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What Neuroscience’s Newest MacArthur Genius Beth Stevens Discovered

Stashed in: Brain, Awesome, Alzheimer's, Neuroscience, Extraordinary People, Brain

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Naively we might think that having more neurons is always better -- think of the endless jokes about killing brain cells with alcohol or drugs -- but in fact that leads to a lot of very inefficient pathways. Over the years the immune systems in our brains PRUNE neurons in an amazing fashion based on our life experience, seeking greater efficiency for tasks we will often need. It's like what Michelangelo said about sculpting: "I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

Turns out that very possibly some of the more complex brain problems -- Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, maybe even autism -- take this pruning to an extreme. By understanding this shaping process and how it goes wrong, Beth Stevens made a tremendous breakthrough in what was previously considered just a housekeeping function... and won a MacArthur Genius award.

It's really profound to think that the mind contains the tools to make itself more efficient. 

And that what we think of as afflictions are just that system gone wrong. 

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