How I Met Bosco (or: Coincidence or Fate?)

Unrelated to neuroscience, or at best tangential (because everything we do is related to neuroscience).

Pogo Rey

Pogo Rey

Each summer Battle Creek hosts a wonderful outdoor music festival – Leilapalooza. Five venues scattered around the beautiful Leila Arboretum host bands and soloists pretty much non-stop from 10 AM – 10 PM on a Saturday in July.  Musical genres are varied, from Celtic folk and Tejano through classic rock, hard rock, and nihilistic sounds that pass for music in some alternate universe.  I go for the music, and for the chance to take photos.

In 2013 I approached a stage where Pogo Rey and Blue Haze were playing – low-key blues done as well as they can be.  I took a few photos and stood listening, then Rey shouted out (in my general direction), “Hi Bosco!” I turned around to see who Bosco was, and there was nobody there.  I turned back and Rey again shouted, “Hi Bosco! I haven’t see you for a while!” I shook my head to indicate the he had the wrong guy, and he looked a bit sheepish (well, as sheepish as he ever could, which is not much).  After their set I spoke with him, reminding him that we had met before a few times when I photographed them.  He told me that my fedora had confused him – I nearly always wear one when I’m in my photographer alter-ego, and his friend Bosco wears one like it.

Pogo Rey and Bosco

Pogo Rey and Bosco

 

A few weeks pass, and I’m at another great local music event – Jam for a Cure at Marshall‘s Stuart’s Landing.  Because I’m there playing photographer, I’m in my fedora.  As I’m sitting and relaxing, a guy comes up to me and says, “I like your hat.”  He extends his hand to shake mine and says, “I’m Bosco.” I laugh and share the story of Rey’s confusion with him.  To be sure, the hat could be the only basis for confusing the two of us.

Since then I’ve become friends with Bosco, and a bit closer to Rey and some of the musicians in Blue Haze.  And my daughters have determined that when I make it big as an accodion player my stage name should be “Bosco Squeezebox,” pronounced “Bosco Squeeze” (the “box” is silent, as people would wish that mine would be).

Thinking about this now because I’m heading out tonight to hear Laditude - the band that Bosco plays in currently.  Looking forward to it.99630compress

Faculty Lecture Thanks

annelidometer

Annelidometer

I had the honor of giving a Faculty Lecture today, discussing my research on learning in earthworms.  I am grateful to the many students who worked hard to run the worms and collect the data that led to the work that I discussed, and I was glad to see a few of those students (even past ones) in attendance.

For those who are interested, here’s a copy of the presentation, in pdf format.  It might not be fully self-explanatory, but it will come close.

I appreciate the thoughtful questions posed by my colleagues during and after the talk.  Now back to end-of-semester fun and games!

40 Years

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Bruce Baron, Alice Powers, Tony Reiner, and me.

At the recent Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington DC I ran into three people whom I’ve known for a long time. Only after the event did I realize that this marks the 40th anniversary of when I met them, a long time ago in what seemed like a different life. I thought I should write about my earliest memory of each of them.  I am struck by how old the men look compared to the woman — more remarkable considering that what binds the three guys together is that we were all her students at about the same time.

First – Alice Powers. Alice was my first psychology professor, teaching the first segment of my team-taught introductory psychology course at Bryn Mawr College. This was the segment of the course on learning – not her normal area but Dick Gonzalez was on sabbatical so the task fell to her.  I took the course at Bryn Mawr (I was a Haverford student) because at the time the two psych departments were quite distinct (at least in the eyes of the students).  We described the two this way: “Bryn Mawr is rats and cats; Haverford is nuts and sluts.”  I was way over on the science end of things, so I gravitated to the biological, learning theory end of psychology (plus my then-girlfriend was a psych major at Bryn Mawr).

Alice taught the segment very well, or at least I assume that she did.  Learning is my favorite area of psychology, and I am sure that my being partial to it came in part from Alice’s teaching and from Gonzalez’s 200-level Learning course.  Gonzalez’ course was theoretically challenging and offered my first experience of writing a detailed APA-style paper (and I’m sorry to say that I just learned that Gonzalez died last March).  Alice did (and still does) research in turtle vision and turtle learning, informing our understanding of our mammalian brain by looking at its evolutionarily distant ancestor.  I never did any research with Alice (I worked with her colleague Earl Thomas) but I have remained close to her – we get together at nearly every SfN meeting.

