Thursday, July 16, 2009

On neologisms

While coining a neologism, especially in science, but also generally, here is a checklist that one could adhere to:

1. It should sound less jargon-like than the jargons it is composed of: "Jargon added is jargon halved" effect.

2. It should be fresh, but not just frivolous and as far as possible, intuituve.

3. Once defined, it should have a greater sense of immediacy, and home-in on the concept faster than the definition itself. In that sense it should be focused. However, it should be more than focused in the following way. The definition should remain fresh, such that on re-reading the definition, and definitions of terms used in the definition (recursively), it should evoke a richer, diverse cloud of related ideas and thus contextually situate the neologism.

4. It should have a quality of being used by the 'in-crowd', in a manner that the anxious 'out-crowd' wants to understand what it means and start using it in sentences.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Building on the brain

I came across this piece in the latest issue of Neuron.

John P Eberhard. 2009. Applying Neuroscience to Architecture. Neuron 62:753-756.

Basically, it is a promo piece for the author's latest book Brain Landscape, which advocates architects to apply findings of brain imaging to their design of schools, hospitals, public spaces, old age homes and memorials. Eberhard is the founding President of the non-profit Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, established in 2003. You get the picture.

Why have ideas such as these and other low-hanging fruit (neuroeconomics, neurocinematics) become so popular these days, without anybody bothering to address how neuroscientific knowledge (such as: the prefrontal cortex is involved in decision making) is not completely superfluous to knowledge from conventional psychology and the behavioral sciences (such as: natural light improves class grades) as far as application domains (such as architecture) are concerned? Note that I do not dispute the fact that such neuro-marriages may be intellectually stimulating.

The saving grace is that it wasn't called neuroarchitecture (not to be confused with neuroarchitectonics: the beautiful and painstaking characterization of brain anatomy in terms of cell types, synapse densities, tissue properties, relative thickness of cortical layers, vasculature etc. etc. which early 20th century greats like Cajal and Brodmann pioneered).

I'm not arguing for traditionalism, I'm not arguing for scientists to be conservative with their imagination. On that contrary, I am disappointed that out-of-the-box thinking falls so dreadfully short of the mark. Why can't we be more original? It is not as though fresh insight and imagination cannot be applied to traditional stuff of the brain such as anatomy, hemodynamics, connectivity, learning, memory etc.

What next? Neuromusicology, neuromarketing, neuropublishing, neurojournalism, neurolaw, neuro-neuroscience? Up for grabs. Quick, before somebody else.