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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
Reception Celebrating the Premiere of the PBS Series,
"The Secret Life of the Brain"
Washington, D.C.

January 24, 2002

Greetings to everyone. It's a pleasure to celebrate the inauguration of "The Secret Life of the Brain," a series that is the product of a very successful public-private partnership. The National Science Foundation is delighted to have joined with WNET, Medtronic and the other funders to offer this extraordinary series on the dazzling new insights into the human brain.

On this occasion I recall a remark by author Lyall Watson: "If the brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn't." I think we may be learning that we're not as simple as we might have thought.

The National Science Foundation is truly proud of helping to support this series, as well as many others on science and engineering, as part of our mission to promote science and technical literacy. Increasingly in today's society, we need scientific information, thinking skills, and an understanding of possible implications of current research in order to make critical choices in our individual lives. This is especially the case in making medical and health decisions.

As part of this project, NSF has also supported the creation of educational materials and activities, which science centers and schools will use to expand upon the concepts conveyed by the series.

We believe that scientific literacy so often begins with a spark of excitement, which can be kindled in childhood or even as an adult. Series like this one strike such sparks.

Few fields have blazed a trail of such startling insights in the past decade or so as has neuroscience. As the project notes, brain research is unique in that the observer is also the observed. All of this new knowledge rests upon a fabric of insight derived from basic research in chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology, among other disciplines.

But it is the ability of our brains to change throughout our lives and to adapt to new circumstances, even to compensate for a stroke, for example, that is the most striking concept conveyed by the series. What hope is embodied in the concept of being able to choose how to live--and in how creative and energetic choices can help us to live more vitally as we age.

The American Poet Laureate, Stanley Kunitz, is part of the "The Secret Life of the Brain" series. He is in his mid-nineties, and still writes poems with a sparkling effervescence. The words of his poem "Change" seem to embody intuitively some of the insights that neuroscience is just beginning to reveal to us. The poem speaks of man as "neither here nor there," but, instead, as "Becoming, never being, till becoming is a being still."

Every person who watches this series will surely be astonished at the revolutionary frontier we are pushing back inside our very selves, as we look back, gaze forward, and exist in the moment--all at the same time. My warm congratulations to all who produced "The Secret Life of the Brain."



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