Archive for November 1st, 2007

Brief history of electro-convulsive, electro-shock therapy

November 1, 2007

Here is a talk by Sherwin Nuland recounting the history of electro-convulsive, electro-shock therapy. The later half of the talk is about Nuland’s fall into depression sometime in the early 1970s; apparently, his situation worsened so much, he was about to be given pre-frontal lobotomy, before a young doctor intervened, and saved him and his professional life with electroshock therapy; and, I understand that he was treated 20 times with shocks (while the usual course is 6-8). A truly moving lecture!

A nation defined by and consisting of poets

November 1, 2007

Hamlet is a weird drama made magnificent by a torrent of peerless poetry, and I have always thought of it as a long poem whose cosmic structure seems to pivot on the words ‘We defy augury’. Shakespeare is the greatest playwright on earth, but he is heaven’s poet. And the list of his poet-compatriots – Chaucer, Browning, Dryden, Wordsworth, Clare, Donne, Auden, Tennyson, Keats, Pope, Herbert, etc. etc. – closes the case. We are a nation defined by and consisting of poets. To deny this is to deny England.”

That is Ms Baroque quoting Bryan Appleyard.  I guess there is a bit of England in everybody.

Faking a conversation with a machines

November 1, 2007

One of life’s rather big annoyances (and, why it is an annoyance):

The second time I had to talk to the recording.

And here’s the thing. Everybody knows that is annoying and I have just realised why. It is horribly demeaning. It is demeaning, it strips you of your personhood, to have to fake a conversation with a machine. Even – and especially – if the machine has been recorded to say a husky little “okay?” at the end of every question. Like an imbecile. And you can’t even tell it to fuck off.

How Sacks found empathy

November 1, 2007

Jonah Lehrer, in this piece in Seed, talks to Oliver Sacks, and tells about the not-so-well-known aspects of Sacks’ life, which made him the empathetic writer and neurologist that he is. Of course, it also tells how Sacks came to write Musicophilia and what it means to him, personally:

Musicophilia is not just a collection of neurological case studies. There is an unexpected thread running through the book. That thread is Sacks’s life. Even as he explores the neurology of music, Sacks returns, again and again, to stories from his own past, almost as if he’s rediscovering them. There are the famous patients from Awakenings, who were unfrozen by the sound of music. There are the musical hallucinations of his mother, who, at the age of 70, was temporarily seized by patriotic songs from her childhood. And there’s the tale of Sacks’s own musical healing so that at times it feels like a memoir told through the prism of music. In Musicophilia, Sacks is both a sensitive observer and a subject. As usual, his own story is inseparable from the stories of his patients.

“I had no intention of writing a book devoted to music,” Sacks says. “I’m not a musician or an expert on music…but this book found me. I began to revisit all of these older stories and present them in an explicitly musical light. That’s the way writing is sometimes. One doesn’t know what story one is telling until the story is told.”

Take a look!

What is self?

November 1, 2007

No, it is not a philosophical essay; it is an answer from neurobiological research to the philosophical question that V S Ramachandran attempts in the Edge 10th Anniversary essay; here is the summary of his answer in his own words:

I suggest that “other awareness” may have evolved first and then counterintuitively, as often happens in evolution, the same ability was exploited to model ones own mind — what one calls self awareness. I will also suggest that a specific system of neurons called mirror neurons are involved in this ability. Finally I discuss some clinical examples to illustrate these ideas and make some testable predictions.

However, Ramachandran agrees that the final word has not yet been pronounced. In fact,

Have we solved the problem of self? Obviously not — we have barely scratched the surface. But hopefully we have paved the way for future models and empirical studies on the nature of self, a problem that philosophers have made essentially no headway in solving. (And not for want of effort — they have been at it for three thousand years). Hence our grounds for optimism about the future of brain research — especially for solving what is arguably Science’s greatest riddle.

Take a look!

Hat Tip: Swarup

Bamboo microscopes

November 1, 2007

Long back, Vivekananda spoke about going to Indian villages with a telescope and microscope to spread the knowledge of science. From this Nature Medicine article of Paroma Basu, I understand that a group called Jodo Gyan has come quite close to achieving the microscope part, at least (and the Rs. 150 bamboo microscopes look, oh so, lovely!). Here is the abstract of Basu’s article:

Funding is tight. Grants are rejected. Research equipment is too expensive. And these are complaints heard in well-heeled laboratories in the US and UK. In the following pages, we present inspiring examples of scientists who, using materials as simple as litmus paper, bamboo and blenders, prove that science on a shoestring is possible—and sometimes even better than the alternative.

Link via B-squared (which has the photograph of the cool microscope — even if you have no access to Nature Medicine).

PS: I could locate the Jodo Gyan homepage (which, unfortunately, does not contain much of information though).