I think about my brain a lot when I have the time, and like I said in the above blog post, I'm not a scientist or anything but I still think that because I have a brain, I am thus qualified to think about it and maybe even have some ideas about how it functions.
I am still unconvinced that there are "left-brained" and "right-brained" people, and I am still unconvinced that the findings made by neuroscientists in the last century were conclusive findings. I will try to elaborate a little further on why I believe this and try and argue my position a little more.
Wilder Penfield? The Legend or the Jabroni?
If you lived in Canada in the last few decades then you probably remember seeing this...
Ya, ya, ya..."greatest Canadian alive...", ya, ya, ya.
It might be best to start off the critique by telling you that Penfield wasn't even Canadian, let alone the greatest one of all time. He was actually born in Spokane, Washigton and lived in the USA until leaving to study in various European countries. Penfield only arrived in Montreal at the age of 37...I'm sure if you asked him he'd probably tell you he was American. Right off the bat you know this video is not necessarily accurate.
Penfield and his fellow "Canadian" neuroscience counter-parts of the era, Willie Beecher Scoville (also of American extraction) and Brenda Milner (actually from England) did indeed like to poke people's brains with things and observe their responses but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
The previous era of neuro scientific research was led by findings by Carl Wernicke and Pierre Paul Broca, who tried to isolate which portion of the brain did what. These two men used pigeons or mice as their test subjects. They'd cut off pieces of the their brains and then see what the effect was on the critter. They made some findings and then named portions of the brain after themselves. If cutting up birds and mice and then naming parts of the brain after yourself sounds vain...well it's because it is. At least they were only using critters though. Penfield, Beecher, and Milner were not using critters...
As you can maybe guess from the above video, our three "Canadian" scientists didn't use critters...they used humans as test subjects. Normally, what would happen was a person would come in to their office complaining of epilepsy and then our intrepid heroes would just go to town on the person's brain.
|Henry Molaison...poor guy.|
Beecher: "Yo, what's up Penny! I got a dude with fucking seizures up in here!"
Penfield: "Oh shit son! That's fucked up bro!"
Beecher: "What should I do to fix this shit?"
Penfield: "You best cut his fucking brain apart dude!"
Beecher: "For real!?"
Penfield: 'Straight up! Just get up in his nose with a drill or cut open his fucking skull and then just rip some of that shit up, or pull some of that junk out...it'll fix him swell, I garuan-fucking-tee it!"
Beecher: "Ok, cool homey...talk to ya later...bye."
Beecher did just that, he went up into Henry Molaison's nose with a nice long drill and fiddled around in there, and then he cut open his skull and took out a few brain chunks here and there of poor Henry's brain.
Molaison's seizures seemed to get a little better in the following weeks, yet a curious thing happened as a side effect. It seems Molaison got really fucked up after Beecher cut parts of his brain off...now who would have thought that would happen? Henry, after the surgery was not able to record any more information to his long term memory.
Beecher was very fascinated by this and called Brenda Milner over to Hartford to help him study his new critter specimen. They interviewed their critter at length and recorded everything he said, and then published their amazing findings and became rich and respected neuro scientists. Good for fucking them. Their paper was titled "Loss of recent memory after bilateral hippocampal lesions," though a more accurate title would have been "We cut off pieces of a dude's brain and were really surprised that he had trouble remembering things after."
I would like to point you, at this juncture, to another really odd and gruesome neurological study, just to emphasize my main point a little. It's not related to work by Penfield, Beecher, or Milner but it will give you another glimpse into the wonderful world of neuroscience.
I can tell you right now that removing a dude's brain will fuck him up, I don't need to do immense research into that in order to prove it. Why? Because it is obvious to anyone who is not a complete moron that ripping out pieces of a dude's brain will fuck him up. You don't have to rip off pieces of someone's brain and observe him acting fucked up to figure out that it's true, because it's already common fucking sense.
This next case falls under the same principle. Edward Taub was a guy who wanted to prove that ripping out pieces of monkeys brains would fuck them up.
Well, Ed gathered up 17 cute little macaque monkeys, and for the next 11 years, he ripped out parts of their brains, tied them to torture chairs, and did all kinds of sick depraved Josef Mengle-esque horrible things to them.
(see: Silver Spring Monkeys: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Spring_monkeys)
Another case with cute little monkeys, is that of Thomas Gennarelli of the University of Pennsylvania, who's research into concussions back in 1983 was similarly as unnecessary. Gennarelli wanted to see what effect hitting monkeys with a hammer would have on their brains.
If I was the guy giving out research grants at U of P that year, I would have said something along the lines of, "you know Tom...I think hitting a monkey in the head with a hammer will fuck it up. I'm not sure you need a few hundred thousand bucks and lab space to test this stupidity out."
A guy named Alex Pacheco got his hands on footage shot in the University of Pennsylvania's lab from researchers working for Gennarelli and made a video cassette out of the footage. You can now view this on youtube (if you are not faint of heart that is). I don't want to embed the video but you can just google Unnecessary Fuss if you are interested in viewing "researchers" hitting monkeys with hydraulic hammers and then coming to the brilliant conclusion that...yes, hitting monkeys with hammers fucks them up or even kills them.
Are All Brains Different?
In the article I wrote on June 7th, I ventured a guess that every brain wired itself differently during the rearing stages of life and each brain may have individual quirks that may vary from person to person. We are born with billions and billions of brain cells shooting around up there in that noodle and all of them are eager to co-operate and meld with each other to form eletrical synaptical synthesii. The cells might process the information as it comes and make patterns and inter-connections on the fly. I think it is on a first-come first-serve incoming basis, and the chemical reactions between brain cells and receptors are going to be set up differently for every person during the "set-up" phase of their brain's life. As the brain develops from a baby brain into a set-in-their-ways adult brain, the interconnections between cells will not be identical for anyone.
If you want, you can go and chop up a dude's brain, keep him in a home like a guinea-pig, see how fucked up he is, and then name a part of the brain after yourself. But honestly though, that is really messed up and completely unnecessary. For that reason, I do not believe that Penfield, Beecher, and Milner are heroes and certainly not the "greatest canadians alive" as that silly video insisted. I believe their findings may have even been jabroni-esque in nature.
Now, again, I'm not a neuroscientist and I don't really have any evidence for my silly theories. I would like to point out though that scientists have tried to recreate the findings of Penfield, Beecher, and Milner...and they were unable to come to the same conclusions. Poking one person in a certain part of their brain will not lead to the same result as poking another person in the exact same part of their brain.
Edit (Nov. 12, 2012)
I'm not saying neuroscience is a jabroni field. I'm just saying that some neuroscientists were jabronies, that's all. The field itself is very interesting and important.
There's been many many good ones over the years. An example of a good neuro scientist in history would be Santiago Ramon y Cajal, who you can read about here.