My visitors today

Monday 27 May 2013

Luria, Pavlov and Radio 4...

...all come together on a very cold and rainy Monday morning

Pavlov 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.”

Brain projects

The 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

Last 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 the brain.

Claudia 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.

They 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

In his 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.

As 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. 

Telling stories

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.

One example 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!

Donald 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.


Vaughan Bell

Donald Stein

All in the Mind

The Making of Mind – A.R.Luria, Harvard University Press, 1979

Sunday 19 May 2013

Faith, hope and love, and a little bit of humour too?

13th May, 2013

I love to listen to the BBC’s Radio Four, especially on a Sunday

Sundays have always been the day that I find most difficult when I am on my own because at home it was always a day of visitors, of family or, in the summer, trips to the seaside.

Usually, when I think it is not going to be so quite so nice to spend the day on my own, I visit a friend and at other times I visit a café to eat cake, to read and to write, just as I used to in Budapest, at Litea. Often I just switch on the radio to listen to Radio Four. I do not just listen all day, I choose programmes from the play-again schedule.

Being a fan of John McCarthy I was attracted by the title of last week’s episode Something Understood, a programme that he introduces – ‘The Greatest of These is Love’

I have always enjoyed the chapter in the Bible, about love and all things soulful, 1 Corinthians 13,  that the programme was built around.

At one stage John McCarthy discusses faith and hope being all very good, but that love is crucial, a generosity of spirit towards other people is crucial to mankind. At this point I thought that this is all about the soul again!

As the programme went on I began to enjoy it even more, as more of favourite music and passages of prose, and even a favourite book, were featured.

Joni Mitchell was featured, with her version of 1 Corinthians 13 in song, and also music by J.S Bach and then the wonderful surprise of the reading of a long passage from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This drew the discussion towards Frankl’s conviction that love is the ultimate goal to which man can aspire and is the ultimate healer.  

John McCarthy described how when he was in captivity he and Brian Keenan, despite the severity of the situation that they were in, were still able to make each other smile and share laughter. This lead his discussion with Salley Vickers to move towards considering whether it would have been more appropriate had St. Paul also included humour in his letter to the Corinthians.

Love of life

The programme came to an end considering the stream of love that flows through life and I continued thinking about it all for several days.

In fact for over a week now I have been thinking about how so much of this programme relates to my life, to my interests and to my work. I was pleased to discover this evening that I could still Listen Again and, while I listened, I wrote this posting.

Parkinson's disease in TV sitcom

“Not making fun of myself” says Michael J Fox, “Just showing a guy who looks at life with humour."

It is a long time since I mentioned Michael J Fox on my blog. He has been very busy raising hundreds of millions of dollars for research into Parkinson’s disease and now he is to return to American television starring in a sitcom about someone who decides to return to working in television despite struggling with Parkinson’s disease!

That will certainly put the fight to find a cure in the headlines.

“Not making fun of myself," the actor wrote in a tweet, after a trailer for the show was released this week, "or other people with [Parkinson's Disease] or Parkinson's itself. Just showing a guy who looks at life with humour."