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Unlocking the   Innermost Secrets of our Brains

By Shlomo  Maital

          brain map 1

In his excellent reportage, “mapping the brain’s inner language” (NYT Feb. 26, p. 7), James Gorman tells how R. Clay Reid left a top job as Harvard Medical School professor, to join the Allen Brain Institute in Seattle, in 2012 (an institute funded by a huge grant from Microsoft scion Paul Allen).  He did it, for the freedom to research the mouse brain.  Why?  Because many kinds of research can’t yet be done on humans, and the brains of mice and even flies “share common processes with the human brain”. In particular, Reid has tackled the million neurons in the mouse’s visual cortex.  The visual cortex is the part of the cortex that processes visual information; it’s in the back of the brain (see above).

     Harvard too has a mouse project.  The Human Connectome project (after the ‘genome’ and ‘proteinome’ projects) tries to build a structural map of the mouse brain, down to the amazing level of packets of neurochemicals at the tips of brain cells!

    How do Reid and other neuroscientists study the mouse brain?  First, a mouse is trained to look at an image.  Then, it learns to press a lever when the original image appears, among several others.  Reid studies what happens in the two second period, during which the photons of the image hit the retina, the brain sends info to the cortex, the neurons in the cortex do some computation, and send a message to the mouse’s paws to press the lever.   This is a complex process involving genetics, electricity, and chemistry.  It is revealed in electron micrographs that show every neuron and every connection in the mouse’s visual cortex. 

     In the end, Reid notes,  the brain features the ‘molecules’ that underlie behavior.

     Understanding how the brain processes information and then tells us to act on it will be a huge breakthrough.  It may help us cure awful neurological diseases (ALS, Parkinsons).  Perhaps, one day, as we mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I,  a terrible war no one wanted that needlessly, stupidly, killed 16 million people (civilians and soldiers) and wounded 20 million more !,   we will understand the parts of the human brain that create senseless violence and death.

If You Thought Washington Is Dysfunctional – Wait ‘til You Read Gates!

By Shlomo   Maital   

           Gates

 I prefer to write blogs about books I’ve read.  And it’s super-easy today to acquire any book – it takes 30 seconds to download an Amazon e-book.  But today I want to write about a book I haven’t yet read, but will soon – based on a review.  Because the content is so terribly disturbing.    America is still the leader of the Free World – and it is rudderless, incompetent, cynical, according to the consummate insider Robert Gates, former Defense Secretary.

    Gates’ book is called Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.  Gates served for many years in the CIA, headed the CIA for two years, then was Defense Secretary under both Bush and Obama (December 18, 2006 – July 1, 2011).  In reviewing his book, national security expert Thomas E. Ricks calls it “probably one of the best Washington memoirs ever.”  Ricks doubts Gates can ever again hold a Federal govt. job, or even want to. 

     Here are a few juicy tidbits:  “VP Joe Biden is a ‘comical motormouth’…who “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades”.  Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel: “hell on wheels…a whirling dervish with attention-deficit disorder”.  Tom Donilon (Obama’s 2nd national security advisor): “suspicious and distrustful of the uniformed military leadership”;   Congress:  “truly ugly”…parochial, self-interested, rude and bullying. Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader: “small-time hack who phones Gates to lobby for Defense Dept. funding for research on irritable bowel syndrome”.  (didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, Gates says).  Senator Nancy Pelosi, “said she wasn’t interested” when Gates tried to state the facts on the ground in Iraq.  Senator Patty Murray, Washington, “read from prepared notes…no one had bothered to remove the Boeing letterhead from her talking points”.  On Afghanistan and Obama: “the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand (Afghan Pres.) Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his.”  The Obama White House:  “still stuck in campaign mode a year into the presidency”. 

   And this is just a start. 

    I guess most of us knew or suspected all this.  But it is still disturbing to read it.  No wonder “cold-blooded killers” (Gates’ description) like Russia’s Putin and Syria’s Assad are eating Obama for lunch daily. 

 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital

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