations, and positively connect with others while taking charge of your own life.

What is intelligence?

A4Intelligence has been defined in many different ways such as your capacity for logic, abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, learning, emotional knowledge, memory, planning, creativity and problem solving.

Where it comes from is anybody’s guess. It’s something that’s designed into us, possibly imbedded in our brain through DNA. I’m a believer in the concept of Infinite Intelligence which is the basis of Napoleon Hill’s masterpiece on human achievement in Think And Grow Rich. If you haven’t read it, here’s the link. If you have read it, go read it again.

Intelligence has long been measured in a quotient called IQ. It’s different from a measure of your ability to control your emotions which is called EQ – a much more difficult thing to measure.

A5Most average adults have an IQ around 100 on the Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale. The MENSA club requires members to be in the top 98 percentile which sets the bar at 132. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the ‘smartest’ person in the world was Marilyn vos Savant, who scored 185. Probably the most intelligent person who ever existed was Leonardo da Vinci who’s been estimated at around 220.

Conversely, mental retardation used to be divided into sub-classifications, but these labels are officially obsolete due to political correctness: Borderline Deficiency (IQ 70-80), Moron (IQ 50-69), Imbecile (IQ 20-49) and Idiot (below 20). I’ve dealt with a few in my policing career who rated around 15 and I have my own term for that classification.

So what about emotional smarts?

I have a great book called The EQ Edge by Steven J. Stein, Ph.D. and Howard E. Book, M.D. I’ll steal their definition of EQ.

A6Emotional Quotient is the set of skills that enable us to make our way in a complex world – the personal, social and survival aspects of overall intelligence, the elusive common sense and sensitivity that are essential to effective daily functioning. It has to do with the ability to read the political and social environment, and landscape them; to intuitively grasp what others want and need, what strengths and weaknesses are; to remain unruffled by stress; and to be engaging. The kind of person others want to be around and will follow.

Sophisticated mapping techniques in brain research have recently confirmed that many thought processes pass through our emotional centers as they take the psychological journey that converts outside information from infinite intelligence into individual response and action.

God only knows where infinite intelligence comes from.



AA1Why do we study other animals and they don’t study us? What is it about the human brain that allows the cognitive ability for abstract reasoning and creativeness? What is it that makes the human brain so special? It comes down to one thing that humans do that no other living creature does.

I just watched a fascinating TED Talk by neuroscientist Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel where she looks at the difference in animal brain structures and arrives at a shocking, yet simple explanation.

AA6For years, mainstream science assumed that there was a direct relationship to the rate of intelligence and the size of the brain. However if you look at the brain of a cow to the brain of a chimp, they both weigh around 400 grams. Using that theory, the two species should have about the same intelligence. Carrying it further, a human brain weighs about 1.5 kilograms, an elephant’s is 4.5 kilos, and a blue whale tops out at 9 kg. Something clearly is wrong with the size of the brain vs. intelligence theory.

Is there an intelligence relationship in the size of an animal’s brain to the size of its body?

Take gorillas for instance. Their bodies average 180 kg and their brains are 0.5 kg. Human bodies average 75 kg and our brains are 1.5 kg. So the human brain to body ratio are 7.2 times larger than gorillas and we appear to be a lot smarter – although that’s debatable with some people.

But the daily energy consumption that a human brain requires is proportionately much higher than a gorilla’s brain.

AA8Gorillas spend most of their day feeding to supply energy in keeping a larger body mass fuelled, whereas humans only require three quick meals to support a smaller body but a larger and more active brain. Human brains are only 2% of our body mass but require 25% of our energy consumption to operate. Gorilla brains only consume 10% of their daily calorie intake. So what’s going on here?

Dr. Herculano-Houzel researched the long-held assumption that there was a direct proportion of neurons, or thought processors, per weight of grey matter. It was thought that the human brain held around 100 billion neurons but she could not find the source of this information. So she decided to do some experimentation.

AA9She developed a process to extract neuron nuclei from grey-matter cells and established that the average human brain contains 86 billion neurons – 16 billion in our cerebral cortex alone, which is by far the highest in any species and the seat of cognitive awareness.

She observed that there was nothing different in the basic structure between human brains and other primates like gorillas, chimps, and orangutans. And yes, humans are just another species of primate. It’s just that we have a much higher brain to body size ratio and we have a lot more neurons that our cousins do.

AA13But our brain to body energy requirements are so much higher than apes, yet we feed far less. This led her to ask the question – What happened in our evolutionary process that made human brains so proportionately larger?

Anthropology determines that the human brain suddenly increased about 1.5 million years ago. Something else happened at the same time.

Humans learned to cook their food.

AA12We learned to use fire to pre-digest our caloric intake which supercharged the ability to fuel and grow the brain. Because of cooking high-calorie, high-protein foods, our brain size rapidly increased to becoming a large energy-consuming asset rather than a liability.

Humans spent far less time searching for, devouring, and digesting low calorie raw vegetative foods than other primates did. Our omnivorous diet allowed us to focus our cerebral cortex on developing better food processing ventures like agriculture, civilization, electricity, and supermarkets.

So what do we do that no other creature does?

We cook.

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AA15Watch Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel’s fascinating, 13 minute TED Talk here: 


Visit her website at: http://www.suzanaherculanohouzel.com/lab


Lisa Cron’s book Wired For Story was a writing ‘A-Hah’ moment for me. I’m so pleased to to have Lisa share this game-changing information as a guest at DyingWords.net. 

