Call me morbid, call me pale, I’ve spent six years on your trail


Neurotechnologies are “dual-use” tools, which means that in addition to being employed in medical problem-solving, they could also be applied (or misapplied) for military purposes.

The same brain-scanning machines meant to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease or autism could potentially read someone’s private thoughts. Computer systems attached to brain tissue that allow paralyzed patients to control robotic appendages with thought alone could also be used by a state to direct bionic soldiers or pilot aircraft. And devices designed to aid a deteriorating mind could alternatively be used to implant new memories, or to extinguish existing ones, in allies and enemies alike. […]

In 2005, a team of scientists announced that it had successfully read a human’s mind using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique that measures blood flow triggered by brain activity. A research subject, lying still in a full-body scanner, observed a small screen that projected simple visual stimuli—a random sequence of lines oriented in different directions, some vertical, some horizontal, and some diagonal. Each line’s orientation provoked a slightly different flurry of brain functions. Ultimately, just by looking at that activity, the researchers could determine what kind of line the subject was viewing.

It took only six years for this brain-decoding technology to be spectacularly extended—with a touch of Silicon Valley flavor—in a series of experiments at the University of California, Berkeley. In a 2011 study, subjects were asked to watch Hollywood movie trailers inside an fMRI tube; researchers used data drawn from fluxing brain responses to build decoding algorithms unique to each subject. Then, they recorded neural activity as the subjects watched various new film scenes—for instance, a clip in which Steve Martin walks across a room. With each subject’s algorithm, the researchers were later able to reconstruct this very scene based on brain activity alone. The eerie results are not photo-
realistic, but impressionistic: a blurry Steve Martin floats across a surreal, shifting background.

Based on these outcomes, Thomas Naselaris, a neuroscientist at the Medical University of South Carolina and a coauthor of the 2011 study, says, “The potential to do something like mind reading is going to be available sooner rather than later.” More to the point, “It’s going to be possible within our lifetimes.”

{ Foreign Policy | Continue reading }

‘[Man] is not conscious of being born, he dies in pain, and he forgets to live.’ —La Bruyère


My brain tumor introduced itself to me on a grainy MRI, in the summer of 2009, when I was 28 years old. […]

Over time I would lose my memory—almost completely—of things that happened just moments before, and become unable to recall events that happened days and years earlier. […]

Through persistence, luck, and maybe something more, an incredible medical procedure returned my mind and memories to me almost all at once. I became the man who remembered events I had never experienced, due to my amnesia. The man who forgot which member of his family had died while he was sick, only to have that memory, like hundreds of others, come flooding back. The memories came back out of order, with flashbacks mystically presenting themselves in ways that left me both excited and frightened.

{ Quartz | Continue reading }

And the wordless, in the wind the weathercocks are rattling


An influential theory about the malleability of memory comes under scrutiny in a new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The ‘reconsolidation’ hypothesis holds that when a memory is recalled, its molecular trace in the brain becomes plastic. On this view, a reactivated memory has to be ‘saved’ or consolidated all over again in order for it to be stored.

A drug that blocks memory formation (‘amnestic’) will, therefore, not just block new memories but will also cause reactivated memories to be forgotten, by preventing reconsolidation.

This theory has generated a great deal of research interest and has led to speculation that blocking reconsolidation could be used as a tool to ‘wipe’ human memories.

However, Gisquet-Verrier et al. propose that amnestic drugs don’t in fact block reconsolidation, but instead add an additional element to a reactivated memory trace. This additional element is a memory of the amnestic itself – essentially, ‘how it feels’ to be intoxicated with that drug.

In other words, the proposal is that amnestics tag memories with ‘amnestic-intoxication’ which makes these memories less accessible due to the phenomenon of state dependent recall. This predicts that the memories could be retrieved by giving another dose of the amnestic.

So, Gisquet-Verrier et al. are saying that (sometimes) an ‘amnestic’ drug can actually improve memory.

{ Neuroskeptic | Continue reading }

related { Kids can remember tomorrow what they forgot today }

‘Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.’ —Nietzsche


You see a man at the grocery store. Is that the fellow you went to college with or just a guy who looks like him? One tiny spot in the brain has the answer.

