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Joseph LeDoux: Inside the Brain, Behind the Music, Part 1

[ 10 ] June 29, 2010

Part 1: “Fearing”

In June of 2008, four NYU scientists spent a week in the Hamptons.  The sun shone brightly each day, but we went home paler than when we arrived.  Tyler Volk, Daniela Schiller, Nina Curley and I spent every waking moment possible in a basement. We weren’t doing some arcane experiment that required we be in a dark, dank environment.  You see, we aren’t just four scientists—we are the founding members of the rock band, The Amygdaloids, and we were tracking our second album, Theory of My Mind, in a subterranean recording studio in the home of Ed and Jennifer Brout.

The Amygdaloids' Theory of My Mind

Jen, though a clinical psychologist by training, is also CEO and executive producer of Knock Out Noise, our recoding label. Joining us down under were Tim Sommer (co-executive producer) and Stuart Chatwood, (producer-engineer).  When we emerged after a week of self-imposed isolation and sweaty, round-the-clock rock, we had recoded the basic tracks for 13 songs.  Over the subsequent months we completed the recordings, including adding back up vocals on two tunes by Grammy Award winner Rosanne Cash. Then began the arduous process of getting the record mixed and ready to go. Finally, on June 15, 2010, Theory of My Mind appeared on iTunes.

We Amygdaloids have carved a unique niche out for ourselves—original rock/pop/country songs about love and life peppered with ideas and facts about mind and brain and mental disorders.  This is a theme we started on our first CD, Heavy Mental, released in 2007.

I write most of the music, and I decided I wanted to share some of scientific background and personal inspiration for the songs on Theory of My Mind.  The Beautiful Brain graciously agreed to post my explanations in the form of a running blog.  We’re going to start this series with the third track on the CD, “Fearing,” and then move on to some of the others over the next few weeks.

We chose “Fearing” for this inaugural installment for two reasons.  It is a song that is near and dear to my scientific research, which is all about fear and the brain.  But we also chose “Fearing” because we are releasing a music video of it with the publication of this blog.  The video was written, produced and directed by Noah Hutton, who happens to be the mastermind behind The Beautiful Brain, but who is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker.  We did the “Fearing” video at a farm in the Catskills.  Daniela Schiller, our drummer, and I drove upstate for the weekend and worked with Noah and his partner in video crime, Ben Ehrlich.  The video, like the song, is dark and stark.

The song “Fearing” is an adaptation of poem in a collection called Life by Emily Dickinson.  Legend has it that she was a fearful person who stayed in her home quite a bit.  Her poem is indeed dark, and has a strong sense of dread and anxiety about it.  I took some (not too many) liberties with her words, changing things around a bit, adding lines or phrases here and there, to make them work as a song, but I kept the general structure and feel to the poem.  My main contribution, though, was to compose the music, a minor chord progression with a dirge-like feel that compliments the sense of foreboding that she so effectively created with her well-crafted phrases.

Rather than do a straight music video, Noah and I decided to try something different.  We added short lectures on the psychology and neuroscience of fear in the parts of the song where two guitar solos normally occur.  Thanks to the wonders of modern digital recording technology, we were able, with the help of KON engineer Stuart Chatwood, to mute the lead guitar and create some loops that extended the duration of the space where the solos were located, creating two windows in which to squeeze a 30 sec lecture on the basic functional or psychological aspects of fear and 1 min lecture on the brain mechanisms involved.

The functional part emphasized the fact that fear is the most primitive emotion, and that it exists to help keep organisms alive.  Animals can forego eating, drinking or sex for a long time, but must respond to danger immediately.  All species have pre-programmed ways of dealing with dangers that were routinely encountered by their ancestors on a regular basis.  But most of the things that make us afraid are learned.  This allows us to adapt so that novel dangers encountered today can be responded to tomorrow.  The learning is rapid and the memories created are long-lived. They in fact seem to persist throughout life.  Fears can be reduced in various ways, but even when successfully treated they can always remerge, especially in the fact of stress.

