For individuals interested in understanding more about how our brains are organized, how they process information and even organic diseases and their treatment, the career of a neuroscientist holds considerable interest. While the term is far more common in today’s parlance than in that of the past, many may not understand what these scientists do or what they research. Below, this article explores the subtler points of neuroscience and provides examples of how practitioners work within the field.
Looking At the Back of One’s Own Head
Neuroscience itself offers some unique challenges with the first being that humans are using their brains to study their brains. In general, this is what a neuroscientist studies, but with more finely grained emphasis on functions, organization, and responses to both external stimuli and internal disruptions caused by diseases. There are, of course, many ways in which individuals can further refine or sub-divide the general study or discipline. But, first, what does it mean to study the brain versus the mind?
One type of practice seeks to locate and understand the phenomenon that has been applied by philosophers, artists, and poets for millennia. Where does the observer or subject reside within an individual human? In ages past, some cultures believed the seat of human thought and feeling to be the heart. Later, in a post-industrial world, the brain itself was believed to be the center for thought, but complex and culturally-dependent language obscured the true nature of such a proposition. Consciousness has been described regarding steam power, automation, and even computer science.
The exact nature of the human mind, a subject near and dear for many neuroscientists, is chemical. By studying the mechanisms through which thought is stored, how brain systems evolve, and even the roles of retroviruses and how they make abstract thinking possible, scientists come closer to understanding how an “I” arises from organic material.
Neurology and Organic Disease
To call a disease organic is to tie it to a specific organ or its typical function. Such diseases and disorders should be sharply distinguished from those that arise from other parts of the body or have roots in psychology. Although these are areas that neuroscientists also study, they involve various considerations that may not obtain when evaluating and exploring an organic malady.
While traumatic brain injury can be responsible for neurological issues, the neuroscientist who studies disorders such as schizophrenia or ALS is usually seeking an internal culprit. These may present themselves when a patient’s health history is thoroughly evaluated or one of several testing methods used to determine a potential vector. While neurology is related, the field of neuroscience is underpinned by a rigorous tradition of research.
No matter which subfield a scientist investigates, he or she relies on the insight of colleagues past and present who conduct experiments and test data against hypotheses. In fact, the realm of research is a recursive one, with new concepts and techniques used to retest seemingly familiar ideas about the human brain, human consciousness, the evolution of self-awareness, and the causes of disorder and disease that impacts the central or peripheral nervous system.
Because there is still so much that current scientific inquiry has yet to fully understand about the brain and all its functions, the field has enormous latitude to grow in the years to come. Even the creation of artificial brains can benefit from a deeper and more thorough understanding of neurology. The neuroscientist thus stands at the nexus of technology, evolutionary biology, psychology, epidemiology, trauma surgery, biomechanics, and culture.