Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Neuroscience, Bio Class, Day Dreams, Imagination


At times, it is hard to know where to begin.


Should I tell you first that there is, in this exceptional city, a place called The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of the Imagination? How long should I wait before adding that I recently attended an event there called "Daydreaming, Night-Dreaming, and Stimulus-Independent Thought." And how about that is was a roundtable discussion among five men and women whose work in neuroscience, psychology, and psychiatry brought them there? Also, it was free. And open to the public. And simulcast on the web. Christ.

I have a crush on this place. If you are not already with me on this, take a look at their
events calendar and events archive, and see if you don't fall in love.

Exactly.

Sasha told me about this place and attended the roundtable with me. About fifty of us made up the audience. We surrounded the participants, listening for the first hour and asking questions for the second. Many in attendence were psychologists, and psychiatrists or students on their way to becoming such. Others were like Sasha and I -- credential-free and curious -- there to absorb this heavenly city-as-school experience.

As I sat there listening to scientists talk about the mind, and behavior and day-dreaming, I was taken back to the lecture halls of my early college career as a biology student. I'd attend lectures dutifully, and for a while took notes with the best of them. Some aspect of this did not agree with me though, and my notebooks became festooned with more and more elaborate drawings and less and less information about the biological sciences.

At the time, I thought, "I absorb this information better when I am not distracted by the task of note-taking." This may have been true, but to secure the grades I'd need to continue in the sciences, this plan needed a level of support on the bent-over-a-textbook-in-your-dorm-room end of things that I was unwilling to provide. I like listening to scientists, but do not care to do what it takes to be one. No matter. This frees me up to be a fan of the sciences, a role I happily found myself in last Saturday at the Philoctetes Center.

Oy - another surprisingly confessional post.

All I meant to say was that, hearing neuroscientists talk about what they do, and do not, know about the mind is exciting and humbling and beautiful because they don't know much. Just like the universe is right out there, and we know so little about it, the mind is right in here and just as alien.

During the Q&A, John Antrobus mentioned that there are 100,000,000,000 neurons in a human brain and 100,000,000,000,000 synapses amongst them. Here is a video showing how they work together -- a video which says, but does not show, that this neural collaboration is what creates new ideas.

1 comment:

Nellie said...

Great work.