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Photos by Colin Noden/Apt613

Brain: The Inside Story makes time disappear

By Colin Noden on June 21, 2018

Two hours into The Canadian Museum of Nature’s brain exhibit and my brain had to call it a day. I was surprised at how long we’d been there. There was a seductive rhythm to how the sequence of exhibits was set up. A lot of credit goes to Museum of Nature staff and the American Museum of Natural History which organized this travelling exhibition.

You’re pulled in by sights and sounds, then given a mild challenge. Look through a crystal ball; identify a sound; build a simple puzzle; take a break with an interesting interactive video, then be passive and read for a bit.

Then the cycle starts over at a slightly more advanced level. Soon you’re learning amazing futuristic developments in brain medicine and practicing techniques to optimize your brain function. All the while having fun.

Everyone around me seemed to be enjoying themselves. It’s a good place to go with others. A father was there with his young daughter for some quality time. Couples were nurturing each other through the activities. And of course, nothing is more fun that watching your friend struggle with a puzzle after telling you how simple it looks. The kids who were laughing while I tried to put together a simple four-piece plastic brain, seemed to be having a good time watching me.

This may not a place for big egos, but it is a place for hands-on learning. The museum is even offering a Brain Teaser interactive session where you get to touch real animal specimens and models, daily from June 23 to September 3. I’ll bet those kids who were laughing at me would love this.

You never know what little tidbit will stick with you. In our group, one fascinating revelation was how a thrush learns songs from a mentor, but they only stick in its memory during deep sleep. It turns out the same is true for us. So, cramming for an exam with an all-nighter is probably not the best idea for acing your exams.

Those little aha moments keep coming up in the displays. My favorite was an interactive video where you can watch the brain and body reacting to a temptation to disobey your mother. I don’t think it spoils the ending to say that the healthiest solution is to obey Mom and get some healthy exercise. I’m sure this one is a favorite for parents. But seeing the chemical reactions displayed through the scenario is also a help to us when we deal with our inner dialogue during temptation.

These practical life lessons are continuing outside the display area through a series of lectures. The Ontario Brain Institute, which sponsored this exhibit, is running four lectures throughout the summer. They take the brain into our everyday lives and the health challenges we have. These lectures are free, but you must make reservations.

You could time your visit to the exhibit before a lecture, but you might be cheating yourself of the full experience. On the other hand, one of our group found herself full of questions and wanting more when we finished the exhibit. So, it’s something to think about, using that marvelous brain of yours.


Brain: The Inside Story is on display from May 18 to September 3 at The Canadian Museum of Nature (240 McLeod Street, Ottawa). Visit https://nature.ca/en/plan-your-visit for hours and admission pricing.


Correction: An earlier version of this post referred to Dr. Kamal Khidas as the touring exhibition’s curator. Dr. Khidas is Curator of Vertebrates at the Canadian Museum of Nature.