Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two books, One talk and a sage mathematician

About Dyslexics: Two Books, One Talk and A Sage Mathematician

(1) Blurb written for The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain by Brock L. Eide, MD, and Fernette F. Eide, MD, Hudson Street Press, publication date, August 18, 2011. “This book is destined to become a classic. After many years studying the talents of dyslexics, I was pleased to gain from the Eides’ systematic investigation a deeper understanding of how and why dyslexics often have a major advantage, working at high levels in many different fields -- and why there is so much misunderstanding among conventional educators and employers. Linking their broad clinical experience with the newest brain research, they illuminate many puzzles -- such as why there are so many dyslexic entrepreneurs, why so many dyslexics choose to study engineering or philosophy, why dyslexics often see the big picture and see linkages that others do not see, why they often think in stories or analogies, and why some of the most successful authors are dyslexic. They explain why reading impairments should be seen as only a small part of the pattern -- that dyslexia is not simply a reading problem, but a different form of brain organization, yielding remarkable strengths along with surprising difficulties. With new technologies and new business models, we can now see how the often remarkable talents of dyslexics will be in greater demand while their difficulties will be increasingly seen as comparatively unimportant. I am enormously grateful to the Eides for explaining why and how this is so -- Thomas G. West, author of In the Mind’s Eye and Thinking Like Einstein” (See Amazon.com listing and separate but related website “Dyslexic Advantage” which has, among others things, many videos of famous dyslexics talking about their dyslexia and/or major accomplishments.)

(2) Harvard-MIT Conference, Learning and the Brain, “Preparing 21st Century Minds: Using Brain Research to Enhance Cognitive Skills for the Future,” Boston, November 18-20. 2011. Talk by Thomas G. West, “Seeing What Others Do Not See: Engines of Discovery for the 21st Century,” Sunday, November 20,1:45-3:00 pm. The wording of the original invitation is worth noting: “We are writing to see if you might be available in the afternoon of Nov. 19 or Nov. 20 to present on your book In the Minds Eye . . . and how those with learning disorders may benefit from their gifts, such as visual and creative thinking, in the technological 21st century, instead of considering them as having deficits [only].” The overall description: “The November conference will explore the cognitive abilities and 21st century skills that will be necessary for students to succeed in the future, including such skills as visual learning, critical and creative thinking, innovation, problem solving. . . . It will also look at the talents gifted students and those with ADHD, autism and dyslexia bring the to the 21st century along with new technologies for identification and intervention.” Speakers include Howard Gardner, Edward Hallowell, Jerome Kagan and Ellen Winner, among others. (See http://www.learningandthebrain.com/)

(3) Excerpts from the “Foreword” by Thomas G. West prepared for Forgotten Letters, an anthology of poems and prose by dyslexic writers. Edited by Nim Folb, Aarhus, Denmark, to be published by RASP, London, England, October 2011. “There are many puzzles and paradoxes linked to dyslexia. One of the most strange of these is that some of the best writers are dyslexic. How can this be so? How can those who struggle so with words become such masters of words . . .? Good writing often requires an ear for the sound of language. Good writing often requires a strong visual imagination with powerful images and metaphors. . . . Oddly, the difficulties experienced by dyslexics sometimes can lead directly to becoming advantages in service of the best writing. Dyslexics are a heterogeneous group. . . . But there are many common elements. They often, almost by definition, learn to read late and very slowly (after a long and difficult struggle). This is partly the reason that many never lose the sound of language in their head -- as sometimes happens with rapid and efficient readers. . . . Many dyslexics find it very difficult to do things automatically -- which can be a problem. . . . Whether training the movements of their body (as in an Olympic sport) or observing nature (in a literary or scientific puzzle), they have to think and think hard. Big brains with many connections move slowly -- but they can do jobs fast brains cannot do. They see the big picture. . . . In my own research on talents among highly successful dyslexics, my literary friends were shocked and disbelieving when I told them that the most severely dyslexic historical person I came across was the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. . . . Everywhere you look there are vivid metaphors and images. About his early life, Yeats says: ‘I was unfitted for school work. . . . My thoughts were a great excitement, but when I tried to do anything with them, it was like trying to pack a balloon in a shed in a high wind. . . .’ I am honored to introduce this volume of the work of dyslexic writers -- sometimes harsh and angry, sometimes as beautiful as a song, sometimes so short and powerful that you feel you have been punched with a boxer blow. But always fresh, truth telling, full of vivid and unexpected sounds and images.” Writers include Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Philip Schultz. See his new book, My Dyslexia, W.W. Norton & Company, 2011, 120 pages. (See http://www.indiegogo.com/Forgotten-Letters and Amazon Books.)

(4) Recently reading a book on the 2008 financial crisis, I was amazed to see five or six references in the final chapter to a rebel mathematician who had warned Wall Street mathematicians and economists decades earlier that their models would work for a while and then they would cease to work and would create or trigger a major disaster. This  mathematician is the high-visual creator of the new field of fractal geometry, the late Benoit Mandelbrot. “In a September 2009 article . . . Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman lambasted . . . economists’ chronic inability to grasp the possibility of massive swings in prices and circumstances that Mandelbrot had warned of decades earlier.” (In The Quants -- How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It, by Scott Paterson, Crown Business, 2010, p. 291.) There is mounting evidence that this highly creative, innovative, big-picture-thinking mathematician was almost certainly dyslexic, as he told me personally in a joke at an MIT conference years ago. (See In the Mind’s Eye, “Waiting Patterns, A ‘Nomad by Choice,’ ” pp. 286-289 and “The Mandelbrot Set” final page of photo set facing p. 289.) (See also the very high quality production on Mandelbrot, “Fractals -- Hunting the Hidden Dimension,” WGBH NOVA, on the web at PBS and on DVD.)

Contacts and websites: emails, thomasgwest@gmail.com, thomasgwest@aol.com, mobile, 202.262.1266, blog, http://inthemindseyedyslexicrenaissance.blogspot.com. See also “Dyslexia: The Unwrapped Gift” (parts 1 and 2) on YouTube and “Thinking Like Einstein,” author series, on website AT&T Tech Channel.