Thursday, September 4, 2008

These are Real: Practical Applications of Recent Discoveries in Neural Plasticity

I have formulated a scientific hypothesis. Put on your thinking caps and don’t doze off, because after the academic stuff I’ll be talking about boobs.

One day I was watching Allan Gregg in Conversation on TVO. Psychiatrist and Medical Researcher Norman Doidge spoke on neural plasticity in relation to memory, stroke, Alzheimer's, etc. and some of the evidence he cited to support his theory that neural receptors don't age as we thought they did was this:

Neurologist Dr V. Ramachandran was working with patients who'd lost limbs and were experiencing phantom limb symptoms. For instance, one patient lost an arm, but he still experienced an ongoing unscratchable itch. How do you deal with that, as a doctor? The arm is gone; there's nothing to scratch.

The brain is not a rigid structure; it has the ability to change. With the loss of limb, cortical reorganization takes place. What does that mean? Stuff moves. Neural pathways take detours.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: *bene*

So, with neural plasticity in mind, Dr Ramachandra recommended that this patient we’ve mentioned scratch his cheek every time he had an itch on his phantom limb, tricking the brain into rewiring itself. Eventually, this method started to work. Every time the patient had that itch, he'd scratch his cheek and that would satisfy it.

The doctor cited this as evidence that we CAN change neural pathways; they're never fully broken, no matter how much they get screwed up or damaged.

Okay, are you ready for boobs?

Creative Commons License photo credit: .imelda

I may have mentioned once or twice that my partner, Sweet, is a transgendered woman: a wonderful girl with a guy’s body. She wants boobs. (Hell, I’m not exactly opposed to the idea either. I’m a breast man…breast woman...breast admirer) Now, Sweet is not quite ready to commit to life as a girl 24/7, but “Ahhhh, wouldn’t it be nice,” we muse, if she could feel her fake boobs? If she could experience them as real?

So, here's MY hypothesis: This phantom limb evidence could be used to help restructure cortical connections until Sweet could actually FEEL something that wasn't truly there. The neural pathways just need to be changed so that, for instance, if I were to touch under her arm or touch her chest, that sensation could be experienced in breast tissue that wasn't really there. Her brain just needs to think it's there.

I shared my response with Sweet, and here’s what she said:
“I know what you mean and I know it would work. There are times I get to that state even now, but ultimately I have to get ready for bed and poof! reality check hits and all the refocusing is reset.”
But Sweet and I aren’t research scientists, so, really, what does it matter what we think is feasible? Let’s just hope some brilliant neurologists picks up on this conception of mine and runs some trials, achieving great successes… and crediting me, of course, when she wins the Nobel prize.

Just imagine… Giselle Renarde, Nobel Prize Laureate in the Field of Boobology…

Bright Blessings,


Have you seen my website? I know I left it around here somewhere...
Ah, found it: