Of Neurons & Handling Stress

or “On the Operation & Maintenance of Eggdicators”


“It’s an educated eggdicator”

Brains are hard, man. It is a basic fact of nature. They are complex and we don’t understand the complexity, but at the core they are a bunch of fairly simple cellular machines. I am certainly not an expert of neuroscience, but in general, I think of neurons basically like… let’s say the “egg-dicators” in the golden goose room in the classic Willy Wonka (… at least if there were several geese per platform):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JASsbo7fvc4

Sense receptors — or neurons further up the chain — are the geese.

Neurotransmitters are the eggs: some are good (inhibitory), some are bad (excitatory).

They fall down the levers (dendrites) to the platform (cell body), and the balance of good or bad eggs determines what happens next.

If the balance is good, pretty much nothing happens — maybe some oompa-loompas will come and collect them, but that’s not really part of my analogy.

If the balance of eggs are bad, the doors open (action potential) and the egg (neurotransmitter) falls down the garbage chute (synapse) to areas unknown — perhaps the furnace (muscles? glands?), or perhaps more rooms with more eggdicators for further sorting.

Except not all the eggs are gold —or chocolate — some are of different metals, some are different delicacies, some are probably not even edible, but anyway — they are basically good or bad.


“They’re laying overtime right now for Easter”

So let’s talk about stress. There are many ways to describe stress, but to a first order, we can imagine stress as Easter season and stress reaction as the geese laying more eggs. (Perhaps we have to assume the eggs are now both neurotransmitters and hormones, but lots of molecules act as both anyway, so let’s go with it).

https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend

Now, I have never worked in a chocolate factory, so I cannot speak with immense authority on the proper operation of eggdicators, but I would imagine that in the run up to Easter season—as the Oompa-Loompas contemplate whether this is finally the Lent to try giving up singing— it is important to call in a mechanic to check and adjust the tuning of the decision making apparatus. It just seems like with more eggs, you run a pretty big risk of false negatives and trashing perfectly good eggs.

If my intuition is correct, then its probably regrettable how cavalier most aspiring Wonkas are with the preventative maintenance manuals. But it’s also probably better late then never. (For more to this point I embedded a video going around — by Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford lecturer in Eggdicator Logistics; I’ll probably have more to say about such preventative maintenance in the future)


“But Easter’s over!!!”

There are some changing thoughts about the OSHA and FDA-approved rates of golden egg throughput in the Easter season, but a certain violation— one that has been leveled at Mr. Wonka— is misleading geese about the date (more complicated is the whole argument about Orthodox Easter and Passover seasons).

To translate, stress might be useful, but chronic stress is definitely still bad.

(There are probably more places this piece could go, but at ~an hour I am calling it good enough for now. Sorry about the lack of real conclusion)