A physics mentality isn't easy to live with in biomedicine, let alone psychiatry, but it is extremely interesting and creative. One of the fields that make a link between the two is that of nonlinear - complex systems. Different subfields of this have had their time in the limelight in the last 20 years, so I'll lump them all together and call them nonlinear dynamics. The person who influenced me most in this field is Prof. Walter Freeman, of UC Berkeley. His experimentally-derived mathematical description of collective dynamics of the olfactory system is just so profound.
My long-term interest is, of course, to help bring this background (unification of different fields; mathematical description; experimental disprovability; computer modelling; theoretical elegance; philosophical enquiry) to psychiatry. I have made some interesting steps looking at computer modelling of some aspects of attention. I was lucky to have the support of Martin Orrell and Robin Morris in applying this work to the question of executive dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease.
There is evidence to suggest that attention-demanding tasks involve coordination of neuroactivity between cortical areas . It may be that Alzheimer's disease causes executive dysfunction partly through functional dysconnection of cortical modules.
What appears really fascinating is the probable role of transitions between different, relatively coherent states of neuroactivity as one's mental state evolves. Its is not unlikely that aspects of mental (micro-)states (especially percepts: certainly sensory ones, but possibly also phenomenal 'frames' more generally) emerge as semi-attracting sets for neuroactivity trajectories. As far as psychiatry is concerned, 'psychopathology' has often been described in terms of a succession of mental states. Classic examples are the 'vicious cycles' of emotion-cognition in the cognitive-behavioural formulation of depression or the 'delusional atmosphere giving rise to a delusional percept' of descriptive psychopathology. It is extremely tempting to see such phenomena in dynamical terms: Trajectories of neuroactivity, a set of fast variables, flow from one phase space configuration to another in transitions of the order of a second. Transitions are trajectories in a landscape shaped by slow variables (e.g. neurally-implemented emotion or arousal : minutes-hours) or very slow variables (e.g. neurally-implemented temperament, childhood experience, Alzheimer's disease). Such a view renders obsolete, of course, distinctions between nurture/nature or understandable/ununderstandable by providing a unifying framework. The challenge here would be to find out how, for example, 'slow' variables associated with depression are neurally implemented so as to direct transitions in particular ways (e.g. 'they rejected my paper'-> 'I'm an irrelevancy' -> 'I'll never get anywhere' -> 'I could just as well be dead' -> ... ).
There are some people that as well as being admirable scientists they have also been kind and helpful to me; some scientists that I have great affection for. These Arun Holden (Nonlinear dynamics, Leeds), Max Lab (Heart Physiology, London), Walter Freeman (Neuroscience, Philosophy ... see above !) David Frost (Psychiatry, Complex systems, Film; London) and Martin Orrell (Psychiatry, London). I am grateful to them all. However the people that first taught me to love science were Messrs Papachristou, Aggeletos, Michalas, Telionis and Charalambis, all of Athens College.
Executive Control of attention in Alzheimer's Disease - a modelling
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