Low Budget Brain Research
Elizabeth Anne Viau
Charter School of Education
California State University, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California 90032-8143
Published in The Mensa Bulletin, April 1989
Many scientists and educators have an interest in the brain, but have been barred from hands-on study by the high cost and scarcity of available specimens. Fortunately, an inexpensive substitute for human brains has been uncovered, making research possible for any interested person.
Brain research has traditionally followed two paths: that of using animal surrogates, and that of using live human volunteers. Animal surrogates have been used in both physiological scientific experiments. Experiments involving surgery, especially, have often been done on rats. A comparison between rats and human beings shows the following:
Table 1. Comparisons of Humans and Rats Characteristic Humans Rats Weight (grams) 84064 290 Body Covering polyester fur Locomotion Style bipedal quadrupedal Reproductive Rate (per year) .028 56.33 Life Span (years) 70 2.5
Traditionally, the results of these studies have been accepted, despite dissimilarities between humans and rats. In the delicate field of brain research, however, a closer match of characteristics is desirable.
Psychological experiments have often been done on college sophomores. This choice, however, is not without drawbacks. Would a chemist use a dirty test tube? Would a biologist use a contaminated petri dish? Heaven forbid! Yet, when testing college sophomores, there is always the danger that the psychologist may be working with a used brain!
In order to remedy both difficulties, that of dissimilar structure, and that of prior contamination, a new class of experimental subjects is required. These subjects should be similar to human brains, inexpensive, easily obtained and stored, and absolutely virgin. Exhaustive research has determined that the organism which most closely fits these criteria is the watermelon.
Consider the similarities in Table 2:
Table 2. Comparison of Human Brains and Watermelons Characteristic Human Brains Watermelons Weight (grams) 1363.2 1363.2 Body Covering solid bone solid rind Locomotion Style must be carried must be carried Color pink pink Hemispheres two two possible Sensitivity to pain insensitive insensitive
Other striking similarities exist. The gray matter of the human brain is copied by the pale, Greg-green tissue between the pink watermelon flesh and the hard rind. The substantia nigra is also mirrored in the black watermelon "seed."
Watermelons may vary in size. Researchers can choose melons which match the weight, or volume, of a human brain, or which double, or triple, cranial capacity.
Melons can be raised in quiet fields, covered with hoods, to reduce stimulation and ensure absolute "newness." They can also be allowed to grow in boxes with transistor radios, or under bright lights, to study the effects of stimulation during development. As melons are available to the researcher from the moment of fertilization, the entire developmental sequence can be observed. Such controversial questions as, "Would the human fetus develop greater intelligence if provided with a reading lamp in utero?" can be conveniently investigated.
Watermelons develop with their hemispheres fused, so the effects of both the union and the partial separation of the hemispheres can be studied.
Watermelons have similar developmental timetable to human infants -- the brain of the fetus develops most rapidly in the last 140 days of pregnancy, while the watermelon crop can be expected 120 days from planting the seed.
Watermelons are easy to raise. Their prolific yield may afford a modest profit over the initial $0.69 investment in seed, as uncooperative melons are sold for snacks.
Watermelons are connected to a "spinal cord," or stem, making their use as artificial brains for robots, or replacement brains for animals (and eventually humans) entirely feasible. Nerves from the limbs could simply be "hooked up" to the watermelon stem.
Behavioral research on watermelons is new: Opportunities exist for researchers to become leaders in the field.
Some critics suggest that watermelons are lacking in imagination and in analytical skills, because of the unstimulating conditions in which they are grown. Researchers in the social sciences may wish to study the cognitive development of water melons under varying environmental influences. Although watermelons lack communication skills, the EEG and the CAT-scan produce objective records that can be stored and replicated.
Now that the problem of brain supply has been solved, researchers everywhere can contribute to the explosion of knowledge that is sure to follow.
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© Elizabeth Anne Viau, 1996. This material may be used freely for instructional purposes but not sold for a price beyond the cost of reproduction. Please e-mail me at email@example.com if you use this material. I'd be interested to know how it works for you!