Connect with us

Tech

Understanding the mind

Published

on

Understanding the mind


Nathan McGee knows a thing or two about having his mind bent. After suffering from PTSD since early childhood, he enrolled in a clinical trial in his 40s to test whether the psychedelic drug MDMA could help him. The result was nothing short of transformative. “I’m seeing life as a thing to be explored and appreciated rather than something to be endured,” he told Charlotte Jee in an intimate interview about his experience. 

Similarly, for those of us experiencing pandemic fatigue, Dana Smith has some good news: our brains definitely took a hit as we social-distanced and Zoomed ourselves into oblivion, but they’re also really, really good at bouncing back. Your pandemic brain will heal; just give it time.

Messing with our heads can also be fun, as Neel Patel tells us. He writes about a talent he developed as a teenager: lucid dreaming. The science behind it is still being worked out, but it’s proving useful for helping people unlock their creativity and deal with fears and traumatic memories.

It is perhaps in dreams where the power of our minds to hold sway over what we believe is “real” is most clearly on display. In a roundup of three fascinating new books on human perception, writer Matthew Hutson quotes one author: “You could even say that we’re all hallucinating all the time. It’s just that when we agree about our hallucinations, that’s what we call reality.”

There’s still the question of what it means to be conscious. For a long time, we humans clung to the idea that we were the only conscious animals. It’s one of several misunderstandings about brains that David Robson and David Biskup put the lie to in comic-strip form. Not only is consciousness hard to define, but it has been extremely difficult to measure. Yet there is now a consciousness meter to detect it in people, as Russ Juskalian finds out. 

Consciousness in silicon form is on Will Douglas Heaven’s brain these days; he ponders whether we’d know it if we managed to build a conscious machine. Dan Falk asks researchers whether they think a brain is a computer in the first place. And Emily Mullin takes a look at two multibillion-dollar efforts to study the human brain in unprecedented detail—one of which involved trying to simulate one from scratch.

No issue on the mind would be complete without a chance to gaze upon the gray matter itself, and there are brains aplenty in our haunting photo essay documenting a library of malformed specimens. If that’s too much, zoom in on our infographic that depicts what happens in Tate Ryan-Mosley’s brain when she sees her boyfriend’s face. And finally, we’ve included a rare treat indeed: a selection of poetry curated by our news editor, Niall Firth. It’s guaranteed to jangle your neurons into a new way of viewing this thing we call “reality.”

Tech

Donald ’67, SM ’69, and Glenda Mattes

Published

on

Donald ’67, SM ’69, and Glenda Mattes


Don Mattes started giving to the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT before he himself was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Since his death in 2020, his wife, Glenda, has carried forward Don’s passion for its work. “My wish is that no one ever has to go through the horrors of Alzheimer’s disease ever again,” Glenda says. The Matteses have also supported the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

Legacy sparks hope. An early key employee of Andover Controls who later ran the company’s European operations, Don visited six continents with Glenda during their 30-year marriage—often to ski or bicycle. “Don’s was a life well lived, just too short,” Glenda says. The couple made provisions in their estate plan to support the Picower Institute. After Don died, Glenda made a gift to MIT of real estate that established both endowed and current-use funds there to support research on Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Glenda is a cancer survivor, and the gift also endowed a fund in the couple’s name at the Koch Institute.

Great discoveries being made at MIT: “Don always said the best thing he got from MIT was being taught how to think,” Glenda says. “MIT is an amazing place. Picower Institute director Li-Huei Tsai and her team are doing more than looking for a treatment for Alzheimer’s. They’re looking for the root cause of the disease. I am also fascinated with the Koch’s melding of engineering and biology. The chances they are going to solve the cancer issue someday are very high.” 

Help MIT build a better world.
For more information, contact Amy Goldman: (617) 253-4082;  goldmana@mit.edu. Or visit giving.mit.edu/planned-giving.

Continue Reading

Tech

Investing in women pays off

Published

on

Investing in women pays off


“Starting a business is a privilege,” says Burton O’Toole, who worked at various startups before launching and later selling AdMass, her own marketing technology company. The company gave her access to the HearstLab program in 2016, but she soon discovered that she preferred the investment aspect and became a vice president at HearstLab a year later. “To empower some of the smartest women to do what they love is great,” she says. But in addition to rooting for women, Burton O’Toole loves the work because it’s a great market opportunity. 

“Research shows female-led teams see two and a half times higher returns compared to male-led teams,” she says, adding that women and people of color tend to build more diverse teams and therefore benefit from varied viewpoints and perspectives. She also explains that companies with women on their founding teams are likely to get acquired or go public sooner. “Despite results like this, just 2.3% of venture capital funding goes to teams founded by women. It’s still amazing to me that more investors aren’t taking this data more seriously,” she says. 

Burton O’Toole—who earned a BS from Duke in 2007 before getting an MS and PhD from MIT, all in mechanical engineering—has been a “data nerd” since she can remember. In high school she wanted to become an actuary. “Ten years ago, I never could have imagined this work; I like the idea of doing something in 10 more years I couldn’t imagine now,” she says. 

When starting a business, Burton O’Toole says, “women tend to want all their ducks in a row before they act. They say, ‘I’ll do it when I get this promotion, have enough money, finish this project.’ But there’s only one good way. Make the jump.”

Continue Reading

Tech

Preparing for disasters, before it’s too late

Published

on

Preparing for disasters, before it’s too late


All too often, the work of developing global disaster and climate resiliency happens when disaster—such as a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami—has already ravaged entire cities and torn communities apart. But Elizabeth Petheo, MBA ’14, says that recently her work has been focused on preparedness. 

It’s hard to get attention for preparedness efforts, explains Petheo, a principal at Miyamoto International, an engineering and disaster risk reduction consulting firm. “You can always get a lot of attention when there’s a disaster event, but at that point it’s too late,” she adds. 

Petheo leads the firm’s projects and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region and advises globally on international development and humanitarian assistance. She also works on preparedness in the Asia-Pacific region with the United States Agency for International Development. 

“We’re doing programming on the engagement of the private sector in disaster risk management in Indonesia, which is a very disaster-prone country,” she says. “Smaller and medium-sized businesses are important contributors to job creation and economic development. When they go down, the impact on lives, livelihoods, and the community’s ability to respond and recover effectively is extreme. We work to strengthen their own understanding of their risk and that of their surrounding community, lead them through an action-planning process to build resilience, and link that with larger policy initiatives at the national level.”

Petheo came to MIT with international leadership experience, having managed high-profile global development and risk mitigation initiatives at the World Bank in Washington, DC, as well as with US government agencies and international organizations leading major global humanitarian responses and teams in Sri Lanka and Haiti. But she says her time at Sloan helped her become prepared for this next phase in her career. “Sloan was the experience that put all the pieces together,” she says.

Petheo has maintained strong connections with MIT. In 2018, she received the Margaret L.A. MacVicar ’65, ScD ’67, Award in recognition of her role starting and leading the MIT Sloan Club in Washington, DC, and her work as an inaugural member of the Graduate Alumni Council (GAC). She is also a member of the Friends of the MIT Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center.

“I believe deeply in the power and impact of the Institute’s work and people,” she says. “The moment I graduated, my thought process was, ‘How can I give back, and how can I continue to strengthen the experience of those who will come after me?’”

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2021 Seminole Press.