Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Yorker on neuroscience: amputee pain, creativity

Last week's New Yorker includes an article on neuroscience that is interesting in at least two regards.

One topic discussed is the plasticity of the brain over time, and how amputated limbs, which are a burden borne particularly by veterans, can over time be associated with very real pain in the phantom appendage. Surprisingly, a treatment that seems to work, according to a 2007 letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, is with "mirror therapy," which fools the brain into seeing the missing appendage and realizing the pain isn't really there. This echoes back to Atul Gawande's haunting New Yorker piece last year, "The Itch."

Another topic discussed by the subject of the article, UCSD's Dr. Ramachandran, is the origin of at least one kind of creative genius, that of coming up with a really good metaphor, connecting different types of reasoning and perception. He guessed that it might be due to physical intra-brain connections that could be somewhat hereditary or mutative.