In an interview with Stephen Colbert, we find out he’s deaf in one ear. Acoustic schawnnoma, anyone?
Colbert is forty-one, a native of South Carolina, one of eleven children, the father of three, a suburban guy, and deaf in one ear. “I had this weird tumor as a kid, and they scooped it out with a melon baller.”
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And I almost forgot, again from Neuro lecture: Mike the Headless Chicken! (He’s running for President in 2004.)
As the beautiful story goes…
bq(quote).. September 10th, 1945 finds a strapping (but tender) five and a half month old Wyandotte rooster pecking through the dust of Fruita, Colorado. The unsuspecting bird had never looked so delicious as he did that, now famous, day. Clara Olsen was planning on featuring the plump chicken in the evening meal. Husband Lloyd Olsen was sent out, on a very routine mission, to prepare the designated fryer for the pan… A skillful blow was executed and the chicken staggered around like most freshly terminated poultry.
When Olsen found Mike the next morning, sleeping with his “head” under his wing, he decided that if Mike had that much will to live, he would figure out a way to feed and water him. With an eyedropper Mike was given grain and water. It was becoming obvious that Mike was special… It was determined that ax blade had missed the jugular vein and a clot had prevented Mike from bleeding to death. Although most of his head was in a jar, most of his brain stem and one ear was left on his body. Since most of a chicken’s reflex actions are controlled by the brainstem Mike was able to remain quite healthy.
In the 18 MONTHS that Mike lived as “The Headless Wonder Chicken” he grew from a mere 2 1/2 lbs. to nearly 8 lbs. In a Gayle Meyer interview Olsen said Mike was a “robust chicken – a fine specimen of a chicken except for not having a head.” Some longtime Fruita residents, gathered at the Monument Cafe for coffee, also remember Mike – “he was a big fat chicken who didn’t know he didn’t have a head” – “he seemed as happy as any other chicken.”
p. Which just goes to show you: chickens don’t need a brain to live (their brainstem does most of the work), and chickens have no problem getting their heads chopped off. (Sorry, PETA. Don’t hurt me.)
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Completely stolen from today’s lecture on the auditory (hearing) system, I’ve got two little multimedia pieces for readers today:
* First, a little cochlear damage. The cochlea is a spiral-shaped structure in your inner ear (past your eardrum) that lets people hear. It’s got tiny hair cells that move in response to vibrations (sound waves), and, well, to make a long story short, they’re how you hear. But you can lose these hair cells–from old age, from over-exposure to loud sounds, and depending on the pitch of the sounds, you lose hair cells in a certain area of your cochlea. A great picture to illustrate it:
* And for my favorite–like I mentioned above, the hair cells respond to certain frequencies of vibrations. And one type of these hair cells actually contract when they detect a certain frequency. Even faster than our muscles contract. Anyway, a scientist in the UK isolated one of these contractile hair cells (an outer hair cell), and attached a small voltage sensor and speaker to the cell. Ladies and gentlemen, I present, for your viewing and auditory pleasure, please turn up those speakers and give a warm welcome to… THE DANCING HAIR CELL OF LONDON! (5.2 MB mpeg file).
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James Sabry came to give a guest lecture on the cerebral cortex, and you could instantly tell he wasn’t an academic: his lecture was too smooth, his presentation style, too inviting. He brought up a number of interesting thought puzzles that I had really thought about since a cognitive science class back in undergrad.
* Free will and the brain. Corante’s got a similar question, but try this one on for size. If thoughts, movements, senses–everything neurological–comes from neurons, where are the “free will” neurons that initiate thoughts or movements? If you have to activate a neuron to raise your arm in the air, where does the first thought come from, and the first neuron activation to activate all the other neurons in the relay? When I stick out my tongue, am I somehow willing neurons to fire? For their voltage-dependent sodium channels to somehow open on thought command? At the very beginning of the motion, you think (consciously or consciously), “I’m going to stick my tongue out.” But where does the initial movement come from? Is my thought somehow activating my brain? What’s upstream?
* Less unexplained, but still fun to think about: it takes time for your eyes to get signals, send them to the brain, and process them, to tell you what you’re seeing. (Only 150 milliseconds, according to this report, but still.) So think of it this way: everything you’re seeing has, technically, already happened. Everything you take for the present is actually 150 milliseconds ago. And what’s more–your brain knows to coordinate the video with the audio. Light travels much faster than sound–it’s why you see lightning before you hear the thunder–but if you’re talking with someone, you don’t notice the difference. Distances are shorter, sure, but the auditory neurons have a different pathway and slightly different speed than your visual neurons, but you never get the feeling that things are out of sync, or like you’re watching a poorly dubbed movie.
It’s these fascinating questions that keep me going. Keep me in awe and wonder. The anatomy and physiology, without their quirks and twists, are utterly boring. On that note, back to cerebellum function.