What if you could only write using the 1,000 most common words in the English language? Turns out this mental exercise forces you to write so clearly and succinctly, an 8-year-old could understand. Always wanting to try things out, I had a go at explaining the role of superior colliculus in multi-sensory integration and single cell electrophysiology. Let’s see how I did:

Inside our heads, in each one of us, there is a brain. The brain has many bits, but one interesting one is deep in the middle and called the “upper-tall-thing” by people who know stuff about the brain. The upper-tall-thing has many jobs, and need to do all of them at the same time. One important job it does is passing words from outside the brain to inside the brain.

When your eyes see things, they tell the upper-tall-thing about it, and the upper-tall-thing then tells other parts of the brain what the eyes saw. It’s the same when you hear things and when you touch things. When we go around doing stuff, like playing, we need to do all those things; see, hear and touch. We often do all those things at once – if we found a ball, we can see that it’s round, we can hear it go up and down the floor and we can touch its skin. We known that we are seeing, hearing and touching the same thing thanks to the upper-tall-thing, which grabs what we see, hear and touch and put it together, so we know that it’s a ball.

To find out how this works, we use animals instead of humans. We grab the animal, send him to sleep and put long but really small glasses inside the brain which let us hear what is going on. There are many many cells inside the brain, even the upper-tall-thing is made of many many hundreds. With our long-but-small glasses we can listen to a single cell and how it talks to the other cells. By listening in, we can try and work out how does a cell that talks about seeing can also talk to a cell that talks about hearing. That way, we can start to find out how seeing and hearing come together in the upper-tall-thing.

Want to have a go yourself? Try UpGoerFive, inspired by this XKCD comic.

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