Another doctor in New York, Helen S. Mayberg, was the first to use deep brain stimulation on depressed patients. She stands next to a surgeon who drills through the skull (the patient is kept awake but doesn’t feel anything) and implants an electrical device. When they hit the correct target, she sometimes witnesses a patient’s face turn from deep, despair to bright and alert within seconds. One guy who hadn’t been able to leave his house for most of his adult life suddenly said he wanted to go out and walk his dog. It’s miraculous when it works.
I also met genius neurologist Dr. Allan Ropper, professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, who told me how he can tell which part of the brain is malfunctioning by observing the behavior of the patient. This guy is way cooler than “House.” But I really fell in love with him when he explained how you determine if someone is dead. There was a case where a woman was brain dead but she was still able to deliver a baby, and another where a young boy presumed dead went through puberty because his organs remained functioning. Allan said he’s a stickler for making sure someone is well and truly dead before the transplant doctors, snatch those organs of the deceased away like vultures circling a corpse. In Victorian times, they used to put a bell in the coffin in case anyone was buried alive. Thank God for Dr. Ropper.
In Atlanta, I went to a breeding colony of 1800 monkeys where Dr. Mar Sanchez and her team took an aggressive, agitated baby monkey away from his equally aggressive mother and gave it to a nurturing mother. After a few weeks, the abused monkey became more pacified and this behavior was reflected in not only his genes but his off-spring’s genes. This ability to change gene expression is called epigenetics. I thought why didn’t they switch my mother with a calmer one? I’d never would have had to take the seventy tons of anti-depressants I’ve had to swallow so far.
I then flew to Silicon Valley and met David Eagleman (professor of neuroscience at Stanford, incredible looking and buff). He let me try on a suit called the Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer, that he’s developed and is about to appear on the market. It has thirty-two embedded vibratory motors that send messages to the brain which are interpreted into sound so now the deaf will be able to, not so much hear in the way we do, but sense sound through their bodies. His future vision is to have data transmitted through the skin so you’ll be able to feel weather reports, stock market results and most important you’ll be able to ‘feel’ your emails rather than read them. That might kill me especially feeling spam.
My ultimate hero is Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA medical school. His books are the reason I got hooked on the brain. He was the first person to describe the difference between the brain and the mind. He says, the mind is the energy and information the brain creates. I found his book, “Mindsight” so clear and exciting, I changed careers because nothing, I mean nothing in the Cosmos is as fascinating as the mind. Sorry Brian Cox but it’s true.
My Audible show will be available some time in 2018 - I will let you know when to keep an ear out.
How To Be Human: The Manual is available online and from all good bookshops. I'm on tour this spring with my #Frazzled Show. Tickets are still available - book quick.
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