Well, the paper we thought would be out by now is still undergoing analysis before we submit it. It turns out that the first round of computer calculations we did had a small error, and now we have to do them all over again! This probably won’t change the final results by much, but we have to be very accurate in what we present, so it is better to go back and do things right, even if it slows us down a bit. Because other scientists might look at our work and try to replicate our study, we have to do the best we can to make sure that everything is accurate. But I felt like kicking myself when I realized we would have to go back and do this all again! Science can be frustrating!
On another front, we are excited about the possibility of continuing our experiments with slices of brain taken from human epileptic patients. We may have another opportunity to record from a human slice in the coming month. These experiments are very interesting, because they allow us to get a glimpse of how human neural networks operate. Even though the tissue is taken from near a tumor, it still can tell us a lot about how human tissue differs from animal tissue. Are humans fundamentally different from animals, or do we just have more gray matter?
We are very careful to make sure that such tissue is obtained in the most ethical manner possible. The parents of the child who is undergoing epilepsy surgery are usually very eager to see research on this disease progress, so they are often wiling to sign consent forms allowing us to perform experiments on the tissue before it is disposed. We are very grateful for their courage and for their generosity toward our research, and it makes us want to find out as much as we can about epilepsy.
When we get such a piece of tissue, it is tempting to think about what it was doing in the patient’s brain. Was it a place where memories were stored? Did this chunk of brain hold a record of the first time this boy rode a bicycle, or was it a network that contributed to his sense of compassion for others? How will this person be different now that this small piece of tissue is removed? Like Hamlet contemplating Yorick’s skull, it is haunting to peer into a piece of matter and realize that somehow it “housed” a mind, a personality, or even what we call a soul.