Neuroethics Seminar Series: Seeing Consciousness

shutterstock_221470261How is new technology helping us gain a better understanding of consciousness in patients with severe brain damage? If a patient is unable to communicate or even blink, does that mean he or she is completely unaware? At what point should the intentions stated in a living will be determined by the patient’s family or surrogate?

These questions were among the issues discussed at Harvard Medical School’s most recent neuroethics seminar, titled “Seeing Consciousness: The Promise and Perils of Brain Imaging in Disorders of Consciousness.” The school’s  Center for Bioethics invited Joseph Giacino, Ph.D., director of Rehabilitation Neuropsychology at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital; Joseph Fins, M.D., chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College; and James Bernat, M.D., Louis and Ruth Frank Professor of Neuroscience at The Dartmouth Institute to share the stage and give a brief talk for its Neuroethics Seminar Series.

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The Science Behind Fear and Anxiety

In a packed theater at the Rubin Museum last Wednesday, Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D., and Mark Epstein, M.D., shared the stage to untangle the mysteries behind two emotions that we are all too familiar with: anxiety and fear. Epstein is a psychiatrist in New York City, who blends Buddhist practices with his work in psychotherapy. Ledoux directs the Emotional Brain Institute of New York University, where he is also University Professor.

Epstein (left) and LeDoux (right) Photo by Lyn Hughes, courtesy Rubin Museum of Art

Epstein (left) and LeDoux (right) Photo by Lyn Hughes, courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art

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A Wake-up Call on Sleep Disorders

Too many of us live by the catchphrase, “sleep when you’re dead.” When it feels like there is more to do than the day allows, we surrender our sleep hours and then make up for it by consuming an excessive amount of caffeine the next day. After a few days, we’re so exhausted that we can hardly hold our heads up.

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Your Brain in 2050: Closing the Gap Between Sci-Fi and Reality

wsf panel

Panel from left to right: Michael Maharbiz, Sheila Nireberg, John Donoghue, Gary Marcus, Robert Krulwich

I am a huge fan of the sci-fi genre. I have read Cat’s Cradle, Ender’s Game, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and seen movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix more times than I care to say. I am drawn to these fantastical visions of the future because I love predicting what our world and our species may look like in 50 or 100 years. As I discovered last night at a World Science Festival panel discussion, “Cells to Silicon: Your Brain in 2050,” science fiction’s vision of our future is often closer to reality than we may realize.

The discussion, moderated by radio and TV journalist Robert Krulwich, included neuroscientists John P. Donoghue and Sheila Nirenberg as well as research psychologist Gary Marcus and electrical engineer and computer scientist Michael M. Maharbiz. Each of these experts is helping to close the gap between science fiction and reality.

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Brainwave: The Firefighter

When I have a lot on my mind I go for a long run to clear my head. Clearing the mind of anxieties, fears, and thoughts is therapeutic and we all have outlets that can help us. Some people chase the thrill of an adrenaline rush, find a humdrum task to occupy the mind, medicate, meditate, or, in extreme cases like Lt. Dennis Gordon of the FDNY, run into burning buildings to put out fires and rescue trapped occupants.

Clearing the mind was an important theme—as were fear and panic—at last night’s Brainwave discussion, “The Firefighter,” between distinguished New York City firefighter, Lieutenant Dennis Gordon, and psychologist Jeremy Safran, Ph.D., at the Rubin Museum of Art. The conversation between the clinical psychologist and the introspective, Buddhist practicing, firefighter of 36 years became quite spiritual.

firefighter(From right to left: Lieutenant Dennis Gordon and Jeremy Safran, Ph.D. (Credit: Michael Palma for the Rubin Museum of Art)

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