Sunday, September 13, 2009
Austerity and the case of obedient neurons...
Neurobiologist Mark Changizi, an assistant professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and his research group have something new to say about our brains and cities.
Yes, you heard it right.
According to this group, just like evolution through the ages has shaped us and our brains into what we are, so have cities developed similarly based on the evolving efforts of entrepreneurs, developers and politicians.
As we evolve as a species, it's not just the size of the brain or the number of neurons that increase. Actually the connections between the neurons or the synapses grow in number and variety. As in a city, where simply doubling the number of roads won't work, unless we have interconnecting freeways, and exits and stuff.
All this is wonderful so long is it remains in the journal it is published in.
What worries me is the converse.
If peoples' brain-setups are to reflect the state of a city, , I fear for the people of Mumbai.
Think of a smart neuron trying to send a message, through the synapse, to another neuron several inches away. It swishes through the synapse, swiftly taking turns and choosing paths, and then all of a sudden feels sidelined by other neurons. They are all waiting to pass through a clogged synapse, suddenly narrowed, and there is one hefty thought blocking the path.
Or an obedient neuron, taking the path it has taken, for the last several years, millions of times a day, properly showing signals and stuff at every synapse crossing. It suddenly hits a swelling, that looks suspiciously like a Mumbai cop. Fine negotiating skills are on display, and the cop moves aside to let it pass , after papers are exchanged. The cop issues it a ticket where the fault is listed as "communicating wirelessly with the cerebrum while driving", and some other green colored pricey papers are acquired from the neuron.
Of course, these days, swellings here and there are a usual risk for the neurons, trying to transmit messages through the synapses. Sometimes the swelling is so bad, that the message never reaches the ankle muscles next to the brakes. And the super evolved human fails to brake before the pothole, causing a bump. Which of course, resolves the swelling, and the neuronal and synaptic traffic continues, with the hippocampus muttering obscenities under its breath.
Sometimes the brain gets used to BIG traffic. Some pushy neurons create their own paths, because the normal brain pathways are too small for them. These neurons also have some rogue followers, who hover around creating a synapse here, and a path there, and parts of the cerebrum get so excited, that they lose control over the ligaments and muscles, not to mention voice. That's when violence happens.
I am just wondering what diversion in the brain pathways gave rise to the planning and deployment of the Mumbai Sealink. Did some neurons simply go haywire, and run berserk around the temporal and occipital areas of the brain to make a running landing at the top of the spinal cord, bypassing the usual shove-shove-push-push synaptic travel ?
Do folks in Delhi have slightly more highly evolved neuronal activity ? Possibly better designed synapses, complete with graceful green neuronic roundabouts, around which most obedient neuronic messages travel, unless of course there is a red signal corresponding to Mother Neuronic Synaptic activity, at which point most ordinary neurons give up, stand still, and start cursing the grey matter.
A new school of thought postulates that some neurons are thinking of travel without the help of synapses and cerebral help. The idea is not to convey messages to anything in the real world, such as your hands, legs, eyes, or ears.
The message is directly conveyed to your pocket and someone else's pocket. These neurons never suffer the ignominy of pushing other neurons at clogged synapses, waiting in line to say their stuff, and falling into swellings here and there.
They simply fly.
Which is a revelation. Explains all the 5 star behaviour patterns of the "public servants", the minsters. The personal planes. The chronic inability to have unstarred meals. The insensitivity to declare that exercise needs the 5 star gym, when you can jog in Lodhi gardens along with your alphabetic plus plus security.
But even neurons have their bad days. Like when the Mother Neuronic Authority of New Delhi declares AUSTERITY to be the latest buzz word.
I wonder what the corresponding brain changes will be , given that there has been a clarion call for "Austerity", from the senior most of the cabinet ministers, supported by those who think austerity needs to be seen rather than practiced.
Hopefully, a clean wash of all the synapses, behaviour restrictions on neurons, and a life where priority is given to those that follow cerebral rules.
Time to say Jai Ho ?