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At what point do you present a character's early life?

My friends and frequent collaborators Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan made a film last year ("My Love Affair With the Brain") about an extraordinary scientist: Marian Diamond. She was a tremendously popular teacher at UC Berkeley, but in her research work she was primarily responsible for changing how we think about the brain: is it determined by genetics, with an immutable structure that develops, matures, and declines in a predictable way? Or can it change in response to one's life experiences, and how we use it in our lives? She answered the question and overthrew the scientific orthodoxy: it changes in response to our circumstances and how we treat it. This is now well-known as "brain plasticity," popularized with the phrase "use it or lose it."

The science in the film is exciting, but as is often the case, complicated and difficult to present clearly. So rather than break up Marian's scientific journey with side trips into her personal history, Gary and Cathy came up with the brilliant idea to just wait and present her childhood quite late in the film. As you'll see in the video, it allows for what I believe is a unique presentation: Marian narrates her life, with its consistent and unusually strong thematic focus, tracing it through the years in a compact and compelling way.

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