The unlimited you: A short story by Rodney Paul
It was a dream come true for Dr. Julien Perlmutter,a professor of neurobiology at the prestigious Harvard University,as he stood on the University lectern to deliver one of the most important lectures in his life and career as a neurobiologist after several years of rigorous study and research. This lecture is important to him because it is an opportunity for him to tell the world about the marvel of the brain,the co-ordination center of the body,the seat of judgement and the sole determinant of who we are and who or what we will eventually turn out to be in life. In fact the potentialities are endless and hence the reason for the lecture,but most importantly tonight,it was to talk about the superior intelligence behind such a marvel. Weighing about 3 pounds, with about 100 billion neurons and nearly 100 trillion synaptic connections( there is more than 300 times more connections in the brain than there are stars in the milky way galaxy), the brain is a biological marvel in deed. Standing right there on stage,ramrod straight, he was about 5ft5' tall,with dark hair and heavy set eyes. He was in his late twenties and had an athletic build and this feature defied all that should have contributed to his academic outlook,but the wire rimmed glasses he wore actually accentuated his bookish appeal. Dr. Julien's life just flashed in front of him,in a wide higher resolution screen of techni-colour. He could see on this screen how he had been labeled a pointdexter, a bookworm,a nerd, an asocial skunk and all sorts of names by his classmates, back in highschool. He grew to develop a tough skin to all these labels as only one thing mattered to him,and this is the fact that he loved his books and studies. He was a voracious and an avid reader. What he therefore lacked in social proclivities or inclinations he made up for in stellar academic performances. He had been a topper from high school and all through college. His interest in the brain started quite early. His fascination stemmed from the wonders one can perform with just the 3 pounds of grey matter upstairs. The almost unlimited capacity and ability of the brain to store information,make associations to synthesize new information and make projections into the future. His interest deepened the more when one of their lecturers told them that the human brain has enough memory to hold 3 million hours of television that you would have to leave the television running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage, in fact, the brain could contain all the information on the planet Earth and still have some space left, this amazed and flabbergasted the young Julien, back then in college.
"I would love to spend the rest of my life learning about this organic marvel", Julien muttered to himself in sotto voce.
Standing now on stage,he was an established analyst on all that had to do with the brain-- a walking-talking encyclopedia of sorts. Before now, during his research for his doctoral thesis,Dr. Julien Perlmutter who wouldn't want to settle for less, because he was driven by a desire to not just learn about the brain but also to be a pioneer and a pacesetter, thereby carving out a niche for himself in the field of neurobiology,chose a highfalutin topic. This topic turned out to be an area of research most neurobiologist wouldn't want to venture into for all the money in the world. Well,Dr. Perlmutter was equal to the task,with an I.Q that ranked or placed him at the top echelon of the creative genius. More to that he came from a pedigree of academicians and scholars in various fields of the sciences and the humanities,from the known to the obscure and abstract viz:Neurology, Neurosurgery,Opthalmology, Astronomy, sociology, paleontology, Archaeology, Mathematics,Cliodynamics, Recombinant memetics, Quantum Biology and nutrigenomics. His dad for one studied Cliodynamics. Julien wasn't familiar with this field of study and had to ask his Dad to explain to him what the field was all about. Mr. Perlmutter, a rotund gourmet in his late fifties without wasting time went down to the specifics. He began thus, "the term Cliodynamics was coined by the University of Connecticut's Peter Turchin....".There was a brief pause,not wanting to rush, though this was consistent with his nature,then he continued,"....Cliodynamics is an interdisciplinary area of research that combines historical macrosociology, economic history (cliometrics), the mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the building and analysis of historical databases. It's basically Asimov's psychohistory come to life....." The flow was interjected by a second pause, this time realizing he had said much, Mr. Perlmutter wanted the enormity of what he had said to sink in. Julien being an early developer,was a perfect epitome of a child-prodigy; he took his first baby steps at 7 months,by age 1 had started reading and had read Shakespeare,Homer and Greek mythology before he was 8. He was also a big time lover of comics and science fiction and had read the works of great science fiction authors like Isaac Asimov, H.G. Wells,Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. His Dad had followed this developmental trends in young Julien's life. So at the mention of Asimov's psychohistory, Julien didn't stress much to make the needed connection to understand what his Dad was saying.( Haven read about Asimov's Psychohistory in his fictional science novel, Foundation). Mr. Perlmutter then continued, stepping down a bit, ".....the name is a portmanteau of Clio, the muse of history, and dynamics, the study of changes over time. Simply put, it's an effort to quantify and describe the broad social forces of history, both to study the past, and as a potential way to predict the future". Julien gave an indication of understanding by a nod of the head. Julien asked his Dad this question just out of curiosity and not because he really wanted to know. But either way,the answer served both purposes. Geniuses are known to be greedy guts for knowledge, Julien met that standard, especially when it came to all that had to do with the brain or the nervous system. He absorbed every material that came his way like a sponge.
