The Blog

How does your brain work?

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How does your brain work? Why doesn't it work the way you want it to? Can you make it work better (or at least differently)? Are you in charge of your neurons and synapses, and who's the "you" that is or isn't in control? Can I answer these questions? Actually, I probably can't, but no one else can either, so you may as well read what I have to say.

That takes me to the song of the day: Bits and Pieces (long live the DC5 and their thundering tom tom). It's the bits and pieces of the brain that make it do all those things we want to know about. And I usually spend my time worrying about those. But that's not the only reason why the song today is Bits and Pieces. The other reason is that I'm transitioning from the blog I've been writing to Huff Po, and I want to mention a few things from my other blog (For What It's Worth) to let new readers see where this one is coming from (apologies to faithful readers for slight redundancy). For What It's Worth has been about my day to day activities (scientific and musical) on my mini-sabbatical at Cambridge University. So I thought I'd put a few bits and pieces from it in my first Huff Po entry in a while. You can find the 15 posts on For What It's Worth here.

Sabbaticals are one of the great perks of academic life. Every so often you get to drop out for a bit, and, if you choose, run off to some place different from the one you walk to each day. So I ran off to Cambridge to pick the brains of some colleagues who do research similar to me, but have a sort of different view of how my pet part of the brain, the amygdala, works. I'm here visiting Barry Everitt and Trevor Robbins, who, in addition to being great scientists, are fabulous hosts. We've had lots of discussions (though we're not done yet, with 2 weeks to go) about the amygdala and other bits and pieces of the brain.

But I've also been spending some time in the live music pubs around town, mainly listening, but also playing a little. There's a great music scene here in Cambridge, and it has been a blast exploring the offerings. For the cost of a pint of Guinness you can enjoy quality music all night. I recommend The Hopbine for classic rock on Saturday, The Corner House open mic on Sunday (where I braved the stage once), and then The Haymakers jams on Tuesday (acoustic jam), Thursday (funk/jazz jam), and Friday (blues jam).

Speaking of bits and pieces, I saw some amazing bits and pieces of the brain. I was in Valencia, Spain, this week to receive the Catedra Santigo Grisolia, a prize given annually to two scientists in biomedical research or neuroscience (the other awardee was Avram Hershko from Israel). The award ceremony and lectures were in the the Museo de las Ceincias Pricipie Felipe, a wonderful science museum within the ultra-modern Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences).

The museum has a collection of original drawings of neurons by the great Spanish neuroanatomist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal. He was the architect of the "neuron doctrine," the controversial idea (controversial in 1900) that the brain contains individual cells interconnected across spaces that were named "synapses" by the Cambridge physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington, connecting some dots between my stay in Cambridge and my visit to Valencia.

My lectures in Valencia were about The Emotional Brain. That's the topic of my main area of research, and the scientific topic I'll write about most, at least when I have a brainstorm about what to say. But I'll also write about my other passion, which you've surely figured out is music.

In the meantime, feel free to visit my lab website, as well as the website of my band, The Amygdaloids.