How Cognitive Science Helps Me Write

I studied Cognitive Science and people ask if I use my education. Yeah, every day. It really helps me write.

Writing is the ignition of cognition. It’s having a thought in your brain and getting it to spark in someone else’s. Obviously a lot is lost in transmission, so understanding how cognition works is very helpful, even just a few rules of thumb.

So this is the remix of cognition*, hot and fresh out the kitchen.

These are three concepts I vaguely remember from Cognitive Science that I use in writing every day.

1. Spreading Activation

One core idea that Cognitive Science disabuses you of is that the brain is like a computer. In truth, the brain is like the whole Internet.

Your brain is, very roughly, a collection of neurons, each exciting (or depressing) each other. It’s closer to a bunch of social media accounts egging each other on than it is to one lonely computer.

Your brain is electricity, and for an idea to spread in your brain it has to literally fire from neuron to neuron. So an idea has to find and spread through networks you already have, it can’t just come out of nowhere. It has to spread through language you know, culture you understand, emotions you have, even sexual desires or hatred deep in your heart. Every idea is an activation and your brain is the network across which it spreads.

For an example, behold Kim Kardashian’s butt: