Monday, September 28, 2009

Myth: Neuroscience is hard.

I should have started off with this one, and I'm sure that it can be debated extensively.  And, yes, actually researching neuroscience, and/or practicing neurology can be incredibly difficult (which is why careers in these fields take a long time involving lots of hard work and extensive study).  BUT, a basic understanding of the brain and the rest of the nervous system is actually easily attainable, and not all that complicated.
Its obvious there seems to be some sense of mysticism associated with neuroscience in our culture.  For example, it's amazing how predictable the response is, when someone asks me, "what are you getting your PhD in?", and I reply "neuroscience".  Almost immediately, their eyes get wide, and they say "wow!", as if I just revealed that I taught David Copperfield every magic trick he knows.  And, how many times have you heard someone say "It's not brain surgery" when describing something that's hard, but not so unbelievably difficult as to be neuroscience related.  Apparently neuroscience is rivaled only by "rocket science" compared to which, many other things are also not so difficult.
And part of this is our own fault due to our fascination with big or obscure words that make us sound smart (like neurosurgery, neuroendocrinology, meningioma, cerebrospinal fluid, amygdalar lesions, excitatory post-synaptic potentials, etc. etc.)
I do appreciate that this sense of awe also comes from a shared interest that we all have in the mind and understanding how things like consciousness and memory work, and I am just as enamored with this sense of awe when I learn of all the cool and interesting things the nervous system does, which is why I chose to become a neuroscientist in the first place.  But just because the mind (of which the physical substrate is the brain) is so amazing, and still so remarkably uncharted and undiscovered, doesn't mean that we should be intimidated by what is already known about the nervous system, which can be presented in such easy to understand terms that there are even websites out there to teach neuroscience to kids.  And if kids can understand it, then I'm pretty confident the rest of us can too.  At least that's my hope in blogging about it...


  1. I am about to start my degree in neuroscience and I was having small worries about whether it was going to be too difficult for me - but this post really helped me, and made me realise that I must not feel intimidated! And that my fascination and motivation to study neuroscience is what's going to help me through!
    Thank you

  2. In my second year at university.

    Around half my classes are like 'WHATS HAPPENEING?!'

    But the difficult ones are the most interesting- you just have to study more for them. A LOT more. In fact, think about how much you should study for, and multiply that by 3. Then take away any free time you have and there you go.
    Don't worry. I'm exaggerating.

    (Although I spent too much time writing this post, I have to go back to studying. I'm not even kidding.)

    Sometimes my brain hurts trying to understand itself.