Archive for November, 2008

Happy Turkey Day!

November 28, 2008

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL OF MY READERS AND THOSE WHO HAVE VISITED THIS SITE THIS YEAR!

MAY THE BREATH BE WITH YOU, YOUR FRIENDS, YOUR FAMIILIES AND ALL THOSE WHO ENCOURAGE YOUR CURIOSITY, YOUR CONFIDENCE, AND YOUR POTENTIAL TO LEARN, TO TRANSFORM, TO HEAL.

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G., Founding Director, The George Greenstein Institute, dedicated to creating a sustainable future by coaching bodies, brains and minds!

Spring Turkey Bot, 1994-1996

Spring Turkey Bot, M.I.T. Research Lab 1994-1996 c.

Core Neuroscience Concepts 7 & 8: The future is in our hands and brains!

November 27, 2008

The Platform: Society for Neuroscience 8 Core Concepts

The Twitter: The Human Brain….it gets curiouser and curiouser!

The Big Idea:  Curiosity is the natural province of the human brain!  

Of the 8 Core Concepts put forward recently by the Society for Neuroscience, Concepts 7 & 8 may be the most important to drive home, not just to kids and teens but to culture changers and thought leaders of any age: What makes these two concepts so special?   Gather for yourself:

7.  The human brain endows us with a natural curiousity to understand how the world works. [Notice it doesn’t say why the world works]

8.  Fundamental discoveries promote healthy living and treatment of disease.

     [http://www.sfn.org/index.cfm?pagename=core_concepts]

For those of you who worship at the temple of the incurious, I guess you can stop reading here.  But if you stay with me, I bet it’s because you, like many of us, wish curiosity would come back into style, not in the form of paparazzi gossip feeders but more in the way of thirst that drives explorers, artists and scientists to wander this earth, striving to reach new vistas of insight and understanding. Those of you who saw the recent Werner Herzog film Encounters at the end of the World, will have an idea what I mean.  Or check out http://www.stellaraxis.com, a stunning project organized by my dear colleague Lita Albuquerque, who like Herzog, received National Science Foundation grants for art and science expeditions to study the biosphere of Antartica.

By emphasizing curiosity as a given condition of the human brain, SfN sets up the logic for neuroscience itself, that is, to pose questions about the very thing that enables us to be curious, i.e., the brain extended by the nervous system.  In a world suffocating with information overload and in a country like the U.S. that has shown venal scepticism towards scientific endeavors, it’s a rare day that we chance to relish scientific achievement.  Still, leaders of SfN assure us that neuroscience is that field that will astonish us with “unexpected discoveries that can benefit humanity.”

A colleague recently wrote of neuroscience as perhaps, the single most creative field study within his lifetime.  Given my reading and in light of conferences I’ve recently attended, I would have to agree: We are witnessing the rapid emergence of a science that overturns some of the fundamental questions of human physiology, psychology and philosophy while bearing out the truth of others. And with that revolution comes the development of new technologies that allow us to penetrate into the mysteries of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, TBI along with a host of other brain and nervous systems disorders!

Of the many disruptions, one of my favorites is the evidence pointing to the neuroplastic ways in which we ourselves can change our brains and transform stress, injury and unhappiness through daily practice of meditation or focused states of attention.

I will return to these subjects as they are at the heart of my mission in setting up this blog along with a new one that will launch in weeks to come!

Stay tuned and for those in the States, I’d like to dedicate this Thanksgiving holiday to all of the researchers, inventors, intellectuals, artists, coaches and teachers who dare to use their curiosity and encourage others to do so!

Happy Turkey Day!  May the Breath Be With You!

Dr. G. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Neuroscience 2008: Let’s Zero in on Core Concepts 4, 5, and 6!

November 26, 2008

The Platform: The Society for Neuroscience: 8 Core Concepts

The Twitter: Hey! Do you know the core concepts of neuroscience?

The Big Idea: Teach 8 core concepts of neuroscience and watch for the tranformation of science and culture at large!

transparent_sfnlogo2As previously noted on this blog, The Society for Neuroscience has a noble vision: Identify 8 core neuroscience concepts, teach those concepts (and related principles) to children and teens and imagine a future redefined by a new and inspired league of young brain scientists. “Life should be so good,” as my grandmother use to say.

For neuroscience to compete with the pop wizardry of computer tech, it will take more than mere naming of concepts. I’ll be on the look out for some nifty interactive gizmos and gadgets, the toys and games that drive the concepts home and park them directly in front of the theater of the young mind. Inventors, designers, artists take note!

Since Core Concepts 1, 2, and 3 have been previously noted or inferred in this blog, (for review see below*), I’d like to comment directly on Core Concepts 4, 5, and 6.

