Neurological Disorders, Pain, Philosophy, Relationships, Spinal Cord Injury, Wisdom, Writing

A Simple Word on Complexity

I have thought a lot about my approach to science. Simply, I’ve tried to have the mindset that underneath all the complexity we see in the biological world, especially in the field of neuroscience, there is simplicity.

Yes.

I believe the physical mechanics that govern how the World operates do seem to follow a simple set of rules. Simple rules layered upon each other, like an onion, creates the complexity in the world.

Legos are an example of how simple parts can create complex objects. Each Lego block is a simple shape. But when put together into a structure, Legos can form almost any shape and design.

SCI is complex

As a scientific researcher, (at first) we only see the complexity.

The spinal cord has many parts, which all work together in unison. After a spinal cord injury (SCI), many things go wrong. Suffice it to say, SCI often leads to a multitude of medical complications. For example, a person with SCI isn’t just paralyzed, they oftentimes experience chronic pain.

SCI is associated with a spectrum of neurological disorders.

It is my job to determine the underlying parts, the simple truths as it were, that underlie the complex problems associated with SCI. As a basic science researcher, we do this by reducing, simplifying.

Simplify. Through experimental design, we simplify the disease into its basic molecular, cellular, or other biological parts. Then, we perform experiments over and over, trying to reproduce the conditions or events we expect to see.

What next?

I take this simple information and share it with the world by publishing a report (usually in academic journals). That way, my small amount of data is added to the greater pool. Eventually, this will show us the big picture that will allow us to identify the pieces that have gone wrong after injury or disease.

The neat part is that along the way, each scientist, including myself have the opportunity to try and describe that complex picture (like guessing the phrase in a Wheel of Fortune game). So while the collective research community gains information that will help determine the core problems of SCI, which will lead to a cure; right now, through a process of simplification we can also discover the complexity underlying SCI (and related issues) and find ways to improve clinical treatments, immediately.

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