Archive for November, 2010

Neuroscience as a Blood Sport

November 29, 2010

As should be well known, patients in hospitals are generally passive recipients of treatment – mostly because they have neither the knowledge, nor the interest in learning everything that relates to their medical problems.  Doctors are generally well pleased with that, though some don’t regard that as optimal.  Viz: Oliver Sacks, A Leg to Stand on, about his experience as a patient.

What is not expected is that the patient becomes concerned about his or her lack of knowledge of his medical condition and seeks to correct it by all possible means, including giving himself a private education in said medical science.

That was my scenario. I, a BA in Classics(Latin) at the University of Canterbury, and a Licentiate of Theology(Hebrew) at College House, was knocked off my bicycle one dark night in the middle of winter, and left for dead.

I “came to” about five days later, ie, I got my short term and long term memory subsystems in sync – I’d been fully conscious since the hospital operated on the very night of my accident; they didn’t have any choice as it turns out – extradural haematomas don’t give any time frame for dithering.

After reading the pamphlet on the brain and brain injury the hospital gave me, since I needed to know just what had happened, and what was going on, I scoured the local library for as much information on the neurosciences as possible, but I never got much joy until I picked up Oliver Sacks’ The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, and discovered that there was a set of sciences around the study of the brain.

I bought the book, wrote away to various University Bookshops and ordered some books that happened to be either recommended by Oliver Sacks, or were in print, or both, to wit:
A R Luria, The Working Brain
Dr Muriel Lezak, Neuropsychological Assessment
Guyton, Basic Neuroscience: Anatomy and Physiology

Also a few others, such as
Springer and Deutsch, Right Brain, Left Brain

All in all, light reading.

I was amused, though, after telling my neuropsychologist, Mr Peter Waddell, that I had decided to add the neurosciences to my list of accomplishments, and confessed that I found Lezak’s book heavy going, to have him add that he also found her book heavy going.  Compounded more than a few years later by another neuropsychologist I contacted, who expressed amazement that I had got through Luria’s book on my own.

The topping, the creme-de-la-creme though, came this year, when hearing from another neuropsychologist I had also contacted on another matter, that I had exceeded the reading list expected of graduate students at no less than Stanford University.

The question in my mind now is, how am I to indicate this to a potential employer? That I have a knowledge level in the neurosciences equivalent to what is expected of a Stanford University graduate?  That, in consequence, I have a quite a high level of research and problem solving skills – I had this horrendous accident, I got to and learnt about it, I worked out strategies to cope and beat back clinical depression without chemical assistance, and at the end of my clinical depression, I did the same thing with most of Computer Science.

It’s a mystery to me.  I find I face a quite considerable skills shortage on the part of the employers themselves – because they have never faced this sort of challenge, they discount that someone else might have succeeded in conquering it.

I wish I could find a way around this.


The Little Red Hen and the Dog in a Manger

November 29, 2010

Once upon a time, in a little land far, far away from any sense or reason whatsoever, there lived a little red hen, and a dog, in a barnyard.

Once upon a day, the little red hen discovered a little head of barley and suggested to the dog that they plant it it and take shares in it.  The dog refused – he had some reason to believe that the farmer was wanting him for some work, and he was sure to get much more of a return than if he contributed anything to the little red hen’s madcap ideas.

The little red hen went around here there and everywhere in the barnyard, asking hither and yon for someone to help her.  None of the other animals wanted to contribute.  None of them wanted to put in any effort.

So the little red hen said, “Looks like I’ll have to do it myself.”

So she did, scraping out a little plot to plant it, and watering it daily, watching the little plot turn into a glorious green patch of barley.

Time came to reap it, and she asked the dog first, and as usual, the dog refused – he had something more exciting coming up, he boasted, and didn’t have the time.  And likewise, so did the other animals.

So the little red hen got and did it herself, as per usual.

Meanwhile, the dog, in retreat from the farmer, slunk into the stable, and stretched out on the hay in the manger, and went soundly to sleep.

The little red hen reaped the barley and ground it and baked it – she had given up on hoping that the other animals would be willing to help.

The smell went throughout the barnyard, and all the animals came around, sniffing and begging for a byte of it, since it smelt so good.

The little red hen shook her head and said, “You had your opportunity ages ago to deserve a byte, but you refused.  So just get lost.”

The ox and the horse, both miffed at this, stamped off into the stable to get some comfort food – and they awoke the dog, who leapt to his feet, snarling and barking.  “Get lost,” he barked.  “This is mine!”

*    *    *

I first discovered the use of folk tales as political messages in 1982, when I abstracted a version of the Little Red Hen that was being used to criticize the unemployed – back then, the idea that some people would be long-term unemployed was regarded as horrendous – and indicative of bad faith on the part of the unemployed. While on the other hand, employers also whined about the lack of subsidies, or insufficient subsidies, etc.

Both attitudes are still very much current. Except now that the employers also add complaining about skills shortages to the mix. Skills shortages are for everyone else to fix, not them; while tax cuts and so on and so forth are very much demanded.

New Zealanders appear to have an extraordinary ability to deceive themselves.  Back in the early twentieth century, there was a man called Richard Pearse, who dreamed of flying machines, and who built several rather intriguing examples.  He was ignored for the most part, and mocked for the rest. Now that he is dead, and no longer in a position to contest the case, New Zealand proclaims him as a prime  exemplar of New Zealand ingenuity.

The two examples of New Zealand ingenuity I see are the way that New Zealand managed to ignore him during his life, and the way in which New Zealand managed to claim his hard work its own after his death.

Or put it another way, he had a major set of skills that New Zealand wasn’t prepared to back, wasn’t prepared to admit was real, or even necessary.

It seems to be the way New Zealanders behave – most of all, they all seem to want their hand-outs, even when they don’t need them. But any time you need a hand up …