"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Monday, January 31, 2005


No, not that kind (though it'd be nice). I mean, in the brain. One of the (apparently infinite) most interesting things about neuroscience is how things - knowledge, sensory information, memories, etc. - are represented in the brain by electrical and chemical impulses. There are many, many theories, and all kinds of questions. Two recent studies may help shed light on very different aspects of this area.

First, a study of a blind artist. There was a funny scene in John Waters' Pecker with a blind photographer, who "feels" his photographs, and the Artistes love him, but his stuff is crap. In the 'real world' (whatever that means!), we have a middle-aged Turkish man named Esref Armagan, who has been blind since birth. He paints gorgeous sunsets, scenes, and pastorals, getting colors and shadows and perspectives all brilliantly, as if he can "see" them. The question is, can he? To explore the answer, he came to America to do some drawings in a brain-scanner, and doctors find that he 'sees' objects in his brain just as a sighted person would do. These results suggest that, for the purposes of day to day life - walking around, recognizing an old friend from a distance, watching TV - he is blind, but for purposes of his paintings and drawings, he can see just fine. I would love to see his IQ scores...I bet they're off the charts with a memory like that, etc.

Leaving art entirely behind, our second study examines grammar. In English, prepositions have very different meanings in different contexts. The difference is so subtle here: not like a word that can be a noun or verb - run, park, crash, slide - the word remains the same part of speech, but has totally different use: "Around the corner" versus "Around three o'clock," etc. So, researchers examined stroke patients with brain damage. They found that processing of the two uses, spatial and temporal, were independent. So cool.

I was with Esref during his time at Harvard, translating and guiding. When the Harvard profs. finally come out with the study in a scientific journal, many questions will be answered and many more asked.
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