I was recently struck by a phrase in BBC’s silent witness.(This is not unusual, I have friends who work in forensics, I am often bombarded with phrases about silent witness, although I note that it is now much clearer that they are an independent lab and not part of the police force. Do we sub contract out forensic investigations? – I digress)
The phrase was said whilst watching a post mortem when a body is reduced to weights and measures and it was ‘that we are so much more than the sum of our parts’
Never is this more true than in the case of Neuroanatomy. We take a mass of grey and white cell matter and we divide it into areas, we name things (in fact, being anatomists we name things several times over; is that your putamen or your lentiform nucleus?)
We identify pathways we draw on areas but when it gets down to the fundamentals, we still aren’t sure how it works.
It’s great to get the opportunity to make people stop and wonder about the body that they are living in.
I recently had a conversation with some students about reflex arcs. They had drawn out a lovely team diagram of a reflex arc showing a hand being pulled away from a flame. They clearly understood it and were finished earlier than the other groups. How to keep them occupied?
Do you want to draw out the diagram for standing on a LEGO brick?
There was almost an audible tut, a few minutes later they had drawn out exactly the same diagram replacing the hand with a foot.
That’s great! Is that what actually happens? You walk across the room, stand on a LEGO brick and lift your foot directly up?
‘No, you usually stumble a bit and swear.’
Ok, why do you stumble? What would happen if you just lifted one foot directly up?
‘You would fall over.’
Exactly, so what else has to happen?
‘You must tighten up the muscles down here’, ‘but wait you stumble so you must loose your balance.’ ‘It must go up to the cerebellum!’ ‘But how do you know you’ve lost your balance?’ ‘It must have inputs from the eyes and ears.’ ‘But wait, you swear, it must involve the speech areas.’ ‘Do you need to double check it’s appropriate to swear, do we need a feedback loop in there?’
Their diagram expanded, it drew in things they had learned about weeks before. It had gone from a simple little loop to a series of pathways that all happen in the blink of an eye and all subconsciously.
We are so much more than the sum of our parts.