Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Power of the Pen

It's long been well known that the pen is mightier than the sword. It's less well known that it is mightier than any other writing implement. In fact, the readers of the blog know that I don't believe this claim is (can be) known because it is simply false. But here is more "evidence" to the contrary provided by Paul Theroux. He claims "writing by hand is part of my creative process. The speed at which I write with a pen seems to be the speed at which my imagination finds the best forms of words."

Whether you agree or disagree, it is, as they say, "a good read."


pohanginapete said...

MK, we've had a discussion about handwriting vs typing here on Taking Note a couple of years ago (Paul Auster on Pencils and Notebooks). I'm inclined to agree with your position that a particular writing tool can't be shown to influence what we write (I trust I'm not misrepresenting you); however, the weight of evidence — albeit not particularly rigorous evidence — leads me to believe the tool does indeed influence one's thought processes.

What evidence do you have for your belief? There seems to be no dearth of claims by accomplished writers that handwriting is essential to their process, and some neurophysiological studies support that, so I'm curious about the counter-evidence.

MK said...

do not so much have a positive belief that there cannot be such an influence. I am just skeptical. People like what they have grown up with and have gotten used to. And I suspect that they interpret it as having a positive influence of some sort or other.

Of course, simply thinking so may have an influence of that sort.

Just as someone's belief that their partner is cheating on them might negatively influence the relationship, so the belief that something does one some good, may actually do one good.

I am not aware of any neurophysiological support for the thesis that particular tools have determinate influences on creativity. Please refer me to such studies. I AM willing to be convinced!

Yes, I remember our earlier exchange (fondly).

pohanginapete said...

Scepticism's a good starting point! I also agree with your point about people liking what they're used to, and the potential for psychosomatic effects.

I'm not sure if anyone's directly studied the link between writing tools and creativity, but differences in brain function have been demonstrated for handwriting vs typing:

Mangen, A., & Velay, J.-L. (2010). Digitizing Literacy: Reflections on the Haptics of Writing. In M. Hosseini (Ed.), Advances in Haptics. InTech.

Like you, I don't have a fixed position on this, but I guess I'm inclined to lean rather more towards believing an effect exists. Yours is the more rigorous position, I guess!