chapter six

The Hologramic Deck

IN FORMAL TERMS, Punky was just a control. Indeed, in a technical paper I eventually delivered on shufflebrain at the Anatomy Meetings, he became a nameless item in a table of data, a slide on a screen, and a dependent clause of passive-voice prose. But Punky had made my structuralist partisanship vulnerable to the overwhelming case my own data had produced in support of hologramic theory. He had humbled me, Punky had. My narrow notions no longer seemed appropriate to the situation. I think I had begun to appreciate for the first time what science might be but seldom is in our day: the privilege of seeing Nature's secrets unfold, rather than an exercise in who's right and who's wrong.

Yet my ego was not anchored to hologramic theory. It was not my theory. I would remain aware of this fact at all times, as a hedge against new prejudice that might seep in and occupy the void left by removal of the old one. Yes, I believed hologramic theory, in my guts, but I believed it as I do the theory of evolution and the laws of thermodynamics: not as icon; not as an oath I couldn't disclaim if Nature should reveal something better.

Before Punky, I'd sought only to refute hologramic theory. Afterward, I began to look at the theory as a whole. And the range of its implications set my imagination on fire.

I soon began to realize how lucky I was that the salamander's feeding behavior had obeyed Lashley's dictum so well. For hologramic theory must also take into account what multiple holograms exhibit. From our imaginary experiments in chapter 4, we learned that, by shading, we can keep some codes out of certain parts of the photographic plate; we also learned that we can construct a multiple hologramic system without having every code exist in every single part; but no a priori mandate in hologramic theory rules out the possibilities multiple and asymmetric distribution in any given brain. What might I be writing now, had feeding programs been confined, say, to the salamander's left cerebral hemisphere? Equipotentiality is something we can know only after the fact.

What principles do account for the survival of feeding after shufflebrain? How can we explain the retention of the salamander's mental codes despite its scrambled neuroanatomy? There are two major explanations. The most obvious one is that various pieces of brain must have housed whole codes. Let's call this the wholeness principle. The second explanation, a much less obvious one, is that each piece of brain must have made its own independent contribution to the animal's behavior. We'll call this the independence principle. If codes had been partially represented in a piece of brain, or if pieces mutually depended on each other to construct meaningful sequences, I could never have swapped, flipped, rotated, deleted, reversed, or added parts of the brain--all parts!--without jumbling feeding behavior.

The imaginary experiments we performed earlier with transparent sheets illustrate the wholeness principle rather well. It is not difficult to appreciate that if feeding codes had been spread out like ANATOMY, my operations would have had a different meaning.

The independence principle seemed much more subtle and warranted further investigation. Besides, the independence principle predicted that I should be able to transplant new thoughts into a brain. The new codes ought become integral parts of the host's mental mix and add new features to the animal's behavior.

Punky's behavior certainly suggested the independence principle, but only indirectly. Demonstrating it required two active minds. Punky only had his donor's. But, critical to future experimentation, he did show that a salamander's behavior can display totally foreign phase codes.


Before I describe the actual experiments, let's look at the independence principle by way of another imaginary experiment. This time, instead of transparent sheets let's imagine a deck of cards. Let's begin with a conventional nonhologramic message, using a single card as a set for storing one letter. The meaning of our message--let's use DOG--depends on the relationship between our cards: where each lies in relationship to the others when the deck is at rest, or when a card turns up during the deal. If we shuffle the deck, we obviously run the risk of scrambling the meaning of our message. DOG might become GOD, for instance. Just as with our message, ANATOMY, on the transparent sheets, the message in our conventional deck is made up of inter-dependent elements.

The hologramic deck of cards is far different. Here each card contains a whole message. And if the same message is on each card, just as the same feeding message is in each part of the salamander brain, then shuffling will not alter the deal.

But each card is an independent carrier of our hologramic code. What's to stop us from slipping in cards with new codes? Certainly not the codes per se. Cards are independent. Therefore, old and new codes can coexist in the same deck without distorting each other's meanings. And nothing in the information itself would prevent us from constructing a compound hologramic deck, or mind, if hologramic theory really does work. The big "if" is the readout: What happens in reconstruction? Which independent codes activate and drive an animal's behavior?


In the bleak Michigan January of 1969, in anticipation of tests of the independence principle, I began a series of preliminary experiments to find out how well a salamander larva would tolerate the brains of guppies. I had not yet begun worrying about the behavioral side of the study--which fishy traits to look for in the hosts, in other words. My major concern was tissue rejection. How long would I have postoperatively before the salamander's immunological defenders ruined my experiments?

Under the dissection microscope, a person can actually see through the transparent tissue of the larva's dorsal fin. I decided, therefore, to place the heart of a guppy into a tunnel in the gelatinous connective tissue of the fin. The guppy's heart would continue beating for a while I was pretty sure, and I could take its pulse, visually, until rejection caused it to stop. While I was at it, and for control purposes, I also transplanted guppy flank muscle or liver to other salamanders' fins or abdominal cavities. And during one operating session, I decided to see what would happen if I actually replaced a salamander's cerebrum with that of a guppy. I called the animal in this experiment Buster.

As I said, my attention focused on the operative side of the upcoming study. I had not yet done any really hard thinking about behavior. And what Buster was about to show me was the result not of my scientific prowess but of a series of lucky accidents.

In those days, I had a light-tight inner sanctum specially built within my main laboratory. Equipped with a heavy-duty air conditioner, double doors and insulated walls, it could serve as a temperature-regulated darkroom (where I sometimes coated radioactive slides with photographic emulsions). I designed the inner sanctum to provide a cool environment, 15-16 degrees centigrade, so as to approximate the temperature of the woods at the time the species of salamanders I usually work with are young feeding larvae. This procedure seems to prevent premature metamorphosis. In addition, cool temperatures retard the growth of a troublesome fungus; and the inner sanctum turned out to be an excellent post-operative recovery room. As the animals grow a little older, they seem to tolerate higher temperatures more readily. At any rate, I always maintained my stock animals in the inner sanctum. I conducted my operations there, and it was where my stereoscopic dissecting microscope was located. The inner sanctum was too small to accommodate all my animals, and I had gotten into the practice of keeping most experimental subjects out in the main lab, where the temperature was 20-21 degrees centigrade. Because the dissecting microscope was in the small room, I took animals there if I had to inspect them under magnification. This was necessary in order to monitor pulse of transplanted guppy hearts. The temperature changes had not affected the outcome of my experiments. But as a precaution, I brought all animals of a group--controls and experimentals--into the cool room together, whether or not they had to be examined. I also made it a practice to feed the animals immediately after my daily inspection of a group, before returning them to the main lab.

Since Buster was a member of a guppy-heart group, he went into the cool room daily. He had taken surgery well, had righted himself on the following day (usual with injury confined to the cerebrum, which his was), and had fed normally from the moment he could walk. One afternoon, three weeks after Buster's operation, I had just finished taking pulses and was rinsing off some juicy-looking tubifex worms in a jet of spring water when I was startled by the building fire alarm. Now the decibel level of that siren left only two choices: go mad or immediately cover your ears with both hands and flee outdoors! I put down the tubifex and fled.

When the drill was over, it was almost quitting time. The siren had interrupted my ritual, and I had completely forgotten Buster and company, unfed in the cool inner sanctum. As a matter of fact, it was not until the following day, when I took out my liverwurst sandwich, that I remembered my hungry little pals on the other side of the bulkhead opposite my desk. I stuffed the sandwich back into the bag and went in to make amends.

As I was stacking the salamander dishes on the tray for transfer back into the main lab, I noticed that Buster had not taken his worm. This was impossible! My first thoughts were profanities against the bureaucrat who'd mashed the fire-alarm siren button. Maybe the noise had affected my animals! All the other animals had already devoured their worms. I checked the stock animals, and their appetites were fine, too. But Buster wasn't taking. Yet he was frisky enough and looked very healthy.

Now I had a suspicion. I ran into the main lab, filled two beakers with spring water from a carboy, and transferred six feisty-looking stock guppies into each beaker. One group I set beside the fish tank to fast overnight, at 20 degrees centigrade. The second group I chilled to 15 degrees centigrade by swirling the exterior of the beaker in cracked ice. When the thermometer hit the fifteen-degree mark, I transferred these guppies into the cool room and set them down next to Buster.

I allowed the guppies to acclimate for about an hour, using this time to check the feeding responses of the stock salamanders and the recipients of guppy hearts and then to wolf down my stale lunch. Finally it was time to check the chilled guppies.

I placed each guppy in a dish by itself. Then I dropped in a worm for each. The fish swam over at once (they're much quicker than salamanders) and inspected the worm. But, like Buster, the fish would not attack.


There was nothing unusual about a tropical fish refusing to eat live meat at cool temperatures. Their digestive enzymes become inefficient in the cold. Had my guppies' ancestors back in Trinidad ignored sudden drops in temperature and gone on eating worms they couldn't digest, the species would have vanished via natural selection, eons before my experiments with Buster's brains. The salamander, on the other hand, in a cool pond in early spring or late fall, can't afford to pass up a meal. General considerations notwithstanding, I held off on any conclusions, because I did not know the particulars--the details necessary to make this story ring crystal true. I decided to leave Buster and the guppies in the cool environment overnight. And I placed one fresh worm in each dish.

When I arrived the next morning, the first thing I did was check out the fasting guppies in the main lab. They went into a frenzy when I held worms above the beaker. When I released the squirming ball, it vanished almost as soon as it hit the surface of the water, as though attacked by a school of piranhas. The control fish kept at 20 degrees were hungry indeed, I noted.

Next, I went into the cool room to see what had happened there during the night. All the tubifexes in the dishes with Buster and the chilled guppies had survived. Everybody was still lively and healthy, by every criterion I could apply. But Buster and the guppies simply were not taking worms. Again, I checked feeding among the stock and the guppy-heart recipients. They attacked the worms immediately.

But wait! I wanted more data. Now came a critical test. For the next step was like back checking addition with subtraction. I transferred Buster and the guppies into the main lab, placed them in fresh water--20.4 degrees centigrade--from a carboy there, gave each a fresh worm, set the entire bunch on my desk, recorded the time in my notebook, and then sat down to watch.

Sixty-one minutes from the time I changed his water, Buster devoured his worm. It took 101 minutes for a guppy to make the first nibble; by 111 minutes, not a worm was left in any of the experimental bowls. Warming the water had revived their chilled appetites.

But like a crapshooter on a hot streak, I just couldn't stop. I added to the experiment some salamanders with guppy flank muscle transplanted to their abdominal cavities. I added some new guppies. And I transferred the group back to the cool room, where I fasted them for forty-eight hours before adding worms. When testing time came, all the control salamanders ate their worms. But Buster and the guppies did not. I decided to allow the trial to run an additional twenty-four hours, leaving Buster and the guppies each with a worm. Still they failed to take the prey. When I repeated the warming phase of the experiment, Buster went after his worm in 58 minutes and the guppies averaged an hour and a half.

I set up an entire series of guppy-to-salamander cerebral transplants to answer a number of subsidiary questions about what I was now calling "temperature-dependent feeding behavior." How often would it occur? About 70 percent of the time. What was the critical temperature? I determined that it was 17-18 degrees centigrade--for the donors as well as the hosts. When, postoperatively, did temperature-dependent feeding emerge? In a little more than two weeks. (Thus, it wasn't like injecting tissue extracts, but more like the wait for a graft to take.) Checking Buster's records, I realized that had the fire drill taken place perhaps a day or two earlier, I never would have made the observation.

