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Photo Courtesy of davemalloy.com

Fresh off starring in his other musical, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy, Brittain Ashford, and Gelsey Bell are currently performing in Malloy’s show Ghost Quartet. Performing with them is  Brent Arnold, who was not part of the Great Comet cast, but is just as talented.

The show, currently being performed at Next Door at NYTW is in an intimate space that brings all of the audience close to the chilling performance. In the performance I attended, Ben Stiller was sitting right behind me, reminding me once again of the wide range of people you will see while exploring New York City. The show is centered around a “haunted song cycle about love, death and whisky.” Indeed, during one of the songs, everyone in the audience is handed an actual shot of whisky to drink with the cast. As a result, many of the performances are 21+ (a few shows have specifically been allocated to be for all ages). Throughout the performance, the audience is transported across multiple centuries and characters and, at times, plunged into complete darkness as Malloy’s gorgeous, yet eery songs emanate throughout the small theater.  

As the show rushes towards an unknown ending, the audience is asked to participate by directly supplying the music for the show. While there are multiple articles online that go into much more depth about the plot, I definitely recommend going into the show having not listened to the songs or knowing the plot. With such an intimate setting, the experience when seen fresh is absolutely one not to miss.

While tickets to Ghost Quartet’s initial run are sold out, the run is being extended today, October 11, to include more showings, as announced by the NYTW via twitter yesterday.

As stated in their tweet, tickets will go on sale at noon here. For more information about the show, you can also check out the NYTW website here.

As the Columbia University College Republicans prepare to host Tommy Robinson, a speaker known for his inflammatory remarks for a talk about “Europe and mass immigration,” Professor Goldberg, the head of University Life, has emailed students explaining the University’s rationale for allowing speakers such as Robinson.

The full email can be found below:

Dear Students,

There is much in the news about contentious speakers on campuses around the country, including our own. And while some students welcome these debates, others raise serious concerns about the negative impact of white supremacists and others who express hostile and derogatory views on race, religion and gender. These kinds of messages, as you know, contradict Columbia’s core commitment to the value of all members of our community and to diversity among our students, faculty and staff, as President Bollinger has often made clear.

Against this backdrop, here’s an abbreviated explanation of why the University allows student organizations to invite speakers whose views conflict so directly with our institutional values:  It is foundational to Columbia’s learning and teaching missions that we allow for the contestation of ideas. This includes expression of ideas that are deeply unpopular, offensive to many in our community, contrary to research-based understandings, and antagonistic to University tenets.

Without this policy, the University would be in a position of deciding which views our community should hear and which it should not. Perhaps needless to say, there is often not consensus about when speakers cross the line into being impermissible. Having University officials decide which ideas outside speakers can express on campus also poses serious risks to academic freedom.

Still, when white supremacist, anti-Muslim and similar speakers come to campus, Columbia has an important responsibility to make clear our values:  that we reject those views and maintain our commitment to fostering a vibrant community founded on the fundamental dignity and worth of all of our members, as our nondiscrimination statement provides. We also support research, teaching and other opportunities for community members and the public to learn more about the deep flaws in these speakers’ views. And our Rules of University Conduct, while protecting these speakers’ right to speak without disruption, also strongly protect protesters in expressing their views.

In the coming weeks, you will have opportunities to participate in campus conversations and also learn more about these issues, including at Awakening Our Democracy: Free Speech on Campus on November 1 (register here). If you have additional ideas for how we might strengthen our efforts to reject the messages of these speakers, short of barring student organizations from inviting them to campus, I welcome your sharing them.

Yours truly,

Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg
Executive Vice President for University Life
Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law

In addition to tonight’s talk, several students groups are hosting alternate events from Columbia University Democrats to various direct protests of the event.

For some students, today is the last day to drop a class without it appearing on your transcript. Still on the fence about whether to drop a class or two? Here’s some tips we’ve compiled from current upperclassmen about when to drop a course.

Your entire grade is the midterm and final. This is a recipe for disaster. We all think we’re going to study a week in advance and be super duper prepared for the exams, but everyone procrastinates. You’ll wait until the night before and all of a sudden realize half your grade’s on the line, and since there was no homework, you actually know nothing – seriously, don’t do this to yourself. Leave while you still can.

You have no friends who are taking the class. This is more of a gray area – you can either decide to make new friends (the horror!) or drop the class. There will come a time, usually around midnight the night before the first homework assignment is due, when you will sorely regret not having anyone to go to. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when – do yourself a favor and see what else is there.