From Powers AS & Reiner A. (1980). A stereotaxic atlas of the forebrain and midbrain of the eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta). J Hirnforsch. 21:125-59. Powers AS, Reiner A.

From Powers AS & Reiner A. (1980). A stereotaxic atlas of the forebrain and midbrain of the eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta). J Hirnforsch. 21:125-59.
Powers AS, Reiner A.

Tony Reiner (behind Alice in the photo) was a graduate student working with Alice on turtle vision.  He has had a successful career as an anatomist at the University of Tennessee. I remember Tony showing me microscope slides of turtle brains — my first real experience with neuroanatomy.  He explained to me that brain areas really are distinct from each other, that you come to appreciate the subtle differences that constitute their boundaries.  I had no real understanding of how brain areas were organized; I knew that they had names, and I imagined very obvious differently-colored blobs of clay molded together into a brain shape.  It was Tony’s willingness to spend a few minuted (probably the whole discussion lasted 15 min at most) with a lowly undergraduate that helped me to comprehend the nature of anatomical differences in the brain.  In order to do his research Tony needed an atlas of the turtle brain.  Such an atlas did not exist, so he created one for his masters thesis (that’s my memory of the situation, anyway).

Finally, Bruce Baron was a year ahead of me at Haverford. Like me, he was interested in what was then called Physiological Psychology, and did his research with Alice, although I can’t recall the nature of his project.  Bruce was the first person to demonstrate to me how one removes the brain from a formalin-soaked rat’s head.  I remember him telling me that after you do it you can’t eat chicken for a week.  I also recall Bruce getting five grad school rejection letters before getting his first acceptance – to the University of Rochester, I think.  He lived one floor up from me in our dorm, and I recall hearing the fire doors in the corridor slamming open and closed as he ran down the hall toward the staircase to come down to tell me that he had gotten in.  He has spent a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, working at Sanofi.

It’s hard to know for sure, but it is likely that my scientific life would have been quite different had I not met these fine people.  Forty years ago…

Working Hard on a Paper

phd092111sWhat does it mean to say that you “worked hard on a paper?”  Consider these two hypothetical students writing about the nucleus accumbens:

Sue Perfishle:

  • Spent hours online finding a handful of full-text articles with the word “accumbens” in the title.
  • Read the abstracts to find the key sentences about what was done and what was found.
  • Read the introductions to find older references about the accumbens.
  • Searched for full-text versions of these older papers.
  • Sought sentences in the various papers that seemed to have something to do with the function of the accumbens.
  • Painstakingly cobbled together a 6-page paper by cutting and pasting these sentences, re-arranging them and substituting synonyms.

or

Anne Durstuhd:

  • Read the textbook to see what it said about the accumbens.
  • Read some of the articles cited by the textbook authors to learn more about the accumbens.
  • Formulated an idea about what the accumbens might do for behavior.
  • Sought articles related to this hypothesis.
  • Read more and revised the hypothesis.
  • Sought more articles and read them.
  • Came to a conclusion about the accumbens, and wrote about it based on the new-found knowledge.

The scientific content of the two papers might be comparable, if one judged solely on the basis of number of facts per page.  The scientific quality of the second will be far better, because it reflects a thesis; the facts presented are more likely to hang together in some relevant manner.

It’s also a safe bet that Anne could tell me about the accumbens — what we know about it and what it might do for behavior — without referring to notes, articles, or the final paper. Sue would struggle to do this, perhaps being capable of repeating some of the phrases from the paper but without understanding.

Don’t be Sue; strive to be Anne.

[Note - I found a draft of this on 11/24/2014, the evening before papers are due in Neuroscience I.  Not sure why I didn't post it two years ago when I first wrote it, but I think I ought to post it now.]

Grad School Advice from Experts at SfN 2014

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Washington DC Convention Center

Albion’s Neuroscience Concentrators (well, some of them) attended the 2014 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, DC.  During the trip, students heard many lectures by senior scientists about cutting-edge science, attended cutting-edgier posters presented by younger investigators (typically grad students, post-docs, and un-tenured faculty), and networked with many other neuroscientists.  In conversations with some established neuroscientists (recent PhDs, assistant professors,
and famous full professors) over drinks or meals our students got some good advice about grad school; I summarize it here.

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Albion neuroscience students with Jim Pfaus (center).

