Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why I do what I do

It ain't much to look at.

Two, maybe three pounds of grayish-white goop. It's not even solid in a living person. More like Jello that floats around in it's vault.

But it's amazing. From that sloppy goop has come remarkable stuff. It's sent a robot to land on a moon of Saturn. It's explored the bottom of our deepest oceans. Built the Taj Mahal. The Great Wall of China. Painted the Mona Lisa.

Go listen to the remarkable Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor". Not just the famous opening 30 seconds or so, but the whole 9-10 minute thing. That all came from the goop, long before it was heard or played on an instrument, it was just a series of electric signals jumping from nerve to nerve. The piece is over 300 years old. The mind that created it has been dead for over 250 years. And humans will likely be listening to it long after my great-great-great-grandchildren are dust.

The soul is there. The heart is amazing, but for all our romantic beliefs about it, who we really are is floating around in the goop. It's where hate, love, and everything in between comes from.

It's capable of terrible evil, such as the Holocaust, and remarkable good. Look at the outpouring of altruism that follows disasters. I love my dogs, but if something bad happens to a dog on the next street, they're not going to care. Yet the goop wants to help people who we've never met and have no direct impact on our own lives

My regular readers know I'm interested in maritime history. Why? I have no idea. It's just been a subject I've loved as long as I can remember. I've never been in the navy. The family military history consists of grandparents who served in the army, but never were sent overseas. I can only assume there is some particular molecular structure in my goop that makes me interested in it. Or that made me want to treat other people's goop for a living.

Twin and biological studies have shown that most of who we are is how we came here. Yes, life experiences and background count for something, but the goop is most of it. People with conservative beliefs raise kids who turn out to be liberals, and vice versa, no matter how hard they may try to pass on their beliefs.

Coke vs. Pepsi. Dogs vs. Cats. Mac vs. Windows. I suspect whatever makes us fall on one side or the other of these great philosophical issues is 95% or more in the goop, and we just come that way.

Everything you are, have been, and will be. Have desired, dreamed of, and done. Have felt. It all comes from a few pounds of goop.

And this fascinates me. Because, let's face it, we're just another part of the planet. A collection of complex molecules, electrical impulses, and chemical reactions. That's all people. Anatomically, all humans are pretty much the same. And we're not that different from other mammals. The difference in our genetic sequence vs. that of a mouse ain't much.

And yet that small amount of difference has led to amazing results. The ability to think beyond our own biological needs and to see the world around us for the beauty it contains. To watch a sunset and be in awe, even though we understand the science behind it. And to look up at the night sky, and wonder.

And that never bores me.

35 comments:

DreamingTree said...

Beautiful. I suppose I had similar reasons for wanting to study psychology. As much as I want to come out on the nurture side of the classic debate, I think you are right that it is 95% in the goop.

ordered-chaos said...

I so identify with this, that was why I wanted to specialise in neurosurgery. Unfortunately I got sidetracked after med school graduation. your post makes me want to hit the books again......

Matt M said...

All my life, I have found the brain to be an amazing subject. Both my mother and father are neurobiology researchers. My dad stuck electrodes in brains to learn something (I am not sure what, but I think it had to do with operating prosthetic eyes and limbs). My mother researched regeneration, using rat brains. As a youth, I would sometimes see a tray of topless rat heads, in baby food jars, on top of the refrigerator.

Neither one of my parents could articulate, to my youthful satisfaction, how the brain works and makes us who we are. Brain theory poses some questions that I am not sure I want the answers to.

Helen said...

Gorgeous post. That goop is incredible.

(And thanks for reminding me of the Bach.)

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a beautiful and thought-provoking post. Thanks so much for making me think about the "goop". Or is it that the "goop" is thinking? Either way, fascinating.

I have a great love of Scottish history and culture. I've never been there. I am a descendant of Scots, but didn't know that before I became passionate about it. The "goop" must know. :-)

Thanks for making me smile or sigh every day!

Elissa

Anonymous said...

Wow, Dude!
That must be some Good Shit! :)

Taking Heart said...

Spectacular! Not only are you snarky... but you can be deep, too! Impressive Dr. Grumps.

The organ of which you speak is quite a miraculous work of art. Amazing.

~TH

Anonymous said...

And the fact that it never bores you is what separates you from the other 98% of neurologists that the majority of us patients can't stand.

Celeste said...

This is a great post; I hope it gets picked up for Grand Rounds.

As an aside, last summer we went to Mackinac Island, MI. In the town of Mackinaw City is a lighthouse museum with a really great presentation on famous local shipwrecks. It included interviews with survivors that were riveting. I think you would enjoy it a lot if your travels ever took you and/or your family in that direction.

Coop de Ville said...

Thanks for the post, and Bach!

D. said...

Well-written, well said (also, it's nice to read prose by a doctor for whom English is not a third language, after medicalese and obfuscatish).

The goop is indeed awesome. I mostly enjoy mine, except when it decides that exercising in the squirrel cage in the back room is better than thinking.

Anonymous goop said...

My goop loves your goop and the wonderful blog posts like this that it creates. Have a beautiful day, sir!

ndenunz said...

