The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous.

– Carl Sagan

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The first story I wrote about Alzheimer’s disease opened my mind to a hidden world.

After 30 years of reporting, I’d perfected the technique of writing accurately about mysterious things like town planning, sewerage, and county budgets: Admit right at the get-go that I had no clue what we were talking about and throw myself on the mercy of my expert.

My modus included a regular stream of quasi-interested exclamations, like “Oh wow!” But 10 minutes into that first Alzheimer’s interview with that first expert, I quit faking it.

He buckled me into a roller coaster careening right down into the brain’s center, to the mysterious region that records your mother’s face and your husband’s voice, your shopping list and a poem you wrote in 10th grade, the one where you daydream about the boy who made you fail typing.

Our conversation wandered from the macroscopic to the microscopic. I learned about the neurons’ secret handshake, how they pass silent signals that encode the past and interpret the present. We sped infinitesimally smaller still, through enzymes that snip proteins, proteins that form clumps, and clumps that stick to neurons who then forget their secret handshake and send your high school sweetheart into oblivion.

That interview was my singularity – a flash that’s lured me on for eight years. It’s lead me down paths as divergent – and connected – as any neural network. Paths I hope to share here.

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