Karen’s vlog #2


This is a picture of my brain, pretty cool, huh? It’s made with “magnetic resonance imaging” or MRI, it’s a fairly new technology and the technology has given birth to a new science, cognitive neuroscience. The black and white picture is a “structural” MRI, it shows the architecture of my brain, the color picture is a “functional” MRI, it shows what areas of my brain are active as I do some particular thing like laugh at a joke or add some numbers or experience something like pain or the color red.

When I was a girl, we had this night blooming cactus in our front yard. It bloomed in late summer and into fall. It’d have all these buds that’d keep getting bigger… and you could always tell which ones were going to open that night, they’d be so… so… pregnant. They’d start to open around dusk… around two in the morning or so – they’d be huge, like almost the size of your head … and then at dawn they’d be closing up. I remember seeing bees trying frantically to squeeze in those giant, closing blooms for that last raid of pollen. I almost never got to see them really big cause I always had to go to bed. One evening I was looking at one that was getting ready to open that night… and you could see where all the parts, where all the petals, were going to be; they just hadn’t opened up yet, like a folded umbrella, you can see how the structure will spread out even though it hasn’t done it yet…

Anyway, it was almost time for bed, and I took the flower and, I really wanted to see it open, and I started to peel it open… I wanted to open out the parts, see the big flower in bloom… Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way… the pattern of the flower was there, the instructions for the flower were there… but it wasn’t a flower in bloom, it hadn’t grown into one yet, it was a possibility… it was a causal cascade… it was a trajectory that might be followed, but hadn’t happened yet…


Karen’s vlog #1

Hi, my name’s Karen Rider; I’m thirty-six; I’m a neurobiologist. I run a research lab with several colleagues, some post-docs and some grad students. It’s called Ganglionics; it’s in a suburban Palo Alto biotech corridor. Folks in the lab are working on a whole range of vision things: early mammalian vision, machine vision, analog VLSI, optical flow and lots more… myself, I’m really interested in visual consciousness… visual awareness… neuronal activity… a.k.a. … the mind-body problem…

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to actually “see?” You just open your eyes and it’s there… like taking a lens cap off a camera… no! People who’ve had lifelong cataracts removed generally never learn to see – their brain never learned – now can’t learn – to make sense of the chaotic firings of a hundred million rods and cones… it drives them crazy… most of them wish they’d never had the surgery; some of them commit suicide. The simple truth is that taking that mess and finding edges… shapes… objects… meaning… the simple truth is that taking that mess and finding your mother’s face… is a staggeringly more complex task than beating Deep Blue or winning the Nobel Prize in Economics.

My daughter Laura started playing volleyball last year. She’s twelve now. She’s a big twelve. It’s funny, Katie down the street is also twelve, and she’s so small… I can’t imagine anyone’d ever guess they’re the same age.
I went to Laura’s first match a couple of weeks ago. Actually they played three matches in one day! At first the other parents weren’t quite sure what to make of me. Laura’s dad; um… he’s not the coach of her team… but he does coach older girls for the same club – anyway, finally, half joking, but maybe in a way not, Laura’s coach asked him if it was okay to be nice to me.

It’s Laura’s birthday on Sunday. We talked about a sleepover with her girlfriends. But then some of the boys wanted to invite themselves too. Laura’s definitely noticed boys recently. I vetoed all coed slumber parties. Her school – her Catholic school, can you believe this – is organizing “movie dates!”
Anyway, my dad’s in the hospital again. So we’re putting off the slumber party for a while… and having a hospital birthday party on Sunday.

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