Peter Watts: No Brainer.
For decades now, I have been haunted by the grainy, black-and-white x-ray of a human skull. It is alive but empty, with a cavernous fluid-filled space where the brain should be. A thin layer of brain tissue lines that cavity like an amniotic sac. The image hails from a 1980 review article[PDF] in Science: Roger Lewin, the author, reports that the patient in question had “virtually no brain”. But that’s not what scared me; hydrocephalus is nothing new, and it takes more to creep out this ex-biologist than a picture of Ventricles Gone Wild. What scared me was the fact that this virtually brain-free patient had an IQ of 126.[more inside]
This Doctor Knows Exactly How You Feel Mirror-touch synesthetes struggle with the constant intrusion of others’ feelings. At a symposium on mirror-touch synesthesia last year in London, a woman named Fiona Torrance of Liverpool described how she had once seen one man punch another. She promptly passed out in a car. Her boyfriend at the time found her unconscious and took her to the hospital. “I felt the punch,” she explained. As a child, she once saw a man kill an otter with a spade on television. She was inconsolable for a month, feeling as if she’d killed the otter herself. To this day, she takes medication to control the sensory onslaught, and she does not own a television. A recent episode of the NPR program Invisibilia profiled another woman with the condition who has essentially become a shut-in.
I write a lot of notes to myself these days, but this one is different. Remember the body. A strange thought. How could I forget it? And yet I do.
I have had MS for a little over a year and this has been the surprising, sometimes embarrassing challenge in my particular case: where does the disease end and where do I begin? What is the illness and what is just my maddening response to it?Games writer Christian Donlan (previously) writes about neurology, language and life since his diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.
"In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist." While the article at Sciencedaily.com may be a bit breathlessly excited about it, even the more somber source article in Nature agrees that this "may call for a reassessment of basic assumptions in neuroimmunology"
The Last Day of Her Life. When Cornell psychology professor Sandy Bem found out she had Alzheimer’s, she resolved that before the disease stole her mind, she would kill herself. The question was, when? [more inside]
The Deep Mind of Demis Hassabis - "The big thing is what we call transfer learning. You've mastered one domain of things, how do you abstract that into something that's almost like a library of knowledge that you can now usefully apply in a new domain? That's the key to general knowledge. At the moment, we are good at processing perceptual information and then picking an action based on that. But when it goes to the next level, the concept level, nobody has been able to do that." (previously: 1,2) [more inside]
She started by diving into PubMed—an online search engine for biomedical papers—hunting down everything she could on Charcot-Marie-Tooth. She hoped that her brief fling with a scientific education would carry her through. But with pre-med knowledge that had been gathering dust for 30 years and no formal training in genetics, Kim quickly ran head first into a wall of unfamiliar concepts and impenetrable jargon. “It was like reading Chinese,” she says.
A recent study indicates that scientists may have found the first real mechanical reason we need to sleep.
You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?Dr. Peter Watts is no stranger to MetaFilter. But look past his sardonic nuptials, heartbreaking eulogies, and agonizing run-ins with fascists (and fasciitis) and you'll find one of the most brilliant, compelling, and disquieting science fiction authors at work today. A marine biologist skilled at deep background research, his acclaimed 2006 novel Blindsight [full text] -- a cerebral "first contact" tale led by a diverse crew of bleeding-edge post-humans -- is diamond-hard and deeply horrifying, wringing profound existential dread from such abstruse concepts as the Chinese Room, the Philosophical Zombie, Chernoff faces, and the myriad quirks and blind spots that haunt the human mind. But Blindsight's last, shattering insight is not the end of the story -- along with crew/ship/"Firefall" notes, a blackly funny in-universe lecture on resurrecting sociopathic vampirism (PDF - prev.), and a rigorously-cited (and spoiler-laden) reference section, tomorrow will see the release of
Your body is home to about 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes, collectively known as your microbiome. Naturalists first became aware of our invisible lodgers in the 1600s, but it wasn’t until the past few years that we’ve become really familiar with them. This recent research has given the microbiome a cuddly kind of fame. We’ve come to appreciate how beneficial our microbes are — breaking down our food, fighting off infections and nurturing our immune system. It’s a lovely, invisible garden we should be tending for our own well-being. But in the journal Bioessays, a team of scientists has raised a creepier possibility. Perhaps our menagerie of germs is also influencing our behavior in order to advance its own evolutionary success — giving us cravings for certain foods, for example.[more inside]
"Postpartum depression isn’t always postpartum. It isn’t even always depression. A fast-growing body of research is changing the very definition of maternal mental illness, showing that it is more common and varied than previously thought." ‘Thinking of Ways to Harm Her’ and "After Baby, an Unraveling". [more inside]
In this teaching video, Suzanne Stensaas, Ph.D., demonstrates the properties and anatomy of an unfixed brain, showing its squishiness and vulnerability. [WARNING: The video contains graphic images, a human brain from a recent autopsy.]