Then one day, six weeks after his operation, after having fasted twenty-four hours in the cold, Buster hauled off and ate a worm. For a moment I was sick enough to cry. Had it all been just a fluke? But that same day, the transplanted guppy hearts beat their last beats. Rejection! And five to six weeks after the new batch of guppy-to-salamander hosts had been operated on, they too reverted to feeding at low temperature. I was sorry to see the trait disappear. But its disappearance made the story as complete as it could possibly have been.

Buster exemplified the independence principle. Punky the Tadamander gave us no basis to judge it. Buster's feeding behavior was a composite of salamander and guppy traits. Punky merely used his salamander body to display his tadpole mind. Buster's failure to attack worms at low temperatures did not mean that he lacked the necessary memories. The stimulus, a cool environment, had blocked his use of those memories. His reaction in the cool was negative, but an "active" negative (like a minus sign in the check book). Punky's refusal to attack worms during those 68 days stemmed from different causes entirely: his negative response was passive. As a control for my experiment with Punky, I performed operations in which I left most of the host salamanders' brains in place and substituted only the cerebrums with those of tadpoles. These animals, like Punky, always attacked worms. Thus, I had to conclude that in preparing Punky for his transplant--in amputating his original salamander midbrain, diencephalon, and cerebrum--I had removed his carnivorous memory, which his new tadpole brain did not restore to him. Placing the active-versus-passive comparison in the context of our earlier analogy with the deck of hologramic cards, Buster's failure to attack was similar to dealing out an inappropriate hand. When Buster's environment was warmed, we found that attack was in his deck after all. But no possible deal could have turned Punky into a killer; attack was not among his tadamander cards.


Are Buster and Punky too remote from us to suggest anything about the human condition? During embryonic life, we develop through stages in which we look and act like fish, salamanders and tadpoles. Embryonic development provides convincing evidence for the theory of evolution. One principle of embryology, von Baer's law, holds that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, meaning that as we develop, we go through our own individual mini-evolutions, revealing our close kinship to other vertebrate creatures. Behavior doesn't start up when we slide out of the birth canal onto the obstetrics table. We're live cargoes in Mom's womb. And we're behaving long before we're born.

An old-time Georgia country obstetrician, Richard Torpin, used to show up every year at the meetings of the American Association of Anatomists with all sorts of novel and ingenious exhibits of human behavior in utero. From stillbirths and detailed records on his patients, Doc Torpin would reconstruct what led to a particular fetus's undoing. Using rubber bands and plaster of Paris, he produced models to illustrate various prenatal problems. One year he demonstrated how a restless fetus could get its fingers and toes tangled and, cut off from a blood supply at a period of intense growth, eventually lost in loops of umbilical cord. (He had found bits of detached fingers in the inner wall of the placenta.) In another exhibit, he showed how a swimming fetus had found and swallowed its own umbilical cord, much as a salamander or a guppy would down a worm. At birth, as the child tried to shift breathing air, it strangled on its own umbilical cord, Doc Turpin explained.

The movement within a pregnant woman's uterus can't be equated to the simple push-pull action-reaction of a hydraulic shock absorber. It is behavior. Just as the embryo's lungs, heart, eyes, face and a brain gradually develop through fishlike, froglike and ratlike stages into what we might be willing to call a "baby," so the primitive mind we start out with must gradually and continuously evolve into a human mentality. The course our development takes runs right by the junctures where our aquatic vertebrate cousins stopped evolving. And when one of us gets off course too soon, what we do en route to the formaldehyde jar is fishlike, salamanderlike, or ratlike... depending on our point of departure.

Yet in spite of an unbroken thread running all the way back through our development, we emerge from the uterus infinitely different creatures from when we first implanted into its soft, warm, sticky inner wall. How do we become so different during development? The independence principle, remember, permits new codes to be added virtually at will to the pre-existing deck. Buster serves as a precedent for such additions.

