A tree is like a neuron–especially after the leaves come down…

The wind is really blowing hard today and the leaves are flying off the limbs. Looking out my office window I already see lots of bare limbs, which day by day, take on the look and feel of apical pyramidal cell dendrites–this is appropriate for SFN11 week here in DC.

I feel bad for the 40,000 neuroscientists who are streaming in to DC as I write these words, only to find that Metro is on a weekend schedule because of Veterans Day (20 minutes between trains). Hope they all brought coats. It’s cold.

Some suggestions for our students, for whom this may well be their first meeting:

Concentrate on the poster sessions and focus with laser attention on the subset in your own area of work. This task alone, will, if done properly, take up the bulk of your working time at the meeting.

Tag along with your mentor, as much as she or he, will allow and observe how networking happens. If you’re lucky, you may end up being introduced to your next boss!

When socializing, especially early in the evening, don’t party too hearty. You don’t want to wake up to your picture on Facebook. And you don’t want to fall into your soup.

The Snow

Last winter we had 56 inches of snow at Reagan National Airport. The average is 15. Today we’ve commenced this year’s hopeful regression to the mean–I believe we’ll get around 3 inches in today’s storm. Of course, three inches of snow in DC is very different from the same in Chicago. Word from around town is that the roads are OK, but they are jammed: the general panic to purchase milk and toilet paper is on.

Looking out my office window, the trees in our small forest conjure up the apical dendrites of CA1 pyramidal cells–I can imagine the somata hidden just below the windowsill. The axons crossing those dendrites must also remain in my imagination. My view is more of a Golgi staining perspective. The real packing of neurons would be far denser.

But it’s a compelling scene for a neuroscientist, on a cold winter’s afternoon.

Update from the Blue Ridge

Well it’s been about two weeks since I decamped from Fairfax to the northwestern ridge of Wintergreen mountain in Nelson County Virginia. In the meantime, the new year has started and there’s a lot going on at the institute for advanced study. We are still in the midst of faculty recruiting season (it’s getting exciting) and at the same time working on getting a new cellular imaging facility in place as a core facility. I’m looking forward to returning to Mason on Monday and diving into the backlog of email. In the meantime, broadband seems to be working well up here and I’ve developed new respect for the old-fashioned land-line telephone.


Snow in Washington DC

We had our first substantial snow of the season yesterday evening rush hour. Naturally, there were few salt trucks and plows–we’re not Chicago! I had the adventure of the month with my rear-wheel drive car–we took one of our job candidates to dinner, got stuck, subsequently the entire staff of the restaurant pushed us out (with the help of one of my faculty members and the job candidate). Ended up doing more 4-wheel skating than driving.


Washington DC "tis the season"

A strange aspect of living in Washington is how, come the holiday season, the weather turns actually winter-like (as if on cue) and how there seem to be an endless stream of holiday parties that successively pile up on the days as if they were storm waves crashing up on a beach. So it is this year living along side the Potomac River.

I gave a talk yesterday on artificial intelligence–a topic that I get asked about quite a bit, but one that I’ve always felt somewhat removed from, given my own work in neuroscience. And yet, the field of AI has made great strides since Marvin Minsky–although my take is we’re not anywhere near the “strong AI” that was sold last century. One way new way to think about AI I suppose may be to go beyond the Turing Test towards some deeper understanding of our own consciousness and what it means to be self-aware.

And so we return to the topic of studying consciousness and the mind–which is the raison d’etre of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study.

Happy Holidays,