Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Today I spent a few hours at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI or "the Neuro"). There was a panel dicsussion in the morning, and, after lunch, a tour of some facilities. This year is the 75th anniversary of the world-renown centre, which excels in the study of the final frontier: the human brain.
I was struck anew by many things while there today: my love of neuroscience, which goes back to my undergraduate days at McGill; the intense curiosity of the average neuroscientist, quite unlike the curiosity one might expect from all scientists, but will not find to the same degree; the excitement that pervades the place, even though the adjoining hospital is full of very ill people who may not recover.
The Neuro began with Dr. Wilder Penfiled in 1934, and some of the young people who began with him are still alive, active (and curious) well into their 80s and 90s. Once again, we're reminded: if you don't use it, you lose it - and these remarkable students of the brain use it plenty.
The head of the Neuro, Dr. David Colman, impressed me by stating how many politicians seem to expect research funding to yield a pay-off of some kind - as if it's not enough to let smart people explore nature and see what they find. They have to have "results" and that means results that save or make money for society, including the politicans. It reminds me of the people (again, usually politicans) who don't want to save a forest unless you can prove that it's useful to do so (e.g., it yields cancer drugs or lumber). The instrumental-value mindset pervades all levels of human endeavor.

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