Episode Information

Exploring the Brain
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
Aired:
09/11/2008
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In this episode:

"The human brain is the most complicated organization of matter that we know" Asimov

 

Episode Audio

51:56 minutes (24.94 MB)
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This complex web of neurons that controls our thoughts and feelings, our movements and dreams, is better understood by science everyday.  

But even those who work with the brain on a daily basis express wonder at what it can do...and how little we still understand about it.

Today, Where We Live, we'll talk with leaders in the fields of Neurobiology and Neurosurgery about the brain.

We'll talk with Yale's David McCormick about how the brain delivers information to our bodies...and to Katrina Firlik, whose book Another Day in The Frontal Lobe takes us, inside the skull as she performs life-saving surgeries.

And, we'd like you to join the conversation.  What questions do you have about the remarkable human brain? 

Block photo by Gaetan Lee


 
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A couple more things....

I was asked on the show about the history of my field.  I commented that it is over 200 years old and started with Galvani.  I would like to expand on this just a bit, because it is actually quite interesting.  Prior to the discovery of electricity in the 1700s (Benjamin Franklin being one of the people involved in this discovery), the brain was believed to use hydraulics to function - pumping the muscles with fluid to cause them to contract.  Galvani discovered, quite by accident, that frog legs would jump when shocked with static electricity.  Through a series of simple experiments he discovered that the brain and nerves uses electricity, not hydraulics, to function.  He termed this electricity "Animal Electricity". 

Interestingly his nephew, Aldini, who helped Galvani with the frog leg experiments, sought to demonstrate that this newly discovered animal electricity was relevant to humans.  He traveled throughout Europe in the late 1700s re-animating human bodies and faces just after decapitation for their crimes, and demonstrating this publicly.  This type of re-animation with electricity eventually led to the invention of the modern day resuscitation through the delivery of shocks to the heart and even inspired Mary Shelley to write "Frankenstein" in the early 1800s - the idea that death was no longer final was fascinating for obvious reasons.

 One topic that we touched on was the development of the cerebral cortex.  Although Dr. Rakic mentioned the strong role for development in the determination of the connections and function of the brain, we did not get a chance to mention the very important and critical role that environment and experience plays in further determining and refining these connections.  Although the general connectivity and functional architecture of the brain is determined by genetics, it is experience that refines these connections and determines which are saved and which are loss.  Perinatal and postnatal experience, all the way through adolescence, is incredibly important in determining the functional connections of the cerebral cortex and how well it will perform for you as an adult.  Remember... use it or lose it!