Post 1: Research and Refining Project (The Microbiota and the Mind)

My research this summer will be focused on the connection between the human microbiome and the brain–more namely, how gut microbes can contribute to the development of neuropsychological diseases like schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder. While we can’t prove causation yet, scientists have found some really promising correlational evidence in germ-free mice models and humans that the microbial communities of diseased people looks different. I think this topic is extremely important in the scope of public health; understanding how our actions/diet affect our gut microbes (and how important those microbes are for our neural development) can inform how we live on a day-to-day basis and how to best treat neuropsychological diseases.

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Abstract: An Evolutionary Objection to Ethical Objectivism

The idea that there is right and wrong is incredibly intuitive. Charity is right. Slavery is wrong. But if right and wrong exist what does this entail and how do we know what if something is right? If morality exists it must be an objective morality. The right action in a specific scenario cannot be right for one person and not right for another. Another requisite of morality is categorical action guiding power. To do what is right you may have to act against your desires, thus morality must be able to motivate  independently of desire. We cling to the idea of morality because if morality didn’t exist then. Surely, without morality there would be no reason for people not to just kill each other on sight or lie without a care.

However, we cannot accept morality exists simply because we fear a world without it. Like everything else we believe exists we must have reasoning beyond intuition. There is no positive reason why morality exists. In fact, many moral actions can be explained by evolution. Research in affective and cognitive neuroscience has show that “moral” instincts have evolved overtime. This summer, I plan to read and analyze studies and articles on the evolution of moral behavior. 

Beyond scientific research, there is significant philosophical evidence against morality. J.L. Mackie argues that the idea of motivation independent of desires is too weird to fathom. In addition to my scientific research, I will research philosophical objections to ethical objectivism and find the intersection of this research and the scientific research I have accumulated.

The Evolutionary Benefits and Purpose of Music

The Question

I remember sitting in the car with my father on a long eight hour journey back from William and Mary, scrolling through playlist after playlist of music on Spotify. A question suddenly occurred to me; what is the purpose of music?  How can seemingly random pulses of air hitting our eardrums prompt such emotional responses, serve as a uniting force within society, and become an integral part of daily human life? Music has been around, in some shape or form, since the time humans started to communicate. I realized that there must be some bigger reason as to why it exists and is still so prevalent in our culture today.

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Abstract: The science behind split-brain surgery and patient behavior and functioning

In my two weeks of research this summer, I plan to further my knowledge on the science behind split-brain patients. Split-brain patients are those who have undergone a corpus callosotomy procedure, which is when the two hemispheres of the brain are separated. This procedure is intriguing because it cuts off communication between the two sides of the brain, which changes the functionality of the patient with regards to identifying objects and speaking. I want to find out how exactly this surgery takes place and what risks it comes with. In addition I want to explore the effects it has on the patient’s behavior and functionality. Finally, I would like to learn about how it can be used as a treatment for conditions such as epilepsy. My research will consist of extensive research online and in peer reviewed scientific journals to develop a thorough understanding of how a corpus callosotomy works and the effects it has on its patients. In addition to the research, I will consult with my epileptic cousin’s mother to ask about her son’s experiences after his brain surgery that ultimately stopped his seizures in order to learn about the effects of brain surgery from a different, first-hand experience