The second, longer lecture focused on the brain mechanisms of fear.  The region of the brain most clearly associated with the fear is the amygdala.  This structure gets its name from the Greek word for almond, a designation that came about because of the shape of one of the amygdala subregions.  Althought the amygdala has a dozen or so divisions, two are especially important for fear.  The lateral nucleus receives inputs about dangerous stimuli and the central nucleus controls the expression of fear responses. The amygdala is also responsible for learning about novel threats and storing the information in a way that allows rapid expression of fear response when the need arises.  This brain area is significantly altered in psychiatric conditions involving fear and anxiety, but in depression, autism, and schizophrenia as well. Fear is not the only function of the amygdala, but is the function that is best understood.

This was an experiment in using rock music as a means of enhancing public understanding of science.  It obviously doesn’t go into a lot of detail in the minute and a half exposition.  You can learn much more by reading a chapter in a book.  But the point is that maybe– just maybe– hearing about the brain in the context of a rock song might make you more inclined to pick up one of my books, or someone else’s, and explore the topic in greater detail.

Below, we include the full lyrics to the song, as well as the text of the two mini-lectures.  More information about fear can be found at my lab website and in my books, The Emotional Brain (Simon and Schuster) and Synaptic Self (Viking).

“Fearing,” as originally recorded, can be heard in the player on the band’s website.  You can also join our mailing list there to keep up with the band’s adventures in brain rock, or what we sometimes call Rock-It Science.

Check back here at The Beautiful Brain for further installments.  The next one will be track 2, “Mind Over Matter.”  This song also has a music video associated with it.  It is a more traditional music video, done in French surrealism style not unlike what might be found in a Michel Gondry film.  Alexis Gambis and the Imagine Science Film Festival produced this one.  Be sure to go to www.amygdaloids.com and join the mailing list to find out when the “Mind Over Matter” blog and video are up.

Until next time, may your fears be few and far between, and your mind be capable of controlling your matter (but not so much that you aren’t enjoying yourself). As “Nowhere Man” failed to understand, “the world is at your command.”

Joseph LeDoux is a University Professor, Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science, Professor of Neural Science and Psychology and Child Psychiatry at NYU. He is also the Director of the Emotional Brain Institute at NYU and at the Nathan Kline Institute. The author of two best-selling books, The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self, LeDoux is also a the singer and song writer of The Amygdaloids, a band of scientists that plays music about mind and brain and mental disorders.

Fearing (adapted from E. Dickinson

by Joseph LeDoux)

While I was fearing it came

But with less of the fear because

Fearing it so long

Had almost made it dear

There is a fitting dismay

An appropriate despair

Tis harder knowing that fear is due than

Knowing it is here

The waiting is the worse

It ties you up in knots

Anticipation a curse

A thousand empty shots

If to fear were merry

And to worry were gay

How blithe would be the memory

Of that awful day

When hell was turned loose

A full psychic assault

A fearful memory so cruel

Could it be my fault

If recollecting were forgetting

Then I remember not

And if forgetting recollecting

How nearly I forgot

But recollecting is not forgetting

It’s vivid rehearsal of pain

It reminds me of that day

It keeps fear in my brain

If recollecting were forgetting

Then I remember not

And if forgetting recollecting

How nearly I forgot

But recollecting is not forgetting

It’s vivid rehearsal of pain

It reminds me of that day

It keeps fear in my brain

It keeps me a waiting

But not waiting in vain

It keeps me a waiting

It keeps fear in my brain

It keeps me a waiting

It keeps fear in my brain



Text of the 2 mini-lectures.

Lecture 1: the functional or psychological aspects of fear

Fear is the most basic and primitive emotion

It occurs when we encounter danger

An animal can put off the good stuff eating, drinking sex for days

But responding to danger must be immediate

Or there will be no more eating, drinking or sex.

The fear response is the same humans and other mammals

Muscles tense, heart beats fast, hormones flow

These responses help keep us alive when threats arise.

Lecture 2: the neuroscience of fear

Evolution says, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”

Indeed, the brain mechanisms of fear are highly conserved

The amygdala is a key structure

It detects danger and produces hard wired protective responses

The amygdala also forms emotional memories

It uses these to predict harm in the future

Fear learning is rapid and persistent

While fear memories can be controlled but are hard to eliminate

The amygdala is hyperactive in many psychiatric conditions

Some of which can be treated with drugs

While others respond better to psychotherapy

We need better treatments for fear

The Country of the Face-Blind

[ 9 ] June 6, 2010

Contributor Sam McDougle Reports on Friday evening’s “Strangers in the Mirror” event at the 2010 World Science Festival in New York City.

