Sunday, November 25, 2007


I was invited to do a posting for the monthly pain blog carnival over at - the topic being thankfulness.
What better way to do this than with this great video:

First of all I want to thank all the scientists who ever lived who allowed themselves to think about things creatively and who didn't care what others thought at the time.

This goes back hundreds of years - among many others to Dr. John Snow who charted the deaths caused by Cholera in London in the 19th century and was able to solve the problem by identifying the causes, to James Lind who found the cure for scurvy - even if no one believed him, to Ignaz Semmelweis who found that washing your hands before childbirth saved lives.

There are hundreds more that should be included in this list - heroes that often nobody has heard of - forgotten by history. But it was they who enabled us to live the way we do - and we should never forget that.

You have to realize that a lot of these people suffered enormously during their lifetime because what they said didn't happen to be the accepted wisdom of the day.
Some went crazy, some killed themselves - but despite that they never stopped telling the truth.

One guy - Werner Forssmann - who later got a Nobel - was fired because he proved (on himself as a guinea pig) that you could put a catheter into your own heart. This technique has saved hundreds of thousands of lives! Imagine people like him keeping quiet about it and watching out for their own welfare - imagine where we would be now - still living in caves waiting for lightning to strike a tree so we could have fire. ;-)

"Big Science" is like Big business - a tough world to live and work in.
And only the courage of creative individuals keeps us going.
My heartfelt thanks to them.

My second round of thanks goes to the Organizers of the TED conferences for putting the amazing talks online.
Never before in my life have I seen so much talent gathered in one place. Every talk is a piece of art. I have no idea about marine biology - but when I watched the talk by Tierney Thys i was deeply moved. I just love watching poeple being passionate about what they do - it reminds me of myself. ;-)

Is there a thing more beautiful than watching someone talk about his or her work - in the process inspiring others?

I don't think so. You just can feel that these people want to do what they do - even if they weren't paid to do so. I wish everyone could experience the satisfaction you can have if you really love your job or your hobby.

Other great - must watch talks are:
- Sir Ken Robinson on education
- Hans Rosling on the developing world
- Dan Gilbert on Happiness
- Robert Fischell on Migraines
- Dean Kamen: watch a genius at work

My thanks also goes to BMW for sponsoring the talks - Bandwidth ain't cheap. ;-)

And now for some special thanks to the person who has influenced my work and my thinking more than anyone else on the planet:
V.S. Ramachandran.

He wrote a book (actually Sandra Blakeslee did - a gifted science writer) - called Phantoms in the Brain - that is still one of the best books about neuroscience out there.

After reading that book in about 2000/2001 I was hooked. The cases he described were just too weird to be true - but as it turned out it's even weirder than we can imagine.

In this talk he gives the example of Capgras Syndrome, Phantom Limb Pain and Synaesthesia.

You can also listen to his 2003 Reith Lectures covering much of the same material.
That's one the things I like about his talk: it's the same stuff he has covered over the past few years - there really is not much new material - but it is also the most succinct version of the issues involved that you can imagine.

Everything you need to know about the neuroscience of the self and pain is contained in that talk. It is the best starting point for your own exploration imaginable.

Starting at 13 minutes into the talk he introduces the biggest breakthrough in treating chronic pain syndromes ever: mirror box therapy.
I especially like the way that he clearly states that it doesn't have to be "high-tech" or expensive to work - but that the treatment is based on solid science. If you are able to exploit the weaknesses of our brain and our senses - go for it any way you like.
I cannot stress enough how important this is!

The medical establishment has - knowingly or unknowingly - created the expectation that big problems require big (and expensive) solutions. An MRI scanner costs millions of dollars and quite a bit of space. It's impressive just to look at - but don't let that fool you into thinking it'll help you one bit.

Yet this exaggerated reliance on for example imaging technology has created expectations that the health care providers are not able to keep up with - costs are going through the roof as more and more people get older and older.
We need to tone treatment down a little - find a new balance between too much and too little.

Mirror Box Therapy has none of the trappings of high tech medicine - yet it is incredibly effective.

And what's even better - it puts treatment back into the hands of the patients!
That's right - you are finally able to treat yourself again.


OAndreas said...

I think that the medical industry is responsible too - there is much more profit in some sophisticated tool than in a basketball for example (you know what I mean by this).

jeisea said...

My son has synesthesia. He sees colours when he plays music and made an animation of what he saw when he played some of his own music.
Like many others, he didn't know he was different assuming everyone saw colours as he does.


Matthias Weinberger said...

@oandreas: yep - "we" - the medical community has to acknowledge their involvement in this whole process more openly. Only then will "they" be able to move forward. Not going to happen in my lifetime. ;-)

dermoneuromodulator "neuroplastician" said...

Matthias, here's a recent news story about how mirror therapy is helping amputee soldiers.

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