Nothing Either Good Or Bad?
You’re a 10-year-old girl in Africa, lying nervously on your back with your lower body fully exposed. You don’t know why, but the grown-ups nearby keep assuring you that the tradition they’re about to carry out is to prevent you from becoming one of those immoral outcasts. They are concerned with one thing only: keeping you pure – your virginity must be preserved. Being a female and all, you mustn’t pleasure yourself. With your consent, what is about to happen to you is called a clitoridectomy – partial or total removal of the clitoris. Without your consent – and almost surely, you have not granted it – it is called female genital mutilation (FGM).
This post will be somewhat atypical. No science-heavy references, no hard data, no hypotheses — nothing new. It’ll be just one general and optimistic story for the non-specialist, a story and opinion that celebrates neuroscience to the bone.
Imagine taking a scalpel and making an incision on an anesthetized patient’s head. As the blade glides down a shaved patch of gelatinous skin, the blood underneath begins to flow out and glistens a bright crimson. It quickly dries to a rust on the scalpel and gauze. Some yellow cubes of fat almost bursts at the seams of the skin around it, and white skull finally comes into sight. Flakes of bone fly around as you drill a hole open. As soon as the hole gives way, the pinkgrey custard that is your brain appears. It is engulfed by a spider-web of of purple bloody veins. Congratulations! Before you, finally, is the seat to everything that is You, and there is nothing You-er than your mind, than your brain. So, let’s study You.
It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up
‘Cause you were born this way, baby
Test tubes with DNA and canvases with brushstrokes. Einstein and Shakespeare. Science and humanities. These two cultures have been polarized throughout most of history, benefiting little, if anything, from each other.
When people think of “science,” they naturally think of atoms, planets, robots — things they can touch and see. They know that subjective experiences such as happiness are important, but they believe that such experiences can’t be studied scientifically. That belief is dead wrong.
Here’s a proposed answer to the question of where good ideas come from, presented in style, courtesy of the RSA. In an attempt to revolutionize how education is delivered, the RSA has been converting lectures from all disciplines into visually stunning stories. This one is presented by science writer Steven Johnson, author of Mind Wide Open and Where Good Ideas Come From :
Ever wonder how to prevent the end of the world? Or how to be a good parent? Or how Newton invented calculus just to prove a point? With characteristic wit and excitement, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson answers 10 questions for Time Magazine and shares a few gold nuggets of scientific wisdom.
Imagine having him as a professor (why freshman year WHY)? This is how to make science accessible to everyone — by sharing Tyson’s passion for doing science and understanding how reality unfolds. Scientists break nature apart, one unit of reality at a time, and put her back together to figure out how she works… and enthusiastically present the findings with lots of hand motions.
That’s the purpose of science, fa sho.
NOVA scienceNOW deserves all the funding it gets. Here’s an absolutely wonderful segment on how the brain works, aptly titled “How does the Brain Work?” It’s 50 minutes long and undoubtedly worth watching, as it is a clear example of science education at its best. Besides, host Neil Tyson is as good of a speaker as it gets, and there are even a bunch of nifty magic tricks that expose the brain’s gullibility (or evolution’s genius, depending on how you look at it.)
There’s also some real life mind-control in humans! And, you know, robots playing jeopardy and stuff, too. Watch here: