Tzu Chi University invited Professor Timothy Joseph Lane of Taipei Medical University to give a lecture. The program started with University President Ingrid Liu’s introduction of Professor Lane. Professor Lane has been devoted to mind, brain and consciousness research for years. He is the director of Taipei Medical University’s Brain and Consciousness Research Center. He is also deputy director of the Neuroscience Research Center, and professor of the Institute of Mind, Brain, and Consciousness.
Professor Lane won the Outstanding Research Award, bestowed by the National Science Council in 2011, and the Excellence in Teaching Award given by Taipei Medical University in 2018. His research and teaching endeavors have been highly regarded. Professor Lane’s presentation was entitled “The Neuroscience of Self and Consciousness”. He is very fluent in Chinese, so he gave his presentation in both Chinese and English, with humorous metaphors often appearing in his talk. Professor Lane shared a famous American horror movie “The Exorcist,” which is about a little girl who is suspected of being possessed by a demon. This film was based on a novel published in 1972, and it was adapted from Father William Bolton’s personal experience of exorcising a boy. At that time, people knew very little about the brain, so cases of such abnormal pathological symptoms were regarded as demonic possessions.
The brain and consciousness have gradually become mainstream in the field of neuroscience. Now scientists can use sophisticated methods such as electroencephalography (EEG), MRI, fMRI, PET, etc., to transform various brain images into information that is useful for medical purposes. Professor Lane is often the subject himself. Professor Lane’s research team found that we are less conscious when we are in deep sleep, and in this situation, we are quite different from when we are awake and our brain is active. The team plans to carry out various studies, such as self-awareness, sleeping pills, and the brain responses of those with post-coma unresponsiveness. In the future, research on the brain and consciousness will employ more precision instruments, and this approach will be more likely be applied to the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases, the effects of anesthetics on brain consciousness, etc. People will use this approach in many more medical applications.
After his presentation, Professor Lane held a discussion session with our faculty members in the humanities and social science fields. He shared many practical issues in our healthcare system, with his experience from working with local hospitals, and had extensive conversations with them. Professor Lane indicated that some post-coma unresponsiveness patients still have consciousness, and some don’t. There are also differences in the level of consciousness. With regard to identifying the level of consciousness, we are still unable to identify at least 40% of the cases. Maybe this is an opportunity for faculty members in the humanities and social sciences to work with professionals in medicine on the subtle consciousness that can’t be identified by a natural scientific approach.
Professor Lane was accompanied by Humanities Office team leader Kusnanto and Dr. Fang-Ying Chiu to tour Jing Si Hall and Tzu Chi University. While visiting the University’s campus, Kusnanto told Professor Lane that the University requires faculty members, staff and students to wear school uniforms, hoping that they don’t need to care about what they wear and compare themselves to each other regarding what they wear, so that they can concentrate on their work or study. Furthermore, students can learn how to dress neatly and gracefully. Professor Lane responded that many schools in the United States also ask their students to wear school uniforms, and their belief is that wearing uniforms won’t create any gaps between the rich and the poor.
When he came to the Medical Simulation Center, Professor Lane expressed amazement. Most medical schools in the United States place their anatomy classrooms in dark, remote corners, but Tzu Chi University puts its classroom on the second floor, which is bright and filled with hope. Moreover, the University guides its students to pay respect, express gratitude, and learn from the cadavers whom the students call Silent Mentors.
“Tzu Chi is a good place!” On the way to Jing Si Hall, Professor Lane saw many statues showing how Tzu Chi volunteers look after those in need. In his opinion, it’s right for the University to invite students to work with Tzu Chi volunteers in serving the needy. He believes that our elderly persons and patients need more loving care. If healthcare professionals can attend to the needs of patients, while they are still students, then they will more likely do a far better job taking care of their patients with gentleness and empathy, after they become professionals.