Paris: Long Study Tour

The Long Study Tour, back at the end of March, is basically a longer version of Core Course Week. I spent a week in Paris, France with the Affective Neuroscience class, with a pretty even mix of cultural and academic visits. Our theme was essentially the integration of emotion with the senses.

So our first excursion as a class was a sightseeing boat cruise. We drifted down the Seine, and the speakers announced each tourist-y landmark and building we passed in 6 different languages. By the time we returned, the sun was setting and the wind had turned from a light breeze to a harsh winter chill, but I did get some nice photos.

The beautiful spire of Notre Dame. Same night, but not from the boat tour.

The following day began our academic inquisitions. We went to the Louvre and spent the better part of an hour bumbling around in the tactile gallery with blindfolds on. And you really don’t realize how much your eyes do for you in recognizing emotions, or at the very least identifying things, until you’re forced to make do without.

Pro tip: with hands, the nose is the easiest thing to identify on a sculpture.

Here’s the Louvre! Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the tactile gallery.

From there, off we went for a food tour. Ironically, it was much more walking than food, but we did get to try the classic French escargot and macaron.

Trigger warning to those who may be easily hungered by pictures of food.

The next day, as a neuroscience class, we visited Neurospin, a neuroimaging facility. They have a bunch of big, technologically advanced magnetic resonance (MR) scanners, and we got a detailed tour of the premises and met some researchers using the neuroimaging methods for psychiatry.

The first image off of a Google search for Neurospin. Futuristic and accurate.

Our next stop on the same day was Versailles. Popular tourist destination, a bit of a ways out of Paris, but a beautiful place to see. Well, it’s a palace.

Back from Versailles, let me introduce you to the best of the crop of around 50 pictures I took around sunset atop the Arc de Triomphe.

Smack in the middle of the week, we spent the morning and afternoon visiting both the Pasteur Institute and Museum. At the Pasteur Institute, we met a researcher looking into human genetics and cognitive functions. And at the Pasteur Museum, we followed an enthusiastic tour guide on the life of Louis Pasteur, renowned biologist, microbiologist, chemist, and generally amazingly accomplished individual.

Here he is! The man himself. Louis Pasteur!

Next on our list in the afternoon was the Cité de la Musique, a large music museum filled with a dense timeline of instruments through the centuries.

Our penultimate day, we had a solid chunk of free time in the morning to early afternoon. And on the one day we had to sleep in, I got up at 4 am to watch the sunrise.

At the top of Montmartre. The sun beat me by half an hour.

Then, after a quick nap, I had a few hours to explore the Louvre before heading to Dans le Noir for our final two academic workshops. Both the perfume workshop and the dinner in the dark allowed us to investigate our perception and brain function without sight.

In the perfume workshop, I was able to experience how the olfactory sense and memory are linked. We smelled things in the dark, from vanilla to pencils. Some scents, like lavender, I liked instantly.

After some practice grabbing things in the dark, we headed back into the pitch black room to eat a meal together as a class. It was a fun adventure, not knowing what was in the plate in front of you. I stabbed myself in the mouth with my fork plenty of times and pushed half my dinner off my plate. It also feels very different communicating with people when you can’t see body language and have vague concepts of distance and direction.

The next morning, we finished the week off with a trip to the Musée d’Orsay. I’ve never been much of an art or history enthusiast, but our tour guide through the museum crafted a captivating story out of a mental timeline and a few paintings.

Through our week in Paris, we took down notes of events and our moods for a mood diary, which we used later to analyze our emotional regulation strategies (comparing mainly cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression). The trip had its ups and downs, and I’m somewhat of a mix of both strategies. In the end, though, I was able to integrate my knowledge of affective neuroscience and sensation/perception, as well as learn about myself, all in a unique Parisian setting.

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