PTSD | Sunday Sonnet

I came across this sonnet by Andy Maudling called PTSD. A while ago I posted a striking metaphor for PTSD used by the journalist Tom Burgis in his book about contemporary Africa. “Drowning in my memories/They draw my every breath” is an arresting evocation of the pervasiveness of traumatic memory.

Written Word

My mind is made of metal;
My weary eyes, they see as stone.
I fall like autumn petal,
As I wither to the bone.

A trunk with many rings; I am,
Much older than I seem.
A lifetime lost so long ago; I’m damned,
By all I’ve seen.

I’m drowning in my memories;
They draw my every breath.
My mind begins to ponder every,
Single state of death.

If I could cut my past adrift,
Maybe then a weight would lift.

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What children say when they are asked what they think about the brain.

(update May 19th 2018, this is an old post I am very sporadically updating)

I am interested in what we think of when we think of “the brain.” I am planning a post compiling the various technological metaphors that are used when people talk about the brain – from the steam engine  / pneumatic metaphors of the 19th Century to the computer metaphors of today. Of course, these metaphors (especially the computer one) assume a kind of literal meaning so that we forget that the brain really isn’t  a computer.

Anyhow, one interesting topic that may or may not have been systematically and academically studied is what children think of when they think of the brain. There is almost certainly some academic work out there on this – my own plan is to ask every few months the following questions:

What is a brain?

Where is  your brain?

What does your brain do?

 Until the children in question tell me to go away.

And because I am interested in sleep also, I will ask

What happens when you sleep?

(May 2018 update — um I haven’t actually done this)

February 24th 2015

Child aged four and four months

Where is your brain?
(touches neck, goes off and plays elsewhere)

Later on

Where is your brain?

(touches head)
What does your  brain do?

It keeps your forehead in place

May 24th 2015

Same child


What is a brain?

Your forehead’s bone

Where is  your brain?

Here (touches forehead)

What does your brain do?

Makes you think. Anything else? Mmm -mmm

Oct 2nd 2015

Same child.

What is a brain?

In your head.

Where is your brain?

In your forehead.

What does your brain do?

It makes you think.

Anything else?

That’s all.

May 18th 2018

What is a brain?

A brain is weird looking thing that helps your memeory stuff and keeps you breathing. Without a brain you would forget how to breathe and die

Where is your brain?

Your brain is on the top of your head in your skull. It has bones surrounding it so you can’t get anything in your brain except for your memory love and stuff like that.
What does your brain do?

It helps you live, helps you put stuff in your mind and helps you breathe. It helps you hug and remember what your hobby is.

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Finger Labyrinth Meditation

For World Labyrinth Day, here are some ideas for using labyrinths with children … an activity I would encourage with or without the mindfulness banner attached!

Education's Voice


Labyrinths have been around for over 4,000 years with labyrinth stone wall carvings, clay tablets and coins dating back to the Bronze Age. Labyrinths have been featured in Greek and Roman mythology and, in the Middle Ages, they started to appear in churches and temples around the world. Labyrinths have been used by many different cultures and religions across time as they have been known to be used for relaxation, meditation and prayer that can bring spiritual and emotional well-being to the lives of those who used them.

Now, labyrinths can be found in hospital gardens, parks, schools and home gardens as they are known for their meditative properties.

What is a Labyrinth?


A Labyrinth is not a maze; a maze has blind dead ends that are used to confuse and trick the mind. A labyrinth is a spiral course having a single, winding unobstructed path from the outside…

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Circadian rhythms Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology 2017

When I was young, the Oscars had an air of naffness, and the likes of the Golden Globes or Emmys even more so. One of the many many ways internet culture has failed to live up to its utopian hype   is the glorification of these sort of jamborees into moments of Great Cultural Significance, endlessly teased over by scolding columnists determined to weed out wrong think even about a glorified trade awards ceremony.

The Nobel Prizes haven’t quite reached the same point – indeed, as I wrote here before, their cultural impact may be somewhat diminished – but nevertheless, they are also subject to a strained search for important messages. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2017 was awarded jointly to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young “for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”

The video illustrates nicely what Circadian Rhythms are. 


Here is Robash’s lecture (with 5250 YouTube views) which is a good place to start a consideration of circadian rhythms:

And here is Young’s, which ties it all back to human circadian rhythms (just over 4000 views):

Here is Hall’s Nobel lecture, I note he is wearing a Brawndo hat from the film “Idiocracy”. I also note this video has just over 6000 views on YouTube (the Brawndo ad linked to above has over 3 million) Then again, it is a little hard going – Hall is not as funny as he thinks he is… and while there is some interest in his anecdotal style of various prior Drosophilia researchers it is not that effective an entry into this world (so while it is the first lecture given and includes the overall introduction, I have left it to last):

Slides of Robash’s and Young’s lectures are available on the Nobel site. Rather endearingly, they are basic PowerPoint slides replete with credits for everyone in the lab.

