The Crow's Dream

Philosophy, geekery, and the meaning if life, and what I read this week…

White Matter

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White matter is very important for skill acquisition. In his book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle argues that white matter is a sort of insulant that helps solidify what we learn, making mastery possible. Coyle argues that deep practice reinforces neural circuits, which are covered with insulating white matter.

Coyle provides some practical advice for those of us wishing to level up our skills. The main idea is to practice, and to practice deeply.

Speaking of white matter, RadioLab recently re-aired an episode on deception. In it, white matter is linked to people’s ability to come up with lies on the spot. It seems like compulsive liars, according to some preliminary research, are more likely to have high amounts of white matter in their brain. This fits with Coyle’s ideas, since this kind of matter would make it possible for someone to access well insulated synaptic connections to come up with a good lie. Neither theory accounts for the compulsion to lie, however. I think this is because the relationship between lies and white matter is not causal.

Whatever the case may be, it seems like white matter is expanding our understanding of the brain now, as much as gray matter did in the fifties. I like to think of it as the gift of liars, athletes, and writers.

This brief article is based on my understanding of the subject, but I’m not a neurologist, so check out Coyle’s book and the RadioLab Episode let me know what you think.

According to, the image in this article is in the public domain


Written by Hector

July 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm

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