There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down,
the other is pulling up.
— Booker T. Washington
The Finishing Line of Summer Research
This past week was my last of research and I finally got to play with the brain-analysis program. Dream come true? What was very cool was that even though I had the smallest sample size ever ( N = 9), the figural creativity scores correlated with increased thickness in the brain regions that I wanted, particularly the TPJ! The TPJ is known as the temporal parietal junction, and that’s where the temporal and parietal lobes intersect. This area is a hotbed for connection, and is also implicated in Theory of Mind (understanding the concept of a mind, that other people have minds – people with autism have deficits).
The brain doesn’t quite look like a brain in the initial analysis because it’s inflated so you can see between the gyri. But down below is what the brain actually looks like (See how hard it is to figure it out):
Final memorable moments:
1) Hilarious phone calls to Dr. Lazar – someone apparently called and said they had a spontaneous awakening and wanted their brain scanned. They also claimed to be an advanced meditator because their “nose itched”. My nose itches right now too, does that mean I’m enlightened?
2) The Biggest Loser – STRESS EDITION – Dr. Britta Holzel, Sara’s fellow researcher who ahs also worked on many papers with her, was asked by a German production company from her native homeland to star in The Biggest Loser. The twist is that rather than losing weight, it’s the contestant who loses the most stress. So Britta’s role is to be the “meditator guru”, while other people will go through things like exercise, martial arts, counting sheep… to be honest I really have no idea where this idea is going. Again, evidence we’re a little too hyped up about “wellness” sometimes. I guess it’s better than more trashy episodes of the Kardashians (no hating) and shows an interest by the “public” in mental health.
Scents and Scentsability
So, hi, guess what? I’ve decided I want to do a [mini] documentary on the sense of smell and human conscience. How did my fascination begin?
Yoga-y: I’ve been told I have root chakra issues and root chakra (muladhara) is related to smell. Something about the psychology of groundedness and being in your body is related to this underappreciated sense.
Neurosciencey: Well, our other senses (and by that I mean the common five, not the extra ones) go through our sensory neurons, to the thalamus, then to its respective part in the cortex. BUT the olfactory system, considered to be part of our more primitive brain, engages in its own direct route. The neurons go straight to the olfactory bulb, which is seated next to the more primitive, emotional centers of our brain too, thus the deep connections of memory and emotions.
Food: Well it’s no secret I love food. But you seriously can’t taste without smell. I’ve started to do this new thing which all my friends make fun of me for – take a deep breath with your mouth, plug up your nose, and then eat something. The only things you can bring your attention to is the sensations created on your tongue and mouth…that’s real taste! It’s texture and sensations! You relearn what salty, umami, bitter, sweet, and sour really mean. You relearn how your mouth feels after certain food.
And then…keep playing and unplug your nose halfway through. WOOM you get a huge attack of flavor, and you can usually identify what you’re actually eating! Most fun with spices 🙂 Try cinnamon on your friends.
Currently reading “Season to Taste” by Molly Birnbaum, an incredible book with delightful descriptions of taste and smell, as well as a juicy handful of scientific knowledge (making the science nerd in me very, very happy). The book recounts her experiences as a chef who loses her sense of smell (anosmia) after getting in a car accident and damaging her brain. While deferring her space at a culinary institute, she falls into the world of journalism and slowly relearns to smell (first thing she detects is rosemary! Then chocolate woo). Can’t wait to meet and discuss with her next week at her book reading – going to ask her for tips on documentaries and also her thoughts on smell.
So basically – philosophers loved to rave about vision, especially because it distinguishes humans, but why not study the sense that connects us more deeply to other more ancient creatures? I’m starting to read articles which I will update here, but to begin my exploration I watched a BBC documentary – things I learned:
- many animals are super picky like the koala that will only eat 30 types of eucalyptus, sharks only eat fish (they tried giving them steak, chicken, lamb and swam off), carnivores on land hate sweet things, hummingbirds eat the equivalent of a human eating 1000 chocolate bars a day
- humans, on the other hand, first like sweet and salty, then learn to develop a palate – “aquiring a taste” is so unique to humans, and may have been one of our many evolutionary advantages
- I mean, take the crazy example of feeding stilton blue cheese (molded, fermented milk) to Asians, and feeding 100 year old eggs to Westerners. Each group finds it disgusting to eat the others’ delicacy
- As humans, we’re much more sensitive to bad smells than good…rotting meat for example – sulphurs, small, fast moving molecules
- Buteric Acid is the culprit for making cheese and vomit taste similar!
- A lot of smells we’re averse to (excrements) are learned as we become older – initially as babies we don’t think they’re bad at all! (refer again to parmesan cheese and vomit similarities above)
I got to attend knife skills 101 with Chef Rolando!! I’ll update under cooking some of the knife skills I learned (by creating my own videos). Unfortunately, I didn’t pass my first time (a minute too slow), but hopefully with some practice I’ll get better.
Ayr had me go on a run around to Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Starbucks, and Crema Cafe (a local Cambridge coffee shop) to check out their basic black coffees. Conversations that I will always remember forever and ever and ever (thanks Ayr!). No, not really.
Me: “Where is this coffee from?” Her: “I have noooooooo idea. Look online.”
Me: “Where is this coffee from?” NiceIrishLad: “I have noooooooo idea. Oh wait. It says by Newman. Ummm Bolivia?”
Me: “Where is this coffee from?” 2 people: “Uhhhhhhh NO idea.” 1 awesome person: “It’s from somewhere in South America. Specifically, I don’t know. But I do know it’s a combination of farmers we rotate through to manage a flavor profile. And I swear it’s according to a bunch of sustainable codes, you can check online.”
Me: “Where is your coffee from?” Her: “Uhhhhhh you can ask George Howell, he makes our coffee. So go online.”
Conclusion after tasting? Somehow, Starbucks tastes way worse than McDonalds or Dunkin. Disturbing.