So there you go. 3 Nobel lectures on a subject of direct relevance to all our lives have a grand total of less than 15000 views on YouTube. I could easily find some ephemeral/trashy/obscene video with several multiples, but what is the point?

In the New Yorker, Jerome Groopman identified the “real message” of the prize as a rebuke to those who ignore or underfund basic science (in fairness his piece is also a decent introduction to this research).  While there may be some merit to this, it strikes me as more likely that the Academy recognised scientific work of genuine merit and enduring relevance.

And Groopman’s piece was one of the only ones I could find online that discussed the science and the issues related in some context (even though it was one I found slightly suspect) – most of the others essentially recycled the press releases from the Nobel Foundation and the US National Science Foundation

In my post “Why isn’t William C Campbell more famous in Ireland?” I discussed an excellent piece by Declan Fahy on “the fragile culture of Irish science journalism”. One wonders if this fragility is perhaps not only an Irish phenomenon.



April 15th 1941: The Belfast Blitz, Brian Moore, and Errol Flynn’s father

Around the time of the 2010 IMF/ECB/EC bailout, I remember hearing it described as “the worst day in Irish history.” This struck me as hyperbolic at the time. Obviously, like best of lists, worsts are subjective. Surely however loss of life must count towards “worst days” than economic events. I am not aware of any day in the last hundred years of Irish history with a greater loss of life than April 15th 1941, the Belfast Blitz when over 900 people died.

Much of what I have heard about this focused on the Southern reaction, with fire brigades crossing the border. This is seen as a positive. To some degree, the sheer human cost of 900 lives lost (about a quarter of those lost in the Troubles in a single night) and thousands injured or made homeless is eclipsed by this. More generally, the narrative of the Second World War as “the good war” can blind a little to the suffering involved.

Here are the recollections of novelist Brian Moore (incidentally this piece captures how Moore’s death in 1999 led to near-invisibility in the digital age), who was working in the Mater Hospital at the time:

“In the stink of human excrement, in the acrid smell of disinfectant these dead were heaped, body on body, flung arms, twisted feet, open mouth, staring eyes, old men on top of young women, a child lying on a policeman’s back, a soldier’s hand resting on a woman’s thigh, a carter still wearing his coal-slacks, on top of a pile of arms and legs, his own arm outstretched, finger pointing, as though he warned of some unseen horror. Forbidding and clumsy, the dead cluttered the morgue room from floor to ceiling”.

One thing I didn’t know was that Theodore Flynn, father of Errol Flynn (and grandfather of Sean Flynn) was based in the Mater Hospital and “head of the casualty service” for Belfast:

“The rescue service felt the want of heavy jacks; in one case the leg and arm of a child had to be amputated before it could be extricated … [But] the greatest want appeared to be the lack of hospital facilities … At 2pm, on the afternoon of the 16th (9 hours after the termination of the raid) it was reported that the street leading to the Mater Hospital was filled with ambulances waiting to set down their casualties … Professor Flynn, [father of his more famous son, Errol], head of the casualty service for the city, informed me that the greater number of casualties was due to shock, blast and secondary missiles, such as glass, stones, pieces of piping, etc … There were many terrible mutilations among both living and dead—heads crushed, ghastly abdominal and face wounds, penetration by beams, mangled and crushed limbs, etc. … In the heavily “blitzed” areas people ran panic-stricken into the streets and made for the open country. As many were caught in the open by blast and secondary missiles, the enormous number of casualties can be readily accounted for. It is perhaps true that many saved their lives running but I am afraid a much greater number lost them or became casualties…During the day, loosened slates and pieces of piping were falling in the streets and as pedestrians were numerous many casualties must have occurred.”

It is evident from Theodore Flynn’s biography he was a zoologist rather than a medical doctor. It would be interesting to know how common this sort of thing was on the Home Front in wartime.

Don’t Take Notes With A Laptop – from @andymcnally

Original Scientific American article.

Far transfer through music? This longitudinal study suggests it works!

A post on the potential “far transfer” of music education – ie the longer term impact on cognitive ability. I like the way that Pedro restrains his enthusiasm here! “Far transfer” is tricky to study, but also is a factor in education that needs to be considered when subjects/disciplines are accused of lacking “relevance”

From experience to meaning...

I’m a musician as some of you might know and very much in favor of music and music lessons, but I’m a bit hesitant about this new study. It sounds like great news: cognitive skills developed from music lessons appear to transfer to unrelated subjects, leading to improved academic performance.

Why I’m not so sure? Well, this kind of far transfer is not something easy to achieve and I don’t want to get my hopes up too high. So, let’s have a look at the press release:

Structured music lessons significantly enhance children’s cognitive abilities — including language-based reasoning, short-term memory, planning and inhibition — which lead to improved academic performance. Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the research is the first large-scale, longitudinal study to be adapted into the regular school curriculum. Visual arts lessons were also found to significantly improve children’s visual and spatial memory.

Music education has…

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