I had a Physiology professor in med school who said:

The brain is a fascinating organ. It contains over a billion synapses, can run for over an hour on the energy from three peanuts and best of all, can be made by unskilled labor.

lbparker said...

Wonderful post, Dr. G. I'll have to check out that music.

Susan said...

Wonderful and eloquent Dr. G! Thank you.

Thoughts matter, a lot. With a few exceptions, they create your universe. Attitude is all.

Jacqueline said...

I do love my goop! And my goop? Is so loving Microbiology right now :)

Anonymous said...

Nice! Great job with the goop discription. Thanks for helping me to better understand and embrace my goop, your goop, and all God's children goop. Or something like that....

Dan said...

I don't know. I keep thinking back to Emo Phillips, who said, "I used to think the brain was the most important organ in the body, but then I realized -- look what's telling me that."

Kipper said...

Lovely post.

KWombles said...

The goop is endlessly fascinating stuff. :-) Lovely post.

ouzelum bird said...

...your goop also contains a sizeable infusion of writing talent. Helluva post. I find myself wondering what JS Bach would have thought of the kind of brain work that went into the complicated time signatures in Dave Brubeck's album Time Out... Then I realized I was supposed to be working. Well done, sir. * tips hat

pharmacy chick said...

Because of who I am, I believe our goop was given to us by our Creator Lord, who in His own image gave us some of his own attributes making our own bodies a mystery of their own. That goop that you have made a lifetime of caring for is so amazing that we cannot understand it. There is no other body part that can make decisions for another body part like our brain can. Because we are gifted by God with certain of his own attribues, THAT makes us different than any other creature.

Domestically Challenged said...

That was AWESOME. Seriously. Awesomeness.

NurseExec said...

It's always interesting to find out why people do what they do, but seldom have I read a description so heartfelt. Your patients are lucky to have you.

thegooddrlaura said...

"like"

There's much more to write, but my goop has work to do. Thanks for this.

Ellie said...

My son's brain is a miracle. Even with a GIANT hole in his left hemisphere and microcephaly, he walks, speaks two languages and is a generally obnoxious 10 year old. His first year, our neuro (not nearly as nice as Dr Grumpy) told us he would maybe walk, but that might be about it. He walked out and I put my head on the table and cried.
Ten years later, my son is not the kid you see on paper. Sure, he's got lots of gnarly diagnoses (sp?) but he's an amazing kid. He's sweet to his sister, loves cartoons, and is kind of a neat freak. His current neuro (much nicer) said if that same injury had happened to an adult, the brain couldn't rewire itself the way it did when my son was a baby. Brains are interesting things.

Anonymous said...

bravo. i had a frat brother named goop.

The HipCrip said...

Outstanding, Dr. Grumpy. My life would be so much better if my neurologist's goop had even one-tenth of the fire power of the whitish-grey Jello floating around in your vault.

medrecgal said...

Lovin' this bit of philosophizing Dr. G.! These sorts of "goopy" things have often come to mind in widely varying situations, like anatomy & physiology lab in college, when dealing with the ins & outs of having survived a nasty tangle with congenital hydrocephalus, or when encountering some bit of neurological unpleasantness somewhere in a medical record that brings me back to the wonder in merely realizing how lucky people are when their brain is fully and properly functional...I'd never be bored, either, if I had your sort of job, but my own "floating goop" wasn't up to the task! The wonder, however, is still very much alive! Thanks for helping me reconnect with it.

student dr. blaze said...

beautiful post, dr. grumpy. having only studied a minute portion of the brain's anatomy and histology, i have nowhere near the scientific knowledge about its inner-workings as you do, but i know that every time i learn something new about it, i'm in awe. you joke that it's goop, but you also know as well as i do that to delve into that goop is like looking at the cosmos: there's so much complexity and astounding synchronicity to the structure, development, etc. it is, indeed, incredible. thank goodness you don't lose sight of this when you see a tremor or a seizure or any kind of pathology. <--that's a gift. :-)

so, my grumpy doc, is the gift of your writing. i'm so glad you decided to share by blogging.

Anonymous said...

You want a good version of Toccata and Fugue in D minor, look for the Conrad Klieger version.

Cogitator said...

I find the goop fascinating personally because it turns the nerve signals that are coming in, into perception, into subjective reality. How on earth does it do this?

The signals coming in from finger tips, eyes, ears are basically the same even though they are triggered by different sources, different physical phenomena, so the interpretation into sound, light, touch, is done by the goop.

But we don't see just because the goop has some kind of internal realisation, some projection of the picture that falls into our eyes, because if that were the case, something else would have to be looking at the projection, etc.

It does something quite amazing.

mostly cajun said...

Impressive! Quite a leap from the "clueless patient" posts.

I just added you to the blogroll of my sad little blog, too, after reading your for a few months, including the day that I started at the first post.

MC

Claudia said...

My 80 year-old-goop thanks you for reminding it it ain't worthless as long as it's thinking. Never been bored once since it was conceived!

xibalba said...

i just discovered your blog.

thank you for this article.
i could have never found those words to describe this wonder and fascination.
but i do feel it. this is why i am doing my master of science in clinical neuropsychology right know.

greetings from the netherlands.

 
Locations of visitors to this page