Join Lynda Barry for an in-depth discussion in this video Creativity and Learning: A Conversation with Lynda Barry - Questions and answers, part of Creativity and Learning: A Conversation with Lynda Barry.
It's a really good question, about, concern about memory and then concern about as we're getting older, that our memories might be might be in decline. One of the most interesting, again (INAUDIBLE) the study, the stuff that we know about the brain, a lot of it is based on FMRI's the, the, this neuroimaging that people are, are able to do and other stuff, other ways of measuring. But the most interesting research that's come out in the last few years is that whether we are remembering an event from the past, or imagining event in the future, we're reading fiction about an event that didn't happen.
The neural pathways are identical. Whether we're remembering, projecting, or it's this, you know when I was a kid I always wanted a time machine. You probably all did too. My nephew modified his, he goes, I want a time machine but I want it to have this knob that's future past and meanwhile. The meanwhile knob, man. (LAUGH) So, and so if one of the things they're understanding about the brain, they call it the connect dome. All these, all these ways that, that, that the brain is connected, for a long time, there was this idea that where is memory? Where is it in the brain? It's in no specific place.
However, it is in all kinds of places, so in a funny way when you're walking down the street, and you smell that smell and there's your Aunt Lois's backyard. You know what I'm talking about? What the hell's that? What happened was a smell triggered this thing, but it's not just oh, her backyard. No, if we froze that I'd be able to ask you those same questions. What time of day is it? Where are you? So my, my understanding is that either in participating or, or being active in writing, your memories or reading fiction, or thinking, or thinking about the future, that you're strengthening those connections.
And when people try to remember. Here, there's two kinds of memory. So there's the kind of memory that, you know, when you're trying to remember the name of that guy who was in that film. Oh, you know him, the one that was in that movie. The, with the hair. Damn it. You know, he had the hair. What, what was his name? And the more you think about it, more specifically you think about it. What's interesting is you can come up with all elements. You can come up with it begins with an M. It has, it has three it has three syllables.
You know what I mean. You will be able to get all the stuff. But the more you concentrate on it, the less you'll be able to know the name, and there's some ideas about that the specific, the specificity of what you're, when you're trying to remember, usually takes place in the this part of the mind, on the left hemisphere, which does not know the answer. It knows all the parts, but it doesn't know the answer. So then what happens? You forget about it, you give up on it, maybe you'll keep checking it, oh I still can't remember. And then you're at the superstore and you're buying your National Enquirer and Cheetos and cottage cheese because that's the combo.
(LAUGH) And while you're, and while you're doing it, you look up at the cashier and you go, Victor Mature, Victor Mature. (LAUGH). So what happened there? Somehow at some point, the back of your mind, decided, that it was going to send this thing forward. And your corpus callosum, in between those two hemispheres, which people thought for a long time was the bridge. Now they know it's the inhibitor between the, between the two hemispheres. Your corpus callosum stopped this that trying to remember, long enough for this, the whole answer to come to you.
So, when you start to think about memory being there and that's the, the why teaching the kind of writing that I teach, even though it does, the side effect is you often get really good stories. the experiences that you're experiencing this associative memory, that I think, and there's actually a lot of science behind it, that strengthens memory as a whole. And it's not just memory. I mean, it's memory is for things that happened, it also strengthens your ability to think about things in the future. So if you start to think of it all as this big round ball, instead of this linear thing.
And then the hemisphere differences (INAUDIBLE) between the brain are, are fascinating. One of the understandings now and again, it's from, it's from the corpus callosum between, that's that band of fibers between the hemispheres. When people have epilepsy, particularly intractable epilepsy in the old days, they don't do it anymore, they used to split that, corpus callosum. And it would, it would, stop the it would stop the seizures. But one of the things it did, and there was a lot, I think it was (INAUDIBLE) was it UC Davis? It might have been it was Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga, who's in a prominent neuroscientist now, but they'd studied people who'd had this split brain thing, and that's when they first started to understand, we have two brains that are functional, that have completely different values, different ways of looking through the world, different experience of space and depth, and how did they find this out? Go on YouTube.
