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Annotated Bibliography – The Brains of Poets (Poets Brains) – Updated: Nov 30, 2010

Recheck this entry from time to time for brief reviews of the research base I am building. And, go up and to the left to click on the word ‘home’, for the rest of this site. Brains. Poetry. This note is also good for all you scienceandart-philes. It’s a place to start that is several years worth of reading on art, science and the Brains of Poets.

Books to be reviewed shortly: The Midnight Disease – Alice Flaherty. Do you like the title: Science and Poetry? Please vote by emailing

1. A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness – VS Ramachandran, 2004

This is not really a tour through human consciousness, rather it takes the reader through a series of syndromes and by the individual perceptual problems identified, tells the reader how the normal brain should work.

The book’s best quality is Ramachandran’s willingness to go out on a limb and make a long list of suggestions about how the mind works.

Of chief interest to me is chapter three, The Artful Brain, where Ramachandran suggests some universal laws of aesthetics.

2. The Neurology of Aesthetics, Scientific American Mind, Volume 17, No 6, 2006, Ramachandran et al

If you don’t have time to read his book, this article is a succinct rendering of his views in a few pages.

Ramachandran’s ‘universal laws of aesthetics’ by which he means the neurobiological basis of art – as he puts it: a clear expression of our aesthetic response to beauty, are: grouping, symmetry, hypernormal stimuli, peak shift, isolation and perceptual problem solving. His book has a few more.

3. Mapping the Mind, 1998, Rita Carter

In language understandable to the lay reader and with the precision required of a scientist, Carter presents a clear, thorough discussion of where in the brain certain functions reside.

If you have only limited time to spend on the subject, this is the book you should read.

Though written in 1998, this book is still current, because in an explosion of PET and MRI research articles, no scientist has had the time to bring all the research together in one place. has a review by a neurobiologist who says this is so.

4. Doctors of the Soul – Post 5 on this blog.

Look at the end of the chapter for a bibliography of about 50 PET/MRI scans and related articles.

5. Are Genius and Madness Related – Psychiatric Times 2005, Simonton

Creativity and psychopathology are positively related in that they share the same cluster of mental attributes. But one cannot be ‘crazy’ and creative, the illness goes beyond being usable. Manic depression is associated with high creativity, but schizophrenia and psychosis are not.

6. Touched with Fire, Kay Jamison, 1994

This is a classic book that has spectacular quotes from bi-polar artists and has the list of famous people/artists who were also manic depressives that is most commonly referred to in the literature. Jamison is manic-depressive and has had a stellar career. This is an excellent source of info.

7. The Price of Greatness – Resolving the Creativity and Madness Controversy, AM Ludwig, 1995

This book is best read in conjunction with Jamison’s book. It’s best point is that it considers and classifies all careers/vocations and their relation to psychopathology. Hence it is a book of tremendous reach. It’s conclusion that craziness and creativity are correlated but not causative, so the claim that I use my craziness for my art, and will not give it up, is false on both counts. Simonton’s article, above, includes and updates this argument.

8. (June 7) Going Inside – John McCrone

If you are looking for a good site on human consciousness – you have to overlook the arrogance of the guy – try this: John McCrone – the gist is that most research on the mind commits the error of assuming that the sensory data is put together and held in consciousness for processing, but, John argues, that the conscious mind anticipates sense data and directs the mind toward an outcome, thus focussing the mind and thus muscles on an outcome.

This view has the advantage that it more adequately explains the complex waves of activity revealed in the brain, and the focussing and dampening that happens, but it doesn’t adequately explain how consciousness can come to do anything prior to having any sense data at all and the memory laydown processes.

This subject is one beside what I need to know for the book on writers, but is interesting in its own sake.

9. June 14 – Journal of Consciousness

This is a peer reviewed – but appreciative of many different points of view – academic journal on the subject of consciousness. It has a wider subject matter than information on the abilities of artists, but, for me in this project, is background worth picking so that my understanding of the brain is on solid footing.

See the website:

There are three issues devoted to the subject: Art and the Brain: Vol 6, #6-7, Jn-Jl, 1999, Part I; Vol 7-8, #8-9, Ap-Sp, 2000 Part II; and, Vol 11, # 3-4, M 2004, Part III. Anyone who is interested in a focussed academic level discussion will want these three issues. VS Ramachandra, in the 1999 volume, is to be congratulated for having put this subject on paper with his now seminal essay on the subject.