Core Concepts 4, 5, and 6 are particularly interesting for those with general interest in brain matters and brain fitness and for those of us who teach or work in creative fields:

4. Life experiences change the nervous system.

5. Life arises as the brain reasons, plans and solves problems.

6. The brain makes it possible to communicate knowledge through language.

jpuzbaw

O.K., is it me or do other readers detect the over arching “ratio-empirical” bias to these general concepts? Granted they’ve been conceived by scientists for those studying science. But we’re talking about the whole brain and central nervous system, the brain and spine that keeps our heart and liver pumping, that loves, invents games, pretends, dreams, dances, tells stories in pictures, shares feelings with flowers or with something more gross like dumping garbage in your older brother or boyfriend’s bed! I think what we have here is a conflation of brain and mind, especially, the Enlightenment paradigm for the rational, speaking and writing mind.

Core Concept 5 is a case in point: “Intelligence arise as the brain reasons, plans….” Wait! When did the brain suddenly show itself to be adapted only to analytical practices of difference-detecting leading to logic and planning? What happened to the idea of “multiple intelligence” put forward by Harvard prof. Howard Gardner? What about soma-sensory intelligence? Auditory signals? Visual Icons?images1Granted, one needs to read further to discover that Concept 5 includes human perception in the process of arising intelligence, e.g.: “senses, emotions, instincts and remembered experience” are counted as being relevant for information processing. Even consciousness gets its due: “Consciousness depends on the normal activity of the brain.” Fair enough, especially if one is learning about traumatic brain injury and coma.

Yet for those who read deeply into neuroscience literature and into other cultural models of consciousness, remember Gerald Edelman’s argument for the limits of philosophic debate on consciousness. Seems SfN has transgressed the limits and put the question back on the table.

Concept 4 (Life changes the NS): This concept is easier to digest if only due to the increasing press on neuroplasticity. Here we are taught to recognize the interactivity of nature/nurture, to awaken to the role our own lives play in developing nerve cells, to recognize how we affect the health of cells by way of stress and trauma and how we can generate neural growth through our own efforts. A curious notation: “Neuronal death is a natural part of development and aging.” For the anti-aging activists like Aubrey de Grey, this will surely be contested.

And Concept 6? (Communicating knowlege through language) ….What can I say?

Speaking on behalf of the somanauts, artists and designers I’ve taught for over 15 years, I have to wonder where scientists have been during during the culture and cyber wars of the last century? Were they not told of the departmental battles that dared to push “knowledge” and “language” into the larger domains of cultural “meaning” and “sign systems?” Are they simply unaware of pertinent research conducted in fields that stretch from info technology to cultural anthropology?

Allow me then to urge science and all other educators who plan to use the core concepts and who wish to avoid the built in biases, to write to SfN requesting clarification: http:// http://www.sfn.org

Better yet, form study groups and invite a semiotician, a designer, a choreographer, a cultural ethnographer or an intellectual historian — any one who can offer an expanded view of actual brain/mind function in the world!

Finally, I welcome your thoughts and comments and will gladly refer you to texts and topics that unpack these thorny issues. And Look for my comments in days to come on Core Concepts 7 & 8

I remain synaptically yours,

Dr. G. sending breath your way

* Core Concepts 1, 2, 3 (see blogs Nov 17 and 18)

1. The Brain is the body’s most complex organ.

2. Neurons communicate using electrical and chemical signals.

3. Genetically determined circuits are the foundation of the nervous system.

Neuroscience 2008: Expanding Brain Awareness with Core Concepts!

November 24, 2008

The Platform:  Society for Neuroscience: The 8 Core Concepts

The Twitter:  Pssst: The brain is the most complex organ in the human body.

The Big Idea:  If the brain is the body’s most complex organ, bring on the methods of complexity analysis and think neurotechnology!

The frontier of 21st century neuroscience and neurotechnology can be easily likened to cowboy territory — a rough terrain scoped out by outlaws trying to corner a market while sheriffs attempt to create law and order in the bush!

transparent_sfnlogo1In today’s story of the brain, the Society for Neuroscience is that sheriff and the bush of public awareness is as open and dangerous as the wild west!  Founded in 1969 and with a new building in Washington D.C, SfN is becoming more and more poised as thought leader, policy maker and leading political advocate for neuroscientists working in the U.S. and abroad.

At a time when scientific research in the U.S. has been under attack by ideological religious and political arguments (c.f. Sarah Palin’s infamous fruit fly statement), SfN has picked up the banner of public outreach and set about defining the borders of the neuroscience territory.  The first order of business: Establish a set of core concepts and principles for the lay audience, especially for educators teaching science to children and youth at at the K-12 levels (that’s pre-school, primary secondary ed. for our non U.S. readers.)

You can download the concepts at

http://www.sfn.org/index.cfm?pagename=core_concepts

For the neuroleaders, social entrepreneurs and somanauts who follow this blog and for new readers (welcome!), the first concept is worth our attention: [The] Brain is the body’s most complex organ.  [my edit]

Please read on….

*******************************************************************

Let’s look at that modifer “most complex.” Think of it:  complex, as in tough but not impossible to figure out; complex  is in dense, non-linear networks signaling throughout the whole brain, complex as in, ‘gee we need new technology to help us see and recognize the neural patterns that are actually going on in a traumatically injured brain, a dreaming brain, a meditating brain, a brain calculating the high jump or high math!

