Please make a donation for the information that you are reading on There is more than a book length of information on this site regarding poetry and the human brain, several bibliographies and it has taken several years of research to find, digest and write the information. This is the only site on the internet where this information may be found. For those accessing the chronic fatigue syndrome information, please feel free to use the information wihtout charge to improve your health. Thank you.

Brains of Poets – Bits and Bites, Updated Dec 24, 2010

Are You a Poet? Simple Tests.

For those who can’t commit to looooong chomps of text, some neat, discrete things about the poet’s brain – and yrz 2.

Head on Fire in a Block of Ice?

Writers are ten times more likely to suffer manic-depression than other people. Poets are forty times more likely to suffer manic-depression than other people.

How Big Can I Think?

Well, thinking capacity is almost endless. It is the number of joinings (synapses) between brain cells that grants capacity. How many synapses are there in your head? Think of it this way: a 10 followed by at least a million zeros. Think of the universe as small. That is because when you add every particle in the universe together you can think of it this way: a 10 followed by 79 zeros. Your head is larger than the universe. Poets like this – oh, and lesser men, too. If you knew this was a title by Irving Layton, you are likely a poet right now.


Four people are looking at a cloud. Ask them what it looks like.

A: a cloud.

B: I don’t know.

C: It doesn’t look like anything.

D: Well, an elephant, a kite, God reaching out to touch Michelangelo, a balloon, the moon on a string, a long winded language, a tassle, hair of the most beautiful woman in the world, where you put words in cartoons, the dagger of Damocles, a nuclear bomb, a hurricane, but, wait, now its changing, and its disappearing like Men Who Stare At Goats, it is growing its way to the horizon, it sees me not anymore, though I see it changing and changing like a river that flows away…

Answer: Yes, of course, the imaginative D is the poet, multiple comparisons, willingness to do the deed, in fact was already doing it before you asked the question. C is someone with no imagination whatsoever, like an actuarial (a person who has less sense of humour than an accountant, and spends the day correcting the figures in tables that insurance companies use to restrict access to medical services in the USA). B is a baffled type A who needs some ritalin to slow down enough to have imagination. A is a person who has no right hemisphere in their brain. The person can identify the object clearly and quickly, but cannot bring to bear the brain cells that help make comparisons with the millions of representations found in the brain, assess their closeness and make a verbal answer. C would tell you the chances of randomly finding an A in four people is 0.00003%. Then C would add that finding a B in the four with the same problem is smaller than your chances of winning the lottery even if your life lasted several million years. You correct C, pointing out that A is a type A obsessive compulsive who has been working for a decade without a break.

DCR way back when in another life as a snazzy dressing financial analyst, Treasury Board Staff, Ministry of Finance, BC

DCR way back when in another life as a snazzy dressing financial analyst, Treasury Board Staff, Ministry of Finance, BC

Too Dumb to be a Poet? I don’t Think So:

The IQ of a good poet is about 120. This means intelligent but not a genius. Einstein was plus 170. Don Cherry is 75 – sorry Don. Dr. Eric Kandel figured out that a marine snail called Aplysia could learn and have longterm memory even though it is as dumb as a barnacle, and won the Nobel prize for doing so. Aplysia have nerves a millimetre in diameter which is huge huge, and he showed that if you touched its siphon ( it withdrew, meaning muscle action is linked to ‘intention’ to be safe) ten times they found physical changes in these big dumb nerves. This is short term memory. If they touched the siphon ten times in four sessions a few hours or even a day apart, the nerve changes lasted several weeks. This is long term memory. This animal has no IQ, so pretty much any human has what it takes to be a rudimentary poet, even Don Cherry. Get to 120 and you can be great – not a difficult level to achieve. But, IQ is only one needed mental attribute, and Don lacks many. Read the next test to find out more…

Are You a Poet? Simple Test:

Colourless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously

Here is how people with different minds interpret Noam Chomsky’s little phrase.

