Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Patagonia & Nudibranch: Einstein, Music & Memory!

©2015 Am Ang Zhang

No I did not do any diving in Patagonia!

We were having dinner at our Ecocamp in Patagonia with a very interesting couple.
The husband is aiming to climb the Matterhorn and somehow in the conversation we talked about their other adventures that included Diving. I show them some of my underwater pictures. Somehow Nudibranch was mentioned and as it turned out we exchange email addresses and became good friends.

Nudibranch reminded me of Aplysia and Kandel:

Nudibranch © 2009 Irene Man

Nudibranch is so named because of its naked gills.
Here is a description in The National Geographic:

Nudibranchs crawl through life as slick and naked as a newborn. Snail kin whose ancestors shrugged off the shell millions of years ago, they are just skin, muscle, and organs sliding on trails of slime across ocean floors and coral heads the world over.

Found from sandy shallows and reefs to the murky seabed nearly a mile down, nudibranchs thrive in waters both warm and cold and even around billowing deep-sea vents.

So why, in habitats swirling with voracious eaters, aren't nudibranchs picked off like shrimp at a barbecue? The 3,000-plus known nudibranch species, it turns out, are well equipped to defend themselves. Not only can they be tough-skinned, bumpy, and abrasive, but they've also traded the family shell for less burdensome weaponry: toxic secretions and stinging cells. A few make their own poisons, but most pilfer from the foods they eat. Species that dine on toxic sponges, for example, alter and store the irritating compounds in their bodies and secrete them from skin cells or glands when disturbed. Other nudibranchs hoard capsules of tightly coiled stingers, called nematocysts, ingested from fire corals, anemones, and hydroids. Immune to the sting, the slugs deploy the stolen artillery along their own extremities.

Memory & Knowledge: Talmud & Taxi

In 2001 I was fortunate enough to be in New Orleans for the American Psychiatric Association Annual Conference. One of the lectures attracted a long queue and it turned out that the Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel was giving his lecture. I was fortunate enough to be able to secure a seat.

"Different forms of learning result in memories by changing that strength in different ways. Short-term memory results from transient changes that last minutes and does not require any new synthesis of proteins, Kandel said. However, long-term memories are based in more lasting changes of days to weeks that do require new brain protein to be synthesized. And this synthesis requires the input of the neuron’s genes." Eric Kandel.

In his book In Search Of Memory, he remembered his arrival in New York in 1939 after a year under the Nazi in Vienna:

“My grandfather and I liked each other a great deal, and he readily convinced me that he should tutor me in Hebrew during the summer of 1939 so that I might be eligible for a scholarship at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, an excellent Hebrew parochial school that offered both secular and religious studies at a very high level. With his tutelage I entered the Yeshiva in the fall of 1939. By the time I graduated in 1944 I spoke Hebrew almost as well as English, had read through the five books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Prophets and the Judges in Hebrew, and also learned a smattering of the Talmud.”

Eric Kandel/Amazon

“It gave me both pleasure and pride to learn later that Baruch S. Blumberg, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976, had also benefited from the extraordinary educational experience provided by the Yeshivah of Flatbush.”

In Hebrew and English!!! That did not seem to have done him and Blumberg much harm. Right now some governments seem hell bent in doing away with rote learning and that includes some medical schools.

Lord Brain:
When I was training in London in the 70s, I spent some time at Queen Square. Those in the know will recognize it as the place for neurology this side of the Atlantic. It was drilled into us then that sadly we were given a number of brain cells when we were born and it was all downhill from then on or something to that effect. It was well known that neurologists were great diagnosticians but for most neurological conditions, not much could be done. How depressing indeed. Even as recently as four weeks ago, I heard a young doctor told his father that there was nothing he could do with his brain cells. One is given so many at birth and no more can be expected. Lord Brain (1895-1966) would have been so proud.


Yet it was also London that shook the world with new discoveries about the brain, and the study was on the most unlikely group of people: Taxi drivers. Their “KNOWLEDGE” was the basis of our knowledge on brain plasticity today. The “KNOWLEDGE” is a term officially used to describe the test the Taxi Drivers had to take to get the license to drive Taxis in London. Streets in London have evolved over time and are not on any grid system at all. Early postmortem examinations led some pathologists to note the small size of the Taxi drivers’ frontal lobes. Yet actual weight measurement showed that size was all relative. It was the enlarged hippocampal region that created that impression. Later work using modern scanning techniques confirmed the early impressions.

Music, poetry & anatomy:

Playing musical instruments requires both manual dexterity and memory work, and musicians are often good mathematicians, possibly because of the proximity of the areas in the brain for these functions, although it may not be that clear cut. Making children recite poems is not a bad idea either, nor indeed the study of Latin, or anatomy work for medical students, as these activities all help to exercise their brain.
Einstein loved his violin!

He played the violin with passion and often performed at musical evenings. He enchanted audiences, particularly women, one of whom gushed that "he had the kind of male beauty that could cause havoc."

He also empathized with Mozart's ability to continue to compose magnificent music even in very difficult and impoverished conditions. In 1905, the year he discovered relativity, Einstein was living in a cramped apartment and dealing with a difficult marriage and money troubles.

That spring he wrote four papers that were destined to change the course of science and nations. His ideas on space and time grew in part from aesthetic discontent. It seemed to him that asymmetries in physics concealed essential beauties of nature; existing theories lacked the "architecture" and "inner unity" he found in the music of Bach and Mozart.

In his struggles with extremely complicated mathematics that led to the general theory of relativity of 1915, Einstein often turned for inspiration to the simple beauty of Mozart's music.

"Whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or into a difficult situation in his work, he would take refuge in music," recalled his older son, Hans Albert. "That would usually resolve all his difficulties."

Now lessons in music instruments are no longer offered in most state schools in the U.K., nor is Latin. Medical schools are moving away from rote learning. Good intentions may indeed have major drawbacks that could affect generations to come.

By the way, if you have been trained to have a good memory, that ability will transfer easily to the remembering of the taste of wine! Think about it, the brain is very economical in its application, and is still the best computer around.

Mmmm….perhaps that is why two of my friends started learning the piano when they retired. And they joined wine clubs too. They too might know a thing or two.

If we want our children to have a future, bring back music, rote learning and poetry, and let medical students toil through anatomy.

For us, learn a new instrument & drink wine!


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