When on holiday in Christ Church, Oxford, I attended the course ‘Human Memory and the Brain’, tutored by professor Gillie McNeill, who did an excellent job in making the subject matter both digestible and enjoyable. I drew a whole bunch of cartoons during class – something I would be chided for in high school but which is encouraged now, fortunately!
When we memorize things, for example a telephone number, our brain can use a variety of strategies.
It may visualize the thing it wants to remember, which is called iconic memory:
Or we may repeat the thing we want to remember with our inner voice, which is called echoic memory:
Also, we can remember something by the way it feels to the touch, which is called tactile memory:
A whole different kind of memory is the way in which we store how we physically do things, such as riding a bike. This is called procedural memory or muscle memory:
Of course we talked about famous brain scientists, such as dr. Pavlov, who experimented with his own dogs, conditioning them to salivate when they heard a bell ring, which they had come to associate with dinner being served:
Then we also looked at how the brain is actually built. I didn’t know that the biggest part is actually like a crumpled up sheet – if you could unfold it the brain would look like a weird-shaped balloon, something like this:
The thalamus is where all the information from our eyes, ears, nose, taste and touch goes first, before it’s sent on to other parts of the brain where we make actual sense of it:
A huge role in memory is played by the hippocampus, which is called like that because it looks a bit like a seahorse:
The brain is made of nerve cells called neurons, which process and transmit information in the form of electrical currents:
Each neuron is in touch with huge numbers of other neurons, each passing on information:
The place where neurons almost connect is called the synaps. Here the information is transmitted in the form of neurotransmitters, which are received by receptors in the membrane of the next neuron:
I also learned that it is a myth that the brain has a fixed number of neurons and that we lose millions of them every day as we get older – in fact, every day our brain makes new neurons! We can stimulate the growing of new neurons by getting new information in, in other words: by learning in the broadest sense of the word.
Here are some things that are recommended if you want to keep your brain healthy:
(Stuff like eating fish – omega 3 – is actually a bit overrated, although it can’t hurt either)
And oh! I almost forgot! SLEEP is very good for the brain too, as it needs that down time to process all the input and embed memories.
This finally gives me a scientific excuse for my habit of sleeping in late and taking catnaps in the afternoon.
Another important thing about the brain, that I didn’t make a cartoon of, is that it is fueled by sugar – and if it’s low on that, IT WILL EAT YOUR MUSCLE TISSUE! It won’t touch any of your fat reserves, no, it goes straight to where you keep your physical strength. So if you consider something drastic like crash dieting: DON’T. You’re just undermining yourself and your ability to think straight.
In short: what you need to do to keep a healthy brain is learn, sleep and eat your breakfast.
My husband and I have returned from a wonderful two weeks in Oxford, England. We took part in the Oxford Experience, a summer school program based in Christ Church, one of Oxford’s most famous colleges.
The buildings are probably best known for the movies that were (partly) shot here, such as Brideshead Revisited, The Golden Compass and the first three Harry Potter movies. Especially the awesome sixteenth century staircase leading up to Hall is a great location, and I tried to catch some of its lines and dimensions in a drawing, which took me three sessions to complete! That’s probably the longest I’ve ever taken over a single drawing – and I even left out quite a lot of detail.
I don’t often make drawings like this, I’m more used to my cartoony style. But the Christ Church architecture just really caught me – and it’s a great excuse to sit in one place for an hour or so and take it all in. This is a view in Christ Church Cathedral, where I attended a great trumpet concert:
All throughout Christ Church there are bowler-hatted men and women to herd the tourists into their specified routes. They are ever friendly and impeccably dressed:
The first week, we attended a course about Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which was written here. Our tutor was expert Edward Wakeling, collector, consultant, researcher, and writer on all things Carroll – not only a very knowledgeable man, but also immensely entertaining, full of riddles and jokes. I drew him as the Mad Hatter, with lots of references to the book and its writer:
The class consisted of a very international crowd – people from Australia, USA, Japan and Canada. After five days of total Alice-immersion, we were all inhabitants of Wonderland:
In the second week, we took part in the course ‘Human Memory and the Brain’, by neuroscientist prof. Gillie McNeill, who was as wise as she was enthusiastic. For another five days, we learned all about brain structure, history of brain studies, different types of memory and things you can do to keep your mind healthy (taking a course in the Oxford Experience was one of them). I made a whole bunch of cartoons during this class, which I will put up later – here’s a little preview:
At the end of our studies, we enjoyed a great formal Farewell – starting with drinks in the Cathedral Garden and ending with an amazing dinner in Hall, during which we received our certificates and heard some speeches about the Oxford Experiences and former Christ Church students (the college boasts twelve British prime ministers!). This is what we looked like in our snazzy outfits, against the centuries-old background:
Now it’s back to “normal” life, and anticipating the publication date of Science: a Discovery in Comics, which is not far off anymore…!