10. Human Brain Function – William D. Penny et al, 2004

This is the most up-to-date medical text on the brain and is directed at the medical and scientific purchaser and has a hefty price of more than $150. Other readers will find it slow going for its more than 1100 pages.

11. Synesthesia [sic]: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience, Lynn C. Robertson, Noam Sagiv, 2005

Synaesthesia is experiencing more than one kind of sense data from a single item, for example, when seeing a 4 the ‘seer’ sees it as a red coloured 4. In evolutionary terms, this is one basis for metaphor.

12. (July 11) Presence, poetry and the Collaborative Right Hemisphere, Carole Brooks Platt, JCS V 14, #3, Mr, 2007

The temporal lobe is preconditioned by adverse childhood circumstances, especially maternal deprivation and sexual abuse factor or loss of a significant male figure in women. The wounded mind searches for personal meaning and stabilization, and its creative output can provide an inspired poetic voice.

13. (July 11) Art and Reductionism, Eric Harth, JCS, V11, #3-4.

In its cleanest form reductionism means A can be described by B. Ramachandran’s approach is saying that: art and aesthetics can be described by the micro-world of neural mechanisms of perception. This approach tends to downplay the complexities imposed by culture on the artist, and that the creation of art takes a long time to be produced by an artist ruminating over memories, associations, and emotions, unlike, the ‘forward feed’ of an animal responding to a stimulus that takes place in two tenths of a second, the ‘bucket brigade’ in Ramachandran’s words. (Other academics weigh in with their viewpoints).

Hence Ramachandran’s 8 artistic rules devised from looking at micro-neural perceptual events (reductionism) offers more to getting people interested in the subject than being the prescriptive significant insights into art.

On the other hand, art is conceived in the brain and thus theories of aesthetics will only be complete by understanding the workings of the brain, within all its parts, and within the context of the society within which it works. (See the work of Zeki, 1999).

14. (July 11) Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol 8,#1, 2001, Anthony Freeman

This is an interview with Ramachandran by Anthony Freeman of JCS two years after the first issue of Art and the Brain in which Ramachandran’s essay starts the ball rolling and charms and alarms academia.

15. (July 12) Journal of Consciousness Studies, V 10, #8, 2003, Ramachandran and E.M. Hubbard

Section III, p 52 has a lucid and compelling description of the relationship between Synaesthesia and metaphor. You should read it.

Cross activation between different wiring containing sense data results in seeing, say, 5s as red 5s. This is one basis of metaphor. Another results from the evolution of morality. This came from early animal association of certain smells and disgust, to in humans – across all societies – the same facial and hand movements for a disgusting smell and a disgusting human being. These areas then became used as higher brains developed for social functions as well, territorial marking, aggression, sexuality, and culminated in a whole new dimension: morality. So, we use the same words and expressions for different kinds of disgust. The association is a metaphor.

There are other basis of metaphor not discussed in this article: the lack of pruning dendrites in brain stem cells that occurs developmentally in children. Metaphors are a relation between two dissimilar subjects: ramparts, say, and gallantly streaming, the moon was a ghastly galleon, both mixed metaphors. It is an associational facility between different categories of thought. And there are others.

(Nov 17, 2007)As early in its development the brain needs to ‘see’ different views of an object to understand that all are part of the same object, that is to make a representation, and that the basis of thought is the abstractions made from representations, the basis of thought is metaphor, though the definition is a bit different from that that a poet might give, which is an association between two or more categories of ‘objects’. This of course, is in a later stage of mental development than the former conception.

16. (July 12) Consciousness and Literature (JCS, V 11, #5-6, 2004) editoril introduction, Roberta Tucker.

17. (July 12), Journals – Literature and Consciousness

Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, Poetics Today, and the Stanford Humanities Review have issues on the brain and art.

18. (July 17) Consciousness and the Novel, David Lodge, 2002

This book gives a history of how English writers have changed their techniques to variously represent consciousness.

19. (July 17) Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry, John Frederick Nim, 2000, New Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics, Alex Prminger, TVF Brogan, 1993.