First, all scientists regardless of their level stressed the importance of research experience for people seeking admission to PhD programs in neuroscience.  Such experience demonstrates to potential grad school mentors that a student understands what science is all about.  One established professor who routinely decides between applicants to the lab indicated that she looks for evidence of failed research attempts; students with such experience understand that science is not all glamorous and are better prepared for life as a grad student.

Some Albion alums who have gone on to PhD programs suggested that knowledge of coding is important.  They suggested that computer science courses should be  part of an undergraduate neuroscience curriculum.  Physics courses were also identified as being important.  (My take on this is that physics is important for the student interested in imaging, perhaps less so for behavioral neuroscience.  And programming is an important tool for all scientists.)

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With Sheri Mizumori (3rd from right).

Assuming that research experience is part of an applicant’s background, another respected scientist indicated that passion is critical.  He views passion as more important than grades; it’s a student’s passion that will see her through the hard days and nights of lab work, seldom for the big scientific pay-out and never for big financial reward. A student should not get a PhD as a stepping stone to what she really wants to do.  What she does on the way to getting the PhD is what she will be doing later. Grad school is a job in science that will lead to other jobs in science with more responsibilities; if what one does in grad school is not appealing, the rest of one’s career will not be appealing.

Many students hear this advice and decide that a PhD program is not for them, and that’s good. One must be certain that research is interesting, that unanswered questions are worth pursuing, that being the first (and for a while only) person in the world to know something is pretty cool, before undertaking a life of science.  I can tell you that when my student and I first found out that earthworms use the same neurotransmitter receptors for learning as do humans I was thrilled — soon the rest of the neuroscience community would know this, but for a while this new knowledge about the world was known only to those of us who did the science, and this was way cool.  If you would appreciate this first-hand experience with new information, then science is for you.

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With Arik Nagel (left), Moriel Zelikowsky (front, 2nd from left), Robert Twining (peaking over Moriel’s shoulder), and Marieke Gilmartin (front, 2nd from right).

Among the people with whom we met were Sheri Mizumori (University of Washington), Jim Pfaus (Concordia University), Marieke Gilmartin (Marquette University), and Moriel Zelikowsky (California Institute of Technology). We also met with several successful Albion alums who have gone on to graduate programs or post-baccalaureate research fellowships in neuroscience.  In addition I know that many of the students spoke with other scientists and learned from those conversations.  All-in-all I am grateful to my colleagues in neuroscience, some old friends and some new, who were willing to share their advice.  I know the students appreciated it — those who will decide to go for PhDs as well as those who will heed the advice and recognize that grad school is not the life for them.

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Current Neuroscience concentrators, with alums (A). From left: Kate Sears, Amanda Komur (A), Nicole Ferrara (A), Erik Brink, Katie Pickworth (A), Emily Stephens (A), Jeff Wilson, Ashley Glenn, Brandon Johnson.

 

Finding Scholarly Articles

You need to write a term paper, and you have no idea how to find the relevant scientific articles on the topic.  What to do!?  Here’s a quick guide to get you started.

Screenshot - 11112014 - 08:44:21 PM

1. Google (Scholar) is your friend. I need to find articles on classical conditioning in earthworms. I typed “earthworm Pavlovian conditioning” into Google, and got this page. At the top you see the entry for “Scholarly articles for earthworm pavlovian conditioning.” Click on it and you will get

Screenshot - 11112014 - 08:23:14 PM

2: This page — results of a Google Scholar search for the term that I entered. This page contains papers that probably were drawn from the scientific literature. The third one down looks promising; I click on “All 3 versions” near the end of that entry.

Screenshot - 11112014 - 08:24:10 PM

3: Then I see this – one link to the actual article, and two links to citations. I don’t want a citation, I want the real thing, so I click on the top link and get to…

Screenshot - 11112014 - 09:17:40 PM

4: This page, the article’s entry in PsycNET. I see that the right side of the page offers me the option to buy the article, but it does not appear that the article is available for free here. I really want it, so I decide to try our library. I copy the title of the article, go to the library home page…

 

5: I paste the article title into the OneSearch box at the top of the page, then click Search...

5: I paste the article title into the OneSearch box at the top of the page, then click Search.

Now I remember that i saw another promising article in the OneSearch results.  I want to look at the second entry, so I click it...

6: The top article is the one I want, and near the end of the entry I see “Full Text Online.” I click it.

 

I'm almost there.  At the right I see a link to "Full Text - PDF." I click it...

