Sunday, February 28, 2010

Magic Mouse

Mesal aspect of a brain sectioned in the media...Image via Wikipedia
As you know, I have motor apraxia, motor system dysfunction at the cortical level of my brain.  I haven't had an MRI so I don't know exactly what is not functioning but motor apraxia is localized in the left inferior parietal lobule, frontal lobes (especially the premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, and convexity), or corpus callosum (the interconnection between the left and right hemisphere.

When you decide to move your body, you recall previously stored 3 dimensional plans.  These 3-dimensional, supramodal codes, also called representations or movement formulae, are stored in the inferior parietal lobule of the left hemisphere.  It has been hypothesized that imitation of meaningless gestures and use of tool and objects depend on left parietal lobe integrity because of their demands on categorical apprehension of spatial relationships between multiple objects or between multiple parts of objects.

There are a number of different types of apraxia errors, these include errors of orientation of the hand around the object, errors of external spatial orientation, and movement errors.

I also have right-left confusion and can get very mixed up between my right and left hands. Some of these problems fall in the domain of the occupational therapist, physical therapist or vision therapist.

I got a Magic Mouse for my Mac at Christmas and it really helps me use the computer.  I don't have to deal with trying to pull at  something when I want to drag and drop.  I don't have to fumble around looking for a scroll bar and trying to grab it.  It really makes a big difference.   The entire top of the Magic Mouse is a seamless Multi-Touch surface... kind of like the Dove soap bar.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Notes on Amusia and Neurology

Part of the problem I have with timing is revealed in the lack of rhythm.  This phenomenon is part of amusia, a musical disorder that appears mainly as a defect in processing pitch, but it also encompasses musical memory and recognition.

"Cases of acquired amusia have shed light on two important aspects of music perception and processing.   First, both melodic and temporal perception require local and global auditory information processing; with respect to melody, pitch intervals are local and melodic contours are global. Similarly, there are local strategies for the perception of duration and temporal distance between auditory events (known as rhythm) and global mechanisms for the perception of metre (the temporal variance of recurrent pulses providing durational units by which we recognize a waltz or a march23,24). Temporal structures of music, rhythm in particular, are preferentially processed in the left hemisphere. In relation to the processing of pitch, lesions on the right side impair perception of melodic contour, whereas unilateral lesions impair perception of pitch intervals."  For more, see..

Lesions in the right hemisphere interfere with pitch-related tasks more than rhythm-related tasks. 

How I see an Oak Tree in Snow after Vision Therapy

I see an Oak Tree in the Snow in a new way after Vision Therapy.  The best way for me to describe my experience is to show the picture of Oak Tree in the Snow by Ansel Adams.

Because of Ansel Adams' keen eye and the snow falling on the branches, we can see a lot more detail in the oak tree: the spray of the twigs, the contour of the branches, the drift of snow against the trunk.  Use of  dodging and burning (selectively darkening and lightening during the print process) and a gelatin-silver printing technique brings out the depth of tone in the tree trunk and the play of light during the storm.

On a side bar, Ansel Adams was an accomplished painist and used a metronome to time his development process instead of the standard timer.

When my gentle reader sees trees outside in this storm and then looks at this picture, he can understand the difference between the way I looked at the world before vision therapy and the way that I look at the world today.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Brain Dance: Dance and Healing for Learning Disabilities

A man and a woman performing a modern dance.Image via Wikipedia
I am getting interested in dance as a means of integrating some therapy that involves rhythm (rhythm is a big deficit of mine), body movement and music.

I think there is something fundamental in addressing  timing issues that could really help me.   On objective tests, my processing speed is lower than normal and I do terribly at the Interactive Metrononome (a computerized therapy that synchronizes " a range of hand and foot exercises to a precise computer-generated reference tone heard through headphones. The patient attempts to match the rhythmic beat with repetitive motor actions".).

Why should I care about timing?  I think having a slower internal clock than the average person affects me social situations, in my hand-eye coordination, and in overall body coordination.