What I find telling about SfN’s core concepts is this:  By naming the brain as complex, researchers open a door to partnering with biotechnologists and systems analysts to update scientific inquiry.

At the ground level, what does this mean for us?   What’s the take home message here?

To claim the brain as the most complex organ in the body is to insinuate 4 key points:

First, the brain is not structured as a simple pump and valve system, like the heart or the liver.

images1

Rather neuroscientists influenced by infotechnology refer to the brain as a machine and liken it to a computer motherboard. This metaphor works at the micro levels of biotech analysis — neurochemistry — modeled off of closed systems.

images-16

Yet given its neurogenerative and neuroplastic, a.k.a. self-organizing, capabilities, the brain’s own electro-colloidal, anatomical structure begs us to imagine instead, a branching or rhizome system at work.  Here we can learn to picture the neuroplastic growth pattern of the brain!

http://www.neuroscience.cam.ac.uk/directory/profile.php?torstenbossing

Rhizome image, research conducted by Dr. Torsten Bossing

Second, research and solutions will come to us more slowly than we might desire, unless we invest in the policies and creative approaches of educating our children in brain science and complexity studies.

Third, research and solutions depend upon our enthusiastic support of scientific and creative research into technologies designed to address the tough problems of health and aging that face us in societies throughout the world.  Think Star Trek: Resistance is futile.  Step into the flow.

Fourth and finally, social entrepreneurs should be on the lookout for new products, new industries and new eco- economic systems that produce, disseminate and control for the wastes stream of products that transform public awareness of brain training from cradle to senior tennis!  

Points notedWelcome to the 21st century, the age of complex problem solving! 

Please remember to breath (and sleep)!

Dr. G.

P.S.  For a kid’s p.o.v. on brain complexity, check out Dr. Eric Chudler’s terrific site at:

http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/neurok.html 

 

 


Neuroscience 2008: Expanding Brain Awareness

November 23, 2008

The Platform: Neuroscience 2008: Expanding Brain Awareness

The Twitter: ” I’m aware. Are You?” Brain Awareness Week 2009

The Big Idea: Neuroscience 2108: What will we know? How do we get there?

brain-763982-1

To an audience of young neuroscientists and neuro-leaders gathered to learn more about Brain Awareness Week 2009 (March 16-22), incoming Society for Neuroscience President Professor Thomas Carew reminded the group: ‘Neuroscience research rises out of and gives back to the public good.’

However noble (and ethical) the gesture, it seems there’s nothing cooler than studying the very thing that makes us “human.” And as I’ve tried to show over this last year, there are numerous good reasons why anyone living on Planet Earth in 2008 would want to know how a human brain actually works. More intimate with our bodies than our cell phones, more complicated than our laptops, the human brain begs our curiosity, our devoted attention, our awe! It goes without saying that with an average of 100 billion neurons signaling to each other on any given day, and with the prospect of neuroplasticity programmed into each nerve cell, the brain demands a readied corps of impassioned researchers capable and willing to spend hours, days, months and years observing and decoding the complex and emergent system we call
the nervous system.

The Society of Neuroscience and the Dana Alliance have joined forces to lay the foundational grounds for raising that corps by creating Brain Awareness Week, an international, consciousness raising event devoted to inspiring youth of all ages to learn about the science of the brain. To be frank, I have a lot of faith already in the new grad students entering neuroscience labs. As a generation suckled on the Internet and diagnosed en mass with ADD, they self-admittedly bring to the table, a seasoned sense of video gaming, social networking and a pharmaceutically managed skills of focus and attention. You’ll find them scratching their heads, trying to imagine how their parents ever thought the mind was not connected to the body. With their biotechologically retooled focus on neural networks, these future scientists will map the non-linear circuits of the brain with new neuro-infoschematic programs. Turning to the Allen Spine Atlas to which they will likely contribute, the next generation of neuroscientists will uncover the mysteries of how we regenerate neural tissue, of how we heal and walk again.

With 2009 Brain Awareness Week in mind, SfN leaders announced it will be promoting its 8 “Core Concepts.” In this coming week, I will introduce the core concepts as it relates to the concerns of this blog.

In the meantime, please write to me and ask how you and your friends, your network, your school or your organization can create a knock out Brain Awareness campaign for 2009! (No pun intended!)

With all nerve cells firing!

I remain synaptically yours,

Dr. G. sending breath your way!

For futher info:

The Society of Neuroscience <http://www.sfn.org&gt;

The Dana Alliance <http://www.dana.org/brain.aspx&gt;

Neuroscience 2008: We Sleep to Remember!

November 19, 2008

The Twitter: “We remember to sleep so we can sleep to remember!” — William Fishbein

The Big Idea: Sleep is a prime protagonist in the story of neurogenesis!

Sleep. Aaah, what a beautiful thing!

Yet when we mere mortals are deprived of our zzzzss, we get cranky and frustrated, if not downright nasty in negotiating simple tasks like adding numbers on a grocery bill or attempting to avoid freeway gridlock by rerouting a shorter drive home! Talking to a local Starbucks barista, I learned having no sleep is “way worse than getting sick!”

