published Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Thinking is not what you think: Author dispels some myths, sheds some light

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    Molecular biologist John Medina addresses the crowd at the Baylor School Wednesday in the Alumni Chapel.
    Photo by Connor Choate.
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THE TRUTH ABOUT BRAINS

How many of you have heard that we use only 10 percent of our brains?

Take that and throw it out. You probably use about 60 percent of your brain.

How many of you have heard that there is a left-brain and a right-brain personality?

Take that and throw it out. You need both hemispheres of your brain to make a personality.

How many of you have heard boys are from Mars and girls are from Venus?

Well, that one's probably true.

— John Medina

Before he tried to teach the common man how we think and how we think about thinking, before his voice boomed and cracked as he dived into the confusing ins and outs of neuroscience, before the lids of his brown eyes pushed so wide you could almost see his sockets, John Medina apologized to his audience at the Baylor School.

"I speak almost at the speed of light once I get going," he said Wednesday evening. "For those who want to write notes, I wish you luck."

"What about those with hearing aids?" someone from the audience shouted.

"For those with hearing aids," said Medina, specks of sweat sitting on his forehead, "I wish you even more luck. That might be a prayer request, I should say."

Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and the author of "Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School," spoke -- and yelled -- to an audience that packed the Baylor's Alumni Chapel, which seats about 800 people.

Medina tries to make the latest research about the human brain easy to understand. He aimed Wednesday's speech at parents, who most often want to know: How do I get my kid into Harvard?

The answer, he said, isn't so simple. To develop a brain, you need stimulation. And to get stimulation, you need to break out of the typical classroom setting.

Medina credits his mother, Doris, with teaching him how to communicate to an audience. She was a fourth-grade teacher for most of her life and a Hollywood actress for some of it. When Medina was about 19, he and his mother talked about his dreams of becoming a research scientist.

"We're going to be paying for your research as taxpayers," Medina remembers her saying, his index finger poking the air with purpose as he emulated his mother. "You owe it to us to tell us what you find."

So Medina, the man who thinks about how we think, started thinking about public speaking. When he became bored during others' speeches, he wondered why. In studying the topic, he said, he found the key to connecting with an audience: emotion. You need some spice on stage.

On Wednesday night, his voice rose and fell as he spoke about different subjects in neuroscience. His right hand danced to the rhythm of his own voice. Chuckles punctuated his sentences.

"If I can connect the love of my field with an energy," he said, "I might be able to project that to an audience."

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