Journey Up the Nose

University of PennsylvaniaImage via Wikipedia
Well, I've just made an appointment to see the University of Pennsylvania's Smell and Taste Clinic.  Apparently, the rest of the medical world really doesn't care too much if I have a sense of smell or not.  Family doctors don't care much and neither do some Ear, Nose and Throat specialists.  I've told all my family doctor's that I don't have much of a sense of smell and they were a little non-plussed.  I saw an ENT over at Georgetown University and he didn't seem to care that much at all.

I guess it's because the nose is really not part of the capitalistic system.... I mean, outside of perfume specialists and maybe some food scientists and restauranteurs, who really cares about the nose?  It can generate no surplus income.  The nose just sits in the middle of your face, occupying real estate as it were.  Well... there are a fair number of plastic surgeons who are willing to sculpt your nose to your specifications.... but, really, no one cares much.

Except the folks living with you that wonder why in the heck you can't smell rotting food.  Why you have to wait until there's a blue-green mold or white froth in Tupperware before you throw stuff out?   They notice it and give you a bunch of static for growing penicillin.

At any rate, back to Penn.  They have a nice big fat questionnaire that they send you.  It is not for the faint of heart and definitely not for people who have eye problems tracking complex fields.  At any rate, I have finally finished it.  There is a big section on demographics:  everything from ethnicity, types of occupation and education.  Next there is a good section of medical history including allergies, sensitivities, what your lack of smell is associated with and how long it has been going on, distortions in smell and taste.  Additionally, they make you fill out the Beck Depression Index.  Apparently, depression is also associated with sense of smell problems.

I am very interested in figuring out why I do not have a good sense of smell.  I think that smell is a key sense in trying to disentangle my sensory processing disorders and my learning disabilities.   There is very little that is out there and it is only just recently that we are hearing about the studies with oxycotin, smell and autism. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ipad's Brain Fitness: Advantages and Disadvantages

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase
When you have some basic problems with your hands, why not make life easier on yourself?  I really have more problems manipulating a computer than most folks.  So periodically, I look at different things to make my life easier and I am very excited about the iPad and tablet computers in general.   But I am also very excited about using the iPad for brain fitness.

Part of what I look at are general ease-of-use and universal design features, but I am also looking at how these devices can enhance brain fitness.   So how do you evaluate brain fitness?  There are nice well defined protocols for universal design and accessibility but brain fitness is a new concept.  Brain Fitness is the notion that cognitive abilities can be maintained or improved by exercising the brain, in analogy to the way physical fitness.  If you look up Brain Fitness in Wikipedia, it is pooh-poohed.  But a number of very prominent neuroscientists such as Elkhonon Goldberg and Mezernich would disagree.

Brain Fitness is important for more people than just people with learning disabilities.  It is important for the aged, the aging, and people with mental illness.  As people age, their cognitive abilities and memory decreases.  People with mental illness also can suffer from a fog that inhibits their ability to remember and process information.  Also, brain fitness means enhanced cognition for the well.... it means that you can think quicker and remember more.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tomatis and Pregnancy

According to a study in Riccochet, the International Journal of Tomatis Method Research, when a pregnant woman listens to specially filtered music, "Maternal relaxation set in; the prospective mother’s awareness expanded; her heart rate and breathing slowed down; and she became more able to consciously enjoy the growing relationship with her baby. Apparently, the fetus also enjoyed more space as the amniotic sac expanded in response to progressive maternal relaxation (Tomatis, 1994)"  

The study is a small scale study of about 18 women. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Checklist for a Tablet Computer to Make us Smarter

