Books on the Brain: Summer Reading List 2019

Summer’s arrival—time for outdoor gaiety, vacations, and unearthing the unfinished tube of sunblock from last year (it’s hiding by the one from two year’s prior, truly). It also heralds longer days … and that means more sunshine to read by! If you’re normally the type to have books on the brain, then venture forth, dear reader, and acquaint yourself with the following authors, a collection of neuroscientists and brain investigators across various disciplines, sure to entice all stripes of brain enthusiasts!

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Photo: Shutterstock

For introspective readers and dredgers of the deep: Continue reading

Brain Awareness Week 2019 in Photos

Brain Awareness Week 2019 may have concluded in March, but since April, nearly 300 partners from around the world have submitted Partner Reports detailing results of their events and activities from the campaign. In these reports, Brain Awareness Week partners share their successes as well as what they would do differently next time. They also describe the activities they organized, details of how they publicized their events, and offer advice on planning future Brain Awareness Week events.

Many partners also submit photos of their brain awareness festivities. Below is just a sampling of some photos we received, which will be featured in our new Brain Awareness Week Photo Gallery in the coming months.

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Kids love playing with mascot, Brainy the Robot, and learning brain structure/function by playing the Brainy game at an event organized by Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.

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WSF19: Can We Cure Deafness and Blindness?

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Marlee Matlin. Photo: World Science Festival

When Marlee Matlin won an Academy Award for “Best Actress” in 1987 at age 21, it was groundbreaking for a few reasons. Not only was it her first role in a movie, but Matlin was (and still is) the youngest nominee to receive an Oscar in the Best Actress category. She also made Hollywood history that year for being the first deaf person to ever receive the award, which set her on a path of activism and advocacy for the deaf community for years to come. Fast forwarding to this year’s World Science Festival, Matlin remains an active member of the community and was prominently featured on a panel that examined recent advances in eliminating deafness and blindness, and the way society labels and treats people who are hard of hearing or blind.

The festival’s final program, held at the New-York Historical Society, was moderated by former broadcast journalist Emily Senay. Matlin was joined on stage by biophysicist Jim Hudspeth, neuroscientist E.J. Chichilnisky, and perceptual navigation specialist Daniel Kish, who lost his eyes to retinal cancer at 13-months-old. The speakers talked about cutting-edge research and how scientific advances can sometimes be unexpectedly controversial. Continue reading

WSF19: The Promise of Psychedelics

On Nov. 16, 1938, Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD or “acid,” for the first time while working for Sandoz Laboratories. Although he succeeded, he put his discovery aside. Five years later, while revisiting the experiment, he accidentally absorbed some of it through his fingertips and experienced transcendence. Three days later he intentionally ingested 250 micrograms (0.25 milligrams) and proceeded to ride his bicycle home from his lab accompanied by his laboratory assistant. That day, April 19, is now known by psychedelic enthusiasts as Bicycle Day, or the day that the first acid trip took place.

For the next 25 years, psychedelics were a huge part of psychiatric study in both Europe and the U.S. More often than not, LSD showed positive effects in those who had taken it – one study in the 1950s conducted by psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond showed a 50 percent success rate in a group of recovering alcoholics who had not been able to quit drinking through any other means. However, at some point, the drug escaped the labs and made its way into the hands of not only the general population, but also Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary who, according to author Michael Pollan, became “the LSD evangelist.” Leary ended up being fired from Harvard due to his questionable research and promotion tactics (he was deemed the “most dangerous man in America” by then-president Nixon). Research into psychedelics all but ceased, and the war on drugs all but began.

That is, until fairly recently. Last Thursday night’s World Science Festival event, “Revealing the Mind: The Promise of Psychedelics,” consisted of four panelists discussing the pros – and cons – of psychedelics, which in one form or another have existed since human beings began keeping records. Moderated by Emily Senay, M.D., preventive medicine physician and assistant professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the event opened with an overview of the origins and evolution of psychedelics and how they affect the brain.

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Moderator Emily Senay speaking with the four expert panelists. Photo courtesy of World Science Festival.

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#WSF19: Risk-Taking in Extreme Sports

When we mere mortals watch extreme-sports athletes, many of us wonder: Is the risk worth the reward? What drives these risk-takers to put their lives in danger? Are we wired differently, or is it the culture one grows up in, or both? At Friday night’s World Science Festival event, “Risky-Business: the Evolution of Dangerous Behavior,” the panelists set out to answer these and other questions about human risk-taking.

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From left: David Sloan Wilson, Omer Mei-Dan, Cynthia Thomson, Abigail Marsh, and Bill Weir. Photo courtesy of World Science Festival.

Risk is subjective, agreed the panelists. If an athlete goes through the right training, then the act becomes less risky, said panelist Omer Mei-Dan, an orthopedic surgeon—and BASE jumper (wingsuit flying or parachuting from a fixed structure, often a cliff).

Take Alex Hunnold of the documentary “Free Solo” fame. Hunnold trained for two years before he scaled Yosemite’s 3,000-foot wall of El Capitan without ropes, said Mei-Dan. Now that certainly doesn’t guarantee success, but it did cement a familiarity with the terrain and establish a sense of confidence, he added. Continue reading

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