Mnemosyne and the wiring of the brain

To look at—for example—the Arden edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is to be reminded that Mnemosyne is the mother of the Muses. Shakespeare does not merely remember the material that he has read in Plutarch’s Theseus, Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calendar, Golding’s translation of The Metamorphoses, and other works including some of Erasmus; he has remembered and retained the words that they use, and has taken and woven them into a confection that readers and hearers marvel at. Shakespeare is a lover of words with a fervent memory.

There has been research at the University of Seattle into how children’s brains operate in the early years. It seems to confirm the theory that the human brain, after the manner of a computer, possesses an application which one might call My Brain: this is preprogrammed to wire the brain around the age of three, according to what data and stimuli it has received up to that point, and how it has been operating. So the brain of an Inuit child will be wired differently from that of a child in the Amazonian rainforest, or a child living in London.

This has actuated the Seattle researchers’ recommendation that children should not watch television before the age of three.

A further theory is that the brain is programmed to do this again—to rewire itself—at some time during adolescence. This is borne out by what I have observed, startlingly in the case of some pupils, and it confirms what I was told as a young teacher: that the habit of memorizing things and acquiring vocabulary is vital to a person’s further development. For if memorizing is an habitual activity of the brain, it will be incorporated in that teenage rewiring, and the power of memory will develop further.

Next post: The schwa.

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