Apple Inc.Image via Wikipedia

  1. The tablet should have a personal task manager. People are most productive when they set goals for themselves that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely). Learning is an activity like any other, and would benefit from such a system so that when learners approach a chapter, for example, they can set their learning objectives.
  2. The tablet should have a detailed user-activity monitor. The system should be able to quantitatively monitor the amount of time the user spends on each learning resource (each book, each chapter, each page) and each type of activity. It should be able to report such facts as: how much time have I spent surfing the web as opposed to reading? How much time have I spent reading actively (taking notes, etc.) vs. reading passively (skimming)? How much time have I spent drawing diagrams vs. watching youtube? What is my reading rate? This can allow the user to set new goals to be more productive in how they learn and use their tablet.
  3. The tablet should have an extensive annotation system. This would enable active reading. Users should be able to make notes about all kinds of information: e.g., to select some text in the browser document and then make a comment about it. The notes should be attached to the content. Users should also be able to annotate PDFs, editor documents, dictionary definitions, diagrams… basically anything. Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to pause a movie and make a note that is anchored to a specific frame or segment? One could then jump to the parts of the movie or podcast describing important material, and skip the rest. Or make a note in a specific part of a physics diagram to indicate what you don’t understand—something that can be done on paper. Users should be able to tag not only entire web pages, but any item (such as part of a sentence), and they should be able to re-use common tags (e.g., “Don’t understand”, “Important”), and easily link items to new or existing tasks (“Review this”). Users should even be able to overlay their own links from existing content to existing content.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Inhalant used to help bonding in autism

Major brain structures implicated in autism.Image via Wikipedia
People with Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism, dramatically improve their social learning skills and spend more time gazing at pictures of faces after inhaling a whiff of the social-bonding hormone oxytocin, researchers have found.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, is the first to demonstrate the effects of oxytocin — a hormone that promotes mother-infant bonding, socialization, trust and cooperation — in people diagnosed with Asperger's.-- Twin Cities

I think this ties in with some of my earlier musings on the role of the nose and emotions in a nonverbal learning disorder.  I don't really have a good sense of smell.  The nose has a direct connection to the amygdala through the olfactory nerves going from the nose to the brain.

In the conference, Autism+, Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg has proposed that one of the key issues in autism is the integration between the amygdala and the frontal lobes.Journey through the Cortex,

Diagram showing locations of several important...
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Can you see this opera? The neuropsychology of synaesthesia

Reaction times for answers that are congruent ...
In the 1880's, Francis Galton described a condition in which "persons...almost invariably think of numerals in visual imagery." .  This condition is called synaethesia. 

There is a grapheme meme synaethesia which see equations in colors.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

An Opening to the World with Music

"Tidens naturlære" 1903 af Poul la C...Image via Wikipedia
Described as "an opening to the world",   Tomatis training improves hearing, balance and other sensory processing.  Developed by Alfred Tomatis over 60 years ago, this training has been used to combat not only learning disabilities but to help singers and actors improve their performances.  Most notably, the great opera singer, Maria Callas, used the method to assist in her comeback.  Gerald Depardieu, the famous French actor, used this method to overcome difficulties in speech, especially in formulating sentences:  "Before Tomatis, I could not complete any of my sentences. It was he who helped give continuity to my thoughts, and he was he who gave me the power to synthesize and understand what I was thinking".

Attention, focus, learning, and language abilities can all be improved by retraining the ear to listen using charging high-frequency sounds that include music by Mozart and Gregorian Chants . In many cases, the recorded voice of the biological mother is added. The Electronic Ear is the basic of the therapy. Special filters which alter the sound reproduction train the ear that is not functioning well. In fact the little muscles of the middle ear are trained so they can help the ear to focus properly. Right- and left hemisphere are stimulated simultaneously and at the same time the right ear is favoured as the leading control.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snowpocalypse: Digging Out a Sailboat and Motor Apraxia

 Went down and shoveled my sailboat out.  Here's a picture of a  Snow covered sailboat.  Not mine, but mine looks like this.  On the East Coast, we have just had a record snowfall.  In the DC/Baltimore metro area we have set a record for the most snow -- 81 inches this winter.  Now, I realize that to a New Englander or any serious snowy area, that this is not much snow. But DC/Baltimore just do not handle it well. 