A. Non Writer – this is dopey, on to the next thing.

B. Prose Writer – well, at least it is grammatically correct.

C. Poet – yeah, cool, I can just see those colourless ideas, and they’re green too like the ocean or a forest where you look into the distance where you have last come from and there you find the fingerprints of what you have laid down on the trail to your present self and they are like rain from a lime coming down each one in the ball of creation and they’ve been acted upon by green men or green monsters or other from the peat moss creature related to the black lagoon and with their arms of jet engines that poke holes in the sky so fast that the sonic booms can’t catch up to shake them from their slumber… yeah, I can see all this and more, why there’s so much more in there, there’s…

D. Linguist – every human language has universal grammar, thus the ability to understand language came before the ability to speak.

If you picked C., you have the mind to be a poet. And if you had already come up with your own imagination so filled with possibility before getting to the first choice, and so couldn’t get to any of the choices, you probably are a poet right now. And if you thought, geez, what I just thought up is way better than what C. thought, then you are probably a poet of great standing, or one with no standing.

What does this mean? It means that the brains of these people are different, even the poet and prose writers have different brains. And poets and poets.

Are you a Poet? Another Simple Test: Stroooperism

The Stroop Test: three little words: blue, green, and, red are printed on a screen while you lie in an fMRI. They are randomly printed in different colours and you have to put down the ‘colour’ of the word, not what the word says. The fMRI shows very clearly that the brain struggles with disregarding the simple answer of reading the word, and the work that needs to be done to over ride it and say the colour of the word.

Poets have never been tested – I volunteer! I think that the poetic brain would either be bad at overriding the speech recognition part of the brain – left hemisphere – because it is so overwhelmingly developed and spawn thought in innate creativity centre, rather than the right front brain consciously overriding it, or, that its synaesthetic abilities would show result in the same thing. Or that the pleasure centre of the brain would kick in and the poet goes off into a kaleidoscope. Or that TS Eliot would be perfect because he was a ‘clark’ as they say in England. Ot that…

The fascination in this one includes that the colour is a basic perception while language is a learned thing, and yet, it is harder to disregard than the perception.

Are you a Poet? Yet Another Simple Test

The candle test: you have candles, matches, thumbtacks and are to attach the candle to a corkboard. (But, wax won’t stick to cork and thumbtacks shatter candles. So, no, the obvious solutions won’t work). The poet’s solution is to light the candle then burn the corkboard, put the cork out, melt the wax into the burnt cork and stick the candle to it.

But here’s what the poet missed: I didn’t catch in the initial written instructions that the stuff was in a cardboard box. The correct solution, apparently, is to melt the wax onto the cardboard, attach the candle to the cardboard and attach the cardboard to the corkboard with a thumbtack. Hmm.

The poet also missed whether he was told in the written instructions whether the corkboard was vertical or horizontal. He assumed the latter, but if told it was the former, he would have run a thumbtack down the candle’s length to score it, tacked a horizontal line of thumbtacks to the corkboard, lighted the candle and melted wax onto the thumbtacks and then stuck the candle horizontally, on the score mark, on the thumbtacks. Presto.

And not even getting that there was a cardboard box, the poet takes the thumbtacks and sticks enough into the corkboard as wide as the candle, then melts the wax on the thumbtacks and puts the candle on the wax.

And not getting there was a cardboard box, the poets digs a hole in the coarkboard the size of the candle with the thumbtacks, melts the wax to the back or wall and so on…

And not getting the box thing the poets goes to the bathroom, and gets the mirror, puts it so it reflects the corkboard, melts the wax to the mirror and attaches the candle to the image of the corkboard…

The poet could go on, but his/her/its mind has wandered on…

ADHD – No Problem

One of the ‘diseases’ of great note in recent decades is attention deficit disorder. These kids can cause lots of havoc in classes by being impulsive, disruptive, non-stop talking, mood swings and have parents get into giving them one of a slew of new medications to calm them down.

While this ‘disease’ seems to have come from nowhere and one fears long term problems for the child, the facts are that this won’t happen. That is because ADHD is caused by a slow development of the the right prefrontal cortex – as much as 3.5 years slow – the part of the brain that reasons and exerts control over other activity. Children grow out of ADHD when this part of the brain catches up. So don’t worry.