Write split brain study. And you will find (INAUDIBLE) amazing video of a fellow who had his corpus callosum split. And they gave him a puzzle to solve. And the puzzle looks like kind of a biscuit that's about this high that has patterns on it and it's divided like a pie. Only this side of your brain knows how to do that puzzle. So they had the guy, this side of the brain, right hemisphere, left hand, solve the puzzle, then they gave same project, this hand, couldn't solve it at all. Same dude.
Same eyes, couldn't solve it at all. In fact, while this, while he was trying to solve it with this hand, what you'll see in the video is this hand sneaking in to try. And then you see the researchers, they finally made him just sit on it. And then they asked the guy to solve it with both hands. And you watch these hands fight. It's hard to imagine that we have literally two brains with two states and, and that our transition between them and we need both and they're both involved in everything we do. But our transition between them is pretty seamless.
And one woman who I was reading about and event, and eventually your brain kind of compensates and gets things straight. But this woman for about a year. she didn't have any epileptic episodes afterwards, but whenever she tried to get dressed, her right hand knew what she was supposed to wear for work, left hand had a whole different idea about what outfit. And it wouldn't let it go, and she'd have to call her daughter in to like, pry her hands out. Or when she was buying something at the store she, (LAUGH) she'd hand the money to the cashier and the other hand would like.
(LAUGH) I don't want that ****, you know, so when you think about this, that there are two completely functioning brains, it starts to get very interesting. And I think that the arts, the system that we call the arts, is one of, is a language that both sides So, that's and the confidence that I have about my work is all, is, is that I'm confident that this question is an important and interesting one. Although I realized if I solve it, then what? I mean, it's like, so? Soylent green is people! >> (LAUGH).
Barry you know, (LAUGH) I mean, that's the sad part is, there is this feeling that if we can show through science that something is true, that there will be a response and unfortunately, that's not true. Female I just wanted to mention that UCSB, Mike Gazzaniga is the executive director of the Sage Center for the Study of Mind. It's a huge center on campus called the Sage Center, and he's the executive director. Barry Yeah. Female He's, he's the guy, the neuroscientist you mentioned. Barry Yeah. Female He's right, he's here. Barry He's here and he's, it's been a lifelong study for him.
And I'm interested in his work and then, the work of Iain McGilchrist. And the, it's sort of like left hemisphere/right hemisphere, right, you want to get 'em in a room with like, no clothes on and just watch. And I don't want to have any clothes on either. And I just want to watch what happens. Solve me boys. (LAUGH) Why do I do this? I'm going to cringe about it tonight. (LAUGH) I just had to call you all. Remember, remember when I asked you to imagine me naked with neuroscientists? (LAUGH) Go ahead. The question is, about my career, and what happens since I sold my first comic and then, started working for the New Yorker.
I don't work for the New Yorker, but I love that everyone thinks I do, which means you've gotten somewhere. You were in that film with Bruce Willis. Yes, I was. You know, it's like, I'm in all films with all people now. But but that's okay, that's okay. I mean, people, they've written about me in the New, the New Yorker, but I've never been in, in the New Yorker, and that's kind of my choice, not because I dislike the New Yorker, but I like one thing that I can sort of imagine and not be part of. but and also my job is gone. I was able to make my living as a weekly cartoonist for 30 years.
Although the living is, here's the trick. I got, the pay scale was $10 a week, but if you get enough of $10 a week then you're set. and that's completely gone. And how my career started was I was drawing these comics that I thought were like hilarious. And they were cactus, cacti. And they were in bars with women who were, and the cactus were men and the women were women.
And the women were thinking there's some way we can sleep together. I just know. >> (LAUGH) There's gotta be some way to do it, you know? And the cactus was all like, yeah. And the cactus the cactus had like cigarettes, and the cactus spoke in this strange way, you know, like, yeah, lady oh. You know, like, so I I brought them into my little local paper, the Seattle Sign, in Seattle. And um, (INAUDIBLE) it was like, you know, it was a hippie paper and the lady wasn't in who who was, who was the person in charge of comics.
And so, I left them on the desk with my phone number and get back to my studio, it's only a block away. And the phone's ringing. And she goes, I want to talk to you about these comics. And I had heard talk in person, when somebody's going to hire you. I said, I'll be right over and she goes (INAUDIBLE) and I said, but she didn't sound happy and I said I'm coming right over. It was like, I think, why is she unhappy, she didn't sound happy. So I go over there and she's like, like livid. These racists comics, I'm like. (LAUGH) She somehow thought, you're making fun of Mexicans.
