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]
Locked-In Man - "Martin Pistorius spent more than a decade unable to move or communicate, fearing he would be alone, trapped, forever. NPR's new show Invisibilia tells how his mind helped him create a new life."
Why should Oscar nominees have all the fun? May Britt Moser was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this year (along with her husband, Edvard Moser, and colleague John O’Keefe) for "for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain". Her bio and list of publications can be found here. Designer Matthew Hubble was inspired by the attention paid to movie stars and their clothing to create a custom dress for Britt Moser that combines leather, silk, and beads to illustrate neurons in a very new way.
“We used a mixture of sequins and beads for the cyton, and created the beautiful synapses similarly, but the myelin sheath on the axons we just couldn’t make look beautiful and so decided a splash of artistic license is allowed after all.”[more inside]
How Tripping On Mushrooms Changes The Brain - "New research [pdf] suggests that psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, sprouts new links across previously disconnected brain regions, temporarily altering the brain's entire organizational framework." [more inside]
Personhood Week: Why We’re So Obsessed with Persons, by Virginia Hughes (@virginiahughes), National Geographic:
"People have been trying to define personhood for a long time, maybe since the beginning of people. The first recorded attempt came from Boethius, a philosopher from 6th-Century Rome, who said a person was 'an individual substance of rational nature.' Fast-forward a thousand years and Locke says it's about rationality, self-awareness, and memory. Kant adds that humans have 'dignity,' an intrinsic ability to freely choose. In 1978, Daniel Dennett says it's intelligence, self-awareness, language, and being 'conscious in some special way' that other animals aren't. The next year Joseph Fletcher lays out 15 criteria (!), including a sense of futurity, concern for others, curiosity, and even IQ."[more inside]
Based on a comparison of suicide rates at sea level and at areas above 2,000 feet, living at a high altitude may make people 30% more likely to commit suicide. Neuroscientist Perry Renshaw believes that it's due to the impact of altitude on the brain.
Gender Swap - Experiment with The Machine to be Another. "Gender Swap is an experiment that uses The Machine to be Another system as a platform for embodiment experience (a neuroscience technique in which users can feel themselves like if they were in a different body). In order to create the brain illusion we use the immersive Head Mounted Display Oculus Rift, and first-person cameras. To create this perception, both users have to syncronize their movements. If one does not correspond to the movement of the other, the embodiment experience does not work. It means that both users have to constantly agree on every movement they make. Throughout this experiment, we aim to investigate issues like Gender Identity, Queer Theory, feminist technoscience, Intimacy and Mutual Respect." [NSFW, Via]
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.]
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]
Karl Deisseroth and his team at Stanford University [previously] have developed a completely new technique to make a brain perfectly see-through. They call it CLARITY, and the result has to be seen to be believed. [more inside]
NeuroBollocks: Debunking pseudo-neuroscience so you don't have to.
Cat responds to rotational optical illusion. The illusion in question. But why does it work? Link to the actual paper.
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.]
We only wanted one thing from Jonah Lehrer: a story. He told it so well that we forgave him almost everything.
Heaven is Real: A Doctor's Experience of the Afterlife. As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences...In the fall of 2008, however, after seven days in a coma during which the human part of my brain, the neocortex, was inactivated, I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.
Oxford University neuroscience professor Dorothy Bishop delivers a scathing lecture (text version) about the overselling of weak neuroscience, both in the news and within the scientific literature. [more inside]
"Adrian Owen still gets animated when he talks about patient 23. The patient was only 24 years old when his life was devastated by a car accident. Alive but unresponsive, he had been languishing in what neurologists refer to as a vegetative state for five years, when Owen, a neuro-scientist then at the University of Cambridge, UK, and his colleagues at the University of Liège in Belgium, put him into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and started asking him questions. Incredibly, he provided answers."
