Science & Me

“Rethinking the Brain” is about the history of the understainding of neurogenesis in the brain. Back in 1962 Altman discovered neurogenesis, but no one believed his work, he was denied tenure, and left the limelight. Ten years later Kaplan also discovered neurogenesis, but was laughed out of the arena of science by Rakic, the leading scientist in the study of the brain. And then, fifteen years later, came Gould, a woman who found neurogenesis again. Who read the earlier works after that. Who wanted to build on their information. And who was ridiculed by Rakic. She, however, had tenure at Princeton by that time and refused to drop her studies. Eventually she produced proof of neurogenesis using Rakic’s “own” animal. (The one he did all his experiments on.) A leading scientist and a Rakic defender said that Rakic “single-handedly held the field of neurogenesis back by a decade.” That’s not exactly the kind of legacy you want in any field.

I haven’t finished reading this section. Because it is the most personally important to me I have paid more attention to the details. I am struggling to follow the process of discovery and look at possible implications for my own life. The article has already hinted about implications for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. And I wonder if there is something in there for me, as well.

Something has short-circuited in my brain and I have neurons setting off sparks when they shouldn’t be. They don’t follow a normal pathway. Instead they pop off in random areas, at random times, and much more often than they should.

The visible results are that sometimes I can’t find a word. It’s not a difficult word. Just any word. Although I did lose the definition of exorciate (meaning to abrade or deal harshly) even though I had looked it up only six days before and knew the meaning of the word when I heard it used in a sentence the day before that, the loss of a difficult concept is not the norm. Perhaps it happens more often than I think and I just brush it off as old age or distraction.

But when I lose a simple word like “couch” or “chair,” which I have done, I have a fear reaction. Or at least I did. Was my mind going? Was I falling apart? Now that I know that it’s a neuro-transmitting problem, now that my husband has suggested explaining around the word until someone else finds it for me, now that I have a belief that it is a result of years of severe sleep apnea, I am less afraid. Less afraid and more annoyed.
And so I read about coffee helping Alzheimer’s and decide I should take it up. (It makes me sick.) And I read “Rethinking the Brain” and learn that the adult human brain does in fact produce new neurons and I wonder if, perhaps, the health of my new neurons has been negatively effected by my sleep apnea. Then I think that if it has, it doesn’t matter. I can sleep better and get healthier neurons. And, I learn, exercise will help me grow new neurons. Yahoo. Exercise for your brain.

As I was working on this I had other, recognizable, seizures which don’t often effect me. I smelled something that wasn’t there. It smelled to me like someone had newly dried tobacco leaves and was pulling the smell through the car. Then I tasted regurgitation, even though I hadn’t even pulled up bile. I know that last night I only slept five hours because I accidentally switched my morning and night medicines. I know that I only slept the night before that for seven hours. And I know that, for me, that is too little sleep. My husband suggests I should go to sleep. And so I am going to stop this entry and return to it later. Hopefully having no or fewer seizures.

The article referenced above was in The Best American Science Writing- 2002.