The Brain is wider than the Sky” is a line as famous now in neuroscience as in poetry. It’s invoked to represent the network of neurons whose intersections spark our every thought and action. Emily Dickinson wasn’t writing about the 86 billion neurons and their quadrillion connections to explain why the brain is also “deeper than the sea.” The poet doesn’t explain. That’s the scientist’s job.
But scientists—to be specific, neuroscientist David Eagleman and cognitive scientist Ann-Sophie Barwich—evoke the poet this week in Nautilus as they explain how the brain absorbs the world, “As Sponges—Buckets—do.” In the scientists’ words, the brain’s bioelectrical ability to change and adapt, in response to environments in flux, is a marvel.
Scientists may not see “The brain as just the weight of God,” as Dickinson does. But they would agree with the poet, I would say, that the brain differs, if it does, with the sky and the sea, the world, the cosmos, “As Syllable from Sound.”
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