 Your professor hasn’t cracked a joke in the first lecture. I’m not saying all professors have to be stand-up comedians all semester, but a professor that isn’t remotely interesting is going to make it very hard to go to lectures. If your professor hasn’t predicted attendance is going to nosedive, or told a joke at his/her expense, it’s only going to go downhill from there. Unless it’s a graduation requirement that you have to take this semester, leave.

Caveat: sometimes professors will try to lure you in with crafty jokes the first lecture, then head straight for Boresville – by this point in the semester, you should know if the class is all it’s cracked up to be.

Your professor interrupts him/herself mid-sentence. Anyone giving off the air of being senile or perhaps not quite all there should definitely be reconsidered. Disorganized lectures are the bane of any college student’s existence, resulting in notes that are half-finished and moving on to a random tangent. If you can’t follow the professor because they’re not speaking in fluid and/or full sentences, you’re pretty much doomed.

Addendum to the above: your professor speaks broken English/has an unintelligible accent. It’s not that we’re trying to be mean. Sometimes it’s genuinely impossible to understand the professor. Pull the ripcord on that one – it’s not going anywhere good.

Illustration by Laura Elizabeth Hand, CC’19

 

I’ve spent a lot of time in this column so far talking about studies carried out in humans, usually using techniques like fMRI, EEG, or PET scans. However, a lot of neuroscience research, my own included, happens in what we call ‘model organisms’, one of the most common being the humble mouse. In conversations about my research, I’ve frequently gotten a variant of this question: “Why are you working on mouse brains if you want to understand how humans work?”

Since  I’ll be covering research done in lots of non-human species this semester, I wanted to take a column to talk about why I believe it is necessary to use animals in neuroscience research, and what they can tell us about the brain that human studies cannot.

Basically, it comes down to two things: in mice you can investigate the brain more directly at a much smaller scale, and you have much more causal control over the conditions of your experiments. First, let’s talk about the matter of scale.

In humans, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, was a massive breakthrough in neuroscience. To this day, it is considered the highest degree of spatial resolution possible to monitor real-time neural activity in living humans, except for the rare electrodes allowed by a neurosurgery patient. In humans, fMRI is as far as you can ‘zoom in’ on the behaving brain.

However, like with any technique, there are downsides to fMRI. While most popular science articles call fMRI results ‘neural activity,’ fMRI is actually measuring the amount of oxygen that the blood in your brain is using, which serves as a proxy for neural activity. In other words, the assumption is that the more oxygenated blood a brain region is going through, the more neurons are firing in that region.

The other huge issue with fMRI is scale. An fMRI scan is like a 3D video, and just like a movie has pixels, there’s the smallest possible unit of detection in fMRI – the voxel. Its name comes from a combination of the words ‘volume’ and ‘pixel,’and it essentially is a pixel, just in three dimensions. The highest current possible resolution of a single voxel averages the oxygenation of approximately 100,000 neurons over one second, which means that the activity of 100,000 cells is reduced to a uniform greyish box on the display.

While that’s a pretty small percentage compared to the ~80 billion neurons of the brain, an fMRI still can’t tell you what specific kinds of neurons are activating, or anything about the pattern of activity below a voxel scale. So how do we understand neural circuits at a more detailed level?

That’s where mice come in. Mouse brains have most of the major features of human brains – they even have a neocortex that is structured almost identically to our own. In mice, it is much easier to observe these smaller scales, which span from from single neurons to the simultaneous observation of thousands of neurons at a time.

Mice are particularly well-suited to this task because of the immense control an experimenter can have over a given experiment. Every aspect of a lab mouse’s life is regulated from birth to death, which is impossible to control for in human studies.

Beyond behavioral control, genetic techniques enable causal manipulations at a cellular level. Thousands of mouse strains have been specially made to manipulate the expression of particular genes, optogenetic techniques enable researchers to turn on or off specific neuronal populations during behavior, and two-photon imaging paired with calcium labeling lets us observe the activity of individual neurons in real time.

These advantages of experimental control and fine-scale observations are only possible in animal models. While mice have their disadvantages too, namely that without language behavioral motivations becomes difficult to interpret, their use clearly contributes to neuroscience overall. Discoveries in mouse models help guide human researchers to better theories, better treatments, and ultimately, a better understanding of ourselves.

 

Uniquely Human is written by Heather Macomber and runs every other Monday. To submit a comment/question or a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.