Your Brain On Water
In his new book, Blue Mind, author and evolutionary biologist Wallace J. Nichols examines how being in and around water affects our emotions and cognition.
What is a “blue mind”?
It can be happy, introspective, self-referential. But it’s not necessarily the smiley-face emotion—it’s more than just happy. It’s peaceful, content. And I think that’s what makes poets write poetry, painters paint, musicians make music, and sculptors make sculpture, and why people go to the water and listen to a voice in the water, because it’s more than just happiness.
How did you become interested in this subject?
For scientists, the emotional aspect of what we do is off-limits; you’re supposed to check that stuff at the door. But I realized emotion was the driving force behind what I do. I became more curious about that, and I discovered neuroscientists who were asking questions about the scientific basis of emotions, but very few were asking about nature. So I started asking questions of them.
How do you turn on your own blue mind?
I’m looking at Mill Creek right now, by my house. Every day I sit out there and listen to it, and it helps me be a better version of myself. That aspect of water is often overlooked. We take kids to oceans, lakes, and rivers on field trips to learn about ecology, but we don’t talk about their own brains and the healing value of water.
What is your first water memory?
Being in the Bahamas with my family, playing on a beach where the water is gentle and shallow. I have a series of photograph I look at periodically; the photographs serve as a bridge to the experience. Water memories are important. We can relive those moments and have the cognitive and emotional benefits of that water wherever we are—we don’t all need to flock to the edge of water and pack in there. We can have these experiences and be reminded of them. We have these amazing brains that can do stuff like that.