UCLA neuroscientists have reconstructed Phineas Gage's head injury and mapped out how his brain was affected by the tamping rod that went through it. You can read the full scientific article here. Phineas Gage has become one of the most famous cases in the history of science. A railroad worker who survived having an iron rod go through his brain with subsequent changes in personality. Malcolm McMillan of Deakin University, Australia, has the great Phineas Gage Information Page, which includes his story and a page on unanswered questions. [Phineas Gage previously on MeFi]
“Henrik's work speaks to the idea that there is no such thing as a soul or a self that's independent of the brain.”
Out-of-body experience: Master of illusion: Out-of-body experiences are just part of Ehrsson's repertoire. He has convinced people that they have swapped bodies with another person, gained a third arm, shrunk to the size of a doll or grown to giant proportions. [ . . . ] But Ehrsson's unorthodox apparatus amount to more than cheap trickery. They are part of his quest to understand how people come to experience a sense of self, located within their own bodies. The feeling of body ownership is so ingrained that few people ever think about it — and those scientists and philosophers who do have assumed that it was unassailable. [ . . . ] Ehrsson's work also intrigues neuroscientists and philosophers because it turns a slippery, metaphysical construct — the self — into something that scientists can dissect.
The statistical error that neuroscience researchers get wrong at least half the time. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science explains this mistake, which was made in about half of 157 academic neuroscience papers in which there was an opportunity to make it. The culprit doesn't seem to be any specific journal, since the sample included five different neuroscience journals.
Body suit may soon enable the paralyzed to walk. "In a busy lab at Duke University, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis is merging brain science with engineering in a bid to create something fantastical: a full-body prosthetic device that would allow those immobilized by injury to walk again. On Wednesday, Nicolelis and an international group of collaborators declared that they had cleared a key hurdle on the path toward that goal, demonstrating they could bypass the body's complex network of nerve endings and supply the sensation of touch directly to the brains of monkeys."
UC Berkeley researchers have successfully used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to decode and reconstruct people’s dynamic visual experiences - in this case, watching Hollywood movie trailers.
Before the former American football player Dave Duerson killed himself, he asked that his brain be left to researchers studying head injuries among athletes.
Allen Human Brain Atlas - Brain Explorer 2 is a desktop software application for viewing the human brain anatomy and gene expression data in 3D. "Until now, a definitive map of the human brain at this level of detail simply hasn't existed," said Allan Jones, the nonprofit institute's chief executive. "For the first time, we have generated a comprehensive map of the brain that includes the underlying biochemistry." | Functional Neuroanatomy | 10 Great Sites for Reviewing Brain Anatomy | Harvard Brain Atlas. Bonus link: Brain massage with cosmic energy application in Pushkar, India. [more inside]
"In the Bible, God appeared to Ezekiel as a “wheel within a wheel”. Spirals and concentric circles are commonly found in petrogylphs carved by cultures long dead. Similar visual effects are reported during extreme psychological stress, fever delirium, psychotic episodes, sensory deprivation, and are reliably induced by psychedelic drugs."
Form Constants and the Visual Cortex, or Where Psychedelic Visuals Come From.
Form Constants and the Visual Cortex, or Where Psychedelic Visuals Come From.
Braindriver is a car that allows you to steer, accelerate and decelerate with nothing more than the faint electrical signals generated by the brain.
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.
"It is only fitting that the story of the brain should be a visual one, for the visuals had the ancients fooled for millenniums. The brain was so ugly that they assumed the mind must lie elsewhere. Now those same skeletal silhouettes glow plump and brightly colored, courtesy of a variety of inserted genes encoding fluorescent molecules. A glossy new art book, “Portraits of the Mind,” hopes to draw the general reader into neuroscience with the sheer beauty of its images." Slide Shows: The Beautiful Mind and Portraits of the Mind [more inside]
"The whole endeavour of the consciousness studies community is absurd – they are in pursuit of a chimera" - Peter Hacker on philosophy
The Dalai Lama on changing minds only through compassion and respect. He spent several days at Stanford recently, and this session focuses on the neuroscience of compassion. Watch it in full here.
