I talked to Neil Gray yesterday. It was, as nearly all conversations with Neil are, wonderful. I guess if he were a warden offering me my last meal, or a super villan we might have a conversation from which I left somewhat disheartened...but generally it's good stuff. Last night's conversation was the standard, what have you been doing, what are you thinking, how is your significant other, wouldn't it be great to see one another event. But into that pleasant mix was tossed the intriguing subject of what it is that Neil does this summer.
N.A.G: "I'm cutting mouse brains into ultra thin slices..."
A.B.L: "What do you use? Is it like a deli meat slicer?"
N.A.G; "More like that than you might want to think."
Turns out according to the soon to be M.D. Ph.D mouse brains continue to demonstrate neural firing in regular and orderly patterns for up to 12 hours after death. In classic Neil and Aaron fashion the conversation then became a free for all of what if questions. I was reduced to 9 year old Aaron asking my Dad how neurons work, or why the sky is blue, or any number of annoying questions. Some interesting thoughts...what does the neural activity mimic, ie what living patterns are most like this pattern. Answer: sleep. I thought this was amazingly hopeful. The idea that after death the brain begins it's shut down by replicating sleep rather than firing at random or simulating terror or arousal. That was very positive in my mind.
Other questions: What if the mouse is aroused when killed? What if it's sleeping? What about temperature? Does the gender of the mouse matter?
Long story short, smart people like Neil to amazing things that make not as smart people like me really happy to know them. And make curious people ask all kinds of questions that are probably annoying...but it's Neil so he tolerates them.