I'm like, where? Where? These are the most racist things I've ever seen. I'm like, wha'. You know, they have that accent. I said, look at all the umlauts. It's not, you know um, (LAUGH) But then, but then, as I'm leaving, and I'm like " (UNKNOWN)" and I'm carrying my stuff out, here comes a hippie, running down the stairs, and goes, "What was she yelling at you about?" (UNKNOWN) He controlled the back page. He hated her, he didn't give a damn what my comics were. All he wanted to think is that these were be printed and her head would blow off.
(LAUGH) And that's how I got my start. And I think many, many, many, many, many careers are started in similar ways you know? You got hired because somebody hated somebody who didn't want to hire you, you know. But yeah, the job is gone, but I, you know, I sell stuff on, I mean I have no, shame about, you know, selling stuff on eBay or Etsy. Sometimes I sell to, I have never been able to make a super secure living...
I don't, I still don't have a secure living. even if I'm teaching at the UW, I'm not a permanent hire, it's because they don't, I don't know about her yet. (LAUGH) Her syllabus is strange. Uh, (LAUGH) But I've always been able to make a living somehow, and I really don't have any kind of, there's no part of me, going, that's beneath me. It's like, no, because there's more beneath that man. (LAUGH) Yeah. There's somebody in the back.
Male Hi, how's it going? Barry Good. Male I just want to say, I hope that Chip goes here because I'm ball. And if the chip went back here, that would just look ridiculous. Barry Oh. Male Add that to your tally. Barry That looked really good to me. You get to come into the thing with the naked scientist. (LAUGH) You come on in. Male Any time, any time. Barry We'll solve you. Male (CROSSTALK) (LAUGH) So, it seems like some of the exercises you do with your students, the ones that involve clothes (LAUGH) are seven and a half minutes, and I'm a producer here, and we've kind of been prototyping a little bit internally ideas of adding challenges to some of our courses for our members.
So, you know, they learn something and then send them off to do this challenge. Barry Yes. Male We have time frames on some of them and I'm just wondering what the seven and 1/2 minutes is. Is there a strategy to that? Barry seven and 1/2 minutes doesn't sound intimidating to people. And seven and 1/2 miniutes, that's just the beginning part. I, I, I stretch them out. The most important thing actually is to let people know when they have three more minutes and then one more minute. because it's sort of like when you're around, if you've ever been a kid or you've had kids. Remember when you're watching t.v.
and there's the kind of mom you could go five more minutes. And I mean it. Or the mom that came in and just turned the TV off. And or, or interrupted whatever play that you were having. That's, to get into that state of mind, particularly if you're in deep play, deep play when kids are really engrossed. To stop it like that is really it's violent in a certain way. And it also doesn't allow the back of the mind to use that spontaneous organizing force. That, as a producer, it doesn't seem very spontaneous, 'cause you're laying it out.
But when somebody's watching it for the first time, they either feel it or they don't. You know what I mean? That thing. So it doesn't allow that, that. Even, we even have queues when we're watching a story about when it's about to, to wrap up. There's all the difference in the world between something that just stops and something that concludes. And at the conclusion ... It's like a joke. When a joke concludes, what it does in this weird way is, when it stops, it's almost like you shoot back through the whole thing and then back through it again with that, with that concluding beat. so, I can't remember wha-, if I answered your question or not.
>> But the seven and a half minutes, the seven and a half minutes is just a starting point. It's not very intimidating, and I've found that people can tell a good story in a seven and a half minutes. Yeah. If you start out even with 15, they start to wobble around a little bit, so you start with seven and a half and then, and how long, how long do you want to hear somebody tell a story? About seven and a half minutes, right? My friend, my neighbors, Donovan and Joanie Mitchell, I'm not kidding you, in Wisconsin, in the street where I live, the retired couple near our house, are named Donovan and Joanie Mitchell. >> I am not joking.
I thought they were messing with me and my husband, you know? It's like, really? I'm Robert Redford, this is my husband, Clint Eastwood. It's like, but Joanie, Joanie's so awesome, and she goes, you know, no matter where I go, And how much fun I'm having. After an hour, I just want to go home. And I thought, (LAUGH). Remember going to concerts? All I could do was think about being home, and thinking about the concert, while I was at the concert like, you know.
