neurosciences

Saas and taas and specis bizaas

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Normal consciousness relies, at least in part, on the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN), according to neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research in the brain sciences division of the Imperial College of London medical school. The DMN is a network of interacting brain regions that acts as a cognitive transit hub, integrating and assimilating information. As the name implies, it’s the usual system of organization for your mind. Carhart-Harris says the DMN “gives coherence to cognition” by connecting different regions of the brain, and is considered the “orchestrator of the self.”

Carhart-Harris and his colleagues found what seems to be an important function of the DMN inadvertently. While studying brain networks, they got curious about what changes might occur when people are under the effects of hallucinogens. In studies analyzing the effects of psilocybin on brain wave oscillation and blood flow, they found that when the DMN was inactive, an alternate network of consciousness seemed to arise.

When some study subjects tested psilocybin, they reported a strong sense of interconnectedness, as well as spiritual, magical, and supernatural feelings.

In the alternate mode, brains produced a different world that offered other sensations and realizations than in everyday life. In this mode, the self wasn’t the protagonist of the narrative. Meanwhile, scans of blood flow and brain wave oscillations showed new, unusual—but orderly and synchronous—connections forming between cortical regions, as if the brain was reorganizing its network. This led Carhart-Harris to posit that the DMN generates the feeling we each have that we’re individuals, a feeling that manifests very strongly as reality. And that means we can temporarily switch off, or mute, this part of the brain.

{ Quartz | Continue reading }

According to the famous work of Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga, “split brain” patients seem to experience a split in consciousness: the left and the right side of their brain can independently become aware of, and respond, to stimuli. Split brain patients are those who underwent surgery to sever the corpus callosum, the nerve tract connecting the two hemispheres of the brain.

{ Neuroskeptic | Continue reading }

art { Leah Schrager }

Real-time imitation of piano chord sequences with unexpected harmony or manner

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People’s capacity to generate creative ideas is central to technological and cultural progress. Despite advances in the neuroscience of creativity, the field lacks clarity on whether a specific neural architecture distinguishes the highly creative brain. […]

We identified a brain network associated with creative ability comprised of regions within default, salience, and executive systems—neural circuits that often work in opposition. Across four independent datasets, we show that a person’s capacity to generate original ideas can be reliably predicted from the strength of functional connectivity within this network, indicating that creative thinking ability is characterized by a distinct brain connectivity profile.

{ PNAS | Continue reading | Read more }

related { Neurobiological differences between classical and jazz musicians at high and low levels of action planning }

Nature does not work with an end in view

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Neurobiological research on memory has tended to focus on the cellular mechanisms involved in storing information, known as persistence, but much less attention has been paid to those involved in forgetting, also known as transience. It’s often been assumed that an inability to remember comes down to a failure of the mechanisms involved in storing or recalling information. 

“We find plenty of evidence from recent research that there are mechanisms that promote memory loss, and that these are distinct from those involved in storing information,” says co-author Paul Frankland.

One recent study in particular done by Frankland’s lab showed that the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus seems to promote forgetting. This was an interesting finding since this area of the brain generates more cells in young people. The research explored how forgetting in childhood may play a role in why adults typically do not have memories for events that occurred before the age of four years old. 

{ University of Toronto | Continue reading }

art { Masao Mochizuki, The Air Power of the World, 1976 }

‘The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.’ –Dostoyevsky

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When you’re doing two things at once – like listening to the radio while driving – your brain organizes itself into two, functionally independent networks, almost as if you temporarily have two brains. That’s according to a fascinating new study from University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists Shuntaro Sasai and colleagues.

{ Neuroskeptic | Continue reading }

art { Harri Peccinotti }

yesterday never comes back

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Remembering the past is a complex phenomenon that is subject to error. The malleable nature of human memory has led some researchers to argue that our memory systems are not oriented towards flawlessly preserving our past experiences. Indeed, many researchers now agree that remembering is, to some degree, reconstructive. Current theories propose that our capacity to flexibly recombine remembered information from multiple sources – such as distributed memory records, inferences, and expectations – helps us to solve current problems and anticipate future events. One implication of having a reconstructive and flexible memory system is that people can develop rich and coherent autobiographical memories of entire events that never happened.

In this article, we revisit questions about the conditions under which participants in studies of false autobiographical memory come to believe in and remember fictitious childhood experiences. […]

Approximately one-third of participants showed evidence of a false memory, and more than half showed evidence of believing that the [fictitious] event occurred in the past.

{ Memory | Continue reading }

Photo photo { Brooke Nipar }

When you speak, you learn nothing

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Normal aging is known to be accompanied by loss of brain substance.

Machine learning was used to estimate brain ages in meditators and controls.

At age 50, brains of meditators were estimated to be 7.5 years younger than that of controls.

These findings suggest that meditation may be beneficial for brain preservation.

{ NeuroImage | Continue reading }

image { Jonathan Puckey }

ConSec had hardware. It had contacts. Keller could see the future.

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The First Brain - The Brain Occupying the Space in the Skull
All of us are familiar with the general presence and functioning of this brain as a receiver of information which then gets processed.

The Second Brain - The brain in the gut
It has been proven that the very same cells and neural network that is present in the brain in the skull is present in the gut as well and releases the same neurotransmitters as the brain in the skull. Not just that, about 90 percent of the bers in the primary visceral nerve, the vagus, carry information from the gut to the brain and not the other way around.

The Third Brain - The Global Brain
This is connected to the neural network that extends from each being on this planet beyond the con nes of the skull and the anatomy of the gut. It is inter-dimensional in nature and contains all frequencies of energies (low and high) and their corresponding information.

