Maryam Mirzakhani, the late Stanford University math professor whose work involved "describing the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces," tackled tough mathematical ideas by doodling on large sheets of paper.

Born in Iran, Mirzakhani earned her doctorate from Harvard University and was the first woman to win the Fields Medal, known widely as the Nobel Prize of mathematics.

So if an accomplished mathematician could find inspiration for complex mathematical concepts from seemingly random scribblings, what about the rest of us? Is doodling more than just a way to fill time as we endure yet another boring meeting at work, or sit through an uninteresting lecture at school?

Writing in The Atlantic, Steven Heller makes the case for the benefits of doodling: "For anyone who actively exercises the brain, doodling and drawing are ideal for making ideas tangible. Drawing, even in a primitive way, often triggers insights and discoveries that aren't possible through words alone. Just think of all those napkins (or Post-Its) on which million-dollar ideas were sketched out."

Heller cites recent scientific research published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, that shows that "doodlers find it easier to recall dull information (even 29 percent more) than non-doodlers, because the latter are more likely to daydream."

Doodling is, of course, accessible to anyone with a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. And it certainly doesn't require a degree in art (or a doctorate from Harvard). Whether a doodle is beautiful or ugly is irrelevant, argues Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution. "I give no points for the aesthetic quality of a doodle, because the perceived skill has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the learning experience for the doodler."

Brown thinks "visual language should be open to those who lack the talent or ability. In her role as doodle advocate, Brown believes that to make the practice into something that requires savvy would be as dangerous as suggesting that only people who excel at writing should ever compose sentences."

Published on: Sep 27, 2017
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