Weinman It's really, really good feedback. Barry Go ahead. That's such a good question, and specifically, with, with hands. well, okay, so there's lots of research about somebody trying to explain, if they're trying to explain a complicated thing that they did. If they're allowed to use their hands, they can explain it In a certain amount of time. Usually a pretty short amount of time. Like I'm doing it right now. And I'm indicating time by doing this. Which is wild. And I'm not even paying attention to it.
You guys might be looking up here but there's a part of your brain that's totally paying attention to this. So if the person is asked, asked to explain the same problem or a different control group but they have to sit on their hands. They have a much harder time being able in fact they actually have a harder time speaking. And when we're developing in the womb, the neural connection between our thumbs and our tongues are, are very close. In fact, when you watch a kid drawing... (LAUGH) Actually if you're stuck drawing just use your And, one of the studies, again, at the UW, that's really fascinating, is about, for people who've had stroke problems.
So they're, it's a stroke related paralysis. They're having them write with their tongues, on the roof of their mouths. Which you all are doing right now. Right? (LAUGH) and what will trip you out about it, and I do suggest it. Well, so, and somehow it helps rewire this stuff. one of the things about, when you start to do that, first you think, But what will happen is if you try and do it enough, your, your experience of how big your pallet is will blow your mind. It will start to get very large.
So there is a lot of info and, and then the stuff that they've learned about, about rewiring the, (LAUGH) rewiring the brain so, for Ramachandran, to be a Ramachandran, who kind of pioneered this study, but it, but it's now being used, actually, I saw the thing on 60 Minutes about it, where people were coming back from from Iraq or having some kind of brain damage that results in a certain sort of paralysis that has to do with the brain, not with the, an injury to the hand.
So one of the things that they're having them do is they have these plastic cups. And so, this is say, this is my damaged hand, this hand would be immobilized not damaged this part's damaged so this won't move. This hand's immobilized usually by putting it in it looks like a giant baseball glove, baseball glove immobilized. And then this hand with the help of somebody, somebody's picking it up, taking this glass cup, I mean plastic cup putting it here. Just doing this over and over again. and so what's happening is this one's immobilized this one's moving and the person sees it move and somehow the brain starts to rewire and this mother, her son had come back from Iraq, and she was talking about going with him to this physical therapy and she said You know, it was so, just the saddest thing.
It just seemed like the most ridiculous thing that she'd ever seen with the sad, my poor son. And that nothing was going to happen. And after a few weeks they were driving home. She's driving. He's sitting there. A song comes on the radio that he can't stand. (LAUGH) And it was this moment of like ahhh! And I bet it was waah, you know. Or another guy, another one of Ramashandran's patients had that same therapy and, he's, he was going to cut off his arm actually.
And, his wife, he's talked about how he'd been doing this therapy for a while and then his wife is, they're eting dinner and his wife's like staring at him like what the. He's like what, what. He looks down and he's cutting his meat. And what he says is so phenomenal in this, in this piece when they interview him. He goes, I couldn't do anything for eight years. he goes, Now I can, I can open paint cans, I can comb my hair, I can cut my meat. He didn't say, I can play piano, I can fly.
I mean it was the little things, you know, that he could do, so, but it was all in moving and so I know that the, and there's a lot of idea that the actual development of our hands and our brains are completely tied together and I would, my argument is that these are also extensions of the, of the brain... so it's fascinating stuff, and they are the original digital devices. Wireless. Biofueled. Two. You get buy one, get one free.
So they're really, they're interesting, and they help us think. Weinman I happened to look down at my watch and. Time It's been an hour. I thought that we were going to spend a half an hour doing this I had no idea that so much time had gone by. (LAUGH) So we do have to conclude, but I think Linda can hang out for a few minutes to meet anybody who'd like to come up and say hi. I want to thank you all so much for coming When I woke up this morning, Bruce said to me. Do you realize that Linda is going to interview Linda at lynda.com? Barry (LAUGH) I love it. Weinman No, I hadn't thought about that.
Barry And Linda, thank you so much for having me. Weinman Well, we're happy you came. We've been wanting to have you for so long. Barry (SOUND) Thank you, thank you so, so much. (LAUGH) All right. Weinman All righty.
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