I’m not sure researchers at Neuroscience 2008 have tackled the nuances of that claim, but of those who are working in the sleep research field, sleep in all of its blessed and disturbed varieties –uninterrupted, interrupted, fragmented – along with napping, is being explored with new enthusiasm.

Looking back on his long career in sleep research, William Fishbein at City University in NY, remarked how far and expanded the field of sleep research had become. Speaking on a press panel of distinguished sleep researchers, Fishbein presented data that pointed up to our neuro-cognitive need for naps. What do naps actually accomplish? Fishbein and colleagues showed that a snooze siesta reinforces the neural networks formed during morning hours devoted to relational (or associative) learning!

As previously reported on this blogsite, napping has moved front and center into the discussion of high performance and human productivity. Fishbein’s research adds to the richly layered network of findings that suggest memory, decision-making, rote skill performance and the substrate of neurogenesis are enhanced with a rested brain, depleted with a tired brain.

The take home message? Sleep, like oxygen, is necessary for growth and survival of the human brain/body on Planet Earth!

Reporting from D.C. this is Dr. G. wishing you an uninterrupted good night’s rest.

Neuroscience 2008: Nature/Nuture and Neuro-Plasticity!

November 18, 2008

The Twitter Nurture your Nature!

The Big Idea: Neuro-Plasticity is critical to neurogenesis (But when and how?)

Allow me to start with a question:  How many of you really believe that “exercise” can change your brain?  How many of you have already adapted yourselves to a non-fast food diet of low fat, low sugar, low volume eating lifestyle? And how many of you take a nap to replenish memory of all those nifty concepts and technical skills you learned in the early a.m.?

Well if you were a fly on the wall in any of the Neuroscience 2008 sessions (rather than submitted to a lab of brain probe research!), you would detect a consistent pattern in neuroscience research: Nature and Nurture are inextricably linked — so much so as to push us to think why did we ever think otherwise? Or to put it another way, news from the brain labs reinforces what we’ve learned from cardiac research and training grounds, namely: Lifestyle can make or break one’s future in obtaining a clear mind and good and healthy longevity!

Having the opportunity to meet and listen to neuroscientists who are paving the way to our understanding of both the normal and diseased brain and body has pointed up to some insights worth sharing:

1. Scaling the practice of Brain Mapping:  When it comes to neuroscience as a research area of biotechnology, the bio here means both neuroanatomical, neurochemical and neurogenetic levels of inquiry and analysis.  For the lay reader, this means brain research is scaled and mapped from the macro to the micro levels of network analysis.

2.  Neuro-Plasticity, like comedy is all about timing! Different levels of circuit analysis open doors to understanding the phenomenon of neuro-plasticity — best periods, best practices, and the conditions when “too much plasticity” appears implicated as in cases of schizophrenia.   Given the trendiness that has brought neuro-plasticity into critical mass awareness, scientists at this conference were quite clear if not humble in making claims for the play-doh capacity of the brain.  Today’s press conference on the developing brain drove home this message in this way:

Animal studies, such as the songbird studies run by Dr. Allison Doupe (see previous blog), point to a critical period for neuro-plasticity to express itself in learning and memory.

Dr. Takao Hench* reinforces Doupe’s perspective, noting if the critical period is disturbed in embryonic development, then plasticity is interrupted.   Hench studies proteins in embryonic head development, finding their importance in developing visual function and spinal chord development.

No doubt, the evidence for embryonic and childhood neuro-plasticity opens new doors to asking how and when new neuronal landscapes are formed in later periods of life.  The aging brain question on the table?  Does the brain recapitulate earlier strategies for neuroplasticity in the adult stage and to what degree?  (All you meditators out there: Think cultivating beginner’s mind.)

3.  Nurture your Nature: With the advent of genetics,  neuroscience has leaped into a new age of epigenetic studies:  This may be one of the areas that speaks directly to how we as non-scientists can make sense of brain science in terms of our own daily lives.   To give you a quick brief, think of the old nature/nurture argument, seemingly put to rest by the genome mapping project and the insights scientists have had regarding the role “environment” plays in shaping the genetic expression.

At Neuroscience 2008, several scientists were on hand to discuss their epigenetic research highlighting the effects of lifestyle and cultural habit on the brain as seen at the level of genetic expression.  Let’s be clear here, the expression is not seen at the level of change in DNA structure but in the level of “gene expression.”  For you genomic neophytes out there, I came to understand this by way of a great explanation offered by Dr. Quincy LaPlant who noted his use of microray analysis to distinguish between DNA sequence and sequence organization.

The long and short of this:  The implications of lifestyle cannot be under-estimated:  Stress, early childhood abuse and neglect, high-fat diets all manifest as modifers the brain at the level of genetic organization, the level of brain function, and the level of human experience!!!!!

Epigenetics — keep your eye on that term!

More tomorrow….

Until then, conference tip for brain fitness:  “We remember to sleep so that we can sleep to remember!” (William Fishbein)

*Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard University

Neuroscience 2008: Detecting Neural Networks

November 18, 2008

Day 4 of this mega conference (and that’s not counting the week prior of workshops and pre-con lectures!)

