Patriarchy Brain

I’m turning 34 today, which at least in my life is the moment when seemingly everyone around me has young children, is pregnant, or both. That in itself is great—I love other people’s children. Yet, I can’t help but feel anger and disgust in the face of the patronizing treatment to which my childbearing and childrearing female friends are being subjected. In many cases, my friends are complicit in their own abuse and perpetuate it by uttering the following self-deprecating remarks like mantras:

“I have baby brain syndrome.”

“Oh, it’s my pregnancy brain again.”

“That’s just my momnesia.”

“What else can you expect from my mommy brain?”

If you’re unfamiliar with the manifold offensive ways these (popular/pseudo-) scientific terms are being used, just take a look at this, this, this, and this Google Image search.

I thought I had to write a paper on the history of these ideas to help my friends understand that these stereotype-laden insults are not objective truths but contingent historical constructs crafted to keep them down. To my surprise and amazement, I came across the following mind-blowing selection of existing scholarship. Continue reading

Glands and Hormones: 20th-Century Hopes and Fears across the Northern Hemisphere

Meet me in Seattle for HSS 2018, November 14!

Once more, I organized a panel for the History of Science Society Annual Meeting, this time in collaboration with my friend Yize Hu. It will be a fantastic opportunity to discuss how 20th-century practitioners perceived the potential and perils of hormones in Japan, China, central Europe, Scotland, and the U.S. Join us if you can!

The overall panel:

Glands and Hormones: 20th-Century Hopes and Fears across the Northern Hemisphere
Research on glandular secretions and their metabolic impact transfigured the medico-scientific understanding of the body in the late 19th century. In 1905, British physiologist Ernest H. Starling (1866–1927) coined the word “hormone,” an umbrella term for secretions from various parts of the body. In the subsequent decades, glandular science flourished and fueled a refashioning of concepts such as aging, growth, reproduction, and sex/gender. This panel sheds light on various ways in which the hormonal view of the body impacted 20th-century science in Asia, Europe, and North America. What role did glands and hormones fulfill in scientific and social lives at different times and places? What hopes and fears were associated with interfering in the hormonal body? To what extent were hormone-related practices and theories mobile across space and time? The papers exemplify multiple connotations of hormones: they could be both promises and threats to human health, as well as disruptors or justifications of the contemporary social order. Furthermore, due to the double role of hormones as actively sexing/gendering (through their metabolic function) and passively sexed/gendered substances (through social ascriptions), hormonal theories and practices transcended the binaries between nature and nurture, and between the physical and the social world.

Continue reading

How Testosterone Allowed Norman Geschwind to Bridge an Intellectual Century

The Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library in Boston is magnificent! But very cold. I guess I brought the wrong clothes, being spoiled by Philly summers (or what shall I call it?).

I have been here for three weeks now, and will stay for one more. I am slowly making way through Norman Geschwind’s papers. Geschwind and his colleagues’ theory from the early 1980s is quite (in)famous among science critics.

Frankly, Geschwind and his colleagues almost designed a Grand Unified Theory of humanity there. The level of testosterone in prenatal life, so they suggested, affects the asymmetrical maturation of a human brain, and by extension one’s immune system, sexual orientation, language abilities, handedness and much more. Continue reading

Book Summaries: The Remaining 2^2*13 Items from My Brain List

In continuation of the first 27, here are the remaining 52 items of my “History of the Skull, Mind, and Brain Sciences” reading list with John Tresch. It’s a lot of stuff, and I have no idea how he and I shall have a conversation about all of these in a 60- to 90-minute Skype session tomorrow evening, when I’ll already be brain-dead from sitting and working in window-less rooms for hours. But I guess I will be flexible or, better, creatively plastic, and figure out a way to mold or not mold myself to the crazy demands of being a grad student shortly before “orals.” (Less than 4 weeks left!) Continue reading

DH and Me

I’m in Indianapolis for HILT 2015. The digital-humanities workshop on “Large-Scale Text Analysis with R” sounded as if it can help me to finally surmount the obstacle of several thousands of neuroscientific articles I will have to analyze in order to continue my project on adult neurogenesis. Mark Algee-Hewitt from Stanford’s Department of English is an awesome instructor and thus far, I’ve understood everything and was even able to ask a not-so-stupid question during the first session. (Why does R return “character” when I ask about the class of a vector whose contents are characters—and not “vector”?)

I know I promised to continue this post a long time ago—odds are that it will happen soon.

Privacy Lost—SCAN Put Me on Youtube

I just returned from India a few days ago (see my new Department picture) and getting back to serious academic work is pretty rough after more than three weeks out in the wild … So I just spent a few minutes procrastinating and googling myself. Doing so, I found a youtube video of my short presentation at the First Annual SCAN Retreat. I should watch the video and use it to improve on my English pronunciation, I guess.

P.S. I also found the SCAN certificate in my mailbox when I returned. I’m completely done with classes now, scientific and non-scientific!
P.P.S. Just realized they also put up a testimonial, taken from an email I sent to Martha after my HSS panel last November. I seem to be a quite popular SCAN graduate.

Allyson Mackey’s Questions about Brains of Low-SES Adolescents—and Why Those Are Not Sufficient

Let me provide you with one more summary of a brownbag lunch talk at Penn’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Last December, I attended the talk and I found myself once more building my own sets of questions on top of those the presenter asked and tried to answer. The speaker, Allyson Mackey from the Gabrieli Lab at MIT, is one more scientist who is employing their academic work to tackle social problems: her research on plasticity in the developing brain explores the intersection between income inequality and education. More specifically, she investigates into individual differences in academic outcome as a response to targeted cognitive training, and the associated brain structures and functions.

Using imaging methods such as event-related and resting-state fMRI as well as DTI, Mackey investigates at the cellular level into plasticity that is induced by learning in the highly composite environments that we call schools. Her two major questions are: How does the brain shape learning? (Or: At what age are cognitive skills most malleable?) And: How does learning shape the brain? (Or: How does the brain change as students learn new cognitive skills?) Continue reading

“A Critical Moment”: Sex/Gender and Brain Science Conference @ UCLA, 10/23–24

Here is a conference announcement I should have shared with you months ago: the Foundation for Psychocultural Research at the University of Californa in Los Angeles (FPR-UCLA) is hosting a conference titled “A Critical Moment: Sex/Gender Research at the Intersection of Culture, Brain, & Behavior” this October, Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th.

Here is the announcement: Continue reading

Review: Ingalhalikar et al. 2014

As part of the requirements for one of the psychology classes I’m taking in the context of the SCAN certificate program, I had to review a neuroscientific journal article. Martha Farah herself suggested I review Ingalhalikar et al.’s famous connectome study. Recently (almost a year ago …), this study led to many headlines suggesting that men’s and women’s brains are “wired differently.” My 2,000-word review is geared towards a neuroscientific audience. I am providing the final two paragraphs below, and you can download the entire .pdf here. Continue reading

HSS 2014 Brain Panel on Twitter

HSS 2014 was a phenomenal conference, and I have to admit that I liked my own panel best. My fellow panelists contributed fascinating papers and were just the nicest people to learn from (and with). It was a hitherto unprecedented opportunity to talk brains for me, having five brain papers on the same panel. We saw that several topics kept coming up (such as the economization of brains or minds and the animal/human divide, for instance). I gave you the panel information before; here is what made it to Twitter: Continue reading