Two books that discuss the linguistic features of poetry and examples, in actual poems.

20. (Dec 5, 07) Consciosuness and Emotion, DF Watt (JCSV6, 99, 197)

This paper lists the hardcore science regarding the subconscious brain. If you are looking for a succinct table that locates fear, sexuality, rage, nurturance, separation distress, play, joy and so on, check out page 197.

21. (Dec 13, 07) Two Sciences of Perception and Visual Art, Erik Myin, JCS, V7, 8/9, 43-55)

This is a good summary and criticism of the most well-developed theories of how the brain works: the representational model (that suggests sight (sensory) inputs are developed into representations and each vertical level is informed by that horizontal level’s code) and the model of active perception that makes things like consciousness an output of actively engaging in the world perceptually.

Check p50 for hemineglect in patients who cannot tell that up to 30% of a photo has been changed. The problem is an attention deficit rather than an inability to represent the world.

22. (Jan 9, 08) Addiction: Notes from the Belly of the Beast, Lorna Crozier, 2002.

A current look at the addictions/mental issues that many good writers face while living their lives and producing their art. The beginning of Patrick Lane’s chapter, a description of alcoholism, will blow you away.

23. The Creative Eye

Comment: visit:, to read about Heather’s new book on art/writing/the brain.

24. (Feb 08) Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain, Semir Zeki, 1999

Comment: Zeki is a great scientist in his decades long work on the visual apparatus involved in perception. Although he is a passive perception reductionist at heart, he has done a lot of work to appreciate the literature on the humanities side of this issue in this book, and, no doubt, will one day be the influential scientist that comes to accept that vision is in service of active perception and thus shifts the current theoretical log jam.

25. Creativity & Madness: Current Psychological Perspectives, N. Barrantes-Vidal (JCS, V 11)

Comment: A good historical summary of the subject from the time of Socrates forward to 2004. This is a good, succinct text for those interested in this key aspect of being an artist. And has a great bibliography.

26. The Problem of Genius, 1932, Lange-Eichbaum W.

Comment: One of the first scientific studies to make the crucial point that creative work is only performed in periods of remission from psychosis, and that psychosis usually follows an intensely creative period.

27. Theories of Art Today, 2000, N. Carroll

Comment: This and other books (But is it art?: An Introduction to Art Theory, Cynthia Freeland, 2001; Art In Theory, series, Harrison & Wood, for example, 1993 – 1998) are good places for those interested in theories about visual art to spend some time.

28. Art and the Brain Part III, (JCS, Vol 11, 3/4, 2004)

Comment: There are some great articles on the brain, science of music and dance in this issue. Tervaniemi, Katz, Hagendoorn, Goguen, Iyer and Borgo .

29. The Artful Mind, Mark Turner ed, 2006

Comment: A book about how cognitive scientists, and other academics, wonder about the riddle of human creativity.

30. Music, Maestro, Please!, Alison Abbott, Nature, V 416, 2002.

Comment: This three page article is a good place to start for those interested in a good bibliography on music and neurobiology. As such research is absent for literature, its comments on the role of emotions in music is particularly relevant for talking about literature, especially poetry.

31. The Neurosciences and Music II: From Perception to Performance, Giuliano Avanzini, ed, 2006

Comment: This issue of the Annals of New York Annals of Science is for those who want to go deeply into the science of music as it is right now. And, McGill is hosting, the Neurosciences and Music – III, Disorders and Plasticity, June 25 – 28, 2008, in Montreal – at the same time as the Jazz Festival. Cool.

32. What Dictionaries and Optical Illusions Say About Our Brains, Mark Changizi, Scientific American Mind, May 2008

Comment: Using a novel approach, Changizi is interested in why our brains work, rather than how they work. His is a work of ideas not tabulated results. Interesting place to find references for his work, mostly sight evolution based.

33. USA Today – Brain Scans tune in to personal nature of improvising music, Gregg Toppo, 2008

Comment: When musicians improvise they use the I centre of the brain, as in I am doing me as completely and utterly as I can. Intense personal journey to one’s self. References the Johns Hopkins University work on the medial prefrontal cortex. Next up brains of poets. See Feb 27, 2008, Public Library of Science ONE. Charles Limb.

