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