TV: Tortured Geniuses
■ It’s no coincidence that the most gifted among us are sometimes unhappy, antisocial, or unable to function in society, exhibiting extreme behavior or afflicted by mental illness. Artist Vincent van Gogh, eccentric polymath Howard Hughes, bipolar writer Edgar Allan Poe and inventor Sir Isaac Newton, and author and paranoid-schizophrenic mathematician John Forbes Nash, portrayed by Russell Crowe in the movie A Beautiful Mind—and, more recently, musician Michael Jackson—are commonly referred to as tormented geniuses, and there’s more to that description than literary hyperbole. The US National Institute of Mental Health has published findings that suggest the same gene that causes brilliance in humans may also be the cause of schizophrenia under certain circumstances, and several studies show links between high IQ and depression, autism and bipolar disorder. Science Channel investigates this phenomenon in Tormented, a four-episode series premiering Nov. 17 which explores the biology, genetics and psychology of genius through interviews with experts and profiles of individuals for whom brilliance is both a blessing and a curse. [bw]
PODCASTS: Brain Science
■ If you’re a better audio learner than reader—or need something to listen to in the car, or while you’re working out, check out The Brain Science Podcast (docartemis.com/brainsciencepodcast), featuring Dr. Virginia Campbell, an experienced emergency physician with a longstanding interest in mind-body medicine, the brain, and consciousness. She shares new neuroscience discoveries in an easy-to-understand way, featuring the latest books about neuroscience and interviews with leading scientists from around the world. Campbell shows how science has unraveled many a mystery.
__Topics have included nature versus nurture, consciousness, how neurons communicate, neuroplasticity and unconscious decisions. Guests have included Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel, Christof Koch, author of The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach, Jaak Panksepp, PhD, author of Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions and others.
__Here’s an example of an August 2009 interview with Dr. Stuart Brown, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul:
DR. CAMPBELL: …[Y]ou said, “We are designed to find fulfillment and creative growth through play.” Would you say that sort of sums up one of the most important ideas of this book?
DR. BROWN: I would certainly say that. I think when you follow the benefits of developmentally appropriate play behavior, beginning really with the joyous eye contact between mother and infant that is playful, and then watch play as it develops in a healthy, safe human, and begin to see its contributions to things like emotional regulation, and the enjoyment of something new and novel, and the capacity to be much more flexible and resilient, that’s where—for me at least—I can begin to back up the statement you just read… [bw]
WEB: Can Biology And Culture Get Along?
■ Studying the brain is all fun and good, but how does it apply to us as people? As a culture? The blog Neuroanthropology (neuroanthropology.net) explores the intersection of, yes, neurology and anthropology—with psychology, philosophy, evolution and human biology also thrown in, for good measure.
__“‘Neuroanthropology’ is a broad term, intended to embrace all dimensions of human neural activity, including emotion, perception, cognitive, motor control, skill acquisition, and a range of other issues,” the website explains. “Unlike previous ways of doing psychological or cognitive anthropology, it remains open and heterogeneous, recognizing that not all brain systems function in the same way, so culture will not take hold of them in identical fashion. Although we believe that human neural structure is biological and the product of evolution, we also recognize that the development processes shaping each individual include a host of other forces as well, so that we cannot privilege any single cause over all others.”
__Headquartered in the departments of Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, the founders of the site hope that by bringing the fields together, they can help make cultural anthropology “more scientifically plausible, but also much more scientifically engaged with those interested in cultural variation” and also bring a “critical perspective on how biological ideas are often used to essentialize and naturalize what are largely sociocultural processes.”
Some interesting convergent topics include “Co-sleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone,” “Cultural Aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Thinking on Meaning and Risk,” and “Poverty Poisons the Brain,” the latter of which discusses research linking poverty to high stress and poor brain development, and offers the following caveat: “In a concrete sense, the practices—the everyday life—of children growing up in poverty likely do not have the same rich scaffolding provided in other environments, coupled with the negative effects of stress. Moreover, the effect of stress often hides what the real phenomenon is: the systematic disenfranchisement of people. Disenfranchisement, the active denial of resources and the active pushing of negative forces, is more than stress. A lot more.” [bw]