In light of the question I posed yesterday regarding the introduction of network theory into neuroscience:

alzheimer-0709

Schematic of Alzheimer brain, Stanford U Med online

The answer:  Neuroscientists appear to point to their own history as well to the onset of computational and imaging technology.  As was noted in a press conference on brain development, the ground zero thinking starts with the 19th century work of Spanish anatomist Ramon y Cahal who first raised the issue of how should one study the brain?:  Whether in terms of localization of brain anatomy and function or exploring the relations throughout brain mass or what we might call, the brain matrix?

As James Marshel of UC San Diego pointed out, computational biotechnology has brought Cahal’s early network theory into the 21st century.   As this conference makes patently clear, what we have learned about the networks involved in developing and maintaining the human brain and central nervous system has been made possible by way of PET, FMRI, EEG and increasingly more refined circuit reading platforms.

pic_brainmapping

Brain with Alzheimer pattern, sla.org dbio divison

For 21st thought leaders and change agents working throughout the world, this news is both exciting and reassuring:  With a systems or network approach to mapping brain anatomy and physiology, the levels of interconnectedness between the macro and the micro, between social and digital networks of information flow can now be associated in some manner with networks of brain function.

This association may best be understood in this conference in terms of “epigenetics.

to be continued…..

Racing,

Dr. G.

Neuroscience 2008: What’s Hot, What’s Not!

November 17, 2008

A quick post during a simulated lunch break:

What’s hot at Neuroscience 2008? Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll.

Let’s decode the ’60’s motif in terms of 21st century interests:

Sex: Neuroscientists are busy looking at neuropeptides and their effects on mating and long term animal bonding and attachment practices. It seems oxytocin and vasopressin release in small animals (voles) point up to “social” practices of trust and the sticky principle of alliance! Monogamy seems to trump extra “marital” wandering at the neurochemical level of animal behavior!

Voles in Love! Illustration by Dugland Stermer for TIME 2008

Voles in Love! Illustration by Dugland Stermer for TIME 2008

Drugs: In light of the toll drug abuse takes on human life and society, neuroscientists are conducting a large array of cortical studies that show the epigenetic and neurochemical factors that show up in drug addiction. There have been some pretty fascinating presentations, noting the “circuitry” of addiction cycles in mice and rats in administered and self-administered rodent trials. The drug of choice: Cocaine…. Food for thought: Jane Taylor of Yale mentioned a comparative study of cortical damage shown in cases of drug addiction and in cases of brain lesions.

Rock n’ Roll: The coupling of genetics and neurochemistry is producing new understandings of factors contributing to loss of motor control and imbalance. Of the several diseases that affect sensori – motor circuitry, Parkinson’s Disease has figured strongly in this conference, highlighted best by the conference organizers bringing in choreographer Mark Morris to teach neuroscientists about his movement classes for Parkinson’s patients! For the somanauts reading this blog, it’s worth noting as well, a presentation by Dr. Kadivar at Louisiana State U, noting the success of theraputic intervention in Parkinson’s patients through the use of auditory, rhythmic beats to stimulate patient walking!

Given the slow, arduous nature of scientific studies and rigor with which the outcome of studies is handled in the public sphere, it’s clear that in the vast universe of brain and central nervous system exploration, certain topics of study push the hot button of funding interests and social concerns. Joining bonding, addiction and disturbed sensor motor control in the 2008 topics list, one finds Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury, Neuroplasticity (in the Sensory and Prefrontal Cortex), and of course, the technologies that advance and afford the imaging and computation of norms and disturbances in all brain functions, namely the frontier fields of Neuroinfomatics.

images-15

With an eye on the technologies that afford us new possibilities of inquiry of time/space correlates in brain function, I’m happy to report there have been focused sessions on neuroinfomatics and neurotechnology — including new schematic imaging projects like the Brain Navigator project produced by Elsevier (a publishing group based in Amsterdam) in partnership with the Seattle based Allen Institute for Brain Science — the same center whose spinal cord atlas project was previously mentioned on this site.

The take home message: New and Better Maps show more of the territory!

Synaptically yours!

Dr. G.

Neuroscience 2008: The map is the territory…at least for now.

November 17, 2008

The Platform: Neuroscience 2008, Washington D.C., Convention Center, Day 2

The Twitter: Systems analysis comes to Neuroscience!

The Big Idea: Brain Maps and Brain Circuits Open the Doors to Studies in Neuroplasticity!

