Art: It Does a Mind Good

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More and more research is coming down the pike about the effects of electronic communications devices and desires ca. 2011—how exponentially increasing computer chip speeds and a crazy-making proliferation of products and platforms is affecting the way we think.


In some cases, I think all that is replacing thinking, but that’s another column. In terms of how we think, it makes me recall the simple answer to a simple question I posed last year to Julio Ramirez, Davidson’s R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology and neuroscientist extraordinaire (recognized by President Obama at the White House in March).

“The human brain cannot really multi-task,” Julio told me. Rather, he explained, we can do a good job, sometimes a great job, of sequentially uni-tasking really, really fast to the point it appears we’re doing more than one thing at a time.

Me, I sometimes have trouble with just the one thing. Always a bit mentally flighty and impatient—ENTJ/P, vata-pita, Capricorn, what have you—I’ve noticed in just the past few years an increasingly short, tense attention span. ADHD, the pharmaceutical industry calls it. Maybe some ODD (“oppositional defiance disorder,” a real classification that we used to call “being a brat”). One friend is fond of telling me to sit down and breathe through my nose. “Be here now. Be somewhere else later. Is that so complicated?” she tells me.

U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin

But how much of whatever it is is coming from me and my own peculiar biophysiology and mental makeup (scary), and how much of it is coming from the outside (scarier)? Example: I used to look things up in a book or two, get my answer and move on. Now, I Google them and suddenly find myself watching a Lady Gaga video out of morbid curiosity, against my will, again. Both traditional and digital ways of “looking it up” have their merits, but I would submit that search engines—“search engines,” think about that!—have a disconcerting downside of information overload, like being in WalMart without my list and buying a new crock pot because it was there.

So it is with great anticipation that I look forward to the 8 p.m., Monday, May 2 visit to Davidson of U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin, our 2011 Joel S. Conarroe Lecturer. Merwin brings simple, solid structure to his mind’s creative meanderings through powerful poetry, one line at a time. The privilege of sitting down to hear the focused work of such an esteemed and perceptive mind is one I don’t plan to miss. One line at a time. One well-considered, well-crafted line at a time. What a refreshing thought. Words on a page, spoken aloud.

Art. It’ll change the way you think.

Look it up.

Note for jazz fans: On Friday, April 29, legendary big-band singer Marlene VerPlanck and the Charlotte-based Rick Bean Trio will join the Davidson College Jazz Ensemble for a public performance on Friday evening, April 29. There is no charge to attend the show, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Duke Family Performance Hall.

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