I had a fun and productive time during this year’s Spring Recess in our new home of Brooklyn. I read three brain-related books: Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid, Michael Moskowitz’s Reading Minds, and Antonio Damasio’s Looking for Spinoza. I took the subway to Manhattan twice with Y and Little My to visit Kinokuniya Bookstore, Sun Rise Market, Uncle Sam’s Army Surplus, the New York Public Library, and Washington Square. I picked up an M65 field jacket and put together an EDC kit. I walked to Microcenter twice–each time scoring a free 16GB flash drive thanks to a new coupon promotion. To cap the week off, I completed a draft of my PARSE documentation for advancement at City Tech and posted assignments for tomorrow’s classes on OpenLab. Now, I feel ready to see this semester through to the end.
A question for my students: how did was your week away from the college? Are you ready to see things through?
Back in 2007, I made a deal with a friend to participate in his fMRI brain scan study at the University of Liverpool in exchange for a copy of the DICOM data from my scan. He agreed to the trade.
Since then, I occasionally pull my scan data off the shelf and dust off the cobwebs and disk errors, and import it into the DICOM Viewer, OsiriX (e.g., as I did in 2009). With the latest versions, I have had a lot of trouble importing the files as they were given to me into OsiriX. Luckily, I saved the installers for earlier versions including the venerable version 3.5.1, which still runs fine on MacOS X Mavericks and Yosemite.
Using OsiriX’s many features, I created these four videos and an album of images of my 2007 brain. I wonder how it has changed since that time–completing my MA, then PhD, taking a postdoc at Georgia Tech, and now, working at City Tech. Also, I think about the technologies of representation that make it possible for me to see my brain without injury or invasion–OsiriX and unseen software libraries for working with, manipulating, and displaying DICOM data, MacOS X and its technology APIs, my MacBook Pro retina, disk and flash drives, email (how I originally received the scan data), the fMRI machine that I sat in for 30 minutes to an hour, the physical laws behind each technology and the biology of myself, etc. What do you think about when you see my brain represented below?
Draft Video (I had not yet removed all the tissues and bone around the brain)
During today’s LMC 3214 Science Fiction class, I continued my lecture on the importance of the Biology of Mind to Frankenstein specifically and Science Fiction generally.
In the last lecture, I ended on a discussion of the empiricist vs. rationalist debates. Then, I turned to the questions, “How and why do we enjoy literature?” I discussed solving puzzles (finding solutions), feeding our imagination (the novum), deploying our theory of mind and observing theory of mind at play in the novel, recognizing how the brain is a virtual reality simulator (it simulates our experience of the world and our experience of imagined worlds in fiction–in both cases there is a divide between us and the world itself–even more so in the case of the epistolary novel form), and finally, understanding that each person’s experience of the novel will be different based on wiring, hormonal production/reception, memories, and associations (we discussed how we observe this in the novel and how it is important to Romanticism).
I ended the lecture on an etymology of hubris and nemesis and a discussion about how the novel is a critique of the Age of Enlightenment.
In the last half of class, I asked the on-campus students to lead the discussion and raise those points, passages, or questions that they were most interested in concerning the novel. Our discussion ranged from Jurassic Park connections to women’s biological rights to the Creature’s missed potential due to his undutiful creator.
There’s no class on Monday for Memorial Day or Wednesday due to a professional trip. Our class lecture for Wednesday (LS and QUP sections) will be available on T-Square under Resources as an MP4 video. In that lecture, I will discuss proto-SF, Voyages Extraordinaires, and Scientific Romances.We will continue our conversations on Twitter through this weekend and next week. We will resume normal classroom meetings and lecture recording on June 2.
In Dr. Otis’ work, she aims to show with data that she has collected from interviews with an admittedly small number of English-speaking people from the United States that:
1) visual thinking and verbal thinking are not opposites and they cannot be separated,” 2) there is no such thing as a visual thinking type or a verbal thinking type–every mind is unique, and 3) visual and verbal inclinations are not destinies. Anyone can develop visual or verbal skills with practice.