Prosopagnosia, or “Face Blindness,” can be a devastating affliction.

Imagine: after suffering a stroke, the faces of your loved ones are no longer the unmistakable visages they once were, but are now unrecognizable collages of noses, lips, eyes, and ears.  You can’t tell your loved ones from strangers, and mirrors are less reflections of yourself than they are opportunities for embarrassing run-ins with a similar looking person who has a spot-on impression of you.

Friday evening’s World Science Festival event “Strangers in the Mirror” was a poignant , compelling, and surprisingly (though respectfully) humorous glance into the lives of the face-blind.  The event was moderated by Robert Krulwich (Radiolab, Nightline, Frontline) and the guests were neurologist and author Oliver Sacks and the artist Chuck Close.  Both men are notable thinkers in their respective fields, prolific in their bodies of work, talented orators and educators, and severe prosopagnosics.

***

Sacks began the narrative of his disease with a story:  He and a physicist made plans to meet at a restaurant for some scientific musing.  On his arrival, the hostess sent Sacks to the table where the physicist was sitting, and they began their conversation.  Unbeknownst to Dr. Sacks, his dinner guest also suffered from severe face blindness.

This improbable fact was not discovered by either man until the physicist, after a course or two, went to the bathroom. He emerged to find that neither he nor Sacks remembered each other’s faces.  An amusing man hunt ensued as the physicist looked for the right table and Sacks wondered where his guest was, like two blind-daters searching for each other at a crowded restaurant.

Sacks first acknowledged his deficit when he was twelve.  He recounted “saying hi to people I didn’t even know,” in a kind of lottery strategy so that he may eventually say hi to a friend and put on that he recognized them.

While Sacks noted sometimes remembering the faces of his loved ones after years of exposure (an important consolation that some prosopagnosics lack), at times he is subject to forgetting even the most recognizable faces – he playfully remarked about “apologizing for almost running into an older bearded man,” who happened to be his reflection.  Krulwich then asked if he recognized his neighbors and Sacks swiftly quipped, “I recognize their dogs.”

***

Chuck Close has a similar story.  He also felt he was “born with” the deficit and believed it to be his main push towards painting portraits.  He knew he was disabled (though there was likely no word for face blindness at the time of Close’s youth), and thoughtfully mentioned that disabilities often implore one to “find other venues for their intellect.”  Without explaining what “other” really meant, his implication was clear – face blindness certainly blocked some “traditional” professional paths, professions that involve working closely with people and managing day-to-day social interactions.  Close chose the life of the artist.

Close’s inimitable portraits are known for their juxtaposition of the part and whole of the image – each portrait is made up of small square paintings that, on their own, resemble abstract shapes.  However, when the viewer pulls back from the painting the whole face is revealed.

Chuck Close, self portrait

Chuck Close, "Self Portrait"

Curiously, Close mentioned having less trouble recognizing celebrity faces than faces in his daily life.  He found it easy to recognize faces when they were static, “flattened out” images (portraits!), but struggled in 3-dimnesions, saying, “move your head one half inch and it’s a face I’ve never seen before.”

***

The neurophysiology of face blindness is certainly not completely understood, but there are some hints.  The fusiform gyrus is the area of the cortex involved specifically with facial recognition, and surely plays a role in face blindness.  Acute damage to the area (stroke, cancer, injury) is thought to be related to trauma-induced face blindness.  However, Sacks and Close both have congenital face blindness, and they both report other deficits, including problems with remembering places and navigating.  I caught up with Dr. Sacks after the event and asked him if this points to a more systematic (rather than acute) problem in the congenital vs. acquired prosopagnosic brain.  He said that probably is the case, and referred to his own illness as less of a specific face-recognition deficit than as a more categorical issue – the face as a whole is not a category-worthy object to him because he only sees it in parts (eyes, mouth, nose), and this makes it less likely to lodge in his memory.  It seems that congenital prosopagnosics have trouble seeing the forest instead of the trees.

