“Intelligent Nightlife” and The Time Traveling Brain

Guest post by Brandon Barrera

talksprogressadministration_caveat

Image: Caveat

The night promises to unfurl a bit of mystery. A cryptic figure tells us there has been a crime–sort of. We will come to learn that there is, indeed, a victim but the crime is not one in the traditional sense. The crime scene is the brain and episodic memory-loss the perpetrator. We’re told that with a little sleuthing, we can get closer to the truth.

This dramatic performance is the Mark Kennedy-McClellan directed “The Talks Progress Administration: The Time Traveling Brain,” a staged talk brought to life at Caveat in New York City on Tuesday. One of many events showcased during Brain Awareness Week (BAW), the piece feels similar to a long form TED talk, mixed-in with interactive story-telling. Our narrator frequently steps off-stage and into her “lab” (see: audience) to ask questions about breakfast, to squirrel away treats among audience members, and even hand out glowsticks. All done in the name of science, to be sure, and it’s effective in creating fun, illuminating narration.

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Summer Reading List: Brain Books

As someone who recently finished the latest Dan Brown book, I understand the entertainment value of a fluff read–particularly when on vacation. But as the Fourth approaches and many of you look forward to beach getaways or some down-time in the back yard, consider reading one of the brain-related books recently published by our Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI) members. You’ll certainly learn something and your friends are sure to be impressed.

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H.M.’s brain: part of a good month for memory

As December began we reported
on the imminent sectioning of the brain of Henry Molaison, or H.M., whose inability
to form new memories has fascinated neuroscientists for decades. Many other
articles, both about H.M. specifically and memory more generally, have appeared
in the weeks since the sectioning.

Dana’s Brain
in the News
advisor, Guy McKhann, made H.M. the subject of his December
commentary
. McKhann provides a neuroscientist’s first-person perspective on
why the continuing study of Molaison’s brain is important.

In addition to the San
Diego Union-Tribune
article
we mentioned in our initial coverage, the Hartford
Courant
published an in-depth
piece
about Molaison on Nov. 29. On Dec. 4, after the sectioning had begun,
a public radio program in San Diego featured a conversation
with researcher Jacopo Annese of the University of California, San Diego (who
was in charge of the sectioning) and Dana Alliance member Suzanne Corkin of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (who studied Molaison extensively during
his life and wrote
briefly about him in a 2008 Cerebrum book review). CNN also posted a story
that day about Molaison.

Just this week, the New
York Times
published
a piece
that focuses less on Molaison and more on the dissection technique,
which resulted in about 2,500 paper-thin slices of the brain. The scientists in
charge plan to extend the process to many other donated brains, both normal and
abnormal, and put up digital reproductions of slices online for access by
researchers worldwide. This combination of precision and accessibility should
open new doors in the study of brain anatomy, the researchers say.

And what of memory in general? This past week, Canada’s National Post has run a series of
well-thought-out articles
that delve deeply into the subject, with a couple
of passing mentions of H.M. but a much broader approach; first on the list is “Is [Memory] What
Makes Us Human?”
A related podcast
features an interview with the author of the series, Joseph Brean.

-Dan Gordon

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