The research topic Julien chose that scared other neurobiologist but that had sparked his interest entails mapping the neurological substrates that subserve global information processing which is required for all cognitive reasoning. The posterior portion of the lateral prefrontal cortex (pLPFC), anterior insula, and, less consistently, the anterior cingulate gyrus, pre-supplementary and supplementary motor areas, and subcortical areas,-- but particularly the pLPFC and anterior insula –Dr. Julien found all these to be the candidate neural substrates underlying a central hub of information processing in the human brain. During the course of his research also,Dr. Julien discovered gamma-band synchronization in the visual cortex(part of the brain responsible for interpretation of visual impulses) and the hippocampus( part of the brain responsible for the formation of memory). This made the research to be more intense. This is all in a bid to nail down its mechanistic underpinnings, and its function in cortical computation. After some years of research,the emerging picture is that gamma-band synchronization plays an important role in both information encoding and selective information transmission and purportedly, global information processing. Hence, despite this substantial headway with the gamma-band synchronization hypothesis,the drawback for Dr. Julien is to figure out whether gamma-band synchronization subserve a single universal function and reflects a global recognition signal or a diversity of functions across the full spectrum of cognitive processes. But so far,this discovery has made his research a form of Psychologism,i.e,for knowledge in the fields of philosophy( logic, metaphysics etc) and science to be valid,it must be subjected or subsumed under neuroscientific and neurobiological paradigm. Psychologism, in philosophy,is the view that problems of epistemology(i.e., of the validity of human knowledge) can be solved satisfactorily by the psychological study of the development of mental processes. But in the case of Dr. Julien, validity of human knowledge will be solved based on neurobiological study of neurological substrates that subserve mental processing of information. Hence,Dr. Julien's research confer on science in general and neurobiology in particular a novel outlook.
The success of his research set the
scientific world agog with wonder and curiosity, just like it did when Albert Einstein elaborated on Newtonian mechanics in the general theory of relativity,E=mc² i.e mass-energy is responsible for the bending/ curving of space-time,which in turn causes mass-energy to move. There were also whispers here and there that Dr. Julien might most likely be a candidate-nominee for the most prestigious award in the world, the Nobel prize. When you break the laws of the land you go to jail, when you break a law in science you travel to Stockholm, Sweden to receive a Nobel prize; the latter is most likely the fate of Dr. Julien.
As a pioneer and a defacto guru in the field of neurobiology,the ears of the science community including students in the college of science at Harvard University were itching to hear from him. His respect profile had zoomed to the highest resolution. The auditorium was filled to capacity. Everyone wanted to gaze at the prodigious living science legend. Glances of admiration were shot at him as he made his way to the podium, with a soft classical music playing at the background based on the composition of George Frederick Handel,-Comfort Ye My People-,from his album "The Messiah" . He had expected this moment and was well-prepared for it. Before being given the chance to deliver his lecture, a raucous standing ovation filled the entire auditorium. Grabbing the microphone,he prayed for God's grace and wisdom in his heart and then began with the words of Immanuel Kant,"we should not praise people who are naturally inclined to do certain things,rather we ought to praise those who are not so inclined,but through their sheer will discover the righteous path....".he said in a soft-spoken tone then paused to get a reaction from the audience,but the opening remark was welcomed with a pin drop silence. But amidst the silence,he noticed eyes that were questioningly locked on him seeking an explanation to the opening remark. Then he continued...." One could say I've hit the genetic lottery because I did certain things easily which is true. But despite my innate inclinations,I still had to toil and labour to acquire the requisite knowledge needed to succeed in my chosen endeavor.Hence, I'm a product of nature and nurture" .
There was a thunderous applause in the auditorium.
"But I'm not here to talk about me tonight, but to talk about the potentialities of a marvelous organ that God has given us to change and better our lives. I'm talking about the human brain.Because of the limitless capacity of the brain,I've decided to tag the lecture the unlimited you.....''
There was another round of applause this time,louder and more deafening than ever. It took some time for the applause to die down.
"....first a brief on some important facts about the brain.This brain that we all have is a tremendous gift from God- The most complex organ system and processer of information in the entire universe. The computer on Earth that would come close to the capacity of the average human brain has not yet been built.Our ability to Process Information and Store Information, is what makes us Human. Information Defines us, Information Controls us, Information Teaches us.
Learning about the inner workings of your brain will help you understand your abilities and your vulnerabilities. Especially knowing that the prefrontal cortex, which controls focus, planning, and efficient action, takes almost 20 Years to Mature. A baby’s brain cerebral cortex expands by 88 percent in the first year of life. Its cells are also reorganizing
themselves and rapidly forming new connections to one another.The brain is complex but not impossible to understand...."