At the end of the meeting, Krulwich, Sacks, and Close discussed the prevalence of face blindness in the world, and it seems clear that many more people have it than we think and much more can be done to help them.  Sacks painted a picture of hundreds of thousands living in “private embarrassment,” while Close lightheartedly joked about the vast number of prosopagnosics that are likely incarcerated.  Eventually those who suffer from face blindness will know they don’t suffer alone, and perhaps seek therapies that can mitigate the social and personal fallout of the disease.  It only takes the successes of two men like Dr. Sacks and Chuck Close to see that there are always “other venues,” for the disabled among us.  I await a prosopagnosic-written comedy screenplay about a man who incessantly apologizes to a stranger in the mirror.

Good Stories, Well-Told

[ 2 ] June 4, 2010

Contributor Ben Ehrlich Reports on Thursday evening’s The Moth: Grey Matter event at the 2010 World Science Festival in New York City.

Moth

The Moth: Grey Matter

Sometime after the appearance of language in the species Homo sapiens the first story was told.  It happened in a tree (in my imagination).  This hypothetical moment would be of the utmost evolutionary importance to some theorists.  Storytelling, like the other ancient and universal arts, could be an adaptive trait.  (Read 2009 Brian Boyd, On the Origin of Stories).  Or—say Steven Pinker and others—it is a spandrel, an elegant-meaning (if not – sounding) Renaissance term for the triangular space created by the intersection of two arches at a right angle.  (Read 1979 S.J. Gould & R.C. Lewontin, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptionist Programme”).  Now, while I do find this debate to be irresistibly interesting it is simply no substitute for stories themselves.  A good story, well-told, remains infinitely more meaningful than the sum of its deconstructed parts.  It is all about the sharing of experience.  This is the reason I found myself in the packed auditorium at Webster Hall on Thursday night fanning myself with two programs while my knees jutted dangerously into the frontmost aisle.  The Moth, a storytelling organization that features competitions in different cities, was hosting a special “mainstage” event for the World Science Festival called “Grey Matter:  Stories from the Left and Right.” It was a hot ticket;  the line had stretched all the way down 11th street.

The line-up was certainly impressive.  Host Mike Birbiglia opened the night with an uproarious story about bladder cancer, a staple from his well-rehearsed stand-up routine.  I had heard the story live twice before, and laughed anyway.  Good storytelling is always immediate,  as there should be attention for nothing else but the words of the teller. Technically, the first performer was Richard Garriott, who—as Mr. Birbiglia quipped—epitomized nerdiness by making a fortune programming video games in order to fund his own trip into space.  Unfortunately, Mr. Garriott’s ten-minutes expired before he could relate much about his twelve-day orbit to the audience. Next Daniela Schiller, a neuroscientist currently at New York University, delivered a wonderful and well-crafted narrative about Memorial Day in Israel and her father, a Holocaust survivor.  Her research with Dr. Elizabeth Phelps and Dr. Joseph LeDoux has focused on painful emotional memories—and the possiblity of disarming them.

Writer Mark Katz told the funniest story of the night, although it had nothing to do with science. Mr. Katz was asked by the Clinton White House to punch up a gala speech for then vice-president Al Gore. He scored a huge hit with a joke that he did not—in fact—write.  The infamous joke:  “Al Gore is so boring that his Secret Service code name is Al Gore.”  (Pause for laughter, it’s quite good).  The highlight, however, was learning about the passionate hugging style of our one-time (November 7, 2000 at 8:00pm) president. During another delightful delivery, Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek recounted the controversy he caused by scaring a Long Island banana farmer about potentially apocalyptic “strangelets,” hypothetical particles that may or may not be able to devour the world.  This put the Brookhaven particle accelerator in jeopardy and, more importantly, disturbed what should have been an idyllic vacation for Wilczek.  It was a thrill to hear the physicist speak publically;  he was so clearly brilliant, and as “strange” as those “lets” he spoke of.  After hearing Dr. Wilczek speak, I wonder if one must have a memorably idiosyncratic laugh in order to win a Nobel prize.  (See also:  Kandel, Eric).

The penultimate tale was told with honesty and feeling by the geneticist Kristin Baldwin. She explored the theme of similarity and difference through her relationship with her younger sister, whom she described as her complete opposite.  It was a great performance—and courageous—as I do not believe she is an experienced performer.  I think that the whole audience appreciated her hilarious recollections of conversations with potential suitors about her livelihood: “Oh, I clone mice and make their brains glow.”  Dr. Baldwin, of Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, has also collaborated on an art project that uses genetically engineered E. coli bacteria as paint.