I should have had the thing hauled and put on land for the winter.  You can get plastic blown all over it to keep it nice and dry.  It took me two hours to clean the darn thing just as the blizzard was starting.  I really had to get the snow off because I was afraid that the weight of the snow would sink the boat -- especially if there was 2 snowstorms worth of snow on the boat. 

Yup, little Miss Motor Apraxia was balanced precariously on that deck shoveling it clean just as the blizzard started.  It is not one of the smarter moves in my life for sure.  As my gentle readers are aware, I have balance problems and lousy hand-eye coordination.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Executive Dysfunction: My Head Has No Czar

Brain viewed from the right side showing the 4...
According to noted neuroscientist,  Elkhonon Goldberg, there is a Russian saying describing ditzy people as people whose "head has no czar", ie there is no executive function.  The frontal lobes of our brain are the seat of executive function.  At times, my executive function dysfunctions and there is no reigning monarch in the throne of reason.

Sometimes I feel, perhaps, Dostoyevskian as in "The Possessed" or, even, "The Idiot".   Finally, I channel the anarchist, Nechayev, for a  tragic rite of self-flagellation as I descend into complete collapse.  So, madness is loosed, society approaches a collapse, boundaries between people are breached, and "revolutionary" theorizing gives way to action in a wild effort to restore some semblance of order.

To wit, I am trying to understand the cycle of dysfunction when my executive gets overly anarchic.  Maybe, in my own way, I am celebrating a festival of misrule that will  revitalize my psyche.

I'm not going mad... but I am definitely confused.   Some of this confusion has been induced by problems with my senses and body.   I have been telling the stories of my vision, hearing,  motor, stomach, and nutritional problems and how I am trying to remediate them.  And I am beginning to say what goes on psychologically and socially as a result of having these problems.  I have described some of these in previous posts, ie,  getting quite confused and lost on my first visit to Dr. Herzberg and how anxious and upset I became.  It seems as if I have some periods where there is a czar in my head and life is pretty orderly and then I get overwhelmed by something, often times based on a physical deficit, and a normal life process is thrown completely off track, I am overwelmed, my calendar isn't maintained with subsequent feelings of anxiety as I dread the consequences of my actions.  Then I have to spend an inordinate amount of effort getting Humpty Dumpty back up on his wall.

Red Book by Jung at the Rubin Museum

"Formation, Transformation, the Eternal Mind's Eternal Recreation" 
  --  Geothe, Faust

In Geothe's Faust, the realm where the Mothers dwell is visible to the secret vision of the Poet and the Artist. The Goddesses only see ""wraiths"; around them is "Formation, transformation"; there is no way to them, and no spot whereon to rest.  It is thought that the Mothers represent the unconscious mind.

Another vision is that of Philemon, shown here to the right.

Such are the visions of the unconsciousness by Carl Jung in the Red Book: part journal, part mythological novel that takes the reader through Jung’s fantasies.

I went to see the Red Book exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art.  Very interesting exhibition.  The Red Book, written by Carl Jung, contains his thoughts as he was formulating his philosophical break from Freud and laid the tenets of his central ideas on the collective unconscious and the power of archetypes.  “All my works, all my creative activity,” he would recall later, “has come from those initial fantasies and dreams. (contained in the Red Book)”.

The Red Book is about the rebirth of God in the soul.  The book explores this rebirth  by analyzing different myths and religions from across the world from the Egyptian gods and Eastern religions through early Christianity.

The Red Book exhibition is coupled with a second exhibition on cosmology or the study of the universe.  Jung coupled his ideas of man and his place in the universe on the psychological level with a greater understanding of the cosmos across time and culture.  While a Tibetan scholar may not agree with Jung's interpretation's of mandelas or his efforts to use a mandela, nonetheless these efforts illustrate Jung's attempts to unify the inner world of his soul, with timeless archetypes, and with the greater universe outside.

