Tuesday, May 25, 2010


One of the Writers' Festival sessions with Lone Frank, which I attended, was shared with Dr Perminder Sachdev, author of the book The Yipping Tiger. This is an Oliver Sacks-style memoir about some of the unusual cases he has seen in his clinic (he is currently based at the University of New South Wales). When I was discussing the session with another Festival attendee, she asked me why neuroscience seems to concentrate so much on the abnormal brain. I told her that I believe it is because it has always been so difficult to see a brain when it is working normally. It's only the absences, after a stroke, tumour or major trauma, that reveal to us what parts of the brain are used for which functions. The recent development of fMRI is changing that, though, and enabling neuroscientists to study activity in healthy brains as well as damaged ones.

Dr Sachdev writes:
"We now have tools to image the living and working brain with high precision. Since the 1970s we have arguably learnt more about the human brain than in all the preceding centuries. There are more neuroscientists currently alive than have existed in all of history."
This reminded me of something Dr Adam Hamlin pointed out in his Tuesday Talk at Culture at Work; that almost everything we have learned about the brain we have learned in the past thirty years.

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