If you didn’t hear about the debates between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson at various locales on the east coast a few months ago, you’ll be glad to learn about the soon to be released movie Collision. I resist calling it a documentary because of the usual boredom associated with such productions. This one, however, is done by Darren Doane who has directed music videos for the likes of Jimmy Eat World. So here you have the sharpest, most colorful and witty atheist alive debating an experienced and satire-ready Christian apologist, framed and soundtracked by an MTV filmmaker. The live launch happened last week in Dallas. You can see trailers and sign up for release info at the official site.
Paul Allen gave us the Experience Music Project (a truly pomo building shaped like, if anything, a smashed guitar), the Allen Telescope Array that searches into deep space for extra terrestrial life, SpaceShipOne, and now the Allen Brain Institute which is trying to do the brain version of the Human Genome Project.
Jonah Lehrer writes in April’s WIRED that some unexpected and disheartening “data sets have already demonstrated that the flesh in our head is far more complicated than anyone previously imagined. The brain might look homogenous to the naked eye, but it’s actually filled with an array of cell types, each of which expresses a distinct set of genes depending on its precise location. … But the atlas has revealed a startling genetic diversity; different slabs of cortex are defined by entirely different sets of genes. The supercomputer analogy needs to be permanently retired.” It turns out the brain is far more complex than imagined,and that every new level reveals a new level with discrete regions, and of course those regions open up to more. “This is the bleak part of working at the Allen Institute: What you mostly discover is that the mind remains an immense mystery. We don’t even know what we don’t know.” Such are the difficulties of a brain cartographer.
And to add discouragement, just when you think you are getting somewhere, you remember that “the brain, after all, is a byproduct of evolution, an accumulation of genetic accidents. The data that looks so arbitrary might actually be arbitrary. If that’s the case, having a precise atlas of the rain won’t lead to a unified theory–because such a thing can’t exist.” But if the brain is really the product of arbitrary genetic accidents, then these thoughts about the brain are nothing but more of the same, and what sense does it make to trust them? It’s amazing to watch people pull the rug out from under themselves and still think they have some cushy to sit on and grey matter to trust.
Regardless, the $100 million is not going to waste. The apparent uniqueness of individual brains is especially fascinating. It seems every brain has “a landscape of cells that has never existed beofre and never will again. … This variation is even visible at a gross anatomical level–different people have differntly shaped cortices, with differnet boundaries between anatomical regions. (This is why, for isntance, neurosurgeons hav eot painstakignly probethe cortex during surgery.) If the human atlas is like Google Maps, then every mind is its own city.”
In his book Fame Junkies (Houghton Mifflin, 2007, xvi), Jake Halpern cites a survey he organized of 653 middle school students around Rochester, NY. When asked to choose from a list of famous people they’d most like to have dinner with (including “None of the above”, the girls who chose to dine opted least for George W. Bush (2.7%) and Albert Einstein (3.7%). A third place tie went to Paris Hilton and 50 (“Fitty”) Cent (15.8% each). Jesus Christ (16.8%) was second only to Jennifer Lopez (17.4%). I wonder, will a few billion people be worshiping JLo in two thousand years? How many people will have even heard of her in 50 years?
Another question inquired what job the students would most like to have. Among the five options, here are the rankings:
5. chief of a major company like General Motors (9.5%)
4. Navy Seal (9.8%)
3. United States Senator (13.6%)
2. president of a great university like Harvard or Yale (23.7)
And at number one, nearly double the percentage of the runner up:
1. personal assistant to a very famous singer or movie star (43.4%)
Now some will conclude from this something about the nature or inclinations of middle school girls. But to anyone who knows some, this speaks far more about their parents and educators.
Blog action. This is finally live. Many thanks to the friends who have gone against their better judgment and encouraged me to write. Also, kudos to Pete Bentley for his design and John Moss for technical wizardry.
If you turned the world upside down and shook it, what would come out? How much change, assorted papers, gum wrappers, licenses to operate heavy machinery and other knacks would trickle down? I’m not sure, but I’m keeping an eye out.
This blog is titled from that row in Thessalonica when the Christians were said to have “turned the world upside down…. saying there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7). Obviously they didn’t invert things in the way their accusers said, but in a more profound way, the things that existed were shaken so that the things that could not would remain. This place where the meek inherit the planet, the mighty are brought low, the first will be last and countless other wild aspects of the gospel make everyone paying attention double-take in astonishment is my subject. Your comments are welcome.