The Second Exhibition at the Rubin was a comparison of various cosmologies from Buddhism, Jain and Hindu  through Christian cosmologies of the Middle Ages.  Mandelas are used in Tibetan Buddhism to help a practitioner reach enlightenment.  One form of mandala represents the entire universe, which is traditionally depicted with Mount Meru as the axis mundi in the center, surrounded by the continents.  Another form of mandala is an offering of the entire body with the spine as Mount Meru and the limbs as the various continents.  A secret or hidden mandala is an offering of a blissful awareness or of a nonconceptual blissful awareness of voidness with a clear-light mind. Finally, an offering of a mandala of  reality itself, unifying mind, body, and spirit.

Eastern representations of cosmology are shown side by side with pre-Renaissance Christian cosmology showing the Earth as the center of the universe.

 "While not scientifically supportable, this cosmology was eagerly embraced and adapted to fit Medieval theology. The Prime Mover became the Christian God, the outermost sphere became heaven, and the earth was the center of God's attention. The spheres, moved by the Prime Mover, existed and rotated in perfect harmony, creating the “music of the spheres.” Man, habitant of the sublunary sphere which was corruptible since Adam's fall, could no longer hear this music. This worldview gave rise to further Medieval philosophical explanations of man's place in the universe, such as the concept of corresponding planes, and the idea of the Great Chain of Being, so prominent in Boethius and Chaucer, for example." -- read more at

This cosmology was replaced by Copernican view of the world where the Earth moves around the Sun. Later on, also began the Cartesian split between mind and body which paved the way for modern cosmology as exemplified by a showing of the magnificient American Museum of Natural History's film of the Known Universe,  a virtual trip through the universe as we currently understand it.  The video is truly worth seeing.

Additionally, the exhibit has been accompanied by a  lecture series of noted intellectuals from a variety of domains conversing with neuroscientists and psychologists on Jung's Red Book.  If you can imagine that Dr. Cornell West rendered speechless by one of Jung's drawings!  There are a variety of speakers ranging from comedienne Sarah Silverman through Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, writer, Alice Walker and composer Meredith Walker.

I think what the lecture series is trying to point towards is a need to develop a new cosmology for our times.  To start to integrate modern developments in the environment, technology, and art with a new understanding of neuroscience and psychology.  I am going to return to some of the thoughts provoked by this series later on:  Where am I in this universe of the 20th century and how does having limited sensibility brought on by physical/mental disability affect my awareness.
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Colbert Report: Pinker and the Brain and how Brain Cells Fire in Patterns

Steven PinkerImage via Wikipedia

Stephen Colbert interviewed Harvard Professor,  Dr. Pinker author of  “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature”—a book on evolutionary psychology,  that discusses basic brain function and human nature.   

Colbert asked Pinker to summarize the brain in five words or less, to which he responded “Brain cells fire in patterns.”

Pinker said he was surprised by his own ability to describe the brain in so few words under pressure.

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Colbert also poked fun at Pinker’s  move from MIT to Harvard.

“You were at MIT first then went to Harvard? That’s like going from the nerds’ table to the rich nerds’ table,” Colbert said.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Philadelphia City Hall -- I See it in its Detail for the First Time

Taken in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in April ...Image via Wikipedia
Welcome to Philadelphia!

 I can see City Hall in detail these days.  Before it was a rather grey building with some bumpy things on it.  So this is what I am now seeing!

Philadelphia City Hall is one of the largest city halls  in the world.  It was built in the Second Empire style.

Alexander Milne Calder created 250 sculptures for city hall.  Included in his creations is the 37-foot bronze statue of William Penn atop the tower, and the eight bronze sculptures that were installed from 1894-1896 above the clocks/clock level: four eagles (perched above each clock face); a Native American warrior with a dog; a Native American woman with a child; a Swedish man with a child; and a Swedish woman with a child and lamb.

