The Hard Problem of Consciousness

You’re lying on a sandy beach on a hot sunny afternoon, enjoying a few hours of much needed laziness. As you open your eyes and confront the vastness of the ocean in front of you, light of 600nm wavelength hits your retina, kindling an impossibly long cascade of events in your brain: a molecule called retinal changes shape, neurons fire action potentials down the optic nerve, arrive at the lateral geniculate nucleus deep in the brain causing more action potentials in primary visual cortex in the back of your head, and so on ad infinitum. At some point, the mechanical wonder of 100 billion neurons working together produces something special: your experience of the color blue. What’s special is not that you can discriminate that color from others; nor that you are aware of it and paying attention to it. It is not notable that you can tell us about it, or assign a name to it. It’s that you have a subjective, qualitative experience of the color; there is something it is like to experience the color blue. Some philosophers call these experiences qualia – meaning “what kind” – but it is not important what kind of experience you are having, just that you are having one at all. Modern science hypothesizes that subjective experience is a product of the brain, but has no explanation for it. Continue reading

The Miracle of Neuroscience: A Life of Grad School, Research, Science Literacy, and What These Really Mean

Scientists are bipolar masochists in white coats. And we are okay with that.

This post will be somewhat atypical. No science-heavy references, no hard data, no hypotheses — nothing new. It’ll be just one general and optimistic story for the non-specialist, a story and opinion that celebrates neuroscience to the bone.

Imagine taking a scalpel and making an incision on an anesthetized patient’s head. As the blade glides down a shaved patch of gelatinous skin, the blood underneath begins to flow out and glistens a bright crimson. It quickly dries to a rust on the scalpel and gauze. Some yellow cubes of fat almost bursts at the seams of the skin around it, and white skull finally comes into sight. Flakes of bone fly around as you drill a hole open. As soon as the hole gives way, the pinkgrey custard that is your brain appears. It is engulfed by a spider-web of of purple bloody veins. Congratulations! Before you, finally, is the seat to everything that is You, and there is nothing You-er than your mind, than your brain. So, let’s study You.

Continue reading

Postpartum Depression: Not Just For Women Anymore

Thanks to celebrities writing books about postpartum depression, pretty much everyone knows what it is (a clinical depression that affects as many as 25% of women after childbirth). But did you know that men can experience the symptoms as well? It was assumed that the major cause of this depression was hormonal changes, but studies have shown that hormone treatments may not cure this disorder, and most women recover through therapy (or a combination of therapy and medication). But it is a recently emerging fact that there are almost as many men as women suffering from depression after their babies come home from the hospital.

In truth, this is not unnatural, especially if you suppose that this after-birth depression is not hormonal in nature. Men face many of the same challenges as women when it comes to handling a newborn. There is an initial sense of euphoria at the birth of a child, but the reality of life with a newborn cannot be avoided. Your little bundle of joy will almost certainly keep you up throughout the night for feedings, changings, or who knows why? Babies have immediate needs and a piercing cry that would test even the most stalwart of parents. True, men don’t have the onus of breastfeeding, but they face other difficulties. Most women stay home, at least initially. Men, on the other hand, must suffer through sleepless nights and then function through work all day. Further, they often have feelings of inadequacy when it comes to baby-related tasks. They may feel that they don’t share the same bond as the mother or that they can’t perform even simple tasks correctly (hey, it takes time to learn to put a diaper on correctly).

And then there’s the almost inevitable fighting that occurs between partners who have been pushed to their physical and mental limits. In short, caring for a newborn and facing the challenges that come with it can be just as hard (if not harder) for men. Luckily, Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND) is a disorder that can be treated, just like any other type of anxiety or depression. Men should not feel ashamed about admitting they have a problem. These disorders are common and understandable and there are several resources available to help fathers struggling with depression. For example, if individual therapy doesn’t appeal to you, you can seek out groups for new fathers or contact family services in your area for other support groups. You can also find help at your church or simply try talking to a friend. Really, just getting it out can be a huge help. If you do nothing, however, you stand to lose a lot.

Your depression not only affects your own health and well-being, it can have a huge impact on your relationship, as well as affecting your child’s emotional and behavioral development. As a parent, you want to do the best you can for your child. That means being a healthy individual. Do not allow any imagined fears of social ramifications stop you from getting the help you need to improve yourself and in turn, ensure a stable and loving household for your family.

Alexis Montgomery is a content writer for Online Degree Programs, where you can browse through various online degree programs to find a college that suits your needs.