Columnists

Fusiform Gyrus

Posted: March 3, 2017 at 9:03 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

I know it’s a crazy way to operate, but I sometimes choose a title for a story simply because I like sounding unfamiliar words. I sing them in the shower to see if they hold some kind of resonance. You oughta try it once in a while. Maybe wait ‘til nobody can hear you is also good advice.

So this a.m., fusiform gyrus passed the test. It’s a doozy. I tripped over the words while searching for a way to explain why cursive writing is important. Now how’s that for a stretch?

Apparently, ‘fusiform gyrus’, so named for its shape, is that part of the brain that receives information via the visual pathway and processes face and body recognition; colour and shape recognition; AND (here it comes) word recognition. It is a spindle-like convolution on both sides of the brain, sorta under the back of the skull. It’s where what our eye sees—visual stimuli —actually become letters and words. You have to see letters in the ‘mind’s eye’ in order to produce them on the page; hence the connection of reading and writing.

As I understand it, brains don’t distinguish letters. They interpret symbols. As children, say three to four years old, we responded to letters the same way as if to a triangle. The next step was to make symbols—to print. We see the early efforts we all went through in a young person’s printing today. Like a messy roadmap right? But that’s a good thing. It is how we learn and begin to form ourselves.

Here’s how I see it: Way back in early school days it was likely that as you were being taught the process of forming letters the teacher would request: “ok now class, draw the letter ‘c’ ; or draw the letter ‘m’,” and so on. What she or he was telling us to do was to draw a symbol. It was no different from drawing an image of a tree. Except when we start connecting letter symbols we begin to create words. It is a very important hand-eye connection, a natural reflex that develops into far reaching avenues of communication: A natural reflex that needs to be exercised from early on.

I’m no expert, but what I’m getting at is why I believe that art is a primary function of human nature: our mother tongue; our first language. Think about it when you find yourself doodling on a page when your conscious mind is engaged elsewhere and therefore out of the way. Also perhaps think about how art is a dialogue universally understood, communication ‘sans frontier’. Vast inventories of archaeological evidence tell through hieroglyphics and symbols what earliest peoples thought and believed. Look at Aztec remains or Egyptian pottery or tablet inscriptions; Renaissance art or Inuit design. Better yet visit nearby Petroglyphs Provincial Park where the largest collection of ancient First Nations petroglyphs in Ontario is preserved; an age where symbols were inherent in everything from clothing design to house building. Art graced a people.

With rudimentary hand-imaging connection, an architect can quickly convey the form of a building by ‘drawing’ from the ‘mind’s eye’. Many lasting designs were first produced on napkin drawings; or take the story of a well known surgeon, whose understanding of the anatomy first came from a passion for drawing it. He continues to sketch with pencil and paper the ‘inner bodyscape’ region as part of preparation for a surgery; Storyboards are a beginning place for films, animation, book illustrations, product shots, a communication tool to dialogue with a broad collection of disciplines required to execute a project.

So singing in the shower forms my case in defence of the importance of art and music programs in the school system, often the first programs to be cut when numbers don’t line up. Importantly, the removal of the teaching of cursive writing from within the system is a regrettable mistake. We can learn touch typing easily, a separate mental function, as a next step after we have developed our reflexes. The exercise of hand to eye action on a surface is a cognitive process inherent to learning. It is perhaps why there is a resurgent interest in the fountain pen in the age demographic of 19-30 years.

While the digital era has afforded advantages, there are many human factors that can’t be disregarded. How designers of video games plan for dopamine stimulation to make games addictive; how students miss basic spelling because of reliance on technology; how nature deficit has become a down-side effect. All of it can be helped if we allow our curiosities and willpower to better the cause of youth. As for me, I’ll shout about the importance of art in society as I search out new words to sing about.