7: I’m almost there. At the right I see a link to “Full Text – PDF.” I click it…

Screenshot - 11112014 - 09:35:48 PM

8: Here’s the article! I can read it online, or use the option near the top of the page to open it in my pdf reader, and then save it to my computer for future use.

Now I remember that I saw another promising article in the OneSearch results.

Now I remember that i saw another promising article in the OneSearch results.  I want to look at the second entry, so I click it...

1: I want to look at the second entry, so I click it…

8: Unfortunately I get a page indicating that the document is unavailable, but I notice a "Check for Full Text" button.  I click it...

2: Unfortunately I get a page indicating that the document is unavailable, but I notice a “Check for Full Text” button. I click it…

9: and see this page, which indicates that I can view the Full Text Online from PsychARTICLES. I click that link, and,,,

3: And see this page, which indicates that I can view the Full Text Online from PsychARTICLES. I click that link, and,,,

 

9: This page, where I have the option to select "Full Text - PDF" on the righ-hand side.  Clicking that link ...

4: I get to this page, where I have the option to select “Full Text – PDF” on the right-hand side. Clicking that link …

10: And here's the full text of that article.

5: I get to the full text of that article.

And if the article had not been available online through our library, I’m not out of luck.  In Panel 2 above, and an many other library search pages, there is a blue link that allows me to request an article through Inter Library Loan (ILLiad).  Our librarians will get an electronic copy of an article to me quickly once I fill out the info requested when I click that link.  As an alternative to ILL, if you can find the first author’s email address, send an email requesting the paper.  Authors  are very happy to get such emails, and will nearly always reply with a copy of the article.

Remember, once you read an article you will have many more ideas about useful terms to enter into a search engine (whether it is Google Scholar or one of the databases provided by the Library, such as PsycINFO or Web of Knowledge).  For example, I might decide to search for “Lumbricus learning.” a search that will likely yield many other useful articleds

Another very useful tool allows me to search forward in time. Suppose I decide that the Ratner & Miller article is crucial to my paper, but I note that it is a really old article.  I wonder if anyone has done related work since then.

5: I paste the article title into the OneSearch box at the top of the page, then click Search...

1: I go back to the Library’s home page and click on the box labelled “Subject Guides.”

2: That takes me to a long list; I scan doiwn until I find "Neuroscience" under "Sciences > Biological Science."

2: That takes me to a long list; I scan down until I find “Neuroscience” under “Sciences > Biological Science.”

3: THsi brings up a list of databases useful to searches in Neuroscience.  I scan down and find "Science Citation Index (Web of Knowledge)."

3: This brings up a list of databases useful to searches in Neuroscience. I scan down and find “Science Citation Index (Web of Knowledge).”

In "Web of Knowledge" I select "Basic Search > Cited Reference Search."

4: In “Web of Knowledge” I select “Basic Search > Cited Reference Search.”

5: Here I enter the authors last name and initials, then click "Search."

5: Here I enter the authors last name and initials, then click “Search.”

I see that there are LOTS of articles by Ratner SC.  I scan down to find the one that I care about (noting that there are two from 1959, I select the correct one) and check the box beside it.  HTen at the bottom of the page I click "Finish Search."

6: I see that there are LOTS of articles by Ratner SC. I scan down to find the one that I care about (noting that there are two from 1959, I select the correct one) and check the box beside it. Then at the bottom of the page I click “Finish Search.”

Screenshot - 11112014 - 10:13:31 PM

7: And I’m taken to a page that offers four articles published since 1986 (the earliest year covered in this database) that cited the Ratner and Miller article. Are they all relevant? I might not be able to tell without reading them, but finding them was easy!

 

Use this guide as an example of useful ways of searching.  There are many more ways to find useful and relevant articles, all of them far easier than the old-fashioned approach.

