Thursday, March 15, 2007
This is old news now, but since we discussed the paper in class today, I might as well talk about it. Damage to a part of your brain known as the insula has an unexpected(but not unpleasant)consequence: if you are a smoker, you'll quit smoking. And with no trouble, no craving, and no relapse. As one man put it, after having suffered damage to his insula: "My body just forgot the urge to smoke." Neat. So now we know which part of the brain is involved in addiction to smoking (it's not known if the insula plays s role in other kinds of reward associated learning, including drug addiction).
No one has actually proven this experimentally- the study was entirely statistical(not that it isn't convincing). Maybe some one will try TMS- TMS or trans-cranial magnetic stimulation shoots a strong electromagnetic pulse to a small patch of brain tissue (of your choice), which is then stimulated. Some folks who've received TMS to their temporal lobes (the area of brain near your temples, hence the name) have 'experienced God' (this is rather controversial, though). Depending on the frequency of stimulation, TMS can also inhibit brain activity. If I were to apply TMS the part of your motor cortex (at the right frequency) that controls moving your right hand, you wouldn't be able to move it.
So here's what I'd like to see done- find a bunch of chain smokers- the kind that go through 2 packs of ciggies per day. Deprive them of smokes for, say, a few days. When they're dying for that nicotine fix, give them a cigarette, and at the same time zap their insula with TMS so as to inhibit it. If the study is right, the smokers should feel no urge to smoke. One moment the guy is dying to smoke, and the next moment he couldn't care less about the cigarette in his hand. That would be so cool if it worked!
I'm not sure if TMS can be applied to the insula (for technical reasons), though... And how to quantify a smoker's craving (and non-craving) for cigarettes? Maybe there's some physiological change that can be measured. Else, we'd have to take the smoker's word for it, and that wouldn't be the best way to go about things, would it?
This may be trivial, but had to say it (now that we're on the topic of science)- Germaine Greer seems to think that humans possess 48 chromosomes (we actually only have 46). She makes above assertion in the very first page of The Female Eunuch. What surprises me is that her editors haven't bothered to correct this- the 2001 edition (I checked on Amazon)has the same mistake. Makes me wonder how many other writers have got their facts wrong, and I've believed them blindly.
That probably got too serious for this blog, so as remedy, I leave you with the fainting goats, narcoleptic doggies and carnivorous cow...