I love drawing timelines. It’s a real challenge to bring down certain periods of time down to their historic essentials in a way that’s entertaining as well as educational. In my new book Science: a Discovery in Comics, I included several spreads with illustrated timelines. In a previous blog post I already showed the one for the History of the Earth – another one, on pages 58-59 of the book, is the timeline for the scientific development during the Middle Ages.
In recent weeks I’ve been experimenting with animation program Sparkol, which makes it really easy to present drawings in so-called videoscribes. The Middle Ages looked like a perfect project to make into such a scribe – maybe it even works better this way than in its original comic form, since the animation allows me to pace the information and literally lead the reader’s eye.
I’m really curious what you think! Just click on the picture to watch a thousand years in a 3 1/2 minute nutshell on Youtube.
It’s now less than two months to go before my book Science: a Discovery in Comics will be in stores! To whet your appetites, here’s a bit of a proto-science-comic I made for newspaper Trouw in 2009, for its philosophy section. Philosophy of Science has always been my interest, and here I had the opportunity to comment on the annoying habit of using scientific arguments to diminish the wondrous diversity of reality:
The kind of science I’m commenting on in this comic is actually science working in the old, “mechanical” paradigm – in modern science we see a shift towards a more holistic paradigm nowadays. If you want to know more about that, please read my book – you can already order it at Amazon!
I’m experimenting with animating bits of my comic books. This is a movie I made of the anecdote of Socrates and the Three Sieves, as drawn in Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics – click on the picture to see it move on YouTube:
Last week I visited the island of Terschelling, where the annual Oerol festival took place, full of art, theater and music. The festival turns the whole island into a stage, or canvas – and it invited me to draw these pictures on the beach:
Then I was joined by a couple of kids, who made these amazing creatures:
Our gracious host Mathilde de Graaff photographs a Yiri of sand:
Curious about the upcoming comic book Science: a Discovery in Comics? I made a Facebook page where you can follow its publication, reviews etc. Just click on the picture and then “like” the page.
If you’re on GoodReads, you will find a page for the book there as well. When the publication date approaches, I will certainly start a GiveAway there, where you can win signed copies of the book (there’s actually one going on now for the Dutch version, ending 19 June). Stars and reviews are highly appreciated!
How do you structure a comic book that supposedly covers *all* of Science? Where do you start, and what line do you choose to make it into somewhat of a coherent narrative?
For Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics I chose the historical approach, and that’s what I’ve done for Science: a Discovery in Comics as well. Looking at things in their historic context makes it easier to see connections and understand how science, philosophy, politics, art and economics are all interconnected.
That said, taking this approach for Science still makes for a bit of a roller coaster ride – skipping ahead, rolling around, looping back, lingering at certain topics. Here’s the content page, so you see what a long and eclectic journey this book promises to be (in 192 pages!):
Yes, it’s a lot – but don’t be daunted by the amount of topics, for me and my husband will guide you through:
This way, we hope to provide many opportunities to catch your breath, have a giggle or even a small insight. It’s a book you can easily read in smaller installments, or pick up every now and then to read up on a specific topic.
The book will be in stores in September, if you’re a shop you can order them now from NBM. If you’re not a shop, you can also pre-order at NBM, or at Amazon.
In February, I blogged about the project ‘A Calendar of Tales‘ that writer Neil Gaiman had started in cooperation with the whole wide world – he wrote 12 short stories prompted by tweets on Twitter, and invited everyone to illustrate them.
I spent an enjoyable fortnight making one illustration a day, one for each tale. It was very inspiring and energizing, and made me think outside my own box. The result was 12 drawings that I have posted on my website, together with the stories by Neil and art by others that I liked.
The project was not a contest per se, more an invitation to create. Even so, I was incredibly gratified to have four of my illustrations shortlisted, and one of them even made it as a “runner-up”! It is featured on the official A Calendar Of Tales website, which launched last week and is a beautiful scrolling experience, so check it out.
Accompanying the month of July, you’ll find my drawing:
Philosophical question: since it is all made of words, can it still be called a drawing…? Food for thought.
It’s the Christian feast of Pentecost today – but what’s it all about? It celebrates “the descent of the Holy Spirit” on the disciples and other followers of Jesus, fifty days after Christ was seen to ascend to heaven.
But what is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is often thought of as an inspirational force, an impulse to go out and create something, to pass something on. Together with God the Father and Jesus the Son it makes up the Holy Trinity.
Holy Trinity? But wait, isn’t Christianity supposed to be monotheistic – doesn’t it have only one true God, not three?
The early Christians solved this conundrum by declaring God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit three aspects of one God. So – there’s one True God, and He may manifest himself in either of these three ways. But He’s still the same One and you can’t really distinguish between the works of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Confused? Well, that’s why it’s called mysticism. Maybe this comic I made illuminates it a bit:
(Note to all who may feel offended by my depiction of God: I chose to draw Him as an amoeba because that’s the beginning of all life, unformed but with the potential to take any form. Also, it’s what we ourselves are made from, and all life that surrounds us. Omnipresent, so to speak.)