If there is a primary metaphor, a picture which best communicates the paradigm shift in neuroscience, it is the image of “mapping.” Makes sense, right? Maps, as we all know, hail back to some of the earliest days of navigational science, when cartography was as much a visual art as an artifact of empirical science.

old_world_map_21

Today, mapping along with circuits, networks, and other info-tech terms have entered the lexicon of neuroscientific thinking — and to that end, has in part redefined how neuroscientists study the neurogenetic and neurochemical operations of the brain. No doubt, the cyberpunks and digerati reading this blog do so in complete and utter wonder. Yes, it seems a collective head scratching is in order when putting the neuroscience paradigm shift in context to the cybernetic revolution named nearly sixty or so years prior. Then again, as historian Thomas Kuhn reminds us, glacial is the speed of great scientific revolutions.

sfnphoto2Surveying the mob scene at Neuroscience 2008 and listening to some of the symposia lectures, I suspect the shift has come with a generation of researchers who grew up on Atari and first generation X Boxes, who have played with “code” on Second Life, or who have picked up a thing or two from grad students who majored in 3-D modeling before they decided to switch to neuroscience. It might also be the case that the cognitive systems science work of Maturana and Varela, the Neural Darwinist writings of Gerald Edelman and new biotech imaging tools have made their way into labs throughout the world. These are questions I will pose to the scientists and doctoral students during the next two days.

In the meantime, under the clear, shining light of brain circuit mapping, “epigenetics” and “neuroplasticity” have taken center stage in neurodevelopmental and neurochemical studies. There were some like Zack Lynch of NIO* who questioned a round table discussion of NIH directors regarding the future of government funding to these studies. Dr. Nora Volkow of the NIH Drug Abuse program was one who offered a particularly optimistic view stating, ‘Epigenetic evidence opens the doors to future studies in neuroplasticity’ — studies that can unlock the mysteries of how human experience actually modifies and shapes the genetic markers of brain development.

Yes, gang, it’s “the brain creates culture, culture creates the brain” argument rethought in neurogenetic and neurochemical terms. Seems we are back to talking about nature/nature once more.

I leave with one thought on brain mapping, rethinking the words of American philosopher Josiah Royce who is quoted as saying, “The map is not the territory.”

Well, at Neuroscience 2008, the map is the territory, at least for now.

From D.C. this is Dr. G, wish you good neural networking!

*Neurotechnology Industry Organization

Neuroscience 2008 descends on D.C.!

November 16, 2008

The Platform: NEUROSCIENCE 2008, Convention Center, Washington D.C.

The Twitter: How many neuroscientists does it take to put in a light bulb?

The Big Idea: The future of neuroscience lays in the hands of youth.

Intense? Immersive? An Indeterminate Neural Network? Making it through a crowd of over 30,000 people, and a four day roster that includes symposia, mini symposia, keynote lectures, satellite events and over a 1000 poster and slides sessions, does, as one AI scientist once remarked, separate the human from the robot.

And it is that extraordinary navigational capacity of human intelligence and specifically, the human brain, along with a whole host of questions about the brain that has drawn neuroscientists young and old to the rainy U.S. capital, to share their research, update their brains and discuss the future of advocating brain awareness at NEUROSCIENCE 2008!images-21

With neuroscience becoming the seductive frontier of 21st century biological, medical and cognitive science study, as well as the field of promising and lucrative applied biotechnologies, NEUROSCIENCE 2008 is the brain child of the Society for Neuroscience, a dedicated group of scientists that has grown in membership and in sensibility regarding the role they play in developing allied research, public policy and K-12 education where the brain is concerned.

For the lay public, the hard science description of pain-staking empirical studies is enough to send the unitiated back to talking about Leggos, Pac-Man and 7th grade science fair. Yet as inimitable choreographer Mark Morris was apt to point out to the audience during the opening Keynote discussion, “the problem of talking about what’s going on in the brain, is not mine but yours!”

Mark Morris

Mark Morris

It was rather confirming for yours truly, to find the president of SFN, who researches rhythm, choosing the once bad boy post modern choreographer to open the annual meeting. The brain is, after all, in a body, and from the sessions I attended today, it seems more and more scientists are reading to point to roles experiment and experience play in shaping neural growth and visa versa. And yet, the questions put to Morris suggest that scientists might want to do more dancing or as Morris reminded them, “more skipping,” if they want to study the choreographic corellates in the somasensory cortex. Morris, a performing artist known for his love and sensitivity to the musicality of dancing, and now for his work with Parkinson’s disease, drove home the message of using somatic intelligence: ‘It’s not something that abstact, like thinking, “now this left foot, on this second beat.” It’s more like: “Here… Now.”‘

I must admit, the rudimentary science questions put to Morris pointed up to the old C.P. Snow two culture divide, pitting science and art against each other like political foes. I for one, was rather shocked by the retro p.o.v. pervading much of the scientific thinking, signaling a real gap in the education of scientists regarding the “research” conducted by somanauts like performing artists and athletes. Then again, Morris, the uber cosmopolitan, had no better understanding of the science of brain/mind/body connectivity. Sigh.

a1252_11The afternoon Presidential lecture given by Dr. Allison Doupe offered a different picture of art and science. Doupe gave an exquisite talk on the pattern recognition capacities of songbirds, and posed the question: ‘What can we can we learn about neural basis of “vocal” practices as distinct from performances? How does the nervous system mediate behavior?’

A terrific speaker, poised and passionate, Doupe’s research pointed to several neural circuits that appear to operate in directing the process of learning a new pattern of sound, practicing the new pattern, and performing it to accomplish a “salient” goal, in the case of songbirds, a male finch courting a female.

