Thursday, October 15, 2009
Einstein, Mighty Mouse and Gold Medal Grannie
You are a mouse and one day they clamp a recording device on one of your neurons. One. Neuron. In the hippocampus. Imagine the size of the clamp. We must be talking micro-nano here. Anyway, you find yourself standing at the end of a long corridor? You run to the other end. Easy. Hm… someone gives you a piece of cheddar. Champion! So you run back again.. Gruyere. Great! But the humans are at it again. You aren’t actually running. You are stationary except for your feet which are making a ball turn round.
What you don’t realise, Mickey, is that you are involved in a virtual simulation. Your head is motionless but your active neuron thinks it is memorising a maze.
This is the science of the brain these days. It reminds me of a psychology book I read a few decades ago which described how Einstein was laid on a bed and electrodes fixed to his skull. They recorded his brain pattern in this quiescent state. Then they instructed him to think of E=MC² and watched the burst of energy cross his synapses, hoping to learn more about what Woody Allen called ‘my second most favourite organ’.
Taking these two events you get some sense of the progress of life on the planet. A mouse is now doing what Einstein once did. It’s astonishing, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, a redoubtable and very happy female centenarian has just won a gold medal in the shot put. There’s video of her putting the shot to four metres plus. They created the new 100+ category just for her. No-one can doubt her Einstein moment but, before long, a mouse will emulate her, putting the shot into the middle distance, yet not actually moving. It’ll be another breakthrough in neuroscience. Worth a bit of gouda, don’t you think?