 

compare1997withPsyAbstracts1927(wwwJolley-MitchellCom)

Library-Card-Catalog-1(wwwRetronautCom)

Teaching to the Test

phd101008sI’m now (perhaps later than most) recognizing the problems caused by the practice of assessing education and basing teachers’ pay and promotions on standardized test performance by their students. I want educated people to be capable of solving a problem, of taking information and applying it, of seeking out solutions. Many current students, the products of 12 years of pre-college education in which their success is judged by their ability to provide the correct response to a standardized question, expect the same gauge of their knowledge to be applied in college (and perhaps in the rest of life).  There was a time when the question, “Do we need to know this for the test?” meant, “Do we need to understand this material and be capable of applying it?”  Now more often than not it means, “If we can repeat this phrase will we get an ‘A’?”phd120310s

Success in graduate school or in a job will come not through parroting information back to a mentor/supervisor, but through extending the available information to learn something new, to answer some new question, to solve an unanticipated problem.  I don’t now how to teach students to do this; all I can do is to encourage and reward those who make efforts in this direction.  Sure, there will be some questions on my exams that can be answered correctly with a memorized phrase, but there will also be many questions that require thought.  Let’s work to encourage thinking.

[I posted this after I was asked by students to hold a review session before the next exam, because even though I tell them that they need to know it all for the exam, they want me to tell them what they need to know (could I be any clearer?).  To attempt to address their request for clarity, I have created a web page that I will update every day with some of the questions that they should be able to answer if they understand the material from that day's class.  To me this feels way too much like teaching to the test, and in fact offers them nothing that they could not offer themselves if they thought about the class material.  We'll see how it goes.]

Behavior’s Relevance Acknowledged

Photos: D. Bishop, UCL and Kavli Institute, NTNU, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - I got he image from www.nobelprize.org

Photos: D. Bishop, UCL and Kavli Institute, NTNU, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – I got the image from www.nobelprize.org

The announcement today that O’Keefe, Moser, & Moser would share the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was great news for those of us who study behavior.  The work done by these scientists and their many students and collaborators has done much to elucidate how the brain determines and tracks our location in space.  Working together, the Place Cells of O’Keefe and the Grid Cells of Moser and Moser map our location onto a neural GPS system.  The image below provides a brief overview, as does this TED talk by Burgess.

Here I want to address a consequence of this announcement that might be lost on many: this Nobel Prize asserts the importance of behavioral studies.  The Place and Grid Cells could only have been discovered in studies of behaving animals; no amount of work at the biochemical, neurophysiological, or anatomical level alone could have told us anything about the function of these cells.  Behavioral research is messy: lots of variability, many factors to control, the vagaries of living, behaving animals with which to deal.  Scientists who conduct behavioral research are often doing the hardest part of the job of determining how the brain works.

from www.nobelprize.org

from www.nobelprize.org

Despite this, behavioral work is often undervalued.  In 1990 (or so) the Society for Neuroscience hosted a gathering at its annual meeting at which the topic was “Is there a place for behavior in neuroscience?” [Note that I no longer have programs from that meeting and I cannot find them online, so I am reconstructing the title and the year of this event from memory.  Please email me at wjwilsonATalbion.edu if you can provide the details.] This was seriously discussed, and there were people present who argued that neuroscience no longer needed behavioral studies.  Neuroscience as a discipline had originated at the boundary (or perhaps at the overlap) between psychology and biology, but by 1993 behavioral studies were in the minority at the meeting, with many papers and posters devoted to biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, genetics… all important, but all reductionist to the point that they cannot explain behavioral phenomena without additional studies at the level of behavior.  The decision by the Nobel Assembly to recognize the work by O’Keefe, Moser, & Moser reinforces the importance of behavioral work.

Many young behavioral neuroscientists, concerned about the need to publish several papers in order to get tenure, leave behavior in favor of physiology or anatomy because those studies are easier and publications can come faster.  Perhaps this Nobel Prize announcement will convince some to maintain at least an aspect of their research program squarely focused on behavior.  After all, the need to behave in response to environmental cues is probably the reason we have a nervous system in the first place.

 

Dick Thompson – In Memoriam

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Dick Thompson with his granddaughter (I think) at the 2005 Pavlovian Society meeting in Anaheim.

 

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Thompson with Elizabeth Loftus at the 2005 Pavlovian Society meeting in Anaheim, CA.

Behavioral Neuroscience lost a giant last week; Dick Thompson died at home in California just before the 2014 meeting of the Pavlovian Society was getting underway in Seattle. It is safe to say that few scientists over the course of the past 60 years have had an impact on research into the neural mechanisms of learning and memory matching that of Dick.  Rather than recounting his scientific contributions here, sweeping and significant as they are, I prefer to focus on his human side — in particular how he touched me and my students.

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At the 2011 Pavlovian Society meeting in Minneapolis. Amanda Blaker, Charisa Giddings, Thompson, me.