Editors of the pop-culture magazine Wired provided the title "iPhone 4’s ‘Retina’ Display Claims Are False Marketing" to a highly critical article about the new iPhone's high-resolution "Retina" display, so-called as the human eye cannot resolve individual pixels when viewing it. A technician who worked on the Hubble telescope disagreed with the Wired editors' choice of rhetoric in very strong technical terms and issued less stringent disagreement with Raymond Soneira, the writer of the piece. Neuroscientist and photographer Bryan Jones published his own highly readable technical analysis of the display's pixel arrangement, that helped him decide whether Apple's claims were truthful or not.
In a Michelangelo Fresco, Visions of a Brain Stem. "It has been hiding in plain sight for the past 500 years, and now two Johns Hopkins professors believe they have found it: one of Michelangelo’s rare anatomical drawings in a panel high on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was a conscientious student of human anatomy and enthusiastically dissected corpses throughout his life, but few of his anatomical drawings survive. This one, a depiction of the human brain and brain stem, appears to be drawn on the neck of God, but not all art historians can see it there."
Prosopagnosia, or face blindness, is an impairment which limits one's ability to recognize faces (previously). As part of the World Science Festival, Robert Krulwich interviews two famous suffers of this little known disease: the portrait artist Chuck Close and the neuroscientist and writer Oliver Sacks. [more inside]
A Mind in the Water: The dolphin as our beast of burden. "The shocking double life of the dolphin, featuring neuropsychologists, hippies, spies, and extraterrestrials."
Optimal Waist-to-Hip Ratios in Women Activate Neural Reward Centers in Men by Steven M. Platek and Devendra Singh.
Cyborg Spy Beetles are no longer a thing of the future. UC Berkeley (funded by DARPA) has created cyborg beetles guided wirelessly via laptop. These spy beetles were created with the intent of bugging actual conversations, literally acting as the "fly on the wall". [more inside]
What can we learn from quadrapeds about our own bipedal gait? Recently, a group of researchers has taught rhesus macaques how to walk, and then used neural recordings to develop a model of a functioning brain-machine interface (BMI) designed to take the signals from your brain and use them to interface with a prosthetic leg, which would allow previously paralyzed patients to literally walk again. [more inside]
Functional MRI (fMRI) is a widely used technique of brain imaging in the cognitive sciences, allowing researchers to visualize what part of the brain is responding to certain stimuli, resulting in striking images of live brains. These days, fMRI is seeing more non-research use, such as forming the basis of controversial new lie detectors. Craig Bennett, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB, submitted a whole Atlantic salmon to fMRI analysis, and found that this fish could apparently detect, and respond to, the the emotional state of human beings (poster). Remarkable science, especially considering the salmon was dead at the time. [more inside]
The Neuroscience of McGriddles: Evolutionary biology offers hypotheses about why we enjoy eating. "When you eat at McDonald's, a big part of the pleasure comes from the fact that the food is sustenance, fuel, energy. Even mediocre food is a little rewarding."
Neurosecurity: security and privacy for neural devices. "An increasing number of neural implantable devices will become available in the near future due to advances in neural engineering. This discipline holds the potential to improve many patients' lives dramatically by offering improved—and in some cases entirely new—forms of rehabilitation for conditions ranging from missing limbs to degenerative cognitive diseases. The use of standard engineering practices, medical trials, and neuroethical evaluations during the design process can create systems that are safe and that follow ethical guidelines; unfortunately, none of these disciplines currently ensure that neural devices are robust against adversarial entities trying to exploit these devices to alter, block, or eavesdrop on neural signals. The authors define 'neurosecurity'—a version of computer science security principles and methods applied to neural engineering—and discuss why neurosecurity should be a critical consideration in the design of future neural devices." [Via Mind Hacks]
We've discussed trepanation, the boring of holes in the head as practiced in antiquity and by a fringe do it yourself-ers, before. There now seems to be research indicating that the procedure may have medical merit, and even help stave off age related cognitive decline. This curious research brought to you by the Beckly Foundation which "promotes the investigation of consciousness and its modulation from a multidisciplinary perspective" and has a sweet logo.