[…]

Every human being is born with the three brains described above, but Autistic Beings are more connected and more in-tune with all three simultaneously. But make no mistake – most autistic beings are not necessarily aware of the existence or their connection to these three brains beyond their volitional control although they are accessing information from all three to varying degrees almost all the time.

One of the manifestations of being tuned-in to this third brain is Telepathy.

{ Journal of Neurology and Neurobiology | PDF }

photo { Video screen shows images of blue sky on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, January 23, 2013 }

‘There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.’ –Aldous Huxley

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After medicine in the 20th century focused on healing the sick, now it is more and more focused on upgrading the healthy, which is a completely different project. And it’s a fundamentally different project in social and political terms, because whereas healing the sick is an egalitarian project […] upgrading is by definition an elitist project. […] This opens the possibility of creating huge gaps between the rich and the poor […]Many people say no, it will not happen, because we have the experience of the 20th century, that we had many medical advances, beginning with the rich or with the most advanced countries, and gradually they trickled down to everybody, and now everybody enjoys antibiotics or vaccinations or whatever. […]

There were peculiar reasons why medicine in the 20th century was egalitarian, why the discoveries trickled down to everybody. These unique conditions may not repeat themselves in the 21st century. […] When you look at the 20th century, it’s the era of the masses, mass politics, mass economics. Every human being has value, has political, economic, and military value. […] This goes back to the structures of the military and of the economy, where every human being is valuable as a soldier in the trenches and as a worker in the factory.

But in the 21st century, there is a good chance that most humans will lose, they are losing, their military and economic value. This is true for the military, it’s done, it’s over. The age of the masses is over. We are no longer in the First World War, where you take millions of soldiers, give each one a rifle and have them run forward. And the same thing perhaps is happening in the economy. Maybe the biggest question of 21st century economics is what will be the need in the economy for most people in the year 2050.

And once most people are no longer really necessary, for the military and for the economy, the idea that you will continue to have mass medicine is not so certain. Could be. It’s not a prophecy, but you should take very seriously the option that people will lose their military and economic value, and medicine will follow.

{ Edge | Continue reading }

Tragedy on the stage is no longer enough for me

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A technique called optogenetics has transformed neuroscience during the past 10 years by allowing researchers to turn specific neurons on and off in experimental animals. By flipping these neural switches, it has provided clues about which brain pathways are involved in diseases like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. “Optogenetics is not just a flash in the pan,” says neuroscientist Robert Gereau of Washington University in Saint Louis. “It allows us to do experiments that were not doable before. This is a true game changer like few other techniques in science.” […]

The new technology relies on opsins, a type of ion channel consisting of proteins that conduct neurons’ electrical signaling. Neurons contain hundreds of different types of ion channels but opsins open in response to light. Some opsins are found in the human retina but those used in optogenetics are derived from algae and other organisms. The first opsins used in optogenetics, called channel rhodopsins, open to allow positively charged ions to enter the cell when activated by a flash of blue light, which causes the neuron to fire an electrical impulse. Other opsin proteins pass inhibitory, negatively charged ions in response to light, making it possible to silence neurons as well. […]

The main challenge before optogenetic therapies become a reality is getting opsin genes into the adult human neurons to be targeted in a treatment. In rodents researchers have employed two main strategies: transgenics, in which mice are bred to make opsins in specific neurons—an option unsuitable for use in humans. The other method uses a virus to implant a gene into a neuron. Viruses are currently being used for other types of gene therapy in humans, but challenges remain. Viruses must penetrate mature neurons and deliver their gene cargo without spurring an immune reaction. Then the neuron has to express the opsin in the right place, and it has to go on making the protein continuously—ideally forever.

{ Scientific American | Continue reading }

Too dead to die

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In an unusual new paper, a group of German neuroscientists report that they scanned the brain of a Catholic bishop: Does a bishop pray when he prays? And does his brain distinguish between different religions? […]

Silveira et al. had the bishop perform some religious-themed tasks, but the most interesting result was that there was no detectable difference in brain activity when the bishop was praying, compared to when he was told to do nothing in particular.

{ Neuroskeptic | Continue reading }

related { How brain architecture leads to abstract thought }

photo { Steven Brahms }

‘A happy memory is perhaps on this earth truer than happiness itself.’ –Alfred de Musset

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In 1995, a team of researchers taught pigeons to discriminate between Picasso and Monet paintings. […] After just a few weeks’ training, their pigeons could not only tell a Picasso from a Monet – indicated by pecks on a designated button – but could generalise their learning to discriminate cubist from impressionist works in general. […] For a behaviourist, the moral is that even complex learning is supported by fundamental principles of association, practice and reward. It also shows that you can train a pigeon to tell a Renoir from a Matisse, but that doesn’t mean it knows a lot about art.

[…]

What is now indisputable is that different memories are supported by different anatomical areas of the brain. […] Brain imaging has confirmed the basic division of labour between so-called declarative memory, aka explicit memory (facts and events), and procedural memory, aka implicit memory (habits and skills). The neuroscience allows us to understand the frustrating fact that you have the insight into what you are learning without yet having acquired the skill, or you can have the skill without the insight. In any complex task, you’ll need both. Maybe the next hundred years of the neuroscience of memory will tell us how to coordinate them.

[…]

Chess masters have an amazing memory for patterns on the chess board – able to recall the positions of all the pieces after only a brief glance. Follow-up work showed that they only have this ability if the patterns conform to possible positions in a legal game of chess. When pieces are positioned on the board randomly, however, chess grandmasters have as poor memories as anyone else.

{ The Guardian | Continue reading }

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

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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 }