Have you noticed a trend in brain and nervous system-related pharmaceutical adverts on television in which they casually say things like “It is thought that this drug may have so-and-so effect on the brain.” In my own noggin, I hear an imaginary voice continuing the sentence with something like: “But, if we're honest, we really don’t have a clue.”
The scary thing is that the pharmaceutical company may well have developed the drug in question with one particular goal in mind, and then discovered a beneficial side effect by accident without really knowing how the medicine performs its magic.
This reminds me of a scene in Series 6 Episode 15 of The Big Bang Theory — “The Spoiler Alert Segmentation” — when Howard is explaining to Raj that he and Bernadette are going to Vegas as part of a bonus she received:
Raj: Cool. Did she discover a cure for something?
Howard: Not exactly. They spent a ton of money developing this dandruff medication that had the side effect of horrible anal leakage.
Raj: Is there a good anal leakage?
Howard: Anyway, it was Bernie’s idea to rebrand the stuff as a cure for constipation.
But we digress… the point I was originally trying (desperately hoping) to make is that, despite tremendous advances in our knowledge over recent years, we really still know very little about the wonderful workings of the human brain.
My meandering musings were triggered by an email I just received from my friend and colleague Rich Quinnell, who is the technical editor for the Systems Design Center over at EDN.com. Rich has widespread interests and he often points me in the direction of a thought-provoking nugget of knowledge or tidbit of trivia.
In today's communication, Rich proffered a link to this article in The Atlantic . It seems that two neuroscientists — Eric Jonas and Konrad Kording — decided to take the techniques they use to study one of my three favorite organs and apply these practices to the analysis of a classic 8-bit microprocessor — the humble MOS 6502.
Since this little rascal contains only 3,510 transistors, as compared to the approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain, you might be forgiven for expecting this to be “a walk in the park,” but the grim and grizzly truth is that even trying to comprehend Donkey Kong in the context of the 6502 brought these brave lads to their metaphorical knees.
None of this is to say that neuroscience isn’t a very important discipline. It's worth remembering, however, that we are still dipping our toes in some very deep waters, and it behooves us to remember just how little we know, especially when it comes to dispensing mind-altering drugs with gay abandon.
What say you? Have you spotted this “we sort of think that maybe… but don't take our word for it” trend in TV adverts? Are you as awed as me by the wonders of
my brain the human brain?