A Times Trifecta

Well, actually a double trifecta. The Science and the Health sections online (Tuesday publication) are all neuroanthropolicious.

John Schwartz’s article The Body in Depth covers the work of David Bassett, professor of anatomy and dissection. Even better, we get an online sampling of his dissections on human cadavers, Body Works but without the hype. eHuman will have the entire Bassett collection online (pay to download), with a sample and some accompanying audio here.

Christine Kenneally writes When Language Can Hold the Answer, describing a new way to the old Sapir-Whorf debate: “In stark form, the debate was: Does language shape what we perceive, a position associated with the late Benjamin Lee Whorf, or are our perceptions pure sensory impressions, immune to the arbitrary ways that language carves up the world?” Kenneally points to the role of objects, to brain function and color perception, and spatial processing as new ways to attack the old debate. One nice quote: “By giving us a framework for marshaling our thoughts, language does a lot for us,” Professor Gentner said. “Because spatial language gives us symbols for spatial patterns, it helps us carve up the world in specific ways.”

John Tierney’s piece This Time He’ll Be Breathless covers the magician David Blaine’s physical and mental training in his soon-to-be-successful attempt to break the world record for holding one’s breath. Even without moving and having breathed pure oxygen, 16 minutes sounds like a lot to me! Tierney describes well the mental approach and the embodied expertise, familiar themes for this blog, in accomplishing such a feat.

At 60, He Learned to Sing So He Could Talk is a great story by Karen Barrow on Harvey Atler’s recovery from a stroke. Using “melodic intonation therapy,” Atler learned to draw on the language/musical parts of his right brain after damage to the Broca area in his left hemisphere. In other words, singing helps the brain adapt after a stroke, recapturing language skills.

Barron Lerner, an MD, has his essay, At Bedside, Stay Stoic or Display Emotions? A reflection on the display of emotion by doctors, and whether this is appropriate for a doctor or a patient. One gets the sense that Dr. Lerner, despite his personality and “being a man,” wishes that he too could have cried once or twice in front of a patient.

Finally, Dena Ferkin, also an MD, relates the case of a successful kidney transplant, and its subsequent failure, in A Holiday From Illness, All Too Fleeting. Her patient, after waiting years, had a successful transplant. All he had to do was continue to take pills twice a day and he “was free of the four-hour-long dialysis sessions that had been part of his life for years. He could eat and drink whatever he wanted, sleep in instead of going to dialysis in the morning, travel — anything, as long as he took those pills.” But he missed once, felt nothing, liked this other kind from pills and on-going disease, and then felt shame when he started to feel sick again. Most of it came down to one simple, quite common sense thought: “Wasn’t the transplant supposed to make him well?” Meaning matters, doesn’t it?

And a last minute extra, an interview with Daniel Gilbert, The Smiling Professor. After spending a decade studying “how people have the tendency to ignore the power of external situations to determine human behavior,” Gilbert turned to happiness. Some of his best advice? “People have remarkable talent for finding ways to soften the impact of negative events. Thus they mistakenly expect such blows to be much more devastating than they turn out to be.”

2 thoughts on “A Times Trifecta

  1. Carl Zimmer has added a great piece to the mix as well, “Expressing Our Individuality, The Way E. Coli Do.” Even genetically identical E coli are irreducibly individual, a “motley crew of clones.” “Surely, then, E. coli must be all nature and no nurture. A colony descended from a single E. coli ancestor is just a billion identical cousins, all responding to the world with the same set of genes. Yet as plausible as this sounds, it’s far from the truth. A colony of genetically identical E. coli is, in fact, a mob of individuals. Under identical conditions, they will behave in different ways. They have fingerprints of their own.”

    “The key to understanding E. coli’s fingerprints is to recognize that the bacteria are not simple machines. Unlike wires and transistors, E. coli’s molecules are floppy, twitchy and unpredictable. In an electronic device, like a computer or a radio, electrons stream in a steady flow through the machine’s circuits, but the molecules in E. coli jostle and wander. When E. coli begins using a gene to make a protein, it does not produce a smoothly increasing supply. It spurts out the proteins in fits and starts. One clone may produce half a dozen copies of a protein in an hour, while a clone right next to it produces none.”

    “E. coli’s individuality should be a warning to those who would put human nature down to any sort of simple genetic determinism. Living things are more than just programs run by genetic software. Even in minuscule microbes, the same genes and the same genetic network can lead to different fates.”

    Check it out at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/22/health/research/22coli.html?8dpc

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