Get Data [SLYT]
"Maybe it's a sore point: your field should have an answer (people think you do) but there isn't one yet. Perhaps it's simple to pose but hard to answer. Or it's a question that belies a deep misunderstanding: the best answer is to question the question."
Is Psychometric g a Myth? - "As an online discussion about IQ or general intelligence grows longer, the probability of someone linking to statistician Cosma Shalizi's essay g, a Statistical Myth approaches 1. Usually the link is accompanied by an assertion to the effect that Shalizi offers a definitive refutation of the concept of general mental ability, or psychometric g." [more inside]
NeuroBollocks: Debunking pseudo-neuroscience so you don't have to.
As reported at SingularityHUB human astrocytes were engrafted into neonatal mice. The study found that the human glial cells which were once thought of as filler cells for the brain "differentially enhance both activity-dependent plasticity and learning in mice."
Rational reductionist approaches to the neural basis for beauty run a similar risk of pushing the round block of beauty into the square hole of science and may well distill out the very thing one wants to understand.An essay by Bevil Conway and Alexander Rehding in PLoS Biology. (via)
New research, published yesterday in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests what mom and dad think isn’t the endgame when it comes to shaping a person’s political identity. Ideological differences between partisans may reflect distinct neural processes, and they can predict who’s right and who’s left of center with 82.9 percent accuracy.
"The dystextia was the first clinical sign that we had that she was having a stroke," Impaired speech is a common sign of a stroke, he says. But in this case, the woman had lost her voice because of a cold. So the series of mangled messages were the smoking gun of a language problem. He and his colleagues describe the case in the Archives of Neurology.
How do I empower someone without language, sign, or gesture? What is it like to experience aphasia, dysnomia, auditory and visual distortions, and variable physical sensations? At times I imagine that entering into my son's sensory world—his own particular neurocosm, perhaps I should say—is a bit like walking into Lewis Carroll's Wood With No Names ...English professor Amy Leal wrote about her young son's son's unexplained regressions and loss of skills last year in Little Boy Lost. This year she returns with a beautiful and heartbreaking study of her son's condition in Dream Map to a Mind Seized.
The simulated brain - "First computer model to produce complex behaviour performs almost as well as humans at simple number tasks." [1,2,3,4,5,etc.]
On November 30, the Tampa Bay Times published a sympathetic profile of Spring Hill, FL resident Gretchen Molannen: "Persistent genital arousal disorder brings woman agony, not ecstasy." Her condition, also known as PGAD, is a rare sexual disorder (not recognized by the DSM,) 'characterized by spontaneous, persistent, unwanted sexual arousal unrelated to feelings of sexual desire.' The Times reported that Ms. Molannen's condition had virtually destroyed her personal and professional life and led to several suicide attempts. One day after the article was published, she successfully committed suicide. [more inside]
Body Integrity Identity Disorder is when a subject feels that he or she would be happier living as an amputee. This raises several questions: should amputation be offered as a treatment to people suffering from Body Integrity Identity Disorder? Or, should the alien limb be integrated into the body image? To what extent is the disorder psychological or neurological? Regardless, further research is needed. That said, in talking about newly categorized disorders such as BIID, do we spread "semantic contagion"? [previously]
After spending $5 billion dollars to develop the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), the US Army is abandoning the grey-green pixelated camouflage because it has routinely failed to hide soldiers from view in nearly every environment it has been tried in, and considers adopting the UCP "a colossal mistake" and a "fiasco". [more inside]
"...Pam agreed to die in order to save her life—and in the process had what is perhaps the most famous case of independent corroboration of out of body experience (OBE) perceptions on record...Pam later said, she felt herself “pop” out of her body and hover above it, watching as doctors worked on her body. Although she no longer had use of her eyes and ears, she described her observations in terms of her senses and perceptions...with considerable accuracy.Near Death, explained. [more inside]
NDE studies [such as these] suggest that after physical death, mind and consciousness may continue in a transcendent level of reality that normally is not accessible to our senses and awareness."
Alive Inside is an upcoming documentary exploring how listening to music can briefly return memories to patients who previously seemed completely lost to Alzheimer's. An excerpt can be seen here.
On November 22, 2011, TEDxBrussels held an all day event whose theme was: "A Day in the Deep Future." Speakers were asked to try and contemplate what life will be like for mankind in 50 years. Overview. [more inside]
Brain Tumors: symptoms, types, a man who hunts them (and what drives him) and a vivid video of the removal of one.
