Monday, November 23, 2015

News Briefs 11.23.15

DARPA Developing Implants to Help Restore Memory 

Numerous in the world suffer from problems in recalling, forming, and retrieving memories, especially after suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI). In the U.S. alone it’s thought that around 1.7 million civilians will be diagnosed with TBI each year. In addition to that, it’s estimated that around 300,000 soldiers have also suffered such injuries since 2000. In light of this, the U.S. military has poured a substantial amount of resources into finding a way to ease these problems, setting up the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program.
The aims are twofold: develop detailed, high resolution computer models that will be able to describe how neurons form and recall memories, and then develop a “wireless, fully implantable neural-interface medical device” that will bypass the gap in the flow of information caused by brain injury. This system, they hope, will allow for the targeted stimulation of brain cells and eventually the restoration of memory function.
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, for all the Metal Gear freaks out there!) has invested heavily in this technology and research examining the intricacies of the human brain. Backed by Obama, in 2013 they launched the BRAIN initiative which aims to figure out how “individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of light.” This, they hope, will then allow for the development of new ways to treat, cure, and prevent brain disorders.
In addition to new treatments, it has also led to the development of incredible technologies. They have been able not only to allow patients to control prosthetic limbs with their thoughts, but have even been able to get one person who has been paralyzed for over a decade to “feel” physical touch again. In September, as part of the RAM program, DARPA announced that they had already tested out brain implants in people suffering from brain injuries in hopes of improving their memories.
It is hoped that this new research and development will be able to be used not just within a military context, but also in the wider community for all people who have suffered a serious brain injury. According to Obama, it is this sort of research which will lead to future progress and produce the best treatments for those in need: “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”

- Luis

TEDxCUNY vs. Sonia Guinansaca

Last Friday, November 20, 2015, was the second TEDxCUNY (CUNY's independently organized TED event) at BMCC. The theme of the event was "Borders and Belonging," a topic that should mean something to most of us as New York City residents. The event was designed to discuss the physical and social borders we place between ourselves and how we interact with these borders, but a problem for the event arose during the final speaker session that effectively halted the event for about a quarter of the session and remained present until the end of the night.

During J. A. Strub's discussion about Peters Anomaly, a group of activists placed themselves on stage with a sign saying, "TEDxCUNY DOESN't SPEAK 4 UNDOCUMENTED MIGRANTS."

Now I don't want to force my opinion onto you all, mostly because I'm still forming it, so I'll leave you with everything you need to see. You only really need two things:
I want to commend Strub and TEDxCUNY for not completely silencing these people by allowing them to remain on stage for the rest of the event. It's really nice to see the respect they had for the activists' cause while still trying to continue their show.

The big problem that I see with this debacle is institutionalization. TED talks have a very specific, well-constructed form that tells an individual's story to highlight thought-provoking ideas. What sparked the argument was the dissonance between the two parties' ideas on what would make a good speech. Sonia Guinansaca wanted to highlight other individuals, displaying the sense of community that she felt was necessary in a discussion about borders. TED on the other hand wanted to display Sonia as an individual with a heroic story. In my opinion, I'd rather see how Sonia wanted to present her piece; it better fit the theme of the event.

I'm all for going against form (it's what I'm all about) and on that train I'm with Sonia, but I couldn't really get behind her with her argument. I didn't quite understand where the intersectional problems were coming from. I'll admit I'm not too well versed in the problems that are tied to the intersectionality of oppressed identities and I find it a very tough cookie to crumble (despite being a queer POC myself), but a lot of the discrimination she pulled out of the situation felt contrived. There's also the weird ad hominem disrespect of Sonia's email correspondent for being a cis-gendered, white male. This was more apparent during the activists' take over of the TEDxCUNY stage when the activists were confronted by a migrant speaker for interrupting J. A. Strub and their immediate response was, "He's a white man," as if that immediately discredited his belonging on the stage.

J. A. Strub was put on the stage for being a disabled  person. I really hate when people argue over which identity is more important, but I don't think that was the problem here. The problem here is that to the migrant activists, their problems are the one's they see all the time and without knowing it they exercise a their own form of privilege over disabled people because they aren't disabled themselves. What they're seeing is that Strub has privilege for being a white man. It's a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and they don't see it. It's really complicated and I hope you're seeing why I think intersectionality is such a tough beast to tackle. 

Maybe it's just because I don't like angry writing.


                                                        Trans-gender Performance Art
Last Tuesday Rebecca Kling, a transgender performance artist, came to the second floor of SUBO to speak to students about her journey and to tell her story. With a powerful performance full of humor, audience interaction, and a harrowing narrative about how she came to be at the place where she is now. She told us about the journey it took to realize that change is not a certain moment where everything magically changes a but a gradual transition that is equally beautiful and difficult. 

She also educated us, after the performance, about pronouns and coached us through different questions which were only appropriate in a classroom and educational setting, which I believe was imperative to our understanding of transgender culture. Rebecca herself was witty and understanding, and made it seem as though we were all in that space of transition. 

She made it clear that most of us are in that perpetual space of transition-- and that transition is so much of life itself. One of the most important things she told us was that there is no use awaiting a point where everything changes and that working towards a self which is in alignment with an inner self is one of the most important premises of life. Also, that you should not mold yourself to those around you-- but rather, to continually shape yourself to become more like yourself.

I guess they are things that I already knew at heart, but there is a difference between knowing and understanding. One of my favorite eastern forms of thought, which I recently read about, is that knowing is a thing which is different from understanding-- things can only be separate on a certain level, but you have to give up knowing in order to understand and experience. In other words, you have to give up knowing it in order to be it. I wonder if that is part of what "the great transition" which is life is all about, and I remember wondering, at the time of hearing Rebecca's compassionate answers to our curiosities, if it was the suffering she'd gone through which had made her so compassionate.

I would never have known about the event unless Professor McKay had scheduled it during class-- there seems to be very little coverage of events in school and even if there is advertisement, I do not often see it, as everyone seems to cling to their own agenda to a certain degree. The event started with dinner and the room was full, partially because our entire class had to show up. It was a beautiful and informative delivery of a story from a person courageous enough to share it.

Here is her website, full of some beautiful photographs and further info if anyone wants to have a look. 


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