Media recommendations

The following are bits of writing from many sources such as personal correspondence, posts to on-line discussion groups, notes, and occasionally even some journaling. All of this is informal in nature, but contains some interesting and/or useful information.

Powers of 10
For those who haven't seen this film, it's like the first 5 minutes or so of the movie "Contact." (Personal aside: Those who haven't seen "Contact" yet should be slapped repeatedly.) It's a pull-back through the universe starting from a 1 square meter picnic scene all the way to the edge of the known universe, then a zoom-in back to the picnic and inward to the level of quarks. All in under ten minutes.
Here's the IMDb entry: (not much info, unfortunately, but a more detailed summary).
It's a terrific movie and very, very useful for teachers. I had a lot of trouble tracking down a copy, but I had seen it as an undergrad in a physics class. Interestingly, the video can be used for almost any physical science class because it presents things to scale. For example, some of the features seen along the way (in chronological order of the film) include the orbit of the moon, the solar system (including the Oort Cloud), star clusters, galaxies, galactic clusters, (then zooming in) cells, DNA, atoms, electron orbitals, atomic nuclei, elementary particles, and quarks.
One thing the film points out that I hadn't thought of previous was that the universe is organized such that things cluster together and leave areas with much empty space between them.
It's a real mind-blower no matter how much education you have already.

I'm reading a book right now by the author of Awakenings (recall the Robin Williams movie in which he played a doctor who temporarily brought people out of the catatonic state in which they had existed for 30 years or more). This book is titled "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" and is probably just as well known as Awakenings (it is required reading in many psych courses). This book describes some of the more unusual neurological cases the author has encountered over the years. For example, the first case described in the book (and the source of its title) is about a man who lost his ability to visually discriminate objects. He could "see" just fine, but he could not attach an appropriate interpretation to what had displayed itself upon his retina. Consequently, he was frequently found to speak with fire hydrants and otherwise totally misjudge all things which required visual interpretation. He recognized his students only when they spoke to him (he was a music teacher), and it was said he "faced people with his ears," those being the secondary sense organs with which to interpret social situations.
Another case (with symptoms which are unfortunately relatively common) involved a woman who, following a stroke, lost her concept of "left." That is, the left portion of her visual field (among other things) did not register. She did not make up the left side of her face, and all such as that. When nurses brought her food, she inquired why they had not included a drink or desert. When they turned the tray around so that those items were now on the right side, she then realized they had indeed brought them. Often she believed that the portions of food were very small. Eventually she was supplied with a wheelchair (as you might expect she was paralyzed on her left side as well) so that she could turn around and see the remainder of the food. (Interestingly, rather than shifting a few degrees to her left, she instead turned completely around to her right.) However, now that she was exposed to the remaining half of her food, she still only ate one half (the right, of course) of the remainder. If she was still hungry, she would do this all over again until she had eaten 7/8ths of her meal. Ironically, she was always aware that this was the situation, but could do little to alter her perception in spite of her intellectual acceptance of the true (though incompletely perceived) reality.
I was reading this book while I was at the conference (in the car and at night, not during the presentations, of course), so it's a wonder I didn't dream about brains the whole night.

"The Brain, the Universe Within"
Incidentally, the series is worth watching. It's called "The Brain, the Universe Within" and consists of five one-hour episodes with generic titles like "Evolution," "Perception," etc.. I saw it before I started grad school and didn't really like it for some reason (I remember thinking the now out-dated computer animations were gaudy for one thing), but it has a lot of good info, even though it rushes through it, in my opinion anyway. Apparently, they just put this out on dvd. I noticed my library had copies, so I gave it a second chance. If you're interested, check to see if your library has it as well.

Neuro texts
[Posted to the neuroscience group on]
>Kandel, Jessel, and Schwartz's "Neural Science" is a great book for a beginning neuroscientist.
Yeah, it's been my bible (heresy absolutely intended) through grad school, but I should note for those unfamiliar with it that it is ~15 lbs and ~$100. Also, one criticism people usually come away from it with is that the title is "Principles of Neural Science," yet the text dwells on facts without providing many guiding principles.
I make this point because people in these group undoubtedly have a wide range of learning styles. This text is essential if you are motivated to committing the facts to memory. However, for more casual readers or those who lean more toward a right-brained learning style (who probably gave up reading this post half-way through the previous paragraph), there are many popular books out there like Oliver Sachs' "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" (among others) that adopt a narrative style interspersed with scientific exposition.

Neuro media recommendations
[Posted to the neuroscience group on]
>I have yet to find any good fiction stuff relating to neuroscience, though.....
Likewise, which is why I was hoping for someone to identify something out there. The only things that come to mind in the fiction realm have been movies. Specifically, the Matrix series for brain/computer interfaces and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" that raised (for me anyway) questions about things I had previously taken for granted about general memory and association. "Phenomenon" also made me wonder about the basis of intelligence and our intrinsic limitations in that area, although the science in the film was otherwise weak.
For those interested, there's a section called "Neuroscience at the Movies" under the Neuroscience for Kids site: (Although it's missing some good stuff in my opinion.)
Since that's off the subject, here's a recommendation to get this post back on track:
The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence by Carl Sagan
This one is sometimes criticized for the fact that its high-profile author was writing outside of his discipline, but it is definitely worth-while reading. It's a review of the literature on the nature of human intelligence and its evolutionary origins. Sagan also speculates about where we go from here, which is always a fun area. The book itself is relatively short and has some illustrations besides, so it isn't much of an investment for the broad range of topics covered. I think you could get something out of it no matter what level of involvement (i.e., education) you have in the neurosciences.

Copyright Alexplorer.

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