Alice in process…

Instead of the question “Who is Alice?” there are now paths leading to what Alice might come to be…

27 Feb 2015

Believe in the impossible

Fragment of the text "Five things Alice in Wonderland reveals about the brain"
by David Robson found at FUTURE

"Lewis Carroll’s popular tales contain some hidden truths about the human brain that are still inspiring neuroscientists to this day. David Robson takes a leap down the rabbit hole"

Nicole Claveloux. 

“There's no use trying,” Alice said: “one CAN'T believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven't had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” 

Continuing her exploration of human imagination, the Queen extolls the virtues of thinking about the impossible. The passage speaks to Gopnik, who first read Alice when she was three years old and now spends her career studying how we build our imaginations. 

 She has found, for instance, that children who play pretend and practice “believing the impossible” tend to develop more advanced cognition. They are better at understanding hypothetical thinking, for instance, and they tend to develop a more advanced “theory of mind”, giving them more astute understanding of other people’s motives and intentions. “A lot of what they do in pretend play is take a hypothesis and follow it out to the logical conclusion,” says Gopnik. “What’s interesting is that Carroll was also a magician and you can see that same ability to take a premise and to take it out to a crazy conclusion.” 

 Alice’s adventures are full of surreal encounters that could help anyone exercise these skills. Travis Proulx at Tilburg University in the Netherlands has examined the way that surreal and absurdist literature, like Carroll’s, influences our cognition. He has found that by violating our expectations in a strange, alien world, fantastical stories pushes our brains to be more flexible, making us more creative, and quicker to learn new ideas. So if you are in a rut and feel like stretching your mind, you may find no better solution than an evening with Alice. “I have no doubt it stimulates these mental states that enhance learning and motivate us to make new connections,” says Proulx. 

 Gopnik points out that some hallucinogenic drugs may also help you to get to the childlike state of free-association, but reading is surely the safer way to turn back the clock and see the world from a new perspective. As Carroll writes: “So many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.” Her readers would surely agree."

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