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Weeknotes 2022.35

A few things I’ve been thinking about this week. The thirty-fifth post of a series.

I’ve been reading Geoff Dyer’s The Last Days of Roger Federer this week, and, while describing someone’s house, he mentions in passing that

the previous time I was there, I’d held a human brain in my hands (a visiting neuroscientist happened to have one in the trunk of his car).

This was one of those arresting moments: of course, I (and many of my friends) have held human brains while studying anatomy at medical school. It’s so normal among us as to be unremarkable, but in the wider scheme of human existence, it’s a bit… weird.

In our anatomy exams, bits of cadavers would be presented to us with flagged pins stuck in them, like miniature golf flags. The task was to ‘name the structure first pierced by Pin A’, for example, with the classic easy example of the ’beautiful tortuous splenic artery’, as we were all accustomed to calling it.

When it came to the brain, we were often presented with slices of brain with pins in them, much like thick slices of strangely shaped ham with seemingly random placed markers. This was meant to be important because this is typically how the brain is imaged, in CT scans for example. I was hopeless at this bit. In retrospect, I think this was related to my (relative lack of) colour vision: the slices looked uniform colours to me, whereas Wendy tells me there were shades to them. Anyway, my total lack of ability in this clearly wasn’t enough to prevent me from qualifying in the end.

I started reading Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror this week, and was particularly struck by this passage:

I have become acutely conscious of the way my brain degrades when I strap it in to receive the full barrage of the internet—these unlimited channels, all constantly reloading with new information: births, deaths, boasts, bombings, jokes, job announcements, ads, warnings, complaints, confessions, and political disasters blitzing our frayed neurons in huge waves of information that pummel us and then are instantly replaced. This is an awful way to live, and it is wearing us down quickly.

It’s reminiscent of Bo Burnham’s Welcome to the Internet distilled into a paragraph, and it’s hard to disagree.

This week, I’ve seen young couples turning up to a hotel breakfast with an iPad, which they’ve propped up on the table so that they can jointly and collaboratively fill in a crossword. This happened on several days with different couples each time. I’ve never seen that before.

The images in this post are all AI-generated images for the prompt “a Vermeer style painting of a man holding a human brain” created by OpenAI’s D-ALLE 2.

This post was filed under: Weeknotes.

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