Bio · Science

Einstein’s Brain (…and the neuroscientist who studied it)

Marian Diamond began her graduate work in 1948 and was the first female student in the department of anatomy at UC Berkeley. The first thing she was asked to do when she got there was sew a cover for a large magnifying machine (?!?!?!?!).

“They didn’t know what to do with me because they weren’t used to having a woman. They thought I was there to get a husband. I was there to learn.”

Such challenges were not uncommon. Years later she requested tissue samples of Albert Einstein’s brain from a pathologist in Missouri. He didn’t trust her.

“He wasn’t sure that I was a scientist. This is one thing that you have to face being a woman. He didn’t think that I should be the one to be looking at Einstein’s brain.”

Marian persisted for three years, calling him once every six months, and received four blocks of the physicist’s brain tissue (about the size of a sugar cube).

Her research found that Einstein had twice as many glial cells as normal males — the discovery caused an international sensation as well as scientific criticism.

What are glial cells? Previously, scientists believe that neurons were responsible for thinking and glial cells were support cells in the brain. Now Researchers believe the glial cells play a critical role in brain development, learning, memory, aging and disease.

All text and Images via UC Research

Book-Text-Read-Zines · Human-ities · Science · Theory

When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning A teacher’s quest to discourage his students from mindlessly reciting information.

Some things are worth memorizing–addresses, PINs, your parents’ birthdays. The sine of π/2 is not among them. It’s a fact that matters only insofar as it connects to other ideas. To learn it in isolation is like learning the sentence “Hamlet kills Claudius” without the faintest idea of who either gentleman is–or, for what matter, of what “kill” means. Memorization is a frontage road: It runs parallel to the best parts of learning, never intersecting. It’s a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding.

Memorization has enjoyed a surge of defenders recently. They argue that memorization exercises the brain and even fuels deep insights. They say our haste to purge old-school skills-driven teaching from our schools has stranded a generation of students upriver without a paddle. They recommend new apps aiming to make drills fun instead of tedious. Most of all, they complain that rote learning has become taboo, rather than accepted as a healthy part of a balanced scholastic diet.

Excerpt from an article written by BEN ORLIN at The Atlantic. Continue THERE

Human-ities · Social/Politics · Theory

Work, Learning and Freedom

In this often personal interview, renowned linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky outlines a libertarian perspective on work and education, arguing that freedom is the root of creativity and fulfilment.

The question I would like to ask is what is really wanted work? Maybe we could start with your personal life and your double career in linguistics and political activism? Do you like that kind of work?

If I had the time I would spend far more time doing work on language, philosophy, cognitive science, topics that are intellectually very interesting. But a large part of my life is given to one or another form of political activity: reading, writing, organising, activism and so on. Which is worth doing, it’s necessary but it’s not really intellectually challenging. Regarding human affairs we either understand nothing, or it’s pretty superficial. It’s hard work to get the data and put it all together but it’s not terribly challenging intellectually. But I do it because it’s necessary. The kind of work that should be the main part of life is the kind of work you would want to do if you weren’t being paid for it. It’s work that comes out of your own internal needs, interests and concerns.

Excerpt from an interview between Noam Chomsky and Michael Kasenbacher, New Left Project. Continue HERE

Earthly/Geo/Astro · Human-ities · Philosophy · Science

Why Are Physicists Hating On Philosophy (and Philosophers)?

What is learning for if it doesn’t lead to wisdom?

That’s a question worth asking in light of an ongoing cosmological street fight being waged (remarkably) in broad media daylight. The rumble tumbled into the public eye with Lawrence Krauss’ new book A Universe From Nothing. But before the scathing New York Times review and an acerbic rebuttal in The Atlantic, this physics vs. philosophy smack-down was brewing in academic back alleys for decades. At stake is a critical question living deep inside the heart of modern foundational physics: What are the limits of science?

Excerpt of an article written by astrophysicist Adam Frank, at NPR. Continue HERE

Human-ities · Performativity · Science · Sonic/Musical

Did Humans Invent Music?

Did Neanderthals sing? Is there a “music gene”? Two scientists debate whether our capacity to make and enjoy songs comes from biological evolution or from the advent of civilization.

Music is everywhere, but it remains an evolutionary enigma. In recent years, archaeologists have dug up prehistoric instruments, neuroscientists have uncovered brain areas that are involved in improvisation, and geneticists have identified genes that might help in the learning of music. Yet basic questions persist: Is music a deep biological adaptation in its own right, or is it a cultural invention based mostly on our other capacities for language, learning, and emotion? And if music is an adaptation, did it really evolve to promote mating success as Darwin thought, or other for benefits such as group cooperation or mother-infant bonding?

Excerpt of an article written by Gary Marcus and Geoffrey Miller, at The Atlantic. Continue HERE

Image above: A neanderthal instrument. A 40,000 year old flute at Divje Babe, Slovenia. Via Glen Morton.