Are you a Poet? Yet Another Simple Test – GSR

When hooked up to a galvanic skin conductance machine – a lie detector – your heart rate changes and sweat production on your skin changes when presented words like rape that have strong meaning for people. A poet, were a scientist to hook the poet up, would show reactions off the chart for words that others don’t show any response to whatsoever, say: blue sky, tree, dog, swimming. And the response would go on longer, due to the word riffing thing that poets do without even thinking about it.

The Poet’s Stone

While many like to think that everything is aware, consider this: with the cells behind your right front eye, you can direct your attention to the rock in your hand and what it signifies to you. The stone does not have these cells, so it cannot look back and do the same to you. Ponder its, well, stoneness and when the poet describes it, it is the mind and the world, told in human words. Stoneopomorphism. Stone on.

Are You a Poet or Novelist or Both? Another Simple Test

Being a poet is imbued with believing and putting into everything you see, like your stone, human emotions, your emotions. This means that your brain centre for ‘sympathy’ is so over developed that you can’t think of the world without putting yourself into it – superior temporal sulcus. But this is not the fundamental of being a novelist. The fundamental emotion of being a novelist is voice appropriation, not putting emotion into objects, but reproducing people, a form of memory. (?)

The Brain is a Metaphor Machine

Poets will be happy to know and others will be surprised to know that the brain is, at its most fundamental level, a metaphor machine. While we will discuss metaphors from many different angles in the book, here is the dope on how the brain works at its most basic level.

In the first months of life, human babies, first swim out of their own milieu and the searching brain comes to focus on what is outside the eyes, and make connections back into the brain that tells it these things are for viewing and a baby’s attention, as it comes on stream, will become focused on what is out there.

What is out there, first of all for the mind, are objects, like a parent’s face or mouth, and, to pick an example, something like a beachball. Surprisingly, the brain does not recognize that the beach ball, seen from one angle is the same as the one seen from a different angle. For example, if you move the ball in front of the baby, at first it does not regconize that the ‘two’balls are actually the same ball.

In order for a baby to realize that the ball is the same ball no matter where it is in the room, it has to form a representation of the ball. That process is combining two or more images of the ball into ‘one’ representation. Thus a brain at its most fundamental level is a metaphor machine, because a metaphor is associating two different categories of thoughts; combining two or more ball images constitutes the process of making a metaphor.

We don’t usually think of this as the usual definition of metaphor but it is the building block level that all humans go through in the first six months of life, and, if you think about it, all visually-receptive animals, need to recognize a ‘thing’ as the same thing from any angle. That means that the notion of metaphor or pre-metaphor can be the result of a very simple, non-c0ncsious, awareness. That is how far back it goes. Think half a billion years back. There are, of course, many more complex associations of multiple images or thoughts, too, and we will get into them later.

Brain Exercise for Poets

Generate a list of 30 nouns. They can be pretty much any word that describes a ‘thing’. Take the first in the list and put it in front of and then behind the next word in line. Then make up a saying based on the two words. This, no matter how improbable the words you come up with, is exercising the metaphor and comparison parts of your mind. This is flexibility, combining different categories of thoughts, willingness to entertain novel or unlikely thoughts. These are all fundamental components of creativity. And, then you put the first word in front of or behind the third word in line. Then the fourth, and so on.


Great Books Received! Mar 24, 2009

The classic, must read books: Descartes Error, Damasio; and, The Brain That Changes Itself, Doidge; along with the newer than new, How We Decide, Lehrer, have been received and are ready to be devoured. Stay tuned for book reviews on these books, here and on At click on DC Reid for all reviews – poetry and brain books.


Just in time for Christmas, I will be writing a summary of the latest in DNA, chaos theory, and the issue of will (not free will and not will power) in the creative process in the Brains of Poets. Fascinating indeterminantcy, and for those who just can’t give up right pre-frontal lobe creativity, some of what you hanker for.


Yes, DCR adjusting his visual perceptions, much further back than he can remember.

Yes, DCR adjusting his visual perceptions, much further back than he can remember.