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With Albion neuroscience students at the 2004 Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

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Dick’s sense of humor was apparent in his talks. Here he suggests what one of his experimental rabbits might be thinking (hard to see – the photo shows the rabbit imagining Thomson in an eye-blink experiment).

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Dick with Robert Rescorla, winner of the Pavlovian Society’s Gantt Medal (2005).

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Dick with Albion neuroscience students at the 2007 SfN meeting in San Diego. Cindy (Cardwell) Fast, Megan (Roberts) Langford, Mieke (Verhoeven) Hovey, Paul Beach, Thompson, David Wreschning, and unlabelled person in front.

My first encounter with Thompson’s work came in my second year of college, in my Intro Psych course. We used his book for the segment on what was then called “Physiological Psychology.”  That book and Earl Thomas’ teaching hooked me.

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Thompson with other past and future Pavlovian Society Presidents, 2006. [From left: Rick Servatius, Dick Thompson, Lou Matzel, Michael Domjan, Ralph Miller, Tracey Shors, Bruce Overmier, Joe Steinmetz, Michael Fanselow]

Although I am sure that I heard him speak at UCLA while I was there as a grad student, my first personal encounter with Thompson came (I think) at a Psychonomic Society meeting in Atlanta in 1989.  I presented a poster and Thompson came by, looked it over, and had a few kind words to say about it (probably out of pity for this poor, misguided young scientist).  At that same meeting I recall seeing him with Elizabeth Loftus, having drinks at the hotel bar; “Wow,” I thought, “Two really important psychologists and they know each other!” (Kind of along the lines of finally realizing that your elementary school teachers have a life outside of the classroom.)

Fast forward many years. Although I had followed Thompson’s work and heard him speak, I had no further contact with him until I started attending the meetings of the Pavlovian Society in 2001.  Thompson presented there (Richard F. Thompson, USC   “Mice, the cerebellum and memories”) and I know that I spoke with him, but I have no specific recollection of our discussion.  I was emboldened, though, by having interacted with him at the meeting, so I asked him if he would meet with Albion  students at the 2004 Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.  He graciously agreed, and our students gained his insights into both research and a career in science.  He met with us again in 2007.

Thompson’s reach was very broad; an examination of NeuroTree today (9/22/2014) though hardly complete, indicates 35 direct scientific decendants (PhD students and post-docs) and 247 scientific grandchildren (we all know that NeuroTree can list people in various places; some were counted twice, but others were never entered, so I’ll go with these numbers).

As I became more involved with the Pavlovian Society I got to know him better, and interacted with him closely in planning the 2005 meeting that he hosted in Anaheim.  I did not know him as well as many who had collaborated directly with him on research, but I considered him a friend, and felt enriched by our friendship.  He had achieved a level of recognition in science that surpasses that of nearly all of us, yet he was always willing to talk with junior colleagues, and especially with students (many of whom did not realize his important contributions at the time).

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Thanks for the great science, Dick, and for your friendship.

Neurophysiology Research

How fast is that signal that travels through your neurons?  It’s an important question, in part because we are quite literally unaware of the time it takes for it to happen (you were touched on the hand when you felt it, not before).  We feel as if we experience the world instantly, react instantly, but we don’t. We feel and react only as quickly as our nervous system can respond.

Later we’ll measure the speed of signals travelling through the nervous system with fancy electrophysiological equipment; here we do it with a meter stick and a stopwatch.  We measured how long it took for a squeeze to travel around a ring of people holding hands, then cut out a length of axon (the part of the nerve cell that caries a signal over a long distance) by having the squeeze go to the next person’s shoulder rather than hand.  The difference in time between the long loop and the short loop represents the time necessary for the signal to travel through the removed axon.

Our answer:  somewhere between 9 and 30 meters per sec (depending on which of our two lab groups you choose to believe).  Others have determined the speed in these sensory axons to be on the order of 30 – 75 m/s, so we were pretty close (certainly order of magnitude close).

The fact that signals take time to move around the nervous system has profound implications.  We live in the present moment, but the present moment that we experience actually occurred a few fractions of a second earlier. By the time we are consciously aware of something, it’s old news.  We are unaware of the delay — it cannot be otherwise. You cannot know that something happened until information about it is processed in your brain; you cannot process information in your brain before that information gets to your brain.  There is no possibility of experiencing the world in real time, or for that matter of reacting to the world in real time.

Think about it.

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