The last storyteller was Leonard Mlodinow, the physicist who also wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Macgyver, whose moving account of his own father, a Holocaust survivor, succeeded in affecting perspective.  He talked meaningfully about heroism, as well as actions and consequences.  At times he was forced to pause and step back, as though at a mental crossing, to let a train of painful memories pass.  These were booming and breathtaking silences. For me, this was the height of a great performance.  It all ended in applause, of course, because that is the best way to appreciate a good story.  As long as we praise art, it should not matter how or why it came to exist.  I—for one—would not want to live without it.

Consilience at the World Science Festival in New York City

[ 0 ] May 28, 2010

114576882_3001Sam McDougle and I are guest blogging for the World Science Festival, which will take place in New York City next weekend. Sam’s first post is on “evolutionary bridges”:

In my recent career as an undergraduate, I noticed a curious phenomenon–around my junior year, dorm rooms across the campus were suddenly spending Friday nights captivated by the wonders of the natural world, led along by David Attenborough’s poised intonations. BBC’s Planet Earth box set would soon be as ubiquitous in 18-24 year olds’ DVD collections as The Matrix, Dazed and Confused, and any Wes Anderson venture. As a science student, I was intrigued to see my art-historian/Russian-lit-critic/sociologist friends totally captivated by marine insects and the hunting strategies of wild dogs. [read the full post here]

My first post is about a handful of art/science events at the WSF, one of which includes the vision researcher Margaret Livingstone, whom I’ve written about before on this site.

Some of our greatest triumphs as a species have come from those who saw little difference between being a scientist and being a humanist. From Leonardo’s visionary notebooks to Herschel’s lunar poetry, science has provided a necessary resource for some great art; and art has, in many cases, compelled the progress of scientific research. For Santiago Ramon y Cajál, considered the father of modern neuroscience, it was a childhood spent sketching the branching structures of trees that later reverberated in his pioneering staining techniques of neurons in the brain, yielding some of the most detailed and beautiful scientific imagery of our nervous system to date. [read the full post here]

Check out the WSF site for the full lineup of next weekend’s events.

Rocking the Brainwave Series to its Finish

[ 1 ] April 24, 2010

Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux + Guitarist Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Band in the conclusion of the 2010 Brainwave Series.

Lenny Kaye (L) of the Patti Smith Band joined neuroscientist and rocker Joe LeDoux at the final 2010 Brainwave event.

Lenny Kaye (L) of the Patti Smith Band joined neuroscientist and rocker Joe LeDoux at the final 2010 Brainwave event. (Photo: Michael J. Palma for the Rubin Museum)

It was a Monday evening, and the last night guests would file in for the 2010 Brainwave series at The Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. On one side of the stage were the familiar armchairs that have seated such guests as Philip Glass, Charlie Kaufman, Brian Greene, and Mark Morris, among many others in this edition of the series. To the other side of the stage, a new addition caught the eye: two microphones perched on stands in anticipation of this evening’s esteemed guests.

Neuroscientist and bestselling author Joe LeDoux and guitarist Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Band split their Brainwave event between thoughtful discussions and performances of LeDoux’s original songs written for his band The Amygdaloids, as well as some classics selected by Kaye that played on the central themes of the evening: the mind and brain, fear and memory.

LeDoux’s research at NYU focuses on the mechanisms of fear memory in the brain using rat models, and has lent important insights to our understanding of the amygdala, the almond-shaped component of our deep-seated, evolutionarily older midbrain (we’ve previously covered LeDoux’s work in a podcast and a recent article). With Kaye providing some mind-bending solos, LeDoux performed several brain-themed tunes, both from past Amygdaloids recordings as well as from their upcoming album due for release this June, which will feature Rosanne Cash.

LeDoux and Kaye’s discussion moved from guitar to armchair, tracing a line of inquiry through our evolutionary understanding of the fear response (the most basic emotion, necessary so that we can avoid peril and enjoy the better things in life) to music theory and history, of which Kaye, the author of You Call It Madness: The Sensuous Song of the Croon is particularly well versed.