Managing Visual Perception

Data from the eyes is passed to both V1 at the back of the head for ‘line’ recognition and to the conscious right frontal cortex, that then imposes its requirement to see ‘things’ on V2 (V1 – V5 are used to do the basic processing of light, though there are 30 visual modules). Now, get this, since the conscious brain affects V2 to begin seeing form, we can’t from that point on separate what we ‘see’ from outside and what we see from the inside, meaning we have no way of knowing what is real or not. And, since the exact same neurons respond when we see a beach ball out there and when we imagine a beachball inside, we have no way of distinguishing between the two – they are the same. So there is no such thing as an accurate perception of what is out there, never. Isn’t that bizarre.

Philosophers out there will recognize the similarity with the mainstream British empiricist tradition of Locke, Berkeley and Hume, which proved the same thing a long time before – just by thinking about it.

Eyeball Manipulation – or, ‘we see what we want to see, and disregard the rest.’ [after Paul Simon]

The Lateral geniculate nucleus that runs between your eyes and your consciousness behind your right eyebrow has ten times as many nerves running to the eye from the brain than from the eye to the brain. In other words, our minds control even what we want our eyeballs to see. And of course, the eyeballs sweep across the landscapes out there in darts, thousands of times a second, those ‘saccades’ again [determined by the sub-conscious mind], looking for what we want to see, even when we are not conscious of intending to look for anything. This ‘looking for’ is easy to demonstrate to yourself. Simply look out your office window. You may focus on the lucky find of say, a peregrine falcon, on another nameless faceless bulding tower window ledge, but ask yourself whether you can simultaneously see everything, from say, the water droplets on your window, to the trees below, to the river in the background to the clouds above and every single window with its people and all their equipment and the colours of their clothes and the suits and dresses and socks and shoes. No. This is not the way we see things, but we can see all of those things if we make our eyeballs look for them.

Ask Not for Whom the Protein Tolls…

Sitting on a BC beach leaning on a log contemplating the ephemeral nature of proteins

Sitting on a BC beach leaning on a log contemplating the ephemeral nature of proteins

The average half life of a brain protein is 14 days. That means that every fourteen days half of the proteins in your brain change. And you thought memory hangs around forever. This little fact makes it obvious that a person, his or her personality, is in constant change and in constant development or decay.

When you consider that there are 100 billion brain cells and half of the proteins in each of them change every two weeks, it’s almost a riot in there, billions and billions of protein molecules coming and going every day.

Enlightened Medicine

It was thought that psychosis could be treated by pulling all your teeth to lower your temperature. And, the Nobel Prize for medicine, in 1927, was awarded for the enlightened practice of treating this mental illness by giving the sufferer a shot of a disease, like malaria, tuberculosis or typhoid. And less than 20 years later, the same prize was given for frontal lobotomies. Isn’t that gross.

Our Ten Second Existence

After sticking his hand in a creek and pulling out his first trout, DCR is understandably very happy, but only for 10 seconds.

After sticking his hand in a creek and pulling out his first trout, DCR is understandably very happy, but only for 10 seconds.

Hollywood movies are edited together in about 9 second intervals. Surprisingly, this is about all the time the mind can stand to exist before it must break off to begin another self consciousness. The interesting part is that we think of ourselves constantly existing in present time, and through time when the brain is actually only capable of being in the now for 10 seconds and then switches its attention as short term memory evaporates into another bolt of now. Weird.

How We Future Are

In as simple a thing as walking down the street we demonstrate that where we are looking is a precise calculation of probabilities into the future that we don’t even think about. Think this: a big dog is running down the street veering toward the building side. Before he reaches you, you are no longer where he currently is and where he is going to be in the right now. You have done this with no conscious thought, yet your mind has displayed itself as projecting into your own future before it can happen. And so how we future are.

This is the essence of decision: it is not about rationality over emotion. It is neither and it is both. And we do it before it even happens.

The Brain is a Prediction Machine

A second take on this important subject. If the brain is about predicting things, then it is not primarily about reason and emotion – that duality hampers understanding the brain. For example, you open the cupboard first thing to get a cup to make some caffeine. You brain expects that cups to be there because you have a memory of that. If they aren’t there your brain flashes a dopamine bullet around your head thorugh spindle cells, you recognize that what has happened does not agree with what you expect to be true and then you begin looking elsewhere. Ask yourself how many times a day that this type of prediction takes place. Thousands of times and that is our regular life brain process. It is not passive it is jolted awake by things that it doesn’t expect. This detection of mistakes is mediate by the anterior cingulate cortex. Without it we would keep on opening the cupboard expecting cups to be there. What a waste of our days.