Wired2What would you say if I told you that what the brain craves, hunts for, and responds to in every story it hears has nothing to do with what most writers are taught to strive for? What’s more, that it’s the same thing whether you’re writing literary fiction or a down and dirty thriller?

You’d probably say, prove it. Fair enough.

Wired1First, the mistaken belief: From time immemorial we’ve been taught that things like lyrical language, insightful metaphors, vivid description, memorable characters, palpable sensory details, and a fresh voice are what hooks readers.

It’s a seductive belief, because all those things are indisputably good. But they’re not what hook the reader. The brain, it turns out, is far less picky when it comes pretty prose than we’ve been led to believe.

What does the brain crave?

Wired9Beginning with the very first sentence, the brain craves a sense of urgency that instantly makes us want to know what happens next. It’s a visceral feeling that seduces us into leaving the real world behind and surrendering to the world of the story.

Which brings us to the real question: Why? What are we really looking for in every story we read? What is that sense of urgency all about?

Thanks to recent advances in neuroscience, these are questions that we can now begin to answer with the kind clarity that sheds light on the genuine purpose of story and elevates writers to the most powerful people on earth. Because story, as it turns out, has a much deeper and more meaningful purpose than simply to entertain and delight.

Story is how we make sense of the world. Let me explain . . .

Wired7It’s long been known that the brain has one goal: survival. It evaluates everything we encounter based on a very simple question: Is this going to help me or hurt me? Not just physically, but emotionally as well.

The brain’s goal is to then predict what might happen, so we can figure out what the hell to do about it before it does. That’s where story comes in.

By letting us vicariously experience difficult situations and problems we haven’t actually lived through, story bestows upon us, risk free, a treasure trove of useful intel – just in case.

And so back in the Stone Age, even though those shiny red berries looked delicious, we remembered the story of the Neanderthal next door who gobbled ‘em down and promptly keeled over, and made do with a couple of stale old beetles instead.

Wired8Story was so crucial to our survival that the brain evolved specifically to respond to it, especially once we realized that banding together in social groups makes surviving a whole lot easier.

Suddenly it wasn’t just about figuring out the physical world, it was about something far trickier: navigating the social realm.

In short, we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world and give us insight into what makes people tick, the better to discern whether the cute guy in the next cubicle really is single like he says, and to plan the perfect comeuppance if he’s not.

Wired10The sense of urgency we feel when a good story grabs us is nature’s way of making sure we pay attention to it. It turns out that intoxicating sensation is not arbitrary, ephemeral or “magic,” even though it sure feels like magic. It’s physical. It’s a rush of the neural pleasure transmitter, dopamine. And it has a very specific purpose.

Want to know what triggers it?


Wired5When we actively pursue new information – that is, when we want to know what happens next — curiosity rewards us with a flood of dopamine to keep us reading long after midnight because tomorrow we just might need the insight it will give us.

This is a game changer for writers.

It proves that no matter how lyrical your language, or how memorable your characters, unless those characters are actively engaged in solving a problem – making us wonder how they’ll get out of that one – we have no vested interest in them.

Wired11We can’t choose whether or not to respond to story. Dopamine makes us respond. Which is probably why so many readers who swear they only read highbrow fiction are surreptitiously downloading Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m just saying.

I know that many writers will want to resist this notion. After all, the brain is also wired to resist change and to crave certainty.

And for a long time writers were certain that learning to “write well” was the way to hook the reader.

Wired6So embracing a new approach to writing – even though it’s based on our biology, and how the brain processes information — probably feels scary. The incentive to focus on story first and “writing” second, however, is enormous. To wit:

  • You’ll reduce your editing time exponentially because story tends to be what’s lacking in most rough drafts. Polishing prose in a story that’s not working is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
  • You’ll have a 1000% better chance of getting the attention of agents, editors and publishers. Yeah, 1000% is arbitrary, but it’s not far off. These professionals are highly trained when it comes to identifying a good story. They like good writing as much as a next person – but only when it’s used to tell a good story.
  • You’ll have a fighting chance of changing the world – and I’m not kidding. Writers are the most powerful people on the planet. They can capture people’s attention, teach them something new about themselves and the world, and literally rewrite the brain – all with a well-told tale.

Indeed, the pen is far mightier than the sword.

That is, if you know how to wield it.

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Wired3Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers From the Very First Sentence (Ten Speed Press). I’m thrilled to have Lisa share her knowledge, observations, and wisdom through this guest post at DyingWords.net.

Wired2Wired For Story caused me to go right back to square one and revise my No Witnesses To Nothing manuscript. For someone like me who comes from a totally anal adherence to science, I had a Eureka moment when I Lisa showed me the straightforward science of storytelling. Our brains are hard-wired for stories – always have been, always will be. This is a science ap for a page-turner. I’m serious. If you want to bring up your writing game… READ THIS BOOK!

Lisa has worked in publishing at W.W. Norton, as an agent at the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency, as a producer on shows for Showtime and CourtTV, and as a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency. Since 2006, she’s been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

Lisa works with writers, nonprofits, educators and organizations, helping them master the unparalleled power of story, so they can move people to action – whether that action is turning the pages of a compelling novel, trying a new product, or taking to the streets to change the world for the better.

Lisa’s literary agent is Laurie Abkemeier at DeFiore and Company.

Her video tutorial Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story can be found at Lynda.com.

Watch Lisa’s Ted Talks video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74uv0mJS0uM

Visit her website at  http://wiredforstory.com/

Follow on Twitter   https://twitter.com/LisaCron

Here the Wired For Story Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wired-For-Story/116220388438647