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Beyond the Brain On Assignment

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Beyond the Brain
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

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Photo captions by
Michael Klesius

Beyond the Brain @ National Geographic Magazine
By James ShreevePhotographs by Cary Wolinsky

What goes on within the human skull is more complex and fantastic than anyone imagined. Now science is delving deeper into what we know of the mind.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Corina Alamillo is lying on her right side in an operating room in the UCLA Medical Center. There is a pillow tucked beneath her cheek and a steel scaffold screwed into her forehead to keep her head perfectly still. A medical assistant in her late 20s, she has dark brown eyes, full eyebrows, and a round, open face.
On the other side of a tent of sterile blue paper, two surgeons are hard at work on a saucer-size portion of Corina's brain, which gleams like mother-of-pearl and pulsates gently to the rhythm of her heartbeat. On the brain's surface a filigree of arteries feeds blood to the region under the surgeons' urgent scrutiny: a part of her left frontal lobe critical to the production of spoken language. Nearby, the dark, dull edge of a tumor threatens like an approaching squall. The surgeons need to remove the tumor without taking away Corina's ability to speak along with it. To do that, they need her to be conscious and responsive through the beginning of the operation process. They anesthetized her to remove a piece of her scalp and skull and fold back a protective membrane underneath. Now they can touch her brain, which has no pain receptors.
"Wake up, sweetie," says another doctor, sitting in a chair under the paper tent with Corina. "Everything is going fine. Can you say something for me?" Corina's lips move as she tries to answer through the clearing fog of anesthesia.
"Hi," she whispers.
The deep red hue of Corina's tumor is plain to see, even to a layperson leaning over the surgeon's shoulder. So is the surrounding tissue of her brain, a three-pound (one-kilogram), helmet-shaped bolus of fat and protein, wrinkled like a cleaning sponge and with a consistency of curdled milk.
Corina's brain is the most beautiful object that exists, even more beautiful than Corina herself, for it allows her to perceive beauty, have a self, and know about existence in the first place. But how does mere matter like this make a mind? How does this mound of meat bring into being her comprehension of the doctor's question, and her ability to respond to it? Through what sublime process does electrochemical energy become her hope that the operation will go well, or her fear for her two children if it should not? How does it bring into being her memory of clutching tight to her mother's hand in the hospital room half an hour ago—or 20 years before in a store parking lot? These are hardly new questions. In the past few years, however, powerful new techniques for visualizing the sources of thought, emotion, and behavior are revolutionizing the way we understand the nature of the brain and the mind it creates.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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In Your Face - Survey 2005
Do your part for science by taking a 15-minute survey on how we communicate with facial expressions.

Online Extra
Enter the mind of Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay, a teenager whose boyhood writings broke the silence of his autism.

Watch photographer Cary Wolinsky set up a photo shoot of an infant cradled in the coils of a python. It's chilling.

Do you believe in mind over matter? What incidents have you actually witnessed or experienced?

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
After undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor January 2004, Corina Alamillo is doing well. The surgery successfully removed all of the tumor without any injury to surrounding brain tissue. For six weeks after the surgery, she received radiation treatments and she received chemotherapy for one year.
Despite facing the daunting experience of having brain surgery, Corina agreed to be a part of the brain-imaging study, placing more people in her operating room. "I participated in the brain-imaging study for future advancement in brain surgery," explains Corina. And on top of all those extra people, Corina also allowed a National Geographic photographer and writer observe and photograph her surgery. "I didn't mind having the photographer in the surgery room," says Corina. "I was kind of curious to see what my brain looked like."
Having completed her surgery and treatment, Corina is looking forward to spending more time with her family, friends, and children.

Marisa Larson
Did You Know?

Related Links
PBS: The Secret Life of the Brain
This website accompanies a five-part PBS special about brain development through a lifetime. It introduces readers to new information in brain science, the history of neuroscience, and examples of brain-imaging techniques.
National Austistic Society
The National Autistic Society champions the rights and interests of all people with autism and to ensure that they and their families receive quality services appropriate to their needs. (This organization assists Tito Mukhopadhyay, who is mentioned in our article.) The site includes information about autism and Asperger syndrome, a milder form of autism.
Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, UCLA
LONI strives to improve our understanding of the brain in health and disease. Explore the different types of research being done at LONI and view some images of the brain.


Ackerman, Diane. An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain. Scribner,
Mukhopadhyay, Tito Rajarshi. The Mind Tree. Arcade Publishing, 2003.
Restak, Richard. Mysteries of the Mind. National Geographic Books, 2000.
Restak, Richard. The Secret Life of the Brain. Joseph Henry Press, 2001.
Zimmer, Carl. Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain—and How It Changed the
World. Free Press, 2004.


NGS Resources
Jerome, Kate Boehm. Understanding the Brain. National Geographic Books, 2003.
Restak, Richard. Mysteries of the Mind. National Geographic Books, 2000.
Newman, Aline Alexander. "Rebuilding the Body." National Geographic World
(February 2000), 9-13.
Nuland, Sherwin, and others. Incredible Voyage: Exploring the Human Body. National
Geographic Books, 1998.
Weiss, Rick. "Aging—New Answers to Old Questions." National Geographic
(November 1997), 2-31.
Swerdlow, Joel L. "Quiet Miracles of the Brain." National Geographic (June 1995), 2-41.


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