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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Professor Changes Perceptions of the Mind

    Now in its sixth year at the Staller Center, an annual lecture on brain researchwas presented this year by V.S. Ramachandran, professor of neuroscience at Universityof California at San Diego. Entitled ‘#145;Consciousnesss, Synthesia and theMeaning of Art: Lessons from Neuroscience,’#146; Ramachandran began the lecturedescribing ‘#145;Mysteries of the Mind.’#146;

    One such ‘#145;mystery’#146; Ramachandran described in a case study. The subject,involved in a car accident, recognized his mom as ‘#145;looking like mom’#146;but indeed not being his real mom, but an imposter.

    Previously scientists explained this problem through the Freudian model: thissubject was once attracted to his mother, and learned to inhibit such attractionin his cortex. However, after a blow to the head he lost his inhibitions, andis once again attracted to mom and unable to cope with the new attraction, thusmom becomes an imposter.

    Ramachandran rebuked this ‘#145;mystery,’#146; however, describing a processwhere all subjects excrete sweat when seeing their mother. A simple anatomicalexplanation involved the amyglada, which is the gateway to emotion. In thiscase, his amyglada was simply damaged.

    ‘Then again, it’#146;s hard to believe we all sweat when seeing our mothers,isn’#146;t it?’ Ramachandran joked.

    Ramachandran’#146;s second part of the lecture focused on phantom limbs, whichare parts of the body that become detached, yet the patient continually feelstheir presence. He described a case study in which a boy felt the fingers ofhis missing hand on the bottom of his face.

    Using an MRI, the part of the brain that actvates with hand-touching was shownto have invaded the face-sensitive part of his brain.

    As Ramachandran’#146;s case study demonstrates, introductory psychcology classesneed to update their Penfield maps, which demonstrate where on the brain sensitivitiesto different areas are, as the face on the map is upside down. The bottom ofthe face is actually closest to the fingers of the hands in the brain.

    Ramachandran reiterated that this research was essential to eliminating phantompain, and may very well be applied to other pain disorders.

    ‘#145;The Meaning of Art’#146; was the last section of Ramchandran’#146;s lecture.He explained synthesia, an uncommon trait in which a small portion of the population(some 1%) attributes colors to certain musical notes.

    He concluded his lecture by describing research by Tim Bergear, who observeda seagull’#146;s red dotted beak. A baby seagull pecks the beak to receive food,yet when presented with a beak that had three straight lines, the babies choosethat beak over the real mother.

    ‘This is what art attempts to do, to make that three lined beak,’Ramchandran said. ‘This is also what scientists attempt to do, to answerquestions through observable research.’

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