Neuroscientists have identified the part of the hippocampus that creates and processes this type of memory, furthering our understanding of how the mind works, and what’s going wrong when it doesn’t.

{ Lunatic Laboratories | Continue reading }

Next time you’re worrying, remember that your thoughts aren’t real. Life is real.


For decades, many psychologists and neuroscientists have argued that humans have a so-called “cognitive peak.” That is, that a person’s fluid intelligence, or the ability to analyze information and solve problems in novel situations, reaches its apex during early adulthood. But new research done at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts General Hospital paints a different picture, suggesting that different aspects of intelligence reach their respective pinnacles at various points over the lifespan—often, many decades later than previously imagined. […]

For example, while short term memory appears to peak at 25 and start to decline at 35, emotional perception peaks nearly two decades later, between 40 and 50. Almost every independent cognitive ability tested appears to have its own age trajectory. The results were reported earlier this year in Psychological Science.

{ The Dana Foundation | Continue reading }

“La vieillesse est un naufrage.” –Charles de Gaulle


Ageing causes changes to the brain size, vasculature, and cognition. The brain shrinks with increasing age and there are changes at all levels from molecules to morphology. Incidence of stroke, white matter lesions, and dementia also rise with age, as does level of memory impairment and there are changes in levels of neurotransmitters and hormones. Protective factors that reduce cardiovascular risk, namely regular exercise, a healthy diet, and low to moderate alcohol intake, seem to aid the ageing brain as does increased cognitive effort in the form of education or occupational attainment. A healthy life both physically and mentally may be the best defence against the changes of an ageing brain. Additional measures to prevent cardiovascular disease may also be important. […]

It has been widely found that the volume of the brain and/or its weight declines with age at a rate of around 5% per decade after age 40 with the actual rate of decline possibly increasing with age particularly over age 70. […]

The most widely seen cognitive change associated with ageing is that of memory. Memory function can be broadly divided into four sections, episodic memory, semantic memory, procedural memory, and working memory.18 The first two of these are most important with regard to ageing. Episodic memory is defined as “a form of memory in which information is stored with ‘mental tags’, about where, when and how the information was picked up”. An example of an episodic memory would be a memory of your first day at school, the important meeting you attended last week, or the lesson where you learnt that Paris is the capital of France. Episodic memory performance is thought to decline from middle age onwards. This is particularly true for recall in normal ageing and less so for recognition. It is also a characteristic of the memory loss seen in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). […]

Semantic memory is defined as “memory for meanings”, for example, knowing that Paris is the capital of France, that 10 millimetres make up a centimetre, or that Mozart composed the Magic Flute. Semantic memory increases gradually from middle age to the young elderly but then declines in the very elderly.

{ Postgraduate Medical Journal | Continue reading | Thanks Tim}

Full fathom five thy father lies. Of his bones are coral made. Those are pearls that were his eyes.


What happens to people when they think they’re invisible?

Using a 3D virtual reality headset, neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm gave participants the sensation that they were invisible, and then examined the psychological effects of apparent invisibility. […] “Having an invisible body seems to have a stress-reducing effect when experiencing socially challenging situations.” […]

“Follow-up studies should also investigate whether the feeling of invisibility affects moral decision-making, to ensure that future invisibility cloaking does not make us lose our sense of right and wrong, which Plato asserted over two millennia ago,” said the report’s co-author, Henrik Ehrsson. […]

In Book II of Plato’s Republic, one of Socrates’s interlocutors tells a story of a shepherd, an ancestor of the ancient Lydian king Gyges, who finds a magic ring that makes the wearer invisible. The power quickly corrupts him, and he becomes a tyrant.

The premise behind the story of the Ring of Gyges, which inspired HG Wells’s seminal 1897 science fiction novel, The Invisible Man, is that we behave morally so that we can be seen doing so.

