“Boot Camp”. For most, the phrase conjures up images of
military training or early morning cardio work to shape the abs. But for me and about two dozen others, boot camp is
about to mean ten days full of functional
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). That’s right … it’s time for
Neuroscience Boot Camp at the University
of Pennsylvania’s Center for Neuroscience & Society. Sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and led by cognitive
Farah, the boot camp provides an opportunity for non-neuroscientists like
me to get up to speed on the basics. I’ll be blogging from Penn every night, in
an effort to communicate a sense of the program and its participants. Read
along and you’ll hopefully get a virtual tour of the boot camp, seasoned with a
bit of quirky humor. (Click below for more).
Easily the coolest thing about boot camps are my fellow boot campers. Already at an informal pre-program dinner tonight, I sat around a table with an economist, business school professor, novelist, and anthropologist. As we went around the table talking about why we are here, it was clear that we all shared something in common: we’re really curious about neuroscience, but while we can say things like “the brain lights up more when …”, we have no idea how it all really works under the hood (or scalp, to be more precise). Interestingly, we also seem to share a view that neuroscience has tremendous potential, but that the potential may not be realized in our professional lifetimes. It will be interesting to see if these views are challenged or reinforced as we move through the next ten days.
The schedule is packed: lectures, discussion, and lab sessions will keep us on the move from every day. Most of the sessions will be held at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science (though I suspect that a good deal of the learning and networking will occur over meals and drinks at other types of establishments such as the New Deck Tavern).
We’re all staying, two per room, on campus in Harrison College House. We’re sharing the building with high school and college students here for various summer programs, so we’re being reminded in the lobby what it’s like to be 14 again. (For those who have forgotten, at 14 your primary tasks seem to be walking around in big packs and making a lot of noise in the elevator).
I’ll end with a thought about what’s to come. Sunday morning at breakfast before traveling to Philly, I was asked by my friend Chris Lydon (radio talk show host who is always in interviewer mode) why I was attending this boot camp. The answer, in a word, is: possibility. Possibility not just for how neuroscience may enlighten my own research, but possibility more generally. How might advances in the mind sciences fundamentally change our social, political, or economic systems? Or, alternatively, how might our traditional beliefs become all the more important to hold on to given the new science?
Answering those questions, of course, requires learning something about the science first. So I’m off to bed to rest up. While I don’t expect to be greeted in the morning with, “Drop down and fire 20 neurons!” I do expect to put the neurons to work. Check back tomorrow for a report on Day 1, in which I will provide you with not only a summary of our first day agenda but also a few words on lunch and my love of campus dining halls.