Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Self/less and transplanting (ID)entities

by Karen Rommelfanger

I recently sat on a panel discussion for an early screening of the movie Self/less. I'm quoted (mostly correctly) with my name (mostly) spelled correctly here.

In Self/less, an aging business tycoon with a terminal illess (played by Ben Kingsley) pays to "shed" his skin for a new, younger, fitter body (played by Ryan Reynolds). See trailer above.

The film, despite the futuristic theme, revisits mundane themes of the Faustian tradeoff or a deal with a devil, ultimately conveying the message that the costs, even for the rich, are too high when trying to cheat death. The title of the movie implies that for the greater good the selfless thing to do is to just die as nature intended.

While the film would surely be categorized as science fiction, there are entrepreneurs quite dedicated to making such a possibility a reality.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Why I teach with an English professor

by Krish Sathian, MD, PhD

Dr. Sathian is Professor of Neurology, Rehabilitation Medicine, and Psychology at Emory University, and directs the Neurorehabilitation Program in the Department of Neurology. The recipient of Emory’s 2001 Albert Levy senior faculty award for excellence in scientific research, he is Executive Director of the Atlanta VAMC Rehabilitation R&D Center for Visual and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation and immediate Past President of the American Society of Neurorehabilitation.

Editor's note: The following post is the second of a pair of essays about interdisciplinary teaching we will feature on the blog. Please see its companion piece from last week, Dr. Laura Otis's "Why I teach with a neurologist." It is often said that academic fields are becoming increasingly siloed as specializations become more and more detailed and jargon-filled with each new peer-reviewed paper. The classes co-taught by Professors Otis and Sathian were unique interdisciplinary spaces where students across traditional disciplinary divides were able to wrestle with topics shared by the humanities and sciences: perception, imagination, and art. Is this kind of interdisciplinary inquiry a necessary counterbalance to the siloing of the disciplines? Or could it even be seen as part of the ethical practice of science? Might having more of such classes improve the science literacy of those in the humanities, and keep scientists in touch with the depth of expertise that other fields can contribute (as I have argued in an earlier post)? Should we begin to find ways to institutionalize more of this type of work into the higher education system, or provide more movement between the disciplines? Or is interdisciplinarity merely a fad? Readers: what do you think? 

I consider myself very fortunate to work both as a clinical neurologist in academia, and as a neuroscientist investigating fundamental questions about the brain that may in time have an impact on how we treat people with neurological disorders. My own research over many years has concentrated on studies of perception, but I recently began to study how the brain handles metaphor.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why I teach with a neurologist

by Laura Otis, PhD

Dr. Otis is a Professor of English at Emory University. Although she ultimately obtained a PhD in Comparative Literature and now teaches English literature, she holds a BS in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and an MA in Neuroscience, and she worked in research labs for years. She was awarded a MacArthur fellowship for creativity in 2000 and is currently working as a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

Editor's note: The following post is the first of a pair of short essays about interdisciplinary teaching that will be featured on the blog. Stay tuned next week for Dr. Krish Sathian's "Why I teach with an English professor." It is often said that academic fields are becoming increasingly segregated as specializations develop more jargon and become more detailed with each new peer-reviewed paper. However, the classes co-taught by Professors Otis and Sathian are unique interdisciplinary spaces where students across traditional disciplinary divides are able to wrestle with topics shared by the humanities and sciences: perception, imagination, and art. Is this kind of interdisciplinary inquiry a necessary counterbalance to the segregation of the disciplines? Or even part of the ethical practice of science? Might having more classes like this improve the scientific literacy of those in the humanities, and keep scientists in touch with the depth of expertise that other fields can contribute (as I have argued in an earlier post)? Should we begin to find ways to institutionalize more of this type of work into the higher education system, or provide more movement between the disciplines? Or is interdisciplinarity merely a fad and a buzzword? Readers: what do you think? 

In teaching, there are few things worse than realizing you’ve told your students something wrong. The jolt may come a year, five years down the line, but you can’t issue a retraction. They’ve dispersed to medical schools, where they’re now propagating your error. It’s been thirty years since I studied Neuroscience at UCSF, and a few things have changed since then. The human genome has been sequenced. Scientists analyze data on computers. I try to keep abreast of what’s happening, but this is hard while teaching Victorian literature. In this climate of near-worship for Neuroscience, I worry that I could say anything about the brain, and people would believe me. With a neurologist in the room, this can’t happen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Meeting ethological needs: Conflicting data on orca longevity in captivity

by Frans de Waal

Editor's note: Frans de Waal, PhD, is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University and the Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He is also a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences and a member of the AJOB Neuroscience editorial board. His research focuses on primate social behavior, including conflict resolution, cooperation, inequality aversion, and food-sharing.

de Waal, a leading primatologist, makes an argument here for thinking seriously about the captivity of certain animals such as orcas. Of course, the orca also has a sophisticated mammalian brain. Is the defining criterion of our responsibility to other animals their ecological needs, as de Waal suggests, or is it their cognitive function? What do you think?

There is so much to-do about orcas (killer whales) in captivity, with a drumbeat of voices against humans keeping this species, that it was about time we got some data on longevity. Not that longevity is the only measure to consider with regards to the ethics of keeping these fascinating animals, but since there is the claim out there that orcas in human care live short, stressful lives, there is a need to know the truth.

Source: flickr.com