Posts Tagged ‘Richard Restak’

Do We Still Need to Know How to Spell?

March 25, 2012

Well, we need to know how to spell enough to give the spell checkers something with which to work. But beyond that, do we really need to know how to spell? Can’t we rely upon transactive memory (technology)? We could, but there are reasons why we might not want to.

One of these reasons is for mental exercise. The neuroscientist Richard Restak provided these observations he made while watching a spelling bee.1 He noted the looks of effortful strain whenever they were asked words in which the pronunciation provides little information regarding their spelling. Words like that are difficult because the contestant must activate a different part of the brain in order to spell the word correctly. These words activate areas of the brain that process word meaning, such as the frontal and parietal lobes, which process printed text. Regular words preferentially activate part of the superior temporal lobe that is devoted toe spelling of words in which the sound corresponds closely with the letters.

You might think that you left these spelling bees behind when you left school. Be advised that there are spelling bees for adults. The National Adult Spelling Bee is held yearly in Long Beach, California ( Dr. Restak contacted the winner of the 2007 winner of the National Adult Spelling Bee, Hal Prince. He wasn’t especially interested in words or spelling until his early fifties. Here is the explanation Prince provided about his methods: “First, I went through the dictionary recommended by the Bee page by page. I made a database of words for drilling and also made tests of the words for listening while commuting or running. I borrowed or bought every book about words that I could find and went through them to find words that looked interesting.”

When Dr. Restak asked Prince if he attributed his success to a “gift” for spelling, Prince responded,”While I think that I do have a facility for words and spelling, I suspect that it’s more like a top10 percent rather that a top .01 percent. Mostly, it’s just a matter of being interested in words and taking the time to study them.”

So spelling can provide mental exercise and contribute to brain and memory health. Is there any other reason? It can contribute to your understanding of etymology (the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time). This, in turn, can increase your understanding of English (or whatever language you’re spelling in) and increase your communication skills.

Searching for “Spelling Test Online” in your browser will provide a variety of possible resources.

1Restak, R. (2009). Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance. New York: Riverhead Books., p. 132.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Quote Worth Pondering

November 27, 2011

“To remain mentally sharp, you have to deal with familiar things in novel ways. But most important of all, you have to have a sense of curiosity. If interest and curiosity stop coming automatically to you, then you’re in trouble, no matter how young or old you are.”Art Buchwald

That is Art Buchwald the Pulitzer Prize winning humorist offering a profound insight. He’s written many books and many, many columns. My favorite book is his last, Art Buchwald: Too Soon to Say Goodbye. He wrote this book while he was in a hospice waiting to die. He had had one of his legs amputated and was told that he needed to go on dialysis if he wanted to continue living. He decided that he had had enough and did not want to go on living. So he moved to a hospice where he lived much longer than anyone would have expected. He lived long enough to write his last book.

I found this quote on the page before the introduction to Richard Restak‘s book, Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance. He regards Art Buchwald as one of the most intelligent people he has ever met. Dr. Restak has written many interesting books and this one certainly does not disappoint. The book is divided into six parts followed by an epilogue. They are

Part One Discovering the Brain

Part Two Care and Feeding of the Brain: The Basics

Part Three Specific Steps for Enhancing Your Brain’s Performance

Part Four Using Technology to Achieve a More Powerful Brain

Part Five Fashioning the Creative Brain

Part Six Impediments to Brain Function and How to Compensate for Them

Epilogue The Twenty-first-Century Brain

Some Healthymemory Blog posts will be on excerpts from this book. But there is no way that I can do this book justice. I highly recommend it.

And please ponder Buchwald’s quote and give it the attention it deserves.

An Interesting and Helpful Book

December 8, 2010

I apologize for this long overdue book review of Brain: the Complete Mind, How It Develops, How it Works, and How to Keep It Sharp by Michael S. Sweeney. It is published by National Geographic. The following is from the foreword by Richard Restak: “…here is the most inspiring of insights about the brain: We can enhance our brain’s performance by our own efforts. Thus learning about the brain provides a wonderful mix of instruction, amazement, and self-improvement. As you gain knowledge, you’re in a better position to improve its functioning and thereby increase the quality of your life.” So I think that this book should be of interest to anyone following the Healthymemory Blog.

To give you an idea of the breadth of topics, here is a rundown of the chapter titles:

The Amazing Brain

The Nervous System

Brain Development

The Senses


States of Mind

The Feeling Brain

Learning and Memory

The Aging Brain

Future of the Brain

Each chapter is divided into subsections. Each chapter has a glossary that defines key concepts within each chapter. There are diagrams showing the inner workings of the brain, its processes, and functions. There are fast facts that present bits of information that are not only informative but which you can pass on when you’re speaking. There are tables, fact boxes, and cross references. There are sidebars explaining what can go wrong. Flow charts illustrate processes and functions. There are Breakthrough Sidebars that describe the amazing discoveries that deepen our understanding of the brain. This is another source for interesting conversation. There are history sidebars that tell the stories behind historical neuroscience beliefs and practices and the men and women who shaped them. And there are Staying Sharp Sidebars that document smart practices and strategic tactics for keeping the brain healthy. These should be of special interest to readers of the Healthymemory Blog.