The independence principle also frees us from having to assume fundamentally different laws of Nature in order to explain how experience can add to our mental stores what development builds into us spontaneously. In hologramic theory, one general principle serves all the codes, whether we call them memories or instincts, learned ideas or innate thoughts, a priori or a posteriori knowledge. An examination of this prediction of the theory was the next phase of my research.


I lost my job at the beginning of 1970, before shufflebrain was a complete story. A miniature depression had begun in the sciences during 1969. Shortly after I was fired, a staff writer for Science magazine came to the conclusion that what many scientists were calling a "Ph.D. glut" was really a myth. True, the article conceded, the really good jobs were getting hard to find. Competition had intensified, and there was no doubt that the federal government was spending significantly less on science. But the article implied that only the Willie Lomans of science were driving taxi cabs, washing dishes, freelancing, busing dishes and drawing unemployment checks. Directly or through friends, I soon contacted the anatomy department of every medical school in the United States and Canada, without success. And wherever else I looked, there were no jobs, not for me at least. Perhaps it was the Science article, which I believed at the time; perhaps it was the serious economic plight of my family (the oldest of our four children had had to miss a semester at the University of Michigan); perhaps it was my still-incomplete shufflebrain research; or the fact that my unemployment insurance was running out. In any case, when a friend eventually arranged an interview for me at Indiana University's optometry school, I found it psychologically impossible to negotiate seriously for anything. Had my pride been operative, I would have rejected their job offer, which carried lower rank and less pay than my former job. And I would never have worked as a scientist again.

But by the autumn of 1970, I was drawing real wages again. I had a splendid office overlooking the most beautiful campus I had ever seen. Although my lab had nothing in it, my morale was high. I had applied to the university's grant committee for a few thousand dollars to tide me over until I could secure federal funds. When I got four hundred dollars instead, I was still too euphoric to bitch. And I set about doing what scientists of the generation before mine had routinely done: made do!

Making do included scrounging salamanders from a wonderful man, the late Rufus Humphrey. Humphrey had retired to Indiana University from the anatomy department of the University of Buffalo (now the State University of New York at Buffalo). As chance had it, I'd joined that department, myself, for a period in the early 1960's. After taking over some discarded dissecting tables Humphrey had once used for his salamanders (Humphrey was a maker-do of world class rank), I'd written him to tell him that his picture still hung in the microscopic anatomy lab at Buffalo. Thus began a lasting friendly correspondence between us.

Humphrey studied the genetics of a salamander known as the axolotl. Some of his purebred strains ran back to 1930. His colony (which continues today as the Axolotl Colony at Indiana University) is famous, worldwide, among people who work with amphibians. Even if I had not been on a scrounging mission, one of the first things I would have had to see in Indiana was Humphrey's axolotls.

Another item I badly needed was a dissecting microscope. There wasn't one lying around in Optometry, and I couldn't afford to buy one out of my wife's tight budget. I learned of a new ecology program starting up over in Biological Sciences, however, and dissecting microscopes were part of the equipment for the forthcoming teaching lab. And (I licked my chops!) the course wasn't scheduled to begin until the first of the year. Could I arrange a loan? The answer was yes.

Making do also meant giving up the live tubifex worm as staple for my colony. Detergents and chemical pollutants have driven these once-ubiquitous worms from all but a few waters. Since the early 1960s, I had not been able to collect them in the field, myself but had had to fly them in from New York or Philadelphia, which was totally out of the question on a make-do budget. Thus I began feeding young larvae on freshly hatched brine-shrimp embryos, which could be purchased dry by the millions for a quarter in any pet shop. When the axolotl larvae grew to about 40 millimeters in length, I weaned them onto beef liver (swiped from my wife's shopping basket).

Feeding animals on beef liver does take time. The animals must first be taught to strike. Even after they acquire the necessary experience, though, you still can't fling a hunk of meat into the dish and forget it, as you can a ball of live tubifex worms. The liver rots at the bottom of the dish, while even the experienced feeder starves.

