Part I: MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN Bioethics, Neuroplasticity and Whimsy

Marian Diamond portraits, 1984, photos by Ed Kash

Dr. Marian Diamond, photo courtesy of Luna Productions

Dr. Marian Diamond, photo courtesy of Luna Productions

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN is an award winning documentary about the life and work of Dr. Marian Cleeves Diamond, PhD, neuroanatomist, researcher and educator. Filmmakers Catherine Ryan and Gary Weinberg (Luna Productions) make an argument which by all reasonable standards would support Diamond’s candidacy for a Nobel Prize, not only in science but also for peace. 

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN shows Marian Diamond is a filmmakers dream. She is fluid and animated as anyone who routinely spends hours of her day on a stage before a judging audience of hundreds of students ought to be—but often are not. The camera loves her. With aesthetic wisdom the film not only focuses on Marian but on others sharing the territory she inhabits. It is a broad domain of geography, mind and family tradition. She is a catalyst for laughter fueled intelligence.

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN has established an iconic visual representation of Dr. Diamond’s vantage. It is the long view and the long shot. In Diamond’s mind the brain is always at the forefront, the seat of human intelligence and humanity. It is this view that Luna Production’s camera reflects in the film. We see Diamond watch the brain, from a distance but in sharp focus. Then we see the audience, and the world, watch her. The  filmmakers take the opportunity to not only show us her but the joyous reactions of others ignited in the wake of her whimsy. 

The lightness of Marian Diamond’s ‘being,’ is even reflected in Ryan and Weinberg’s choice of narrator for MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN,  Mayim Bialik. Bialik holds a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA but also plays a neuroscientist on TV’s BIG BANG THEORY. 

Marian Diamond is a scientist who is also a woman. She came up through a period when women did not teach in academia. Well qualified and well suited to lecturing she may have never have found that passion were it not for the persecution of her employer and mentor while working at Cornell University. That professor was fired during the rise of the witch-hunt of McCarthyism in the 1950s. However, the professor’s parting shot was to recommend the only person he knew could, and should, take his lectern— a woman, Marian Diamond,PhD. And so, at that University, Diamond became the first woman science lecturer in its history. 

Marian Diamond did not mean to dismantle archaic science with new truths, she’s just made that way—a fact to which she is not oblivious. Her youth and adult life has been filled with brilliant scientist husbands, mother, father and free thinking siblings first then her own children. She did not only study dead brains as specimens, but watched the living ones around her. They were all collaborators and conspirators in her quest to understand.

Dr. Marian Diamond’s major scientific contributions are generally divided into three: discovery of the impact of the environment on brain development; differences between the cerebral cortex of male and female rats independent of sex hormones; and the likely link between positive thinking—or happiness—in maintaining individuals immunological health reflected in brain tissue and function. Rigorous scientific inquiry often divides domains of investigation of a single entity. But Dr. Marian Diamond’s hallmark is: that which others might think static she suspects is mobile, multifaceted, unified though plastic—and when needs be— able to be remodeled.