Category Archives: Complexity Matters

Teacher Plays Saxophone as His Brain Tumor is Removed

For Love of Science, Music,and Medicine When a young music teacher stayed awake and played the saxophone during surgery to remove his brain tumor, it was part of an extraordinary six-month collaboration. The teacher wanted to be reassured he wouldn’t lose his musical ability. The medical team wanted to know more about how the brain processes music. Dan Fabbio was teaching music and finishing his Master’s degree in music education in the spring of 2015 when dizziness, nausea and oddly hallucinatory sights and sounds sent him to the hospital. He was 25 and had been in good heath. After having

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Networks of the Brain

Updating the Map In 2009, the Human Connectome Project (HCP) was launched to  to build a “network map” (connectome) for the healthy human brain. The purpose of the connectome is to decipher the amazingly complex wiring diagram to reveal what makes us uniquely human and what makes every person different from all others. Dr. Olaf Sporns from Indiana University at Bloomington, author of Networks of the Brain (February 2011) has been leading the work of creating a complete connection (network) map of the brain.  According to Sporns, “Understanding the human brain is one of the great scientific challenges of the 21st century.” The

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Infections May be the Key When Genes and Cells Go Rogue

A gene believed to have protected human survival in ancient times may have become a rogue agent that nudges many contemporary humans toward Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Ben Trumble is an anthropologist trained in evolutionary medicine who spent years learning about the lives of the Tsimane people, an indigenous forager-farming group in Bolivia. Interviewed in a New York Times story by Pagan Kennedy, Trumble observes that most medical research focuses on people who live in modern cities like New York and Los Angles, while our bodies are still designed for the early hunter-gatherer environment in which our species evolved. We don’t

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An Open Mind and a Permeable Consciousness

Do you ever get a scrambled mash-up picture in your mind when different visual images appear simultaneously in your left and right fields of vision? If you do, it may just be the price you pay for being open minded. Luke Smillie, a senior lecturer in psychology and director of the Personality Processes Lab at the University of Melbourne in Australia has been studying open-mindedness and traits that seem to relate to it. One such trait is called binocular rivalry. When different images are presented simultaneously to the left and right eye, the images usually flip back and forth in

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A Healing Fix From the Eclipse?

Geography, psychology and history suggest the total solar eclipse August 21, in addition to offering rare fascination for astronomers and sky watchers, could also provide opportunity for national healing in a time of partisan discord, science writer David Baron says. Baron, who is an eclipse fanatic himself, wrote the book “American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race To Catch The Shadow Of The Moon And Win The Glory Of The World.”It’s a fascinating story of the total eclipse of 1878, a year when the U.S. population was still bitterly divided over the presidential election of 1876, one of the strangest and most controversial electoral contests in American

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The Music of the Spheres is Jazz

Astrophysicist Finds Planets in Orbital Resonance When the discovery of TRAPPIST-1, a system of seven earth sized planets orbiting around a sun 39 light years from our sun, was announced earlier this year, astronomers were excited by the possibility of life in these distant worlds. It appeared there might be lakes and oceans on the surfaces of three or more of these planets. Daniel Tamayo, an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto at Scarborough’s Center for Planetary Sciences and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, had a different focus. A Quanta magazine article by Joshua Sokol explains TRAPPIST-1 has the most complex orbiting system yet known in the universe. All seven of the planets are locked in what astrophysicists call orbital

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Improvisation: The Most Complex Human Ability?

What goes on in the brains of jazz musicians at work? “When Melody Takes a Detour, the Science Begins,” a New York Times story by Pam Belluck, captures the thoughts of musicians and scholars who are looking at the importance of music in human development, cognition and communication. One of the ways music touches us, apparently, is by its tonal and rhythmic patterns. We like familiar and predictable patterns, but we also like a certain amount of surprise. Brain imaging studies by Edward Large at Florida Atlantic University, and research by Daniel J. Levitin at McGill University show that we like the novel

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Do We Have Imagination Deficit Disorder?

Imagination and Creativity are Different Are we so enamored with technical innovations, with the incremental improvements to all our gadgets, devices and the latest trendy life styles fads that we forget the possibilities of grander visions? Brian Reich thinks so. In his new book, The Imagination Gap, Reich argues that the pace of change today is so rapid that it’s easy to become focused on small novelties that we think will make our lives dramatically different. He calls it innovation fatigue, and he thinks we’re in danger of losing sight of big questions and big ideas. Reich says creativity and

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We’re Smarter with People Whose World Views Differ

We’re Also More Diligent and Thoughtful Researchers say we try harder, make better decisions and achieve more when we work in groups that have racial, ethnic and gender diversity. A Scientific American story by Katherine Phillips describes research showing that scientists, businesses, banks, juries and groups collaborating to solve problems do a better job when people from diverse viewpoints and life experiences come together. People who differ from each other bring differing information, perspectives and opinions to the task at hand. They may also bring tension and discomfort, Phillips writes, and that may be part of the benefit. Phillips, a

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Leadership Lessons from the Birds and the Bees

Communication, Decisions and Smart Swarms – A Different Set of Rules The Digital Age is challenging all our assumptions about the ways we work together as the Internet transforms the world into an interconnected network that was inconceivable a mere 20 years ago. While the technology revolution continues to expand the power of our possibilities, it also brings with it an unprecedented combination of accelerating change and escalating complexity that is severely testing the limits of established ways of thinking and acting. Most of us are learning the hard way that a new world requires the acceptance of new rules.

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