Now there was a federal program called Work-Study, whereby the government paid all by 20 percent of the wages for students who had university-related jobs. Just as I was weaning a group of about fifty axolotls onto liver, an optometry student, Calvin Yates, came around looking for a Work-Study job. One duty I assigned him was feeding liver to the axolotls.

Calvin--Dr. Yates--later practiced optometry in Gary, Indiana. If his treatment of people matched the care he gave my salamanders, I am sure he was an overwhelming success. Calvin had what Humphrey once called a "slimy thumb"--the salamander buff's equivalent of the horticulturist's green thumb. In Calvin's presence, living things thrived. A few days after he took over the weaning job, the axolotls were snapping like seasoned veterans. Calvin also introduced a clever trick into his feeding technique. He would tap the rim of an axolotl's plastic dish and then pause a few seconds before presenting the liver. In a few days, tapping alone would cause the larva to look up, in anticipation of the imminent reward.

I paid only the most casual, half-amused attention to Calvin's routine during that time. For I had learned that my favorite species of salamander, Amblystoma opacum, lived in the area. Opacum (the marble salamander) was one of the three principal species I had been using in my shufflebrain experiments. Luckily, the opacum female lays her eggs during the autumn. Finding them can be tricky, though. Now gregarious my wife happened to meet an old country gentleman, a retired farmer who reminded her of her grandfather. In the course of casual conversation salamanders somehow came up. The man just happened to know where he could lay his hands on about 50 opacum eggs, which he let me have for a couple dollars. And by the time Calvin was weaning the axolotls, the opacum larvae had grown to just the perfect size for me to put the finishing touches on my shufflebrain project.

Opacum belongs to the same genus as does the axolotl (Amblystoma mexicanum). As a larva opacum is a shrewd, little animal, the smallest member of the genus but easily the most elaborate and efficient hunter. And what a fascination to watch! But its small size made liver-feeding quite impractical, which was also very lucky for me.

One afternoon at the tail end of an operating session, I realized that I had anesthetized one too many opacum larvae. It is against my standard procedures to return animals to stock. Yet I don't like to waste a creature, make-do budget or no. On impulse, I decided to see how well an axolotl's forebrain would work when attached to an opacum's midbrain. And I took an animal from Calvin's colony to serve as the donor.


The fateful moment came ten days later. I had taken my time getting to the lab that morning, walking slowly through the crisp autumn air, admiring the trees, saying "good mornings" to students along the way, and had perfunctorily seated myself at the operating table, thinking much more about the world in general than about science. I usually keep recuperating animals near the microscope and check their reflexes daily until they come out of postoperative stupor. That morning, I came in merely to take a routine daily record.

To check a salamander's reflexes, I flick a fingernail on the rim of the dish. When an animal has recovered from stupor, it usually jumps in response to the flick. As I placed the opacum larva with the axolotl brain on the stage of the microscope, I noticed that he had righted himself and was standing on the bottom of the dish. I gave a light flick, expecting him to give a little jump and then swim out of the microscopic field. Instead, he slowly arched his little back and looked directly up into the barrel of the microscope, right into my eyes. My heart missed a beat. I had observed this looking-up response in only one other place--over on the table among Calvin's axolotls, where the donor had come from. Immediately I jumped up, went over and flicked every last dish on the axolotl table. Every axolotl there looked up in response.

Next, I checked out the stock opacum larvae. Flicking only caused them to scurry around in their dishes. Not one stock opacum looked up.

Now back to the operating table! Again, I flicked. Again the opacum with the axolotl brain looked up. I tested the other subjects that had had operations. They did not look up. Again I tried the axolotl recipient. Again it worked. Unwittingly, I had discovered that a learned response can be added to the hologramic deck.


