Cerebrum 2008: Emerging Ideas in Brain Science
Foreword by Carl Zimmer

Cerebrum, a one-of-a-kind journal of opinion since 1998, offers inquisitive lay readers insights from prominent neuroscientists and thinkers in fields from philosophy to public policy to the arts. In frequently quoted articles, these authors present, applaud, and protest new ideas arising from discoveries about the brain.

In this second annual anthology, top scientists and scholars interpret the latest discoveries about the human brain and confront their implications for fields from architecture to ethics, music to health care policy. Among the provocative topics are whether free will is an illusion, the risks and rewards of new drugs based on living cells, why remembering our past is essential to envisioning the future, how brain science can inform design of better facilities for people with Alzheimer’s disease, and when using drugs to smooth the daily bumps of our emotional lives might be an ethical choice.

In his foreword, science writer Carl Zimmer says that news about the human brain tends to trigger cyclones of chatter but we often don’t know what to make of the sheer mass of data. The provocative articles in Cerebrum, however, offer a guide to ordering one’s understanding of the brain.

Introduction: Carl Zimmer

Chapter 1: Building for the Shattered Mind: Partnering Brain Science and Architecture, by Kayt Sukel and Russell Epstein, Ph.D.

Chapter 2: Remembering the Past to Imagine the Future, by Karl K. Szpunar and Kathleen B. McDermott, Ph.D.

Chapter 3: Prying into Prions, by Scott P. Edwards

Chapter 4: Protecting the Brain from a Glutamate Storm, by Vivian Teichberg, Ph.D.

Chapter 5: Cerebral Malaria, a Wily Foe, by Kayt Sukel

Chapter 6: Risks and Rewards of Biologics for the Brain, by E. Ray Dorsey, M.D. Philip Vitticore, M.D., and Hamilton Moses III, M.D.

Chapter 7: “Cosmetic Neurology” and the Problem of Pain, by Anjan Chatterjee, M.D.

Chapter 8:  When Music Stops Making Sense, by Petr Janata, Ph.D.

Chapter 9: Seeking Free Will in Our Brains, by Mark Hallett, M.D., and Paul R. McHugh, M.D.

Chapter 10: Stress and Immunity, by Fabienne McKay, M.D.

Chapter 11: Harnessing the Brain’s Power to Adapt after Injury, by Michael Selzer, M.D., Ph.D.

Chapter 12: “Go” and “NoGo” in the Basal Ganglia, by Michael J. Frank, Ph.D.

Chapter 13: Fading Minds and Hanging Chads, by David Drachman, M.D.

Book Reviews

Chapter 14: The Human Experience of Time–Beyond 9 to 5: Your Life in Time-by Sarah Norgate, Reviewed by Lynn Nadel, Ph.D.

Chapter 15: Can Our Minds Change Our Brains?–Train your Mind, Change your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves-by Sharon Begley, Reviewed by Michael J. Friedlander, Ph.D.

Chapter 16: Seeking Insights into the Human Mind in Art and Science–Proust was a Neuroscientist-by Jonah Lehrer, Reviewed by Steven Rose, Ph.D. 



From Chapter One:

"Building for the Shattered Mind: Partnering Brain Science and Architecture" by Kayt Sukel and Russell Epstein, Ph.D.

In Elegy for Iris, John Bayley’s poignant memoir chronicling life with his wife, Iris Murdoch, as she struggled with Alzheimer’s disease, the author writes, “Alzheimer’s is, in fact, like an insidious fog, barely noticeable until everything around has disappeared. After that, it is no longer possible to believe that a world outside the fog exists.”

Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive and irreversible neurodegenerative brain disorder, currently affects more than 5 million Americans. The disease causes formation of plaques in the brain’s cortex and leads to degeneration of neurons, a reduction in key neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, and a loss of synaptic activity—the means by which neurons communicate. This brain atrophy causes symptoms that begin with simple memory loss and gradually advance to widespread, persistent cognitive impairment that may include problems with critical reasoning and sensory perception, general confusion, and social withdrawal. Because of this overwhelming loss of function, people with the disease will eventually need round-the-clock care, often provided by nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. Even the best of these facilities, however, can be a tremendous adjustment for people struggling with the disease, as well as for their families.

But what if we could create assisted-living spaces for people with Alzheimer’s that could make life easier despite the “insidious fog”?

What if, by bringing together knowledge of architectural design and knowledge of what goes on inside the brain of the person with Alzheimer’s, we could design buildings and interiors that would help people stay more capable over longer stretches of time, remember the outside world, and successfully interact with it? Furthermore, what kind of brain research is needed as a basis for creating facilities that would make the adjustment from home to a care facility less stressful for the patient? To begin asking the questions that could jump-start this process, the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) held an interdisciplinary workshop, “Neuroscience of Facilities for the Aging and People with Alzheimer’s,” in late November 2006.

“Right now, not very much knowledge is available in neuroscience that is applicable to the design of facilities for people with Alzheimer’s,” says John P. Eberhard, FAIA, founding president of ANFA. “Ninety-nine percent of research in neuroscience is oriented towards disease and the ramifications of that disease. Practically no one looks at research that could be used to improve the facilities such people live in. We’re trying to encourage that to happen.”

Over three days in Washington, DC, two dozen prominent neuroscientists, architects, and experts on Alzheimer’s disease and aging came together to discuss how to promote neuroscience research that will eventually have tangible application to designing nursing and assisted-living facilities. In this article, we focus mainly on Alzheimer’s disease, but the lessons learned with this disease can be applied to the aging population as a whole.