This last line brought cheers and more anticipation from the audience, especially the science college students
....."before I proceed,I would like to drop a few comments about the mind,to challenge the brain-mind dualism, put forward by the seventeenth century dualist philosopher,René Decartes,who separated the brain from the mind, placing the mind in the pineal gland ... ", said Dr. Julien,
....." the Mind is a set of cognitive faculties including consciousness, perception, thinking, judgment, and memory. The mind is the faculty of a human being's reasoning and thoughts. It holds the power of imagination, recognition, and appreciation, and is responsible for processing feelings and emotions, resulting in attitudes and actions. Hence the mind is more like an amalgamation of composite ''functions'' of the brain...".
"Quickly,I would like to talk on some key
features and functions of your brain,
the human brain is built and designed to learn and built to be creative.
It's very important to know how you developed, what influences affected your development,
and that human development continues throughout your lifetime...."
At this point as if all his years of rigorous study was brought to bear,
and with his mind working at full gear,
he reeled out the following lines with the speed of an auctioneer,
...."the human brain weighs about 3 pounds, which is 2% of a person's weight, but consumes as much as 25 percent of our body’s oxygen, burns 20% of our total calories each day, with glucose being the main energy source for the brain that runs on around 12 watts of power, which is a fifth of the power required by a standard 60 watt light bulb, has 400 miles of capillaries, 86 billion microscopic neurons in constant synaptic communication, making 10 quadrillion calculations every second,the synaptic firing rate
200 times per second,17.2 trillion action potentials and each neuron is like a tiny branching tree, whose limbs reach out and touch other neurons making between 5,000 and 10,000 connections with other neurons,that’s more than 500 trillion connections performing a dazzling array of complex mental processes every second,geared to generating and regulating our
and perceptions,how we reason, how we think, our emotions, our mental images, our attention span, learning, and our memory which is essentially a Pattern of connectionsbetween neurons.
A piece of brain matter the size of a grain of sand contains approximately 100,000 neurons, 2 million axons, and 1 billion synapses."
This one now directed to the students in the college of science...
"Your brain requires a lot of food energy, so don't waste it. You have to make sure that you keep adding to your knowledge base so that you are not just feeding yourself to run in circles, to never progress or amount to anything is a waste of potential."
At this point,he held the audience in hypnotic captivation.
Dr. Julien threw a question at the audience.." how many of you remembered what you had for breakfast or lunch today? Let me see your hands up." With a near choreographed spontaneity and precision, almost all hands were up. "Ok that's quite a good number",he said. "Let's try and think through what your brain had to do when I asked that question"...
...first of all ,the sound waves had to leave my lips, travel through the air into your tympanic membrane,set up a vibratory force which travelled across the ossicles of your inner ear to the oval windows,generating a vibratory force in the endolymph, which mechanically distorts the microcilia,converting mechanical energy to electrical energy, which travelled across the cochlear nerve to the cochlear nucleus at the ponto-medullary junction,from there to the superior olivary nucleus..."
The audience applauded,
as Dr. Julien raced through the recitation,he had to calm them down, "quiet down, we've got a long way to go." He said and then continued
"..... ascending bilaterally up the brain stem through the lateral lemniscus,to the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate nucleus,across the thalamic radiations to the posterior temporal lobes to begin the auditory process,from there to the frontal lobes, coming down the tract of Vicq d'Azur, retrieving the memory from the medial hippocampal structures and the mamillary bodies,back to the frontal lobes to start the motor response at the Betz cell level, coming down the cortico-spinal tract, across the internal capsule into the cerebral peduncle, descending down to the cervicomedullary decussation into the spinal cord grey matter, synapsing, going out to the neuromuscular junction, stimulating the nerve and the muscle so you could raise your hand.
"Of course I simplified it, if I'd go into the inhibitory and co-ordinating influences, we'd be here the whole day talking about that one thing."
"Your brain can do all that and you barely have to think about it,and you can be doing multiple,more complex things simultaneously. So with a brain like that,why would anyone ever utter the word 'I can't'?.
"Yet we live in a society where "I cantism" is rampant. We live in a society where young people are not grasping the importance of education.
"To cap it all up,the human brain is not only the most complex organ in our body,but the most outstanding thing we have ever known. Our brain is highly skilled in almost all science and engineering fields.e.g in ULTRA ADVANCED maths, Geometry, Physics, Biology, Mechanics, Programming, Electronics, Robotics,Optics, Sensors, Medicine ( it controls our immune system),Logic, Psychology etc. It is literally smarter than all of scientists combined and much more advanced than any technological device ever made".
"With a brain like ours we are unlimited. Hence, there's no limit to what we can do. The intricate cerebral neuronal circuitry and synaptic connections are pointers to or proofs of the craftsmanship of a meticulous, orderly, organized, superior intelligence. The brain is a wonderful gift given to us by God,the author of creation. If the astronomical heavens with all it's starry hosts, could evoke wonder in us ,the brain should the more. We can do miracles with our lives when we invest in developing it. In my opinion,investing in your mind is the best investment you can make in your entire life".....
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