My looking-up little animal reminded me of a sermon I had heard decades earlier in a down-at-the-heel, no longer extant church at the corner of 111th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City. The sermon had been about gratitude, and the preacher had used an anecdote from his Ohio farm boy youth to illustrate the theme. His father used to let hogs into the apple orchard to clean up windfall fruit, the preacher said. It always amazed him that the hogs would devour every last apple on the ground but never once look up at the trees, the source. Looking up! I haven't practiced the religion of my boyhood for a long time. Nature has taken its place. But often, very often, in the laboratory, at the moment of a new discovery, I have felt intense gratitude, not for being right--for I've had the emotion when I was completely wrong--but simply for being there. Looking down at my talented opacum, I felt that same gratitude, to an almost overwhelming degree. And thus I gave this new paradigm the name: "Looking-up."


Before I had the chance to carry out a decisive investigation of Looking-up, my general good fortune seemed to disappear. The Looker-upper died of a fungus infection. Something happened to the tap water, and the brine shrimp were hatching in minuscule quantities, forcing me to abandon the opacum stock just to sustain the experimental subjects in good health. Then the time came to surrender the borrowed dissecting microscope. The optometry school had rooms full of junked optical equipment from which I jury-rigged a substitute. But under it, I committed butchery. Then the National Institutes of Health rejected my application for research funds. I finally began to lose confidence, and I would have closed the lab permanently had not Calvin's job depended on feeding the axolotls. But I could not go near the lab.


Although I could not yet make a public case for "Looking-up," I was now privately convinced that hologramic theory applied to learned as well as instinctive behaviors and that the abstract rules were indeed the same for both. I felt that the time had come to make the main part of the shufflebrain story known. And I was convinced that my days in the laboratory were over. If what I wrote was going to be a swan song, why say it in the stiff, lifeless prose of science and bury it in unread archives? If the story was as interesting as it seemed to me, perhaps a popular magazine would take it. Harper's eventually accepted my article and published it in their May 1972 issue.

But once again, the calamity was only apparent. On the elevator one day, a colleague of mine, asked if it was true that I did not have a dissecting microscope. He said "hmm" when I said "yes". A few weeks later, I was busy preparing a neuroanatomy lecture when someone began kicking on the door. I opened it and there stood the colleague from the elevator, a brand new dissecting microscope in each hand and a big grin on his face. He had convinced the dean that our graduate program required dissecting microscopes. And would it be an inconvenience to store two of them in my laboratory? I still wonder if he saw the tears in my eyes.


Unlike other species I work with, the axolotl spends its entire life in the water. Because of a genetic quirk, it fails to metamorphose into a land dweller. It does undergo internal changes as it develops into an adult, but not the drastic transformations other salamanders go through. Metamorphosis usually wipes out my stock for the season. The axolotl, however, passes into adulthood uneventfully, and lives five or six years, and sometimes longer, under laboratory conditions. By the time I was ready to experiment again, Calvin's axolotls had not only become adults but had been Looking-up for well over a year. If I had had a dissecting microscope, I would have used every last one of them much earlier, and they wouldn't have been around for what happened next.

Shortly after my article appeared in Harper's, I received a phone call from Igor Oganesoff, a producer for the CBS News program "60 Minutes." People at CBS had liked the article, he said, and he asked if I would perform experiments in front of the camera.

With the wrong camera angle, my experiments could easily come out looking like Grandson of Frankenstein in Indiana, which would have been unfair to Punky and Buster as well as misleading to the audience. Yet I couldn't envisage Igor Oganesoff wanting to produce a horror movie. At that time, I was an avid fan of "60 Minutes" and vividly recalled two pieces he had produced: one had portrayed the world inside a Carmelite cloister in California; the other captured an aspect of chess master, Bobby Fisher, I didn't think the world had previously suspected. I was sure Igor Oganesoff could do justice to shufflebrain. And with the opportunity to reach fifteen million people... I decided, what the heck, let's do it.

