...all come together on a
very cold and rainy Monday morning
wrote in 1914, in a letter to Chelpanov –
“… that because the
activities of the brain are so complex they require both intensive and varied
methods of study.”
United States Government have promised millions of dollars for research into the workings of the brain. There are also other brain projects with vast amounts of
funding – The Human Brain Project in
Europe, The Allen Brain Atlas and the
Human Connectome Project in USA.
All in the Mind
week on BBC Radio 4’s programme All in
The Mind I heard primarily about why these projects have been developed and
how the money will probably be spent, but not about huge discoveries in mapping
Hammond discussed the various brain-mapping initiatives with psychologist Vaughan
Bell from King’s College, London, and Donald Stein, a neurologist and Professor
of Emergency Medicine from the USA.
were asked what it is that these projects are trying to achieve. It was pointed out
that there is a lot to learn before one can start to map the brain and that
the projects will be spending these huge amounts of money on researching
methods and developing technology that may, or may not, in two-hundred years’
time make it possible to map the brain. The speakers hoped that all this new-found information would be shared and used in other areas of scientific development
too, so that the huge investment would benefit the many, not the few.
The Making of Mind
book The Making of Mind, Luria
mentions Pavlov’s letter from which the quote heading this post comes. He tells
us that this letter was written when the Chelpanov Institute first opened in 1913, almost one-hundred years ago, but was not
published until over forty years later, in 1955.
some neurologists, and some psychologists, still tell us these days, these brain things will take time as there
are many complex issues to be dealt with.
Luria was a story-teller and, like Oliver Sacks, he still brings anecdotes alive and makes them understandable for me. These stories, when described in more technical or
theoretical tomes, would be otherwise inaccessible to me.
is the story that he tells about one of the students in the then Chelpanov Institute
in Moscow, who thought that he was measuring mental energy by his
technique of predicting that a fixed amount of energy was available for use of
the mind and body. He predicted that the more energy needed to think, the less
energy there would be for the physical movement.
Luria wrote so long ago –
“Of course, Kornilov (the
student and later director of the Institute) never measured mental energy
directly. He simply used his assumptions to claim that he had measured it.”
And so it goes
Luria and Radio 4 are still keeping my mind
absolutely clear in the fact that it will take a long, long time, if ever, to
find out what goes on in there!
Stein on Radio 4 was generally quite positive about it, he says that he does not disapprove of
the money being made available for brain projects but he did make it clear, on
the radio and on his blog, that it will probably only be the technology needed for
research, and the methodology needed, that will be developed in these project. New
discoveries will be made in these areas that will possibly also benefit other
areas of scientific research but there are sure to be no maps of the brain in
the next two hundred years.