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Brain Architecture

Brain Architecture

    I was amused by the story of the crooks who tried to buy office supplies using the charge code of a local prison. The purchases included computers, speakers, iPods, and apparently whatever was expensive. They came back three times. My favorite part of the story is “…the store manager grew suspicious.”


    I can see how crooks would consider it hilarious to rob a jail. But I have to think the correct number of times to try this particular crime is once. Or, as super criminals like to say, “One minivan’s worth.”

    The big problem here is that the nature of the crime depends on putting the idea of a penitentiary in the mind of the cashier as the same time you are cleverly trying to act innocent with your prison haircut and/or mullet and tattoos. I wonder if one of the perps even considered throwing a package of Sticky Notes on the pile of computers and iPods to look more legit.

    Anyway, this made me think of the famous question “What rhymes with orange?” If you have wrestled with that question before, you know the answer is either nothing or, at best, “door hinge.” The interesting part is how quickly your brain can decide if a word can be rhymed or not. How do you arrive at that conclusion without trying all of the word combinations in your language first?

    What rhymes with elephant?

    See how quickly you realized the answer is nothing? I think the brain stores words that sound alike near each other, perhaps for some useful reason that isn’t obvious. The by-product of that brain architecture is that humans are naturally good at rhyming. When you wonder what rhymes with train, you go almost instantly to brain, grain, main, and even playin’ without really trying all the combinations that are not words or don’t rhyme.

    As a writer, you have to be very aware of how the brain stores information. For example, it would be a mistake to write the sentence “He murdered a doll,” even in the context of humor. Dolls are stored in the brain somewhere near the area you keep your concept of children, and so the idea of murdering a doll gets registered with nearly the emotional revulsion as if you said, “He murdered a child.”

    And yes, I did just write the very thing I said you should avoid writing. But I’m a professional, and I know how to quickly cleanse your mental palate from that last thought by quoting four lines out of context from Lady GaGa’s song Bad Romance.

    “I want your ugly, I want your disease”

    “I want your horror, I want your design”

    “I want your love and I want your revenge”

    “I want your psycho, your vertical stick”

    My favorite of the group is “I want your horror, I want your design.” I’m fairly certain that your brain stores the concept for horror in a different part of your brain than it does for the concept of design. All of the quoted lines are like that. It’s the opposite of rhyming, as far as brain storage goes. I’d love to see an experiment where a subject’s brain is monitored while reading rhymes and then again while reading the lyrics to Bad Romance. Nursery rhymes are literally used to put kids to sleep. When I hear Bad Romance, it’s a whole-brain experience that wakes me up. (I couldn’t find Lady GaGa’s IQ listed online, but I’ll bet it’s off the chart.)

    As a writer (or lawyer, or marketer, politician, etc.), you need to be aware of your readers’ brain architecture. Otherwise your words and your intended message will be out of sync.

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