The River Severn River, Full Bladders & The Bridge BetweenSaturday, October 15, 2011
|Lauren Elizabeth Stewart & Acer griseum
Christopher Chabris reviews three books about the brain in this Sunday’s NY Times Book Review, Brain Bugs – How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives by Dean Buonomano, Now You See It – How The Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way Live, Work, and Learn by Cathy N. Davidson and The Compass of Pleasure –How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good by David J. Linden. This is what caught my eye and ultimately led me to the River Severn and the Severn River.
What is new, however is Buonomano’s focus on the mechanism of memory, especially its “associative architecture,” as the main causes of the brain’s bugs. “The human brains stores factual knowledge about the world in a relational manner,” he explains. “That is, an item stored in relation to other items, and its meaning is derived from the items to which it is associated.”
This is an old idea that is well illustrated by word association experiments, in which “river” leads to “bank,” which activates “money,” and so on. But a much newer body of research suggests that this “priming” can spread not just from word to word but from one kind of information, a puzzle, say, to an entirely different domain, such as social interaction, as long as the same concept in invoked in both. Buonomano describes a famous experiment by the psychologist John Bargh and colleagues in which subjects who unscrambled lists of words that listed sentences of politeness, like “They usually encourage her,” were later more polite toward a lab assistant than were subjects who generated sentences related to rudeness. Other researchers have reported that subjects with full bladders exercised more self-control in a completely unrelated realm (financial decisions) than subjects who had been permitted to relieve themselves first – a finding that earned them this year’s Ig Nobel Prize in medicine, award annually to unusual or ridiculous-seeming scientific research.
The short of it is that I have always felt that our very human ability to associate disparate events, things, people and words is what truly makes us human.
One of the students in my photography class at Focal Point is a young lady called Severn. I told her I found the name most unusual to which she replied, “It is a river in England, the River Severn and one in Ontario the Severn River.” I left it at that not knowing that the Severn would come up soon in this ever human endeavour we call association.
We were informed over the weekend that we had to assist Lauren with her homework project. It was about arches and she had to bring a short précis with a picture of an arch and read it in class.
Rosemary asked me to help and the first thing I did was to avoid the obvious associations of arches in Paris or very Roman triumphant arches. I thought that Roman aqueducts might be the right route. But then I had another idea. Back in the 80s I had walked over the iron bridge which spans the River Severn at the Ironbridge Gorge, by the village of Ironbridge, in Shropshire, England. It was the first arch bridge in the world to be made out of cast iron, a material which was previously far too expensive to use for large structures. However, a new blast furnace nearby lowered the cost and so encouraged local engineers and architects to solve a long-standing problem of a crossing over the river.
This then became Lauren’s arch project and I am sure that hers will be the only one that features a bridge, a bridge with an arch. But the association to my student Severn and the coincidence in such few days is not all there is more.
In 1709, an ironmaster in Coalbrookdale, Abraham Darby I, succeeded in producing cast iron using coal. He discovered a process whereby coal was first turned into coke. When coal is turned into coke most of the sulphur is lost as sulphurous gases. The coke could then be used in the smelting process to produce iron. Darby kept his discovery a secret and passed it on only to the next generation of Darbyies. His son, Abraham Darby II, and his grandson, Abraham Darby III, eventually perfected his method.
It was Abraham Darby III who built Ironbridge, it opened in 1781, and from then on iron tracks and more bridges crisscrossed England and brought fruit the Industrial Age.
One of my most favourite English Roses in my garden is the English Rose, Rosa ‘Abraham Darby’. It is a rose that Lauren knows well as the flowers are large, of brilliant peach colour and with a scent that is fruity and most powerful. The rose grows well. In fact it is an almost aggressive climber. My guess is that Shropshire rose grower, David Austin has named this rose after the builder of the Ironbridge.
|Rosa 'Abraham Darby'
Nueva Rosita, Coke & Abraham Darby Three Times