By: Alvaro Fernandez
As part of our ongoing Author Speaks Series, we are honored to present today this excellent article by Dr. Shannon Moffett, based on her illuminating and engaging book. Enjoy!
(and please go to sleep soon if you are reading this late Monday night).
Two years ago I finished a book on the mind/brain, called The Three Pound Enigma: The Human Brain and the Quest to Unlock its Mysteries . Each chapter profiles a leader in a different aspect of mind/brain research, from neurosurgery to zen Buddhism, from cognitive neuroscience to philosophy of mind. One of my subjects was Dr. Robert Stickgold, a zany, hyper-intelligent mensch of a Harvard sleep researcher. When I met him, I was in medical school and having a grand old time—I’d exacted an extension of my tenure beyond the customary four years, so I had enough time to write the book, do my coursework, and have a life. I was busy, but still got enough sleep, had time to exercise daily, and even went for dinner and a movie sometimes. Although I found Stickgold’s work interesting, there was a part of me that just didn’t get it.
Fast-forward to the present, when I am a resident in emergency medicine at a busy inner-city trauma center; I have two-year-old twins and a husband with a 60-hour-a-week job of his own. I do not exercise. I do not eat unless I can do something else productive at the same time, and even when I do get to sleep in my own bed, my slumber is fractured by the awakenings of two circadianly disparate toddlers. It seems to take me twice as long to “get” new concepts as it used to, and I never feel like I’m functioning at top speed. In short, I am a mess. And NOW I get what Stickgold’s work is all about, and understand that he is both quantifying and explaining exactly what I’m feeling.
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By: Alvaro Fernandez
Orli from Neurontic tagged me with a new meme –writing about 8 Random Personal Facts– that is circulating among science bloggers. Ã‚Â Well, I will happily write about 8 facts that appeared in unexpected ways yet, seen with perspective, seem to be a type of non-random randomness, if that makes sense… Ã‚Â
As the oldest child, I was the most responsible/ serious/ with best grades…you get the picture. One of my youngest siblings specialized in teasing me and making my life difficult (from my perspective then). At some point, I realized that my automatic mental reaction to anything suspicious that happened in my life (my bike is not where I left it, there are 2 books missing…) was an angry “this must have been my brother!” followed by intra-family conflict and the need for UN peacekeepers. Let’s say he was responsible for only 40% of such events…so I realized my attitude made no sense and it was something I needed to control. So, at some point, I developed the mental habit of making fun of my own stupidity whenever that automatic reaction appeared, and protecting a more rational approach to solving the problem.
Around the same time, at a routine meeting between my mother, school staff and myself, someone made a comment along “Alvaro has spectacular grades, but he must understand that success in life does not depend on grades alone”. Fascinating, I remember thinking, how can that be possible? What may that mean? Is it not “fair” and self-evident that if I have great grades everything good will follow in life? Maybe this opened my mind to understanding that “intelligence” goes well beyond IQ…
For many years I kept a journal-like document with brief “lessons learned” and “concepts/ sayings / realities I don’t understand yet”. Something like a “diary of learning and things to be learned”. I don’t keep such a document anymore…and certainly not because now I understand everything.