Archive for September, 2010

Hey, Canadians! Not-to-be-missed TV documentary on neuroplasticity tonight!

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

I heard a great interview this morning on CBC Radio with Dr. Norman Doidge. Apparently he’s hosting a documentary on CBC Television tonight at 8:00 on neuroplasticity. I’d recommend that anyone who is curious about that we’re learning about the brain these days watch this show.

For those of you who don’t know, psychiatrist Norman Doidge has done the world a service by doing some very interesting popular journalism on the topic of neuroplasticity, which is the primary scientific concept behind what we do here at Choratech.

In 2007 Doidge published a really fascinating book called The Brain That Changes Itself, in which he introduced the idea that brains are much more malleable and changeable (literally, plastic; think “plasticene”) than scientists previously thought, and told the stories of several prominent scientists working in this area–and some of the people whose lives were changed by new plasticity-based interventions. The story is really one of new hopefulness, because the underlying message is that we no longer have to assume that if our brains don’t work well due to aging, illness, injury, or whatever, we just have to live with it and there’s nothing we can do. Instead, if we harness the brain’s ability to adapt and alter its connections, we can overcome a lot of these limitations.

If you want a quick intro to the subject, and have 45 minutes to spare, Doidge has already hosted a documentary on the CBC, an episode of the science show The Nature of Things, and you can watch it for free here. I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Doidge’s book, too. It was, in fact, reading that book that convinced me that the science and the level of public interest had both developed to the point where an entity like Choratech would be possible.

With thanks for the safe arrival of John Michael Toman – born 25 September, 2010

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

The Nativity

“For unto us a child is born.” — Isaiah

The thatch of the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind was a peal as of trumpets,
Though barren and blowing and cold:
The mother’s hair was a glory,
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming –
A child was born.

O, if a man sought a sign in the inmost
That God shaketh broadest his best,
That things fairest are oldest and simplest,
In the first days created and blest:
Far flush all the tufts of the clover,
Thick mellows the corn,
A cloud shapes, a daisy is opened –
A child is born.

With raw mists of the earth-rise about them,
Risen red from the ribs of the earth,
Wild and huddled, the man and the woman,
Bent dumb o’er the earliest birth;
Ere the first roof was hammered above them.
The first skin was worn,
Before code, before creed, before conscience –
A child was born.

What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires like dreams unremembered,
Dread epics of glory and woe?
This we know, that with blight and with blessing,
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them –
“A child is born.”

And to us, though we pore and unravel
Black dogmas that crush us and mar,
Through parched lips pessimistic dare mutter
Hoarse fates of a frost-bitten star;
Though coarse strains and heredities soil it,
Bleak reasoners scorn,
To us too, as of old, to us also –
A child is born.

Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove;
Still the plumes stir around us, above us,
The wings of the shadow of love.
Still the fountains of life are unbroken,
Their splendour unshorn;
The secret, the symbol, the promise –
A child is born.

Have a myriad children been quickened,
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience,
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered –
A child is born.

In the time of dead things it is living,
In the moonless grey night is a gleam,
Still the babe that is quickened may conquer,
The life that is new may redeem.
Ho, princes and priests, have you heard it?
Grow pale through your scorn.
Huge dawns sleep before us, stern changes –
A child is born.

More than legions that toss and that trample,
More than choirs that bend Godward and sing,
Than the blast of the lips of the prophet,
Than the sword in the hands of the King,
More strong against Evil than judges
That smite and that scorn,
The greatest, the last, and the sternest –
A child is born.

And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the star of the heart,
And the Wise Men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened,
His spirit is torn,
For a new King is throned of a nation –
A child is born.

And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things;
Still feels that high moment unfurling,
Red glories of Gabriel’s wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, annointed –
A child is born.

To the rusty barred doors of the hungry,
To the struggle for life and the din,
Still, with brush of bright plumes and with knocking,
The Kingdom of God enters in.
To the daughters of patience that labour
That weep and are worn,
One moment of love and of laughter –
A child is born.

To the last dizzy circles of pleasure,
Of fashion and song-swimming nights,
Comes yet hope’s obscure crucifixion,
The birth fire that quickens and bites,
To the daughters of fame that are idle,
That smile and that scorn,
One moment of darkness and travail –
A child is born.

And till man and his riddle be answered,
While earth shall remain and desire,
While the flesh of a man is as grass is,
The soul of a man as a fire,
While the daybreak shall come with its banner,
The moon with its horn,
It shall rest with us that which is written –
“A child is born.”