My favorite Doupe image? The one that showed how courting performance showed little randomness in pattern generation! The take home message? Forget the creativity bud. If ya want the girl, just sing the damn song!

Leaving some of us to ponder the implications of romantic innovation, Doupe’s lecture did reinforce one of the key ideas and metaphors, surfacing in the language of neuroscientists presenting at this conference: the role of pattern recognition and neural mapping in development and learning.

More tomorrow!

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.

Off to Neuroscience 2008!

November 13, 2008

Greeting Somanauts!

I’m off to Neuroscience 2008 where I will spend 4 days with ear and brain to the ground, wall and any other surface that is vibrating with news from the international neuroscience research field!  Thirty thousand scientists, neuronauts and neuroleaders are expected — that’s right, nearly 30,000 brains that have devoted hours of “attention density” to the frontier of neuroscience and neuroscience education. Talk about wattage!!!!transparent_sfnlogo

 

Due to an “embargo” placed on writing before the official press conferences, I will start posting formal review starting Sept 18.  

However, do look for my tweeters now and then.

Speaking of attention density, other news:   SpaceSuit Yoga Advocates the MindBody Project:

With Obama speaking directly to our broken health care system,  BrainMindBody health advocacy groups are organizing to create an ‘Educate Obama‘ campaign.  

Please Join me and others to inform our visionary President Elect and his transition team on the remarkable research in NeuroSomatic Health Practices, namely, the empirical research and education projects in brain/mind/body integration that point to the interrelation of 

increasing stress and rising health costs.

and

decreasing stress and lowering of health costs.

Below are two links for joining the effort of a media campaign to awaken our new American leaders to the benefits of preventative medicine:  This from a letter sent by http://www.worldtaichiday.org/

To Obama and Team:

The Obama Transition Team Site’s Contact Page is: http://change.gov/page/s/contact

A sample intro:

WHY IS STRESS AN INCREASING PROBLEM?

Bill Joy, the Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems estimates that the speed of change is doubling exponentially every 18 months, and the speed of change will only increase in coming months, years, and decades. Change is stressful, even good change.

The change we have faced is daunting, but nothing compared to the next generation’s challenges of managing the stress of accelerating change.

It is in our interest to provide stress management achieving mind/body tools to adults, but particularly to the new generation(s), because their accumulating unmanaged stress of today, will translate into trillions of dollars of health costs in years to come.

To Incoming Medical and Education Officials:

Go to the web page below and print out 3 copies of the form letter. Send a postal mail to the incoming Secretary of Health, the Secretary of Education, and the incoming Surgeon General, to arrive on their desk when they take office on January 20th.

http://www.worldtaichiday.org and follow the links to MEDICAL RESEARCH and EDUCATION PROJECTS!

As always, may the breath be with you!

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.

What Do Michael Phelps and Jill Bolte Taylor Have in Common?

November 5, 2008

NeuroLeadership!!

I pose this comparative think as today, a very special day in the U.S., when we pick our nation’s leader to take us forward into this new century, I look back over the last year’s responses to SpaceSuit Yoga.com and marvel at the interest that Michael Phelps and Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor have stirred within the online community! In light of the press and audience commentary that covers these two American heroes, I have no problem nominating both Phelps and Dr. Taylor as role models for neuro-leadership.

That’s right, if one takes the premise and profile of neuro-leadership put forward in recent NY and Sydney NeuroLeadership Summits (and as reported on this website), both Phelps and Dr. Taylor model the behavior of one who achieves success by way of brain-based approaches to problem solving, especially in two ways:

1) the rigorous, consistent use of attention to problem-solving by means of task-oriented solutions;

2) the generous offering of themselves as motivational coaches in the service of others.

images-2In the case of Phelps’s winning 8 gold Olympic medals, we witnessed en mass, the results of his paying close attention to all that is required of a star Olympic swimmer, namely,

a) consistent refinement and improvement of his strokes by invoking attention to spatio-temporal agility,

b) highly motivated, goal focused projection of his human energy, and

c) a keen and consistent application of attention to all that it takes to fuel a body to move in pool water like a great Mako shark!

jr_news_taylor_0501z1In the case of Dr. Taylor, who suffered and survived quite nicely, a severe stroke in her left hemisphere, we learn the key lesson through her various online and offline modes of presentation (all previously mentioned on this blog): Regaining access to speech and to Prefrontal Cortex executive functions (analysis, judgment, decision-making) required a kind of Olympic style commitment to “paying attention” to re-learning vowels and consonants, to being able to conceptually distinguish and label right from left.

As Jeffrey Schwartz outlined clearly on the first night of the NeuroLeadership Summit and again throughout the whole of the summit proceedings, “attention density” is that key to changing the brain and thus the very conditions and propensities if you will, of our individual body/mind. And as David Rock was apt to point out, if attention is the protagonist in our mental theater, insight is that beautiful arc we reach as we crystallize evanscent images and thoughts.

