What are you doing right now? I’m no psychic, but I can say for certain one thing that you’re doing: reading. You’re reading this sentence, word by word, and extracting meaning from little black lines of orthography, a fancy term for the rules of written language. If you really think about it, what you’re doing right now is quite difficult. What are the neural processes that enable us to read?
Whether you’re listening through tinny iPhone headphones on your morning commute or crying at a John Mayer concert, there is a special place in our hearts for music. But what is the biological basis for that magical sensation we feel when listening to our favorite song?
EXTERIOR SCROOGE’S DOOR – CHRISTMAS EVE
Knock! Knock! Scrooge answers the door.
The human brain is arguably the most complex organ. Throughout life, it is shaped ever so slightly by each and every experience we endure. The resulting nuances are what make us unique individuals. Unfortunately, the more intricate the system, the harder it is to fix when damaged. Death of any brain tissue will almost certainly result in some sort of physical or cognitive impairment, and, in severe cases, epilepsy, coma, or death. This is because the lost brain tissue can neither grow back like skin nor be replaced like a kidney.
Or can it?
Benjamin Franklin once quipped: ‘There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know oneself.’ Every decision we make, from pinpointing the source of a faint sound to choosing a new job, comes with a degree of confidence that we have made the right call. If confidence is sufficiently low, we might change our minds and reverse our decision. Now scientists are using these choice reversals to study the first inklings of self-knowledge. Changes of mind, it turns out, reflect a precisely tuned process for monitoring our stream of thoughts.Continue reading
Given its subjective nature, consciousness is already a controversial topic in the world of brain science. While some neuroscientists doubt that consciousness can even be studied, others still endeavor towards identifying parts of the brain that support subjective awareness. At a gathering of neuroscientists February 15 in Bethesda, Maryland, an announcement has thrust the quest to understand consciousness into the spotlight once again. A team of neuroscientists lead by Christof Koch has identified neurons in a relatively obscure brain region known as the claustrum that send fibers far throughout the entire cerebral cortex, well beyond where they are expected to project. One neuron shown in the presentation engulfed the brain like a “crown of thorns” with its colossal fibers. According to Nature News, “Koch sees this as evidence that the claustrum could be coordinating inputs and outputs across the brain to create consciousness.”
The first human magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan was acquired almost 40 years ago. The scanner — hand-built by Dr. Raymond Damadian with the help of his two postdoctoral fellows — took nearly five hours to produce one snapshot of the human chest, and Dr. Damadian was eventually awarded the National Medal of Technology for his accomplishment.
If you ever gotten glitter on you, then you know that you will inevitably continue to find glitter on you many days after you’ve washed and showered.
Take a moment to think about what that means about the germs that get on your skin…
Well, not entirely.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand why scientists do what they do. Why spend a career studying cells, fungus, or flies? Other than being nerdy and wanting to learn about our world, what’s the point?Continue reading
The evening of November 9th, 1938, began with typical fall solemnity for many Jews living across Germany: closing up their shops and businesses, returning home from school, and preparing family suppers. It would end with terror, as mobs ransacked storefronts, assaulted Jews on the street, and set fire to their homes. That terrible night would be known to history by the glittering debris of shattered windows lining the streets: “Kristallnacht.”
Kristallnacht, and the subsequent atrocities of Germany’s holocaust against the Jews, changed the world. Modernity had to forever acknowledge a surprising and abhorrent crime. Societies would undergo lasting changes, attempting to prevent such crimes, and the victims themselves, sadly, would suffer long-lasting impacts to their psyche.Continue reading
You’re on your way to the traditional Thanksgiving family get-together. You drive down a familiar street, locate your familiar house, and park in a familiar spot.Continue reading