34. Andreasen, Nancy C. The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius, Nancy C Andreasen, 2005

Comment: Andreasen explains how the brain produces creative breakthroughs in art, literature, and science, revealing that creativity is not the same thing as intelligence.

35. Don’t ask me what I mean: Poets in their Own Words, Don Paterson, Clair Brown, Picador,

36. Scientific American Mind, July 2008

Comment: The lead article on creativity is average, but the article on Origins of Consciousness is exceptionally interesting. It deals with the issue of split minds – usually the result of a lesion or cut to reduce epilepsy, and has an unusually good discussion of the left brain/right brain issue, that has been made to sound like simple pseudo-science a couple of decades ago.

37. Could inner zombie be controlling your brain? Discover Magazine, Sept 18, 2008. Carl Zimmer

Comment: This article, despite its sensationalist title, updates some of the research designed to tease apart the role of the conscious part of the brain and the sub-conscious. So it is an updated version of the Ralph Ellis article in JCS, vol 6-7, 1999. On the other hand, the push of the Ellis article is that the subconscious brain pushes the conscious brain to perceive things, and thus the issue of who is in charge isn’t directly the object of that article.

38. Proust was a Neuroscientist, Jonah Lehrer,Houghton Mifflin, 2008

Comment: Also check out Lehrer’s blog: The Frontal Cortex. The Proust (proo) book uses an interesting structural technique of making each chapter on both a writer/artist and science that is involved. You will find the George Eliot chapter fascinating for its description of chaos theory and the indeterminant expression of DNA, as in, this is the vein of gold for the use of will in the artistic/creative process. for my review of this book.

39. The Future of Science… Is Art?, Jonah Lehrer,, 2008

Comment: An article from a snappy, bright, erudite magazine with articles that make info-magnet-minds go bonkers. This is a good summary of a huge amount of bibliographic info from science and art. I am not convinced that the case for the title is made but the article, its basic braininess impresses. Many dopamine rewards, er, pleasure centre rewards, here.

40. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn 1999 (Third edition)

Comment: Any wideranging mind will have connected with and read this book over the years, first edition in the late ’70s as I recall. If you haven’t read this one, it is a book you need to read to understand scientific progress. One of his main points is that science clings to its ideas and erects a pyramid of experiments to install it as a paradigm. And it refuses to believe contradictory evidence until someone with a new paradigm comes along and then it shifts and begins building a pyramid anew. Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Hawkings are examples of paradigm shifters.

41. Antidepressants Grow New Brain Cells –, July, 2006, Rene Hen

Comment: Brave New World. Let’s take antidepressants to grow new brain cells.

42. How We Decide, 2009 – Jonah Lehrer

Comments: This book looks at the brain structures involved in making decisions. There are different kinds of decisions and far from the old western model of reason over emotion, instead its more like a symphony coming up with the best answer. There are times when intuition and subconscious feelings are better for making decisions, decisions better made by sifting through facts and comparing them. There are also moral discriminations that are based largely on our subconscious minds, provided that we have received the proper nurturing for day one.

43. Descartes Error – Antonio Damssio – 1994

This is the classic text that blows the reason/emotion model of the human mind apart. Read the newish preface in the 2005 reissue of this text. It is most illuminating about placing the emotion part of conscious thinking in the context of the past century.

44. The Implications of Sigmund Koch’s Artists on Art Project – Kate Siner Francis – 2008

This is a review of psychologist S. Koch’s, interview research papers with artists in the 1980s. The gist of the article is that scientists can’t get at the knowledge of artists because the scientific method is not able to do so. This theme of the inabilities of the scientific method is a very current topic with the bulk of scientists believing that unless it can be ‘objectively’ calculated, there is no knowledge. But more and more scientists are changing their minds.

45. Rephrasing the madness and creativity debate: What is the nature of the creativity construct? – Emilie Glazer – 2009

This article reviews the conception of creativity and its association with psychopathology. It is dense, scientific stuff, but does put on the table the various methods that have been used to associate creativity and madness. Glazer suggests that there are multiple kinds of creativity, and that the relationship is causal with forms of mental illness, including, affective disorder and, surprisingly, schizophrenia. This is worth a read of anyone interested in creativity because it packs so many theories into 10 pages.

