Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rabbit Songs

Going through a small box that contains a jumble of scraps from my past. In it, folded in four, is an abstract for a presentation my brother was to give at a neuroscience conference. The copy is signed and inscribed to me. I read the abstract. I don't understand it, yet it resonates. In his doctoral work my brother studied the "olfactory bulb" of rabbits. These same rabbits are classically conditioned to give a discriminative response to a CS+ odor. Okay, you lost me at the "CS+" part but - how Proustian! The reaction time to an olfactory cue for rabbits is near one respiratory cycle. It is hypothesized that the critical information for discrimination lies in the "decisive" burst recorded just after odor response...."

She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory--this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

My brother's abstract concludes, In short a powerful new classification technique confirms that spacial patterns of burst amplitude are stable and unique to each animal, but cannot characterize the information content of a decisive burst.

You can say that again!

(Alright then, say a rabbit joke, says the vying suitor, an attorney, the object of their desire - my supervisor at the time, with whom I'm in friendly contact to this day - poised between them in a San Francisco cafe. What, you think I can just pull one out of a hat? Game over. My brother got the girl.)

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