She also offered two suggestions for literary studies:
1) refer to visual imagery in readings, because this might help include more students who may feel excluded by verbal readings, and 2) take reader’s visual imagery seriously, because this might help reconnect the reader to creative writing as co-creator of its imagery.
You can download my handwritten notes on Dr. Otis’ talk and the Q&A session from the event as a PDF from here.
I enjoyed Dr. Otis’ presentation, and it provided me with a new insight into something that I had already read and thought about but in a more biological sense: we each think differently, because our brains are wired differently. Our experience of the world and life, which includes our biology, environment, and culture, leaves its indelible trace on our brain’s physical wiring. As we live, our brains wire themselves to accommodate new memories, abilities, and ways of thinking. It makes sense that all of these experiences would shape our thinking, but more importantly, we can exert our own conscious control over our thinking by adopting reflective practices and training/practice to improve abilities that we already have to greater or lesser degrees.
I sent this out to the Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup earlier today, so I thought that I would share it here, too.
Today, the Science Channel is running a marathon of Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole pop science series. There is one episode that I wanted to share with you if you can spare 45 minutes to watch it on Youtube (it is divided into three parts):
The episode, “Is There Life After Death?” could have been alternatively named “What is consciousness, and what happens to it when we die?” There are good (albeit short) interviews with Stuart Hameroff (the anesthesiologist who collaborated with Roger Penrose on a quantum theory of consciousness), Douglas Hofstadter (Godel Escher Bach), and Steve Potter of Georgia Tech (he has built computer chips that interface with rat brain cells that control robots | http://www.neuro.gatech.edu/wp/labs/potter/).
The discussions of anesthesia and consciousness might be the most enlightening ones for our recent conversation about consciousness.
Also, it is a good show. Freeman is a long advocate of science and education, and I believe that his series (he is executive producer) now in its second season demonstrates his commitment to these things.
I have written about Freeman’s Through the Wormhole series before here.
A Modular Life has a small collection of cool Lego print ads from years past here. I particularly like the Lego Brain model pictured above. If I have some free time, I would like to make a smaller scale brain with Lego bricks.
Last night, I caught the ending of Oliver Sacks’ Musical Minds on NOVA. According to the website here, it originally aired in 2009. Luckily, you and I can watch the complete episode online and we can learn how the brain processes music and how important music is to the human brain. There are also special features available on the Musical Minds website.
I tend to learn things better when I can pick them up, turn them around, and take them apart. Since the human brain is such a big part of my dissertation, I wanted to apply this hands-on approach to better learning and understanding brain anatomy.
If you click through the picture above, you will be taken to my set of photos on Flickr of my human skull and eight part brain model. It is approximately life-size, and it can be disassembled.
The skull’s jaw is hinged and restrained with two springs, and the skull cap or calvaria may be removed to expose the brain case and brain. The brain is made out of a transparent and soft plastic that can be taken apart into eight pieces representing the major externally noticeable features of the brain.
For less than $40 on ebay, this model serves its purpose at a great price.
In conjunction with the model, I have found PBS’s Secret Life of the Brain website to be very useful for studying brain anatomy. If you have Adobe Shockwave installed, you can access that site’s interactive 3D brain viewer: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/brain/3d/
Slashdot.org linked to a February 2011 Nature Neuroscience article that suggests that electric fields in the brain influences neuron firing. There is some earlier evidence that focused and powerful electrical fields can produce effects in an individual’s brain. However, Anastassiou et. al. in “Ephaptic Coupling of Cortical Neurons” demonstrate that field effects produced by neurons in the brain cause activity between neurons that are not directly connected. Like the effect of chemical/gases in the brain can influence a wide area of neural tissue, this coupling effect adds an additional level and complexity to the way neurons interact in the brain. I agree with the original slashdot commenter that this may lead the way to new research regarding the effects of our electrical gadgetry on the brain. The electrical fields that surround us include cell phones, computers, heating and cooling systems, cars, etc. Any or all of these when we are in close proximity to them could produce effects in the brain based on these observations that neurons in the brain are attuned to these effects produced by neurons. It is fascinating stuff that deserves additional study.