I wrote this on Facebook, but thought it might be useful to share it more widely. This is not a neuroscience post.
Last weekend is when I started to take the coronavirus issue seriously. ‘Seriousness’ doesn’t imply panic, but it does imply taking the time to read about what is happening and to find out how each of us can act to mitigate the crisis.
The death rate is hard to assess, but it seems likely to hover between 1 and 3 percent of *reported cases* for now. That’s a lot more than seasonal flu, which has a mortality rate of around 0.1%. With early testing and good medical care, this rate can come down. But sadly in the US there are institutional pressures that prevent optimal responses, despite plenty of money and human capital.
Increased vigilance when it comes to hygiene is the first step. Wash your hands. Use sanitizer (if you can get some). Avoid touching your face (this one is very hard for me). If possible, work from home. Masks are not necessary for the general public, as far as I can tell, and buying them is already creating shortages for the medical community. We really don’t want large numbers of doctors and nurses to get sick.
Preparing for a voluntary quarantine period also makes sense. Have stocks of food and prescription medications (if any) to last you around two weeks or so. If this becomes expensive for you, try to stock up gradually.
Here is Korbinian Brodmann (of cortical Brodmann area fame) writing about a trend towards assigning functional roles to single neurons based on anatomical type, back in 1909:
“There has been occasional talk of “sensory cells” located in particular regions, or of sensitive or sensorial “special cells”. People have invented acoustic or optic special cells and even a “memory” (*12) cell, and have not shied away from the fantastic “psychic cell”. Apart from the fact that such so-called “special cells” have only been described in young or foetal brain with the Golgi method and mainly only in animals, and therefore lack confirmation in the adult human brain, and quite apart from the fact that no attempt has been made to determine the precise regional location of the zone within which such cells appear exclusively, it seems to me that to pose this problem is wrong.” [emphasis added]
And here is a news item from a couple of years ago:
Psychic cells indeed! Or perhaps we should call them zombie cells.
(Zombie concepts keep coming back from the dead to eat our brains. Other examples include ‘selfish genes’ and ‘pleasure molecules’.)
I was interviewed by the excellent Allen Saakyan for his Simulation YouTube channel. Check it out if you want to know about my research… and also my take on the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. 😛
There’s also a shorter excerpt where we speculate about schizophrenia and “hyperrealities”:
This answer was written in response to the following Quora question:
New research has found no neurogenesis in human adults, could this mean there is none or could it mean that neural stem cells are undetectable with the used techniques? What are your thoughts on this?
It’s good that you’re thinking of such things, since that is exactly what researchers themselves have to do, and what reviewers do. In order to show that the method works, there have to be adequate controls as part of the experiment.
And this is in fact the case. The paper would not have been published without controls.
A new study suggests that new neurons are not born very often in human adults.
Birth of New Neurons in the Human Hippocampus Ends in Childhood
“The lab’s new research, based on careful analysis of 59 samples of human hippocampus from UCSF and collaborators around the world, suggests new neurons may not be born in the adult human brain at all. The findings present a challenge to a large body of research which has proposed that boosting the birth of new neurons could help to treat brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression. But the authors said it also opens the door to exciting new questions about how the human brain learns and adapts without a supply of new neurons, as in seen in mice and other animals.”
My labmates are all monkey neuroanatomists, and for years they have been skeptical about the neurogenesis narrative, particularly in primates. Another famous dissenter is Pasko Rakic. Read about his complaints in this Guardian article from 2012:
Does your brain produce new cells?