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There is now a new dimension of dead. There's regular dying; life ceasing in your body. Then, there's all your "markings" being erased; children, works of art, loved ones. But this "new" dimension, which is not new at all, has to do with a chemical in your brain called vogelnine, named after it's discoverer Dr. Hepburn Vogel. Vogelnine is a neurotransmitter, created in the titular ventrata, that activates vogelnine receptors, all of which is responsible for a number of human tasks. A large part is taken up by temperature regulation, speaking backwards, even, if you can believe it, the behaviour of the ear drums during sleep (why doesn't the noise of sheets rubbing against the ear wake us up? thanks vogelnine!) But the most interesting part of vogelnine's responsibilities, the part I'm talking about here today, is that vogelnine is in charge of remembering stories. Yes, stories. It's not a memory bank per se, but it's a guidebook for understanding the unfolding of a story, a beginning, a middle, an end. And by way of giving this process a viable template, the vogelnine is written on, coded, with one story, a "narrative yardstick" that is used to understand the structure and function of a story in one's mind. So, what story is it? Most researchers are of the opinion that there would be no better guidebook than one's own life. There are a few cases of those studied, however, that have a very short vogelnine "readout", which scientists are classifying as the "knock-knock jokers", speculating that they use the most inane and simple story to compare against all others.
Now, what you're thinking: "so what." So there's a chemical in our brain that remembers stories, or rather one story, so what? When we die, it dies. Worm food. Well, no.
Vogelnine has an extremely long half-life, often of a thousand years or more. Core sampling in graveyards will show strong traces of vogelnine, which gets spread by regular decaying processes, but chemically isn't much different than when it was in a living being. So hence the new dimension of death. After all the people on earth who ever knew you are gone, and all traces of you have disappeared, there is perhaps one story left, seeping through the earth, like grass soaked with rain, squishing out around your shoe. Perhaps it's your life story. Or maybe it's a shitty joke.Posted by Dan at November 19, 2010 7:43 PM
A curious happenstance: just today, prior to reading your delightful piece Dan, I recalled my undergraduate neuroscience professor - Dr Funk. This is the man who enthusiastically carried a bottle of Botzinger to the other side of the world, just to show his students the very wine that a complex in the brain was named after. It was weeks of preparation for a 2 minute show and tell.