Tag Archives: neuroscience

Confessions of a Wanna-Be Doomsday Prepper

You wouldn’t think, to look at me, that I worry about disasters as much as I do. I seem normal enough, I don’t belong to any organizations (religious OR political) that believe The End is Near, I highly doubt there’s going to be a zombie apocalypse, and you wouldn’t catch me dead wearing survivalist gear. So what’s a nice girl like me doing flirting with doomsday prepper-dom?

I blame my amygdala, the warrior princess of the limbic system, which processes emotions, and doesn’t respond well to logical arguments. It’s complicated, and you can learn more about how it works in one of the many, many books we own on emotions and the brain, but basically, it boils down to this: you have to give your lizard brain something to do so it won’t hijack your logic center and ruin your day. In the case of my prepper tendencies, I’ve found that teaching myself a new skill makes my amygdala feel like it’s doing something to thwart apocalypse, and while it’s happily pre-occupied, I can go about the business of regular life!

Here are a few skills I’d like to learn in 2013, for science, and also, just in case…

Gardening. We moved into our house too late last year to do anything major with the back yard, but this year, the sky’s the limit. Tomatoes! Potatoes! Herbs in pots! Besides, having lots of plants back there will slow down any zombies that might come crashing through the fence (seconds can count in a zombie war).

Start with: The Virgin Gardener, Jonathan Edwards


Canning and Preserving. There’s something about the thought of neat little jars of tasty things, lined up in a row in the basement, that warms the cockles of my heart. Also, since I hate to waste food, the canning project dovetails nicely with the gardening project. Canning, experienced pros tell me, requires patience and attention to detail, also good skills to refine, impending doom or not.

Start with: Food in Jars, Marisa McClellan.


Martial Arts. Wait, what? Although it may seem like quite a leap, learning a new physical skill is actually also a great way to train the mind, and become calmer in stressful situations. Who couldn’t use that, right? I’m actually drawn to aikido, with its emphasis on peaceful defense, and concern with the well-being of the attacker. But before I make a spectacle of myself in a public class, I think I will practice at home with some library books first.

Start with: First Steps in Aikido, Wendy Walker


I feel so much better now that we’ve talked about this. What kinds of irrational things do you worry about, and how do you keep your fears at bay? What useful skills do you have that would make you the hero/ine in an emergency situation?

–Leigh Anne

mostly joking, but still irrationally afraid of zombies


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How do you read?

Image from the Onion AV Club: http://www.avclub.com

I just started reading the new Michael Chabon book Telegraph Avenue, and the most curious thing started happening–I started casting familiar actors as the lead characters in the novel. I pictured the drama being played out by some of my favorite character actors–Forest Whitaker, John Turturro, Maya Rudolph, and a favorite actor from The Wire, Clarke Peters (aka Lester Freamon). [ Side note: I have since learned from a colleague that the audio version of this book is narrated by none other than Clarke Peters and that is pretty great.] What initially brought me to read this novel was not the author’s talent (although that can’t be denied), but the fact that the novel takes place in my old stomping grounds–a few adjoining neighborhoods in South Berkeley and Oakland, California, circa 2004. I know these neighborhoods and their people and haunts well, so when Chabon references a (supposedly imaginary) Ethiopian restaurant in a specific neighborhood, I can literally smell, and taste, and feel it.

Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about lately–people read differently. The idiosyncratic way that I read (casting actors and favorite haunts in key roles) is not the way that you, dear patron, necessarily take in the written word. An informal (and highly unscientific) poll amongst my co-workers yielded diverse results: some people tend to visualize what they’re reading, others picture the written word as something more akin to an interactive play, and still others don’t necessary visualize much at all, and process the written word as more of a thought/intellectual experience.

An article in the New York Times this past year called “Your Brain on Fiction” discussed the neuroscience of reading, highlighting the various sensory parts of the brain that can be stimulated while reading the humble written word. According to this article:

What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.

From this article, it appears that reading (and yes, watching movies) are the original “virtual experience.” My question(s) to you: how do you read? Do certain formats trigger different reactions? Do you see it, hear it, feel it, and yes, even occasionally taste it?

Happy reading all,


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This is your brain on music.

Ever walk around with a song stuck in your head?  This phenomenon is called an earworm, and I seem to be particularly prone to it lately.  For about two weeks I was grooving along to the Dandy Warhols.  This was followed by a brief visit from The Cure, and then, without warning, POW!


Long ago a wise man claimed that music hath charms, and contemporary science seems to bear him out. Here are just a few of the many books the Carnegie Library carries on the curious effects of music on the human brain:

Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks.

This Is Your Brain on Music, Daniel J. Levitin.

Music, Language and the Brain, Aniruddh D. Patel.

Elevator Music, Joseph Lanza.

Click here for more options. And if the video clip above broke your brain? Well, my apologies. I’ve heard that the remedy for an earworm is to sing the song all the way through; if that doesn’t work (or if singing aloud would earn you odd looks from the folks in earshot), try taking home a hair of the dog that bit you.

Happy listening!

–Mahna Mahna, er, Leigh Anne

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