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NeuroScience to Understand Dementia

May 7, 2015

My granny had her onset of dementia many years ago.  There is almost nothing we can do to reverse the process. The most we can do now is to learn to understand her. Change ourselves to cater to her more, then learn to learn to “care” for her more.

But I always thought, the least I could do (since I am so good at the academic level) is to study the disease and see at the medical science level, how much I can “understand”.  From there maybe I can try to be in her shoes and do my part to “care”.  So I looked up many, many pages on the web and very slowly, I begin to enter the domain of Neuroscience.

My favourite way to learn, is to go to a very good Neuroscience 101 textbook and try to work very hard like I am a freshman studying for a final exam.  I could dive in, learn the basic and then do the deep thinking later.  And so, I am reading “Fundamental Neuroscience” by Squire, Berg and Bloom.

I never knew so much has been done and so many interesting thing are now in the research.  This subject is a combined effort of so many branches of sciences that it is now at a level most trendy amongst the very best Biology, Computer Science/ Engineering students.  I took up the challenge of trying to read it like a Freshman nonetheless.

I am only in the first section but I was already mesmerized by what we already know and how much there is we have to find out.  For instance to quote some of the things I read (I avoided those lines with too many jargon)

As research progressed, it became clear that neuronal functions could best be fitted into nervous system
function by considering their operations at four fundamental hierarchical levels: molecular, cellular, systems,
and behavioral….There are sensory systems, which include specialized senses for hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, and balancing the body.

The next line I quote has a little more jargon, but still understandable:

Primary receptors (in the retina, inner ear, olfactory epithelium, tongue, or skin) transmit first to primary relay cells, then to secondary relay cells, and finally to the primary sensory fields of the cerebral cortex.

To me, this is like reading The Diamond Sutra 《金剛經》 or the shorter Heart Sutra (Hannya Haramita Shingyo) using the 唯识学派 (yogacara) argument.  But here they talk about only 5, the sutra usually talked about 6.  Discussing the 五根、五尘、五识, this is something Xuanzang –the master of the Monkey King– already was an expert in and won many debates. Neuroscience focus on 五根 :眼、耳、鼻、舌、身根。 with 五境 : 色、声、香、味、触境.  I never knew they were looking at the same thing!

Then I chance upon a book by Mingyur Rinpoche, and I realize that he was actually an expert in this area of Neuroscience and explained how to “live life” from the point of view of a scientist from his book “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness”. 

Wow!  This is going to be happy learning for me, at least in between understanding neurotransmitter like dopamine and serotonin, I get to learn what I am reading in the sutra as well.

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