Mindful tools: how our fingers persist memory

We are a tool using species.

Since the emergence of Homo Habilis / Homo Erectus our large brains and dexterous hands and fingers have been inextricably connected. As we think we use our hands forming and using tools. We carve and cut, shape and mold. And as we do so I believe our brain’s capabilities, its memory is enhanced. I believe, further, that this interaction persists to this day.

We take notes during a lecture to help us record the material but perhaps more than that our writing triggers this enhanced memory mechanism. We keep a diary, and more than just the words we save for posterity, the paragraphs and ideas we transfer to paper are doubly etched in our minds, a double tracing if you will. We doodle with our pens and pencils; we whiteboard our ideas and concepts, we write out equations, we use our hands in myriad ways all the while, I believe, invigorating our minds with additional power to remember and to create.

So, let’s do an experiment. As a control we’ll listen to a pod cast without scribbling nonsense on a pad of paper. And as we listen to another recording, we’ll take a pen and pad and doodle away. At the end of each recording I’ll wager you will have remembered more of the scribble cast than the motionless one.

One thought on “Mindful tools: how our fingers persist memory

  1. http://www.fastcompany.com/3059634/your-most-productive-self/your-brain-has-a-delete-button-heres-how-to-use-it

    Your Brain Is Like A Garden

    Imagine your brain is a garden, except instead of growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you grow synaptic connections between neurons. These are the connections that neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin, and others travel across.

    “Glial cells” are the gardeners of your brain—they act to speed up signals between certain neurons. But other glial cells are the waste removers, pulling up weeds, killing pests, raking up dead leaves. Your brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.” They prune your synaptic connections. The question is, how do they know which ones to prune?

    Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy—or prune—the synapse.

    This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.
    Why Sleep Matters

    Have you ever felt like your brain is full? Maybe when starting a new job, or deep in a project. You’re not sleeping enough, even though you’re constantly taking in new information. Well, in a way, your brain actually is full.

    When you learn lots of new things, your brain builds connections, but they’re inefficient, ad hoc connections. Your brain needs to prune a lot of those connections away and build more streamlined, efficient pathways. It does that when we sleep.

    Your brain cleans itself out when you sleep—your brain cells shrinking by up to 60% to create space for your glial gardeners to come in take away the waste and prune the synapses.

    Have you ever woken up from a good night’s rest and been able to think clearly and quickly? That’s because all the pruning and pathway-efficiency that took place overnight has left you with lots of room to take in and synthesize new information—in other words, to learn.


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