The Neuroscientist, A Field Guide
The recorder of single neurons, lowerer of electrodes. Notable tribes include the patch-clampers, whose cruel initiation rites require attaching a micrometer-scale piece of glass to the body of a neuron ten times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. Some among this tribe, possibly insane, attempt the same in awake, moving animals. They are easily distinguished from other Neuroscientus by the rhythmic beating of their heads against the lab bench when losing yet another neuron after just three trials of behaviour are complete.
The Systems Neuroscientist
Distinguishable from the electrophysiologist by trying to record from many neurons at the same time, and relate them to something in the outside world. Comes in many tribes, from the sensory obsessives, the memorists and decisionists, to the motor wagglers, through others that identify themselves by blobs of the brain — the corticians, cerebellites, the basal gang, the hippocampites, the amygdalarians — to yet others that identify with the type of brain — the worm-wranglers, the fly-fanciers, the sea-sluggers. To the naive observer these tribes would all seem to be working towards the same goal, but vicious internecine wars frequently erupt within and between tribes.
Insufferably smug since members of their subspecies were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2014 (“we’re a real science now”), they are nonetheless handicapped by the crudeness of their tools, which has led to the Humphries Uncertainty Principle: they can either record precisely when neurons send spikes but not know exactly where they are, or know precisely where they are but not know exactly when they send spikes (they call these “multi-electrode recording” and “calcium imaging”, respectively).
The Cognitive Neuroscientist
This subspecies is more intensely interested in us Sapiens than any other. We find it useful to distinguish a number of breeds, albeit with some overlap:
Neuroimager — often referred to by other subspecies as “a psychologist with a magnet”, they adore rainbow colours. A deeply superstitious people, yet highly intelligent. In their writings frequent references are made to “Bonferroni”, possibly a deity, and they will cross themselves and mutter curses to the heavens upon hearing the phrase “dead salmon”. But the complex incantations necessary to turn the magnetic alignment of oxygen-depleted haemoglobin into a measurable signal of brain activity is testament to their ingenuity.
Scalp tickler — a “psychologist with a hairnet”, readily identified by their distinctive calls. Anthropologists have transcribed some of these calls (lit. “P100”, “N2”), but have yet to discern their meaning. Some authorities subdivide a further breed, the Magnetiser, a psychologist with a quantum thingy.
The Paddlers — believe that waving a magic wand near the scalp of a Sapiens will variously cause involuntary movement, enhance their mathematical ability, or let them experience the presence of god(s).
Was thought to be going extinct, until the Connectomics Explosion approximately 15YA rapidly diversified the gene pool, with many new, previously unrecorded phenotypes appearing.
Consider the brain to be a feedback loop. Fiddles with amplifier settings until the squealing stops.
Attempts to infer the workings of the brain from watching a rodent press a lever. Talks almost entirely in capital letters (example transcript: “the US will become the CS, but leave the UR intact”).
Attempts to infer the workings of the brain from watching an animal go about its daily routine. Barely on speaking terms with Behavioural Neuroscientists.
Slightly hormonal. Obsessed with how everything sloshing around the brain that isn’t a neurotransmitter affects brain cells. Believes a “raster plot” is a graph drawn by a Bob Marley fan.
Applies the tools of close cousins the molecular biologist to the brain. Loves the stuff floating inside cells, especially proteins and complex chains of chemicals signalling to each other. Unable to distinguish the brain from the liver without assistance.
Obsessed with the expression of bits of DNA and RNA in brain cells. Unable to distinguish the brain from yeast without assistance.
Haughty and proud, these interact the most with Homo sapiens, bringing their skills to treat the damaged and sick among that closely-related species. Males of this sub-species are thought to be born wearing a suit and tie.
Often gaunt, frequently shunning daylight, these shy creatures have also a number of distinctive breeds. Recent gene sequencing work on this sub-species has revealed evidence of lateral gene transfer from known species of Physicists, Mathematicians, and Computer Scientists. The consequent melange of languages spoken among members of this sub-species often collapses interactions into mutual bafflement.
Circuit modeller — Literal-minded to a fault, these build exact scale models of bits of brain. Often try to show them to their fellow Systems Neuroscientists working on the same bit of brain, but suffer frequent barbs and social rejection (“Suited for a more specialist journal”).
The Algorithmics — Seek the Holy Grail of the step-by-step instructions by which the brain works. Once discovered that deep-lying neurons, which may or may not contain dopamine, send a signal that looked like the difference: [actual value of what happened] — [predicted value of what happened]. Have been banging on about it for the past 25 years.
Compartmentalist — Uses a thousand equations to describe a single neuron, none of whose parameters are experimentally determined. Often found weeping silently into a drink at conference bars. Worship at the Church of Rall.
The Bayesians — Have discovered a hammer, and are determined to use it on absolutely bloody anything that’s not already nailed down.
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