Kaye and LeDoux rock out onstage at Brainwave to one of LeDoux's tunes written for his band The Amygdaloids.

Kaye and LeDoux rock out onstage at Brainwave to one of LeDoux's tunes written for his band The Amygdaloids. (Photo: Michael J. Palma for the Rubin Museum)

“What is it about music that gets so deeply into our brains?” asked Kaye.

“Music does have an ability to glue our past and present together in a way that not much else can,” LeDoux replied.

LeDoux then quoted a line Kaye wrote for the liner notes of the Amygdaloids’ upcoming album:

“Driven by the flash of neuron and receptor, much as the telepathic transference of audio emotion between musician and audience, music is the most mysterious of arts, one of synaptic and sympathetic overtone and vibrato, encompassing memory, language, self-definition, mirrored understanding—a central experience that is as much of our human cognition as is the need for relationships, hunting, gathering, nurturing and love.”

It was art and science dancing around the same issues, searching for truth with all the tools present. As one of LeDoux’s lyrics goes: “Mind over matter/It’s something I’ve been trying to do/break down space and time/be together with you.”

•••

The 2010 Brainwave series, produced by Tim McHenry, brought a wonderful array of artists and scientists to the stage for unscripted dialogues over the past months that ranged from the neuroscience of feng shui to the possibility of life on other planets. There was something to be learned at each night of this brilliantly curated program: some nights the conversation produced something vastly more than the sum of its participants; other nights the individual expertise and insights of the presenters alone carried the evening along. The unscripted nature of the evenings always lent a particular sense of excitement to the proceedings—an excitement that will now linger until the next iteration of Brainwave opens the doors to the Rubin’s basement auditorium.

Wired for Worship

[ 2 ] April 16, 2010

Anthropologist Lionel Tiger + Neuroscientist John Kubie at Brainwave 2010

gods-brainDebate about religion is almost as old as religion itself.  What is religion?  Does it have a purpose?  From the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to the Four Horsemen of the Counter-Apocalypse, it seems as though everyone has an opinion.  The Rutgers University anthropologist Lionel Tiger, along with the UCLA neuropsychiatrist Michael McGuire, has attempted to make a scientific argument about religion in the new book God’s Brain.  Dr. Tiger appeared at the penultimate event of The Rubin Museum of Art’s Brainwave series, where he was joined onstage by SUNY-Downstate neuroscientist John Kubie.  The two men considered the question of whether human beings are “wired for worship.”

The most important part of the conversation was in fact not conversational at all.  Dr. Kubie, whose lab focuses on the function of the hippocampus on spatial perception, gave a five minute lecture on the serotonergic system, responsible for the distribution of the chemical reward. Best known as the focus of a class of anti-depressants—SSRIs—serotonin was initially discovered to be a substance that induces powerful muscle contractions.  Only 1% of the body’s serotonin stores are located in the brain.  80% is found in the gut, and has been proven necessary for male mating behavior in the sea slug C. elegans (The Lesson in Love:  Go With Your Gut?).

It has become popular to link serotonin to an ever broadening spectrum of behavior.  After all, neurons in the Raphé nuclei in the brain stem (an evolutionarily ancient structure), where serotonin is released, project throughout the brain.  But it is a vastly complex network; it seems a long way from ten carbon, twelve hydrogen, two nitrogen, and one oxygen to a rabbi, a priest, and an imam walking into a bar.

Of course, though his stated aim is to embrace the phenomenon of religion, Dr. Tiger understands this.  The problem of “Why Religion?” is by nature philosophical and thus incessantly complicated by language and theory.  Science can never satisfactorily (by its own critical standards) explain religion, its discourse will merely replace another equally incomplete one.  There is no net epistemological gain, though that is not necessarily the point.  People struggle with religion, and a shared search for its meaning makes perfect sense. In the basement of the Rubin Museum, did not something religious take place?  There was serotonin, there was community (there was wine, there was classical music).  What I mean to say is this:  No one can adequately define Religion.  Is it the institutions?  Is it the impulse?  What are we studying?  What are we embracing?

There are no answers.  If you liked Dr. Tiger’s other books, I would recommend God’s Brain. That is, if you enjoy the exercise of pop-theory.  (You could, of course, try Dr. Kubie’s neurobiology class.  To each his own).

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