And for him that shall dream that the martyr
Is banished, and love but a toy,
That life lives not through pain and surrender,
Living only through self and its joy,
Shall the Lord God erase from the body
The oath he has sworn?
Bend back to thy work, saying only –
“A child is born.”

And Thou that art still in the cradle,
The sun being crown for Thy brow,
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer.
Say, whence art Thou come? Who art Thou?
Art Thou come back on earth for our teaching,
To train or to warn?
Hush! How may we know, knowing only –
A child is born?

– G. K. Chesterton, c.1893

Posts and comments

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

If you’ve been by lately and gotten an error message, my apologies! I seem to have messed things up when I upgraded to a new version of the blogging software.

Speaking of blog posts, please feel free to comment on any of the posts you see here. Underneath each post there’s a spot where you can leave a comment. I’ve been wondering if no one has anything to say, or if people get confused by the fact that they’re supposed to click where it says “No Comments” – it doesn’t mean “no comments allowed”, it means, “there aren’t any comments posted yet”. Anyway, I’d be pleased to get chatting in the comment boxes with you, so go ahead and leave a comment. If you’re not a spammer. I’ve had lots of those.

Recent study: New meaning given to concept of a “Bad Hair Day”

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Some researchers at an Israeli medical centre and the University of Western Ontario recently figured out that your hair can provide an indicator of your varying levels of stress across the span of several months. When we’re under stress we secrete higher levels of a hormone called cortisol. It’s used as a measure of stress levels in much scientific research, but until recently it was only measured from blood, urine, or saliva – which means it could only reflect current stress levels, not past stress levels. These researchers found that there is cortisol deposited in hair as it grows at its usual rate of one centimetre per month, and so a six-centimetre strand of hair holds about six months’ worth of stress data.

Here’s where it gets interesting: men who had had heart attacks were compared to other men who were visiting the hospital for other reasons, and their hair cortisol records showed significantly more cortisol than those of the other men across three months prior to their admission to hospital.

Take-home message? Stress is highly predictive of heart disease. This has actually been demonstrated repeatedly, in various ways. Depression is also a major predictor of heart disease, and probably for the same reasons. The exact mechanism for this relationship is not known, but it probably has something to do with the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which is the dual-branch control system that connects the brain to the various other organs of the body, including the heart. Stress is related to dominance of one branch of this system over the other: the sympathetic nervous system (designed to mobilize the organism to deal with challenges and dangers) comes to predominate and the parasympathetic nervous system (associated with safety, calm, and relaxation) becomes outgunned. This is all pretty normal, but chronic stress can lead to a situation of prolonged and severe imbalance in the ANS–and some pretty bad health outcomes, not the least of which is heart disease.

Choratech is soon going to be introducing a product that helps to counteract stress by working to shift the balance within the autonomic nervous system in the parasympathetic direction. This technique, known as heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback, has shown results in reducing things like anxiety, panic and depression, and serves as an effective general stress-buster. Interestingly, it also pushes cardiac variables in a more healthy direction, which strongly suggests that it will be an effective preventative measure against heart attack and other forms of heart disease. It involves training the communication pathways between the heart and the brain in such a way as to encourage parasympathetic activity, through providing information to the person moment-to-moment about his or her heart rate, and teaching him or her to increase the flexibility and range of the ANS activity, as reflected in the heart rate.

Curious? Contact us and I’ll go through it with you in detail.

Walking isn’t just good for your legs: it’s good for your noggin!

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

A study was just released in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience that highlights the value of even light aerobic exercise for brain functioning in aging adults.

65 previously non-physically active adults, between 50 and 85 years of age, were randomly assigned either to a weekly walking group or to a stretching and toning group. Their brains were measured for the amount of coordinated activity in the default mode network, which is a network of brain regions that become active together when a person is not focused on the outside world and is introspecting or daydreaming. (Loss of coordination in this network has been shown to be a marker of cognitive decline in aging people. My wife would say I make too much use of mine, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, by the end of the study, the walking group had increased the level of coordination in their default network, as well as another network used for planning and cognitive control, and could perform significantly better than before on cognitive tasks. The stretching and toning group showed none of these changes, which highlights the fact that it’s specifically aerobic exercise that gets you breathing and increases your heart rate, and not exercise in general, that’s good for your brain.

So how about it? Find a buddy, get out there and go for a walk!