Based on a true story about Dr. Oliver Sack's work in the 1960s, Penny Marshall's film Awakenings elucidates the challenges of clinical experimental psychology. Dr. Sack's fictionalized character, Dr. Malcolm Sayer had worked as a laboratory researcher until he was forced to accept a new position treating catatonic patients at a Bronx mental institution. His relative inexperience in a clinical setting could be partly to blame for his somewhat idealistic approach to treating the patients under his care. In any case, Sayer attends a conference about new treatments for Parkinson's disease. When he hears about the revolutionary drug "L-Dopa," Sayer imagines it might offer a viable treatment for the catatonic patients on his ward, whose symptoms result from their having childhood encephalitis. After applying to the hospital medical board for approval, Sayer is permitted to test the drug on one patient. In addition to the administration of L-Dopa, at first at 200 mg doses and then later at 1000 mg doses, Sayer and his staff try to interact with the patients throughout the course of their treatment. Because Sayer is convinced that somewhere underneath their sleeping exteriors rests a human soul screaming to be released, he attempts to "awaken" his subjects by playing ball with them and encouraging them to dance. The experiment using L-Dopa is portrayed in the film as being rather informally, even haphazardly carried out. While Dr. Sacks might have used more formal methods of tracking patient progress and keeping detailed notes, in the film the clinician simply administered the drug and subjectively analyzed results. Moreover, Dr. Sayer increased the dosage without consulting the hospital medical board for approval, simply because results were not forthcoming.
Sayer's decision to up the dosage without approval from the medical board is understandable but unethical. The administration needs to be…
This is how I would explain the electro-chemical interaction between neurons to a friend.
Imagine standing in a giant room with a large number of other people -- each of you are holding your arms out to either side of your body, like Leonardo Da Vinci's drawing of "Vitruvian Man." The giant room corresponds the brain and the nervous system, and you and the other people are each individual neurons. You