The story of Phelp’s prep for Olympic spectacle, the drama of Taylor’s enlightenment — each make for a powerful tutorial on leadership development in training. As for generosity in the service of others, it is clear by their mutual willingness to take their insights and transform them into tools for educating and possibly saving the lives of others, Michael Phelps and Jill Bolte Taylor visualize for all of us the continuum of human excellence in learning and performance.

My SpaceSuit Yoga questions to you dear somanauts, are this:

First, “If you could learn anything about the human brain, about your own human brain, what would you like to know and what would you do with that information?”

Second, “How do you practice “paying attention?”

I welcome your responses and comments. And please know that in the coming months, my institute will be offering special “attention and awareness” training sessions for private individuals and those developing leadership.

As always, May the Breath Be With You!

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.

P.S. At the time of writing this, it appears Barack Obama has been named President-Elect of the U.S.A.! Talk about attention density and generosity in the service of others!


NeuroLeadership Summit 2008: The Implications of Applied Neuroscience to Training Leadership

November 1, 2008

The Platform: NeuroLeadership Summit 2008, Day 2, afternoon proceedings
The Twitter: Changing brains, changing culture, one thought leader at a time!
The Big Idea: Brain-Based Coaching facing its own new frontier!


When the functional anatomy of the brain and the central nervous system was first studied by Dr. Thomas Willis (a student of the empiricist John Locke), the intellectual mindset of 18th century British society was hardly ready to think in terms of broad evolutionary and developmental change when it comes to brain/mind relations. After all, the radical ideas of Darwinian genetics and Freudian psychoanalysis wouldn’t surface until a century later and the modern models of cognition, emotional intelligence and creative problem solving would have to wait for the information age to come about.

With history as a backdrop, the afternoon of the NeuroLeadership Summit (Day 2) focused broadly and deeply on the frontier of neuroleadership. Like any pioneer in applied science, brain-based coaches and thought leaders must face the big question:

What are the implications of bringing neuroscience to bear on the culture of leadership practiced around the globe?

Lunchtime keynote speaker Dr. Karen Stephenson penetrated the issue by zeroing in on the subtle and insidious problems that plague executive communication practices: “What can neuroscience study tell us about the brain-dynamics of “trust”?, Stephenson asks. As an anthropologist and noted “pioneer” in social network approaches to advancing corporate culture, Stephenson illustrated the large gap in understanding how “trust” figures into executive communication patterns by comparatively looking at other social networks flowing underneath the radar of top-down corporate speak.

Stephenson, in other words, did not offer a neuro-anthropological view but rather brought the topic of social systems analysis to bear on the discussion of applied neuroscience. And Stephenson was not alone. Culturally sensitive systems thinking pervaded Dr. Brent Oberholtzer’s commentary on international consulting, especially in cases where U.S. companies set up shop in cultures with remarkably different epistemic values in problem-solving. Given the decades of culture wars and post-colonial critique leveled against Western Civ., and in light of the burgeoning of the Asian market, one really starts to wonder if the brains of American business leaders are just stuck in the neurochemical default mode: FEAR.

Rethinking the paradigm and strategies of “executive talent management” thus requires time and money and in the world of coaching, scalable, verifiable, cost-effective strategies can easily guarantee a coaching account. R. Scott Ridley at American Express and Christine Williams at NASA offered choice commentary on the positive effects of “brain-based” coaching in their respective leadership development programs: Each cited the cost efficiency of coaching with neuroscience fully in mind. As Williams noted, simply educating NASA scientists in the basics of neuroscience gives them a verifiable template for reframing pleasure, pain, and fear. By bringing in one hard science to bear on another, it maximizes the potential for self-awareness and “insight” in a non-threatening manner, and in the end. teaches leaders to lead by coaching!

The Take Home Message for Day 2: In Brain-Based Coaching, there are specific means to specific ends.

David Rock, reflecting upon his brand of brain-based coaching (there are others as this blog itself suggests), closed the session with a manifesto for establishing the scientific ground and rhetorical logic of a brain-based coaching practice. As one who clearly and passionately walks his talk, Rock, the visionary thought leader recognizes the pitfalls of developing a new field. His buzz words? “Remove Redundancy!“Maximize Efficiency and Interactivity!” “Create Sustainability!” As the two day conference revealed, the semantics of quantum physics, systems analysis, information processing and most of all the neuroscience insights into cultivating emotional intelligence by means of mindfulness practice pervade Rock’s paradigmatic thinking about coaching a new generation of leaders.

As the founding director of the GGI, an institute ground on remarkably similar values, I am moved to have discovered a kindred spirit who brilliantly and generously lights the way for others.

A Rock caveat: Teaching the skill of “reappraisal,” and helping people cultivate “insight” speaks to the core logic of the neuroleadership coaching narrative. And yet the two neuro-ed-psych motifs may be the only piece of leadership training that can stick in corporate culture at this time. “Self-awareness,” after all, is “unbelievably hard to improve” amongst corporate leaders.

Well, as the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And as it was noted in passing during the summit proceedings, the story of the neuroscience is ironically implicated in the fall of the Roman Empire. The culprit? Environmental lead poisoning in the brain.

Ah…. the interdependency of all things.

Synaptically and Mindfully yours,

Dr. G.!