Surprisingly, this is one reason why alcoholics and drug addicts don’t recover from their additions. With a defective gene in this location they can’t learn from their mistakes.

Our Brain on Drugs – Poetry Addicts

On the other hand, anything that makes you feel good bathes your brain in drugs. The nucleus accumbens connects the subconcsiou to the conscious just right under your right eyebrow. This is the positive side of the dopamine cascade. It is so pleasurable that so stimulated you would never recover and ultimately die. This is the effect of drugs on addicts. This is the effect of poetry on a poet: poetry makes them drugged.

You Know Before You Know

Damassio designed the Iowa Gambling Task – four decks of cards, two of which had far higher losses associated with them. People intent on winning start using reaching for the two better decks after turning over about 50 cards and by 80 cards can explain why – slower winnings, but no huge shocks of losses.

Attached to lie detectors (Galvanic Skin Respone machines) that pick up nervousness and anxiety from the skin, a person’s hand starts to get nervous about bad decks after turning over only 10 cards. Amazing. So you know before you know. Pay attention to your most basic emotions if you can. Develop that.

Create Your Creativity

Creativity is about novel solutions and has its genesis in overlooking the ordinary and searching for something outside of this. This means that one has to free up one’s mind from the expectation system constraints and become rewarded for solutions that would leave the less creative feeling awkward and at odds with his/her prediction system. The reward is then that dopaminic pleasure centre surge after having done just the opposite and jolting it the ‘wrong’ way. Look for unease followed by an expansive positive stimulation. This is one reason that there is fear in the creative process. Another reason is that you are aware you are standing on the edge of a cliff and are jumping off into your project. Fear is good. Or, as Orwell would say: fear is happiness.

Write What You Feel Not What You See

This is contrary to the way poetry is taught. That expression: show me don’t tell me, is the way it’s taught and a good way, even though many great writers commonly break this rule, Atwood and Munro, for instance. If you write what you feel after looking you are getting to what is really real for you. If you write what you see, you simply write a list of what your conscious brain can pick apart. Ask youself what you feel.

Learn from your Mistakes

When you are writing poetry, remember when you have your greatest feeling of shame, or fear, or unease, that is mistakes. This means getting in touch with your subconscious and monitoring it like a lie detector. Making a mistake is not a lie, but if you eliminate mistakes this allows you to move forward ‘from the back side’, meaning that this is the side that prevents you over and over again making the same mistakes. This is not a new notion. What is new is how you are doing it – by your feelings.

Success Makes Success

Here is the deal on this one. They found that paying kids in New York for getting higher marks on exams resulted in far higher marks because an immediate money award is the kind of thing the mind pays great attention to. One thing writers have to get used to is unending rejection. But make your successes make you better – focus only on those events – getting published – and this will make you a far better writer.

Reading and Writing are the Same Thing

A poet comes to read a text so loaded with associably thoughts that each creates a different text. This is part of why a poet does not read poetry to put him/herself to sleep. Another part is that poetry is a drug. Can’t sleep after poetry? Probably a poet, or should begin writing.

Consciousness Conference

You might want to attend this conference:


Social Approaches to Consciousness Conference

9 June 2009: Senate Room, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Why we need social approaches

The social revolution in the brain and behavioural sciences presents major challenges to western individualistic and physicalistic world-views. Collaborations between brain and social scientists are already transforming our understanding of consciousness, revealing that our commonsense distinction between “subjective” and “objective” experience is a delusion created by the brain, and that all the contents of consciousness are social constructs.

All approaches to consciousness are social

Science and philosophy are cooperative cultural projects: which means that all academic inquiry – including all approaches to consciousness – are social. The difference is that not everyone realises this. Social and cultural analyses are needed to clarify what is going on in consciousness studies, to establish universals of human thought and behaviour, and to expose the collective deceptions that get in the way of rational enquiry.

For information and registration (click on EVENTS)
0AFor more on Social Approaches visit: