Design – from the Brain to the Runway
Think of that childhood game where everyone sits in a circle and one person whispers something to the person next to them… who in turn whispers what he/she heard to the person next to them. The game goes on until the last person has had the phrase or word whispered to them. They then announce out loud what they heard. Often, the final thing said is a far cry from what was originally said. Now compare that to the telephone tree most schools and organizations have so that information can be quickly relayed. Fortunately, the phone trees work much better than the whispered word.
The reason for the success of the phone tree is that it has branches. The main piece of information is received and then carried along the branches (hence the name phone tree) to the other callers. The reason a phone tree works and the childhood circle game does not is that the phone tree begins with an understanding. If the phone tree is for your child’s soccer team, then you don’t have to wonder if they are calling about the store across town having a sudden sale. The phone call is about the team and either games or practices or perhaps the coaches or players. There is a basic type of understanding as to the nature of what is going to be relayed, even if you are unaware of the specific reason for the call.
How man zeroes in on what is relevant or not has been something of a mystery, though. How do we know which meaning of a word is applicable? What is our own inner GPS that allows us to travel through our lives without becoming completely lost? Obviously, in cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s, something is interrupting that internal GPS but how did we develop it to begin with as children? Neurons are specialized cells that are essential, communicative, but diverse. Their role in the brain is well-known, but only up to a point. There was no real basic understanding past certain levels of their function and how they help us determine what is relevant, what needs to be in our world or not.
Less than a month ago, a team of three scientists accepted the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the grid cells that make up the brain’s “inner GPS” and allow us to navigate through the world. The female of the team, Dr Mae Britt Moser, is a Norwegian scientist who grew up in a nonacademic family on a small island, just like another member of her team, her husband. Together with a third scientist they have proven that the brain of lower mammals is constantly mapping the outside environment, the outside world. Evidence is already in that the same is true for primates. The significance of this for helping humans and in discovering why these areas of grid cell navigation are damaged early in certain conditions might someday lead to a resolution for why these patients are often lost, literally lost in a world they know very wel, and are unable to determine what is relevant and what is not.
The brain often works in secret but these electronic grid cell pulses can be traced and mapped. The neurons have an electrical charge and this leads to branches created, trees called dendrites, much like the phone trees discussed earlier. Fashioner Designer Matthew Hubble, himself a former engineer, decided to use the mapping of neurons the Mosers discovered in creating a gown for Dr Mae-Britt Moser to wear to the Nobel ceremony. The result was a stunning design of silver on a backdrop of navy. Hubble describes the dress: “The grid needed to be special, to really shine, so metallic leather was the obvious choice. For the dendrites and cell bodies of the neurons we figured beads were the perfect choice.” A bright idea that led to a bright idea of fashion!
How exactly did Matthew Hubble have his epiphany? “It began one morning while watching the news reports of the previous night’s Oscar winners. The Oscars, where the world’s most talented actors and actresses walk the red carpet in elegant suits and beautiful gowns! We celebrate films which have made us laugh, cry, and inspired us and somehow enriched our lives, whether it small or large impact. Then I began to think about the people who have made our lives longer and more comfortable, who brought us clean water, electricity, communications and knowledge. I thought about the people who are themselves at the edge of all human knowledge and are continually pushing at the boundaries of understanding so that we can live more enriched, healthier and happier lives. Our scientists and engineers; our inventors.”
Hubble did not know the Mosers, though. He made a sample and took a picture. The picture he emailed to Dr Moser’s husband and, within eight hours, had heard back from Dr Mae-Britt Moser. She told him she would be delighted to wear his fashion design, thus becoming the first Nobel recipient to “wear” her discovery! Epiphanies take courage but they also take a first step. Inaction delivers nothing.
We all stand at the edge of knowledge every day. Whether or not we can map the human brain or design a dress, we are all mapping out our future by every action, thought, word, and deed. Hopefully in 2015 your fashion choice will be to wear your knowledge and potential. We all have the chance to be the best possible version of ourselves. Be the star of your own story as you map out your own epiphanies and walk through the world!