What can neuroscience teach us about zombies? A pair of neurology blogs go over nine common symptoms: Aggression, Lumbering Walk, Memory Loss, Aphasia, Capgras-Delusion, Impaired Pain Reception, Locked Attention, Flesh Addiction, Insatiable hunger, Conclusions.
"Kohn" is an award-winning radio story produced by Andy Mills (a graduate of the Salt Institute) that was honored in the 2011 Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition. The story, which features the musicians of Hudson Branch/Dogs on Tour, tells what happens when someone hears his own voice for the first time and finds that it's not what he expected. (And a Radiolab short based on the story explains why what we hear in our heads isn't always what the world hears from our mouths.) In a similar vein, another Third Coast winner, Seizure's Lament, tells the story of a radio producer who wanted to know what her seizures look like to other people.
Autistic and Seeking a Place in the World. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Amy Harmon spent a year observing a young man with autism named Justin Canha, who took part in a new kind of “transition to adulthood” program for special education students at Montclair High School in NJ. The experimental program was intended to ready him for an independent life as an adult and integrate him into the community. [more inside]
More evidence of brain plasticity: Some blind people are able to use echolocation to perceive space and objects around them in surprising detail, even though the time differences in echoes necessary to do this are two small to be consciously perceived. An fMRI study by Lore Thaler, Stephen Arnott and Melvyn Goodale revealed that people who are especially adept at this use their calcarine cortex (a.k.a. V1 or primary visual cortex) to process spatial information from the echoes. The original paper. A shorter discussion. (Previously)
Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults, Ryota Kanai, Tom Feilden, Colin Firth, Geraint Rees. Current Biology - 26 April 2011 (Vol. 21, Issue 8, pp. 677-680) [Full text .pdf]
Political liberalism and conservatism were correlated with brain structure
Liberalism was associated with the gray matter volume of anterior cingulate cortex
Conservatism was associated with increased right amygdala size
Results offer possible accounts for cognitive styles of liberals and conservatives [more inside]
My Above-Average Stroke. From November 2010, Garrison Keillor writing about the stroke he suffered in 2009. [more inside]
Is earlier interaction with technology creating new and different neurological structures in children’s brains? PBS has featured an interesting series of programs on just this question: one with Miles O’Brien, previously CNN’s science correspondent, who also talks to his kids about their use of tech. Digital Nation is a massive related site on Frontline exploring the ethnography of so-called "digital natives" that includes some interesting celebrity interviews; the site is the sequel to the earlier Growing Up Online [previously].
A Real Science of Mind Neurobabble piques interest in science, but obscures how science works. Individuals see, know, and want to make love. Brains don’t. Those things are psychological — not, in any evident way, neural.
A memoir of living with a brain tumour: "For art critic Tom Lubbock, language has been his life and his livelihood. But in 2008, he developed a lethal brain tumour and was told he would slowly lose control over speech and writing. This is his account of what happens when words slip away." [more inside]
"Our findings provide genetic evidence of an increased rate of large CNVs in individuals with ADHD and suggest that ADHD is not purely a social construct." (abstract) Researchers find a genetic basis for ADHD, and the researcher hopes the finding will reduce the stigma associated with the disorder. But maybe it's more complex than just biology. In any case, children who are diagnosed at an early age are 10 times more likely to be depressed as adolescents. (abstract)
What do Singing in the Rain, Live Is Life, Don't Worry, Be Happy, I Will Survive and Ça fait rire les oiseaux have in common? In a study, French-speaking Internet users identified these five pop songs out of 100, as the most pernicious earworms. Here are their top 25 picks from BRAMS, including audio clips. [more inside]
Researchers at MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences have identified two "morality centers" of the brain. In two separate experiments, they have shown a correlation between a particular part of the brain and the ability to make moral jusgments related to intent to commit a crime. In one experiment, patients with brain damage in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of the brain don't consider hypothetical perpetrators to be morally responsible for their actions. In another experiment (noted on NPR today) the researchers showed that they could switch off the moral judgment function by applying a magnetic field to the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ) of the brain. The TPJ has also been implicated in "out of body experiences", both in cases of brain damage and by artificially stimulating the area.
This article, about differences between male and female brains, is doing the rounds on various blogs. (I found it via reddit.) Meanwhile, debunkers are doing their best to rip the author a new asshole.
The "Still Face" Paradigm (YT video) designed by Dr. Edward Tronick of Harvard and Childrens Hospital’s Child Development Unit, is an experiment which shows us how a 1-year old child will react to a suddenly unresponsive parent. It allows us to understand how a caregiver's interactions and emotional state can influence many aspects of an infant's social and emotional development. [more inside]
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