46. Definition of Consciousness – Ram Vimal, 2009

Vimal’s definition of consciousness can be found under Brain Quote of the Month, November, 2009. He may change his definition on the way to publication. The rest of his listing information on the definition is:

“Vimal, R. L. P. (2009). Quest for the Definition of Consciousness, Qualia, Mind, and Awareness. In review, available at Note: the text in quote is correct as of October 29, 2009. Since this manuscript is under review, the text in the quote may however change when it is published. See also .”

47. Literature and the Brain – Norman Holland

Google his name and go to his website. It lists his broad interest in the arts, psychoanalysis and brain science. A related site: psyart is a peer reviewed journal of articles that investigate the relationship with art and the brain. An academic take.

48. Poets vs. Critics: Different Brain Systems – Norman Holland, Nov 24, 2009

See, for this article. Poets and critics emphasize different things in reading poems out loud. Poets pay attention to repetitions, contrasts of vowels and consonants, rhythmic patterns and things related to the sound poems make. Critics pay more attention to repetitions and contrasts of themes and meanings.

49. Aphasia and the Diagram Makers Revisited: An Update of Information Processing Models – Heilman, Kenneth M.

Journal of Clinical Neurology 2.3: 149-162. This is the article that Holland is referring to. While I think this kind of diagrammatic approach is useful, I would pay more attention to Antonio Damasio’s explanation of how the mind works. Diagrams tend to make discussion focus on the boxes and arrows, but not on the mind. On the other hand, there is next to nothing presently in the neuroscience of brains and poetry, and so this article is worth reading. It is also worth reading for another reason: it is a review article of the field going all the way back to Wernicke and Broca, and a good place to get historical context. As there are a dozen ‘speech’ disorders – aphasias – it gives a person an appreciation to know how complex hearing and speaking language is, regardless of whether the person can read.

50. The Brain That Changes Itself, 2007 – Norman Doidge

This book summarizes the subject of neuroplasticity. It is aimed at the popular market, but is also quite true to the scientific research in the field. It is well organized, clearly written, and well introduced and summarized. The appendices gives the original books and journal articles for research by those who are wishing more depth. Important scientists in the history of this subject are all considered, including Freud, Bach-y-Rita and Merzenich, along with dozens of others where their work bears on the subject of plasticity. The Table of Contents does a good job of laying out simply the topics to be discussed, so, if the reader has an interest in memory, say, or the bio-chemistry of love, he/she can flip right to the subject.

51. the Element, 2009 – Ken Robinson

A book about finding your passion and following it – not as corny as that sounds – and wide ranging comments about western education, meaning school. You will have a different point of view on IQ tests by the time you finish this book. More than 100 well- and less-well-known people and their stories of finding the most important thing for them and following it. This is not a pop psychology book. Sir Ken’s real background is in education and he brings his PHd to bear on the subjects in this book that is aimed at an inquisitive general reader.

52. The Midnight Disease – 2003 – Alice W. Flaherty

Comment: a book about the relationship of writing mania and inability to write along with the relationship with creativity.

53. Motivation and Creativity: Effects of Motivational Orientation on Creative Writers – T.M. Amabile – Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48 (2), 1985

Comment: Work that is internally motivated tends to be more creative than that triggered by external motivation. Duh. Sorry, as a poet, there is no external motivation like money. And the endless pecking order is about perceived levels of respect – because there is no money.

54. TMS over the temporal. M A Persinger, K Makarec, Brain Cognition 20 (2) 1992, 217 – 26.

Comment: Persinger is commonly known as the man with the God machine. He found with an electrode to the right temporal lobe that he could stimulate a god experience. These day, and see, Flaherty (p272) for other studies showing that just magnetism aimed at the brain could negate depression, stimulate better test scores and etc.


Books to Buy

On Creativity – David Bohm – of this and that science by a penetrating mind.

The Wings of Imagination – Castorides, Damsio and Donald.

Solitude – Anthony Storr – the case for solitude in the creative process, many different arts discussed.

Dreaming While Awake: Techniques for 24-Hour Lucid Dreaming – Arnold Mindell – has techniques to get in touch with your feelings and dreams while you are awake – as in a way into the subconscious.

**Exuberance – Kay Redfield Jamison

Path of Least Resistance – Robert Fritz – about creativity

The Talent Code Daniel Coyle