RealityCheck! SM

Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology at Stanford University, certainly appreciates the complexity of the human mind when declaring: "zillions of us [neuroscientists] slaving away... still don't know squat about how the brain works."

While attending the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the premier gathering of the world's brain researchers, he was particularly humbled when presented with a paper about how parasites can control the brain of their host. He realized then that "some microscopic bug... probably knew more about the brain than all of us neuroscientists combined..."

"Just think about this," he urges. "Scads of neurobiologists study the neural basis of aggression: the pathways of the brain that are involved, the relevant neurotransmitters, the interactions between genes and environment, modulations by hormones, and so on. Aggression has spawned conferences, doctoral theses, petty academic squabbles, nasty tenure disputes, the works. Yet all along, the rabies virus has "known" just which neurons to infect to make a victim rabid [to propagate itself]." He concludes, "Creatures are out there that can control our brains... We need phylogenetic humility. We are certainly not the most evolved species around, nor the least vulnerable. Nor the cleverest."