29 March 2007

Brain storm

Superhero supplies from Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.

Last week’s New Scientist has a very interesting article on mental time travel and references to « autobiographical memory network » in the brain. In short, the same area of the brain is used for to stock memories and to imagine the future, and memories are used to project into the future. They explain that the constructive nature of memories can help us to anticipate the future, but also causes us to form false memories. They also reiterate that scientists, for the past 50 years, have known that our brain can work independently from our control.

This grabbed my attention, for I have had the brain on my mind for a while. The idea of a brain working on its own brought back memories of a cartoon I used to watch with the two Big Sisters when they were small. What I remember – and it could be a “constructed” memory, is little men at work through the body, and the control center in the brain organizing the whole day, with no input whatsoever from the “person”, who was actually totally irrelevant. I have been wondering about those little men (why not women?) and about what this PhD business is doing to my brain. For over a week now, if I wake up naturally, and not jerked into wakefulness by the Little One jumping on my bed/the cat scratching at the door/assorted family members wondering very loudly about breakfast, if and when I wake up on my own, I wake up to thinking about The thesis. I don’t wake up, wonder about the day, and think about the thesis, I wake up to my brain thinking about the thesis behind my back, and stumble into the conversation. It is a strange feeling. I have tried admonishing my brain “what are you doing, thinking without me? What if I don’t like what you’re thinking about?”, but my brain is becoming sneaky. Already, it has stopped me from reading novels for months on end. I pick up a thriller, settle myself comfortably on my bed, away from the bedlam that is the rest of the house, and… nothing. I read a page, sigh, read another page, feel bored. I love thrillers, but my love is thwarted for weeks and weeks. Then, suddenly, my brain lets me read thrillers again, and refuses to concentrate on articles.

It has become so contrary, a little bit like a sulky teenager intent on freedom at all costs, and intent mainly on testing my resolve and my power over it. So it works without me. Maybe to my advantage, mind you. In a lecture room the other day I found a very strange questionnaire. Question 1 was “do you think you have super powers?” Yes, YES, of course I have super powers. I think in my sleep! Not a very useful superpower, I hear you snigger. Maybe, but superpowers can be improved, I have read enough comics and seen enough films to know that much. I could very well go back to my home planet/attend a special school/wear a new superhero outfit, and wham, zam, new super powers. Never mind about my brain, I really want my hands to start typing while I’m sleeping.

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