We bought one of those GPS things that sits on your dashboard a couple of months ago just before a trip. If you have one you know that when you miss a turn or choose a route that Emily (I think that’s the voice we’ve chosen to speak to us) has in her head, you constantly hear her say she is “recalculating” to get you back to her plan even if you have to backtrack about thirty miles or so and take an extra hour to get to the destination you’re within five minutes of reaching.
We decided to take Emily’s subtle but frequent recalculations with a sense of humor to keep her from irritating us to the point of disconnecting her from our car’s life-support system for her.
But these things are kind of cool, aren’t they? they show you maps and some even show you interchange “signs” so you’re in the correct lane and all that stuff. Emily even told us there was a special at Red Lobster where we could have an unlimited amount of butter, or something like that.
We thought of Emily this morning when we saw on the front page of the Post-Dispatch that researchers at Washington University’s School of Medicine are teaming with researchers at St. Louis University and at other places to spend the next five years mapping THE BRAIN. All 90 billion neurons and 150 trillion synapse connectors that let parts of the brain communicate with each other. You know, one part of the brain says, “I can’t hear this political commercial that calls somebody a scum-sucking dog. Turn up the volume.” And another part of the brain sends orders to the fingers of the hand holding the remote to push the plus side of the volume key.
There are all kinds of possibilities for this project to spin off conspiracy theories about mind control and science fiction tales about improving brain efficiency so we really can walk through walls or travel through time or actually make our thoughts worth more than a penny.
Or maybe they’ll find the part of the brain that says, “recalculating” whenever somebody thinks of doing something stupid and/or illegal and/or both.
The brain probably recalculates thousands or millions of times every minute to get most of us back on the right road and we never know our cranial Emily has done it for us. Maybe they’ll discover some people don’t have an Emily who knows the right road. Or maybe they’ll discover why she doesn’t speak. Perhaps they’ll discover that some maps are different from others. What do you suppose Einsteain’s map would look like? Or Hitler’s? Or Paris Hilton’s? Would they be or have been different from yours and mine or do some of the cranial Emilys prefer interstates while others prefer winding country roads? Or dark and dangerous back alleys?
Maps can lead us to the White House or to the death chamber and a lot of places in between.
That’s why this project is so intriguing. What will it tell us or start to tell us about how we get to where we go in our lives? How does our brain go about “recalculating?”