Category: Neuroscience

A winter poem



Oh! An alert to dread! Read about my chilled terror, a misery – oh, frigid adjectives shuffling meaningfully

Here’s the second line now, and with it I lament of an ‘approaching coldness’ and it makes you think about winter and how much it sucks

snow, brr

and so on


Sleep phases

In reverse chronological order:

19) Feel a momentary crunch of the small bits of eggshells embedded in your scrambled eggs. Think about easter. Type about it

18) Watch that rubbery pile of protein wobble. Realize silently that you forgot that water.

17) Use your hand. Germ theory is overrated

16) Fuck forks

15) *awful metal sound of fork scraping off the rim of the plate, awful cold feeling of fork on the inside of my forefinger*

14) Sit-fall down into the couch. Think of how accomplished you already are

13) A moment of guilt as you walk past your cats with any type of food: you know they don’t really eat your eggs, but one of the cats at least wants to, even though he just ate his food, , , , , ,

12) Hope that your cats won’t burn themselves on the burner. Put another pot of water on it as it’s cooling off. Don’t forget to bring some water over to the couch in the living room.

11) Eggs done – you resisted dusting them with salt – in your mind a toilet flushes and carries with it dissolving bits of ‘i’m not hypertensive but hey I skipped the salt, good job me’

10) Heat a pan (hear Anthony Bourdain’s voice saying pre-heated. Look at the 2 eggs you removed from the fridge and (hear Anthony Bourdain’s voice saying intermediate, uh, vessel) decide not to use a separate vessel for the eggs. Wonder if Anthony Bourdain would be weirded out that his voice comes into your head as you’re cooking eggs. Cook the eggs.

9) Be a fucking man already

8) Stare at blueberries and strawberries. Stare at freezer. Stare at blueberries and strawberries. Stare at freezer. (they are in the freezer and so you are looking at the frozen blueberries and strawberries inside of the freezer) Let out your first big yawn of the morning. Gleek onto the rim of the freezer. Smile and feel your face stretch in a weird way and think about crow’s feet. Remember that you need to eat. Remember that strawberries and blueberries won’t get you too far.

7) Remember that you need to eat

6) Flush your old coffee grounds and filter down the toilet and make sure that you don’t feel guilty about it whatsoever. Your coffee machine gurgles

5) Get up now you are feeding your cats now you realize you’re fucked get into the kitchen



2) After you agree to sleep separately you take some Benadryl to pass out. You take two benadryl to pass out. Instead they jazz you up for a while until

1) Tell your girlfriend she can’t come over, even if you’d like to sleep next to her. You are already so tired

I knew not to stand up

but I stood up anyways.

I knew not to feed the cats

but I fed them anyways.

I knew not to take my meds

but I took them anyways.

I knew I should smoke (instead of resisting),

but I resisted anyways.

I knew not to stay awake

but I stayed awake anyways.

I knew not to eat breakfast

but I ate breakfast anyways.

I knew not to exercise

but I exercised anyways.

I knew not to shower

but I showered anyways.

I knew not to shower or shave

but I showered and shaved really well anyways.

I knew not to go to class

but I went to class anyways.

I knew not to stay in class

but I stayed in class anyways.

I know that after all of this I’m not supposed to feel shitty

but after all of this I feel shitty anyways.

Dads, Dopamine, & Derek Cianfrance

That last research article I posted has me wondering about goal-setting.

In our weird wiry brains there are chunks of flesh that are more-or-less devoted to goal-setting, reward-seeking, and the like. This is personally fascinating to me because pretty much never in the process of goal-setting or goal-seeking do I think much about my own biology. 

More so, reward itself feels pretty urgent:

  • once I get to my apartment after this workout I’ll be able to pull that cold water bottle out of the fridge and drink it. Fuck, I need to get to my apartment
  • This blog post isn’t going to get nearly enough likes. How can I get more likes? Maybe I’ll insert a cool picture. Ah, just imagine how many people will like this blog post! That’s gonna feel so good. I’m the man. Can’t wait for those likes
  • Damn, I’m still thinking about the water
  • 6.82$ is more than enough to get a delicious Snickers bar and so oh, hell yes, it’s time to walk to the gas station
  • only 4.5 days until payday
  • I got a free milkshake at that diner, so I definitely am going back to that diner
  • All of these likes that I’m racking up on my blog post feel so good but they aren’t enough and I want more
  • Need to drink that cold water that’s inside my fridge

We are tremendously lucky to live during a time where we can think broadly and deeply about what is happening in our bodies and our brains during these types of desires and impulses. Let’s take a case of reward that many of us have witnessed in one way or another: An alcoholic’s neurotransmitters surely float like butterflies and sting like bees, causing all sorts of dysfunction. The irony of alcohol is that even though it’s reinforcing, and even though it leads to all sorts of complicated goal-setting, alcohol in the long term can be very destructive. What earlier was a disordered exercise in scholarly skepticism is now a seriously important question: Why do humans set the goals that they do, and how do they achieve them? What underlying body systems are involved when goal-setting is going right or going wrong, and how can we influence those body systems? What aspects of our brain give rise to the tendency to misalign short term and long term goals?

These questions are serious but they’re honestly pretty dry. With a yawn, let’s be reminded of the basic science vocab that we’ll toss around in the conversation about goal-setting. In our everyday lexicon dopamine is appropriately associated with reward and reinforcement of behavior. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – What sets us aside from other mammals is our tendency to fetter and filter our desires through immensely complicated frontal lobes, enabling long-term planning and modeling of potential scenarios. Which scenarios (and behaviors) end up being reinforced is a matter of complex neural wiring, and the neuroscientist is one who wonders what biological systems are dancing about as mental models are constructed to achieve goals. Parenting is no doubt a marathon of mental models: There’s a lot that can happen when you’re toting a vulnerable child and a lot that you’ll need to be prepared for long ahead of time.

How frontal lobes, mammalian reward systems relate to cinema is largely a matter of interpretation. I’m actually getting tired but will make sure to come back to this post. Leaving it public so that I don’t just leave it rotting in the drafts folder

Instantiation of incentive value and movement invigoration by distinct midbrain dopamine circuits (Saunders et. al)

Cool paper:

Instantiation of incentive value and movement invigoration by distinct midbrain dopamine circuits

Never stop reading! This paper is pretty representative of the research I’d like to be doing within the next several years. Haven’t finished reading it but am enjoying it & wanted to post here. I’m noticing that when research articles or readings are really tremendously exciting I come to ramble about them before actually finishing them.

The lead researcher on this study is a dude by the name of Benjamin T. Saunders. He got an undergrad degree from West Virginia University, a PhD at the University of Michigan, and then did some postdoc research at UCSF and then Johns Hopkins. He’s now opened a lab at the University of Minnesota that came to my attention via a random listserve email from the U of M. They’re doing cool stuff related to dopamine, reward, etc. & I want to keep track of it. The techniques they’ll be using in the lab (EG optogenetic signalling) are things I’ve read about in class but never really read about in real life. And if they’re doing it over at the U that makes me curious about going to take a look at their lab.

So what’s with distinct midbrain dopamine circuits? Why should we care?