{ CS Monitor | Continue reading }

photo { Ren Hang }

‘One foot in sea, and one on shore, to one thing constant never.’ –Shakespeare


Back in 2009, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara performed a curious experiment. In many ways, it was routine — they placed a subject in the brain scanner, displayed some images, and monitored how the subject’s brain responded. The measured brain activity showed up on the scans as red hot spots, like many other neuroimaging studies.

Except that this time, the subject was an Atlantic salmon, and it was dead.

Dead fish do not normally exhibit any kind of brain activity, of course. The study was a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the problems with brain scanning studies. Those colorful images of the human brain found in virtually all news media may have captivated the imagination of the public, but they have also been subject of controversy among scientists over the past decade or so. In fact, neuro-imagers are now debating how reliable brain scanning studies actually are, and are still mostly in the dark about exactly what it means when they see some part of the brain “light up.”

{ Neurophilosophy | Continue reading }

‘Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification — the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit.’ —Karl Popper


Recalling one memory actually leads to the forgetting of other competing memories, a new study confirms.

It is one of the single most surprising facts about memory, now isolated by neuroscience research.

Although many scientists believed the brain must work this way, this is the first time it has been demonstrated.

{ PsyBlog | Continue reading | Nature }

*sighs heavily, walks over to big DAYS SINCE MAX GOT TOO DRUNK AT AN OFFICE PARTY AND EMBARRASSED HIMSELF sign, flips number back to 0* —Max Read


15 years ago, the neurosciences defined the main function of brains in terms of processing input to compute output: “brain function is ultimately best understood in terms of input/output transformations and how they are produced” wrote Mike Mauk in 2000.

Since then, a lot of things have been discovered that make this stimulus-response concept untenable and potentially based largely on laboratory artifacts.

For instance, it was discovered that the likely ancestral state of behavioral organization is one of probing the environment with ongoing, variable actions first and evaluating sensory feedback later (i.e., the inverse of stimulus response). […]

In humans, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies over the last decade and a half revealed that the human brain is far from passively waiting for stimuli, but rather constantly produces ongoing, variable activity, and just shifts this activity over to other networks when we move from rest to task or switch between tasks.

{ Björn Brembs | Continue reading }

‘The bassoon or the piccolo, grumbling its discontent or shrilling its longing, personify the empty stomach for me.’ –Gioachino Rossini


Scientists are increasingly convinced that the vast assemblage of microfauna in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind. The gut-brain axis seems to be bidirectional—the brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune functions that help to shape the gut’s microbial makeup, and gut microbes make neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters and metabolites that also act on the brain. […]

Microbes may have their own evolutionary reasons for communicating with the brain. They need us to be social, says John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland, so that they can spread through the human population. Cryan’s research shows that when bred in sterile conditions, germ-free mice lacking in intestinal microbes also lack an ability to recognize other mice with whom they interact. In other studies, disruptions of the microbiome induced mice behavior that mimics human anxiety, depression and even autism. In some cases, scientists restored more normal behavior by treating their test subjects with certain strains of benign bacteria. Nearly all the data so far are limited to mice, but Cryan believes the findings provide fertile ground for developing analogous compounds, which he calls psychobiotics, for humans. “That dietary treatments could be used as either adjunct or sole therapy for mood disorders is not beyond the realm of possibility,” he says.

{ Scientific American | Continue reading }

related { Is Neuroscience Based On Biology? }

This too is for the best


The scientific study of heartbreak is extremely new, with nearly all articles on the matter appearing in the last 10-15 years. In fact, the notion that strong emotional stress can impact health was not widely accepted in academia until recently.

In the 1990’s, Japan started accruing cases of a disease called “takotsubo cardiomyopathy,” where patients’ hearts would actually become damaged and their ventricles would be misshapen (into that of a “takotsubo,” or octopus-catching pot – a very bad shape for a heart chamber). Curiously, these cases were not heart attacks, but instead were a form of heart failure brought on by a rush of stress hormones.

After 15 years, the syndrome was finally mentioned in a 2005 New England Journal of Medicine article, where it was renamed “Broken Heart Syndrome.” Among the causes of Broken Heart Syndrome are romantic rejection, divorce, or the death of a loved one, and the outcome can be as serious as death.

{ NeuWrite | Continue reading }