Techniques worried me, I said, trying to imagine what would work in a visual medium. Did I remember the work done with microscopes during Walter Cronkite's "21st Century", Oganesoff asked. The cameraman Oganesoff had in mind, a man named Billy Wagner, had taken those pictures. Place a camera in his hand and Wagner becomes a genius. There was, I replied, a double-headed microscope that enabled two people simultaneously to view the same microscopic field. But I didn't have one of those expensive instruments. Details like that, Oganesoff said, were his worry. As we were talking, I thought about Calvin's large, well-trained axolotls. It was time I did some experiments with adults, anyway. Their brains could be seen even without a microscope, if worse came to worse. Yes! I thought it might be quite feasible. After a preliminary visit, Igor made plans to film the operations in July and the results in August, between the two political conventions.

Meanwhile, I scrounged a fresh batch of axolotl larvae from Humphrey. I also carried out a few preliminary operations with adult axolotls, to work out technical nuances and get my hands back in shape.

Calvin had graduated, and another student had taken his place. He lacked Calvin's touch with animals and couldn't seem to get the knack of weaning larvae onto liver. I undertook the chore myself, and while at it decided to study the Looking-up response carefully.

Looking-up is surprisingly easy to induce. The quickest way is to put the larva in an opaque cylindrical container and give it a sort of tunnel view of the world above. Then, with one session a day, for four or five days, a brisk, discrete tapping of the dish, followed in a second or two by a reward, will instill the trait. After this, Looking-up behavior persists for weeks, even after the reward has been withheld. Once the animal has been trained, the Looking-up response is virtually guaranteed. I decided to put Looking-up on "60 Minutes".


The experiment I performed on camera involved three animals: two naive axolotl larvae and a trained adult "Looker-up" from Calvin's old colony. The anterior part of the trained adult's cerebrum replaced the entire cerebrum of one naive larva. Would the host become a Looker-up? The other naive larva served as a donor animal, and I transplanted its entire brain into the space left in the adult's cranium. Would the transplant "confuse" the adult? Mike Wallace eventually called the second larva "the loser". For it received no brain transplant.

I decided not to call the viewer's attention to Looking-up, and instead focused attention on the survival of feeding after shufflebrain operations. I had no doubts about feeding. But Looking-up was still very new. Something could have turned up to change my mind. If the paradigm turned out to be a fluke, trying to correct the misinformation broadcast on television would be like attempting to summon back an inadvertently fired load of buckshot.



Adult axolotl involved in 'swap' experiment shown on 60 Minutes. Looking-up remained intact after its cerebrum had been replaced by the entire brain of a young and naive larva. The animal in the picture had been taught to look up (to earn a juicy hunk of liver). The larva in question--the recipient of this animal's original cerebrum--became a Looker-up without any training. Larvae because of their small feed on brine shrimp, not liver. [The handwriting on the masking tape (label) is '7-3-72 Whole baby...'; the crop-off part says, '...brain #2]

CBS broadcast the show a year later. In the interim, I had carried out enough testing and had conducted sufficient control experiments to be sure of the results. Within about one week, a previously naive recipient of a trained Looking-up animal's cerebrum becomes a Looker-up itself, without training. And these animals retain the Looking-up trait for the remaining months, or even years, of their lives. Controls, animals with transplants from the brains of naive animals, do not show this response. While the initial experiments--like those I performed on camera--were with the cerebrum, I obtained the same results with pieces of midbrain and diencephalon.

The trained cerebrum donors were very interesting. As soon as the effects of anesthesia wore off, these animals demonstrated that they remembered the signal to look up. In other words, Looking-up memories existed in the donated as well as the retained parts of these animals' brains. What was true of innate feeding behavior also worked for Looking-up: memory wasn't confined to a single location in the brain.

I also repeated Mike Wallace's "loser" experiment. I found that, true to the principle of independence (adding to the hologramic deck), the extra brain parts did not "confuse" the host.

Meanwhile, a group of Israelis, working with the brains of adult newts, had demonstrated that dark-avoidance memories can be transplanted from one animal to another[1] When the "60 Minutes" show did air, I had no doubts about Looking-up. Sitting in my living room, a member of Igor's audience myself, I felt that someone else was on the screen doing my experiments. Indeed, someone else was at the microscope. The intervening year had been very full.