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Super-Organic Evolution: Nature and the Social Problem

[ 0 ] June 2, 2015

11335 (1)In 1905, the year before his Nobel Prize, “the father of modern neuroscience” Santiago Ramón y Cajal became more outspoken about his socialist views. Perhaps this was because of the brief rule of the liberal party in Spain, led by Segismundo Moret, who would offer Cajal the position of Minister of Public Instruction (the famous scientist declined). After twenty years, Cajal released a collection of short stories called Cuentos de vacaciones, which has been translated by Emory University scholar Laura Otis as Vacation Stories. Some of the characters depict greedy characters who torment others. Indeed, Cajal expressed a hatred for people who sought only capital, the lazy aristocracy. In his preface to a book called Super-Organic Evolution: Nature and the Social Order, written by the philosopher Enrique Lluria (who also wrote “Humanity of the Future”) and re-published by Forgotten Books, which brings hard-to-find original books from before 1923 back into print at reasonable prices, Cajal talks about how far humankind has strayed from evolutionary laws. The world is unjust, and only the brain, through its discoveries in science, can return us to equilibrium. His vision is prescient. As always, he is at his best when describing the brain:

 

Our mind is nourished on waves gathered from all parts of the cosmos, and its principal mission consists in classifying, combining, and reflecting them, with reference to their origin. Perceptions, ideas, the spoken word, even muscular contraction, what are they, in their ultimate analysis, but palpitations of heat, of light, of chemical energy, of electricity, etc., transformed, refined, and converted into other palpitations more subtle and spiritual? Like a lens of singular virtue and power, our nervous system gathers all the noises and minute tremblings in the world, in order to concentrate them, now in the splendid form of an idea, now in the flame of will and of passion.

Ted Chiang

[ 1 ] May 29, 2015

imgresWhen I first became interested in neuroscience, someone sent me a science-fiction story about a scientists who dissects his own brain. In “Exhalation,” by Ted Chiang, brains are made of gold leaf, and the prevailing theory of memory holds that our experiences are engraved on these sheets. The narrator of the story reveals that soon there will be no consciousness, due to a lack of air pressure that needs to flutter through the brain, and he is writing a testament for other inhabitants of the universe—us—to find. “Through the act of reading my words,” he writes, “the patterns that form your thoughts become an imitation of the patterns that once formed mine. And in that way I live again, through you.” Chiang’s collection Story of Your Life is definitely worth reading; the title story, in which a narrator weaves together the birth and death of her daughter together with the visit of an alien race whose unique language reflects their simultaneous sense of time, is almost a masterpiece. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker are attached to the film project, which sold at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival to Paramount Pictures and is expected to release in 2016, directed by Dennis Villanueve.

 

“Bad Poetry Disguised as Science”

[ 0 ] May 28, 2015
Image credit: Peter Gamlen for The Guardian

Image credit: Peter Gamlen for The Guardian

Nautilus has a fascinating article about the psychologist Julian Jaynes, author of the influential cult classic The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In it, he argues that ancient peoples were not conscious; one half of their mind spoke to the other with ugidance in the voice of the gods until about 3000 years ago, when self-awareness emerged. Jaynes conducted animal behavior research as a graduate student at Yale before moving to England to become a playwright and actor. “O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences,” his only book begins, “this insubstantial country of the mind!” Jaynes’ theory treats consciousness as a cultural rather than biological phenomenon, which is not a popular view these days. However, more than one neuroscientist that I know has cited Julian Jaynes and his The Origin of Consciousness as an inspiration for entering the field.

Happy Birthday, Cajal!

[ 0 ] May 1, 2015

Happy Birthday to Santiago Ramón y Cajal, “the father of modern neuroscience,” who would be 163 today. Cajal was born in Petilla de Aragón, a tiny village high in the mountains of northern Spain. On this same date, when he turned 36, Cajal declared the independence of the nerve cell in his self-published journal Revista Trimestral de Histología normal y patológia. (Images courtesy of the Cajal Institute in Madrid.)

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SciArt in America

[ 0 ] April 27, 2015

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For those of you who haven’t heard of SciArt in America, a new organization founded by Julia Buntaine, check it out! They have a magazine (submit to their Flash Fiction contest) and put on events based in New York City.

Book Spinal Nervous Systems

[ 0 ] March 13, 2015

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by the artist Barbara Wildenboer
(via Paris Review Daily and Colossal)
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