I knew vaguely that William Penn was on top of the building, but I never knew there were 250 sculptures.  That's a lot to be missing!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Review of Stereo Sue and "Fixing My Gaze" - Part 2

Close-up of leaves In Glacier National Park (1942)Image via Wikipedia
Dr. Sue Barry also talks about Eric, a child with convergence insufficiency. according to the Mayo Clinic, convergence insufficiency occurs when your eyes don't turn in properly when you focus on a nearby object. Because your eyes are not working together, when an object is close to you, you abandon stereo viewing. This leads to a lot of problems with reading and can be misdiagnosed as a learning disability or ADHD.

Dr. Barry also had problems with peripheral vision. She describes how this affects her driving. Because she had to concentrate on looking straight ahead, she wasn't aware of what was happening right beside her. Cars and pedestrians seem to appear suddenly out of nowhere. I have problems with peripheral vision, too. I really can't position my side mirrors such that I can view those windows at the same time I am looking straight ahead. I have to consciously make the effort to keep checking my mirrors. Needless to say, driving in rush hour is very stressful for me, more so than for everyone else. For a while, I lived in the Washington DC metropolitan area, which is rated number two after LA for bad traffic conditions. DC drivers are extremely aggressive. After living in DC, no one in Philly or even New York City phazes me. It was very nerve-racking to drive and not be completely aware of when someone was about to cut you off, or how to change lanes when the person behind you would accelerate if he thought you were about ready to get in front of him.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Getting the Tummy Working

Vitamin B12Image via Wikipedia
Talked to Kelly Dorfman, my nutritionist,  about  malabsorption and losing weight.  Her feeling was that I should ask my doctor about possibly getting some Vitamin B12 shots 1000 mcg (see image above) and may be also adding some digestive enzymes(Digest Gold by Enzymedica possibly taking the following dosage:  1 at dinner -- 1 at breakfast, lunch and 2 at dinner).  Her feeling was that maybe the malabsorption has been going on too long. 

I also mentioned that I have some dark circles under my eyes and suggested that might also point to malabsorption.  She agreed but said it can possibly point to  kidney problems.  I don't think my kidneys have anything wrong with them...blood work doesn't show anything bad ... but I'll keep an eye on them, nonetheless.

She also noted that some of the deficiencies that I am having with hormones are exacerbated by malabsorption. 

As far as losing weight, since I've been losing weight steadily (I've dropped 13-15 lbs since I met her), she thinks that I am on track.  So Kelly's not recommending any major modifications to the diet... but maybe go out for walk -- instead of eating.   Going out for a walk is a little harder than it seems as I have been getting more fatigued. I get up very early between 5:30 am and 6:00 am because my husband has to catch an early train to New York City.  By 5:00 pm,  I am very tired.  But I shall try. I know I have to get my metabolism up.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reflections on Stereo Sue's Book: Fixing My Gaze -- Part 1

Allegory of the Five SensesImage via Wikipedia
Dr. Sue Barry, "Stereo Sue", is a neuroscientist who has had serious problems with her vision including a lack of 3D vision and documented her struggles to gain normal vision in her book,  "Fixing My Gaze".
One of the things Sue Barry mentions when trying to get stereovision true vision therapy, it requires not only proper lenses or prisms but very intensive training. You must learn how to align the eyes and fuse the images while unlearning the unconscious habit of suppressing vision.

I have a similar problem I am not using the images provided by my two eyes. I see the input from one eye at a time and switch rapidly between the two eyes.

I also have a problem with converging my eyes properly that is, turning in my eyes to see something close to me. And then diverging that is, turning my eyes out, to see things further away.

The difference in viewing perspective between our two eyes provides us with stereopsis, or depth perception.

Some things that are interesting is that a 3-D movie filming the scenes with two cameras taking pictures from slightly different perspectives. When you put on 3-D glasses, each eye sees the pictures shot by only one of the cameras. Your brain does the rest of the work, fusing the two images into one scene scene in depth. I think I still have some depth perception because I can enjoy 3-D movies and I have created 3-D virtual reality and have used crystal lenses successfully to see 3-D. There are some people who cannot see the current movie, Avatar, in 3-D.