Blog North Awards shortlisted

Blog North Awards shortlisted

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Oh the brain, brain has secrets

Reading a National Geographic article on technologies aimed at mapping the 'grid' networks of the brain this week, I was struck by the rather poetic language used by reporter Carl Zimmer to describe his experience of being placed under a brain scanner:

"I breathed smoothly and transported myself to places in my memory, at one point recalling how I had once walked my nine-year-old daughter to school through piles of blizzard snow....As I lay there, I reflected on the fact that all of these thoughts and emotions were the creation of the three-pound loaf of flesh that was under scrutiny: my fear, carried by electrical impulses converging in an almond-shaped chunk of tissue in my brain called the amygdala, and the calming response to it, marshaled in regions of my frontal cortex. My memory of my walk with my daughter was coordinated by a seahorse-shaped fold of neurons called the hippocampus, which reactivated a vast web of links throughout my brain that had first fired when I had clambered over the snowbanks and formed those memories."

Aside from its vivid account of the blizzard walk, Zimmer's prose is full of metaphors: the 'almond' of the amygdala, the 'seahorse' of the hippocampus, the 'loaf' of the brain itself. To understand the experience of a scientific procedure, we often turn to language and, in a sense, to poetry.

Even calling the article 'Secrets of the Brain' reflects a fundamental paradox: the more we understand about the workings of that 'loaf of flesh', the more mysteries we seem to unlock and the more wondrous the whole process of discovery seems to become. Or, as Emily Dickinson put is so succinctly: 'The Brain - is wider than the Sky'.

You can read the rest of Dickinson's poem here and share in her incredulity.

1 comment:

  1. The use of those terms is also "in joke" of sorts. The terms amygdala and hippocampus were derived from the words for almond and seahorse respectively