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?
Epigenetics change which genes are active and which are inactive. Research over the past few years has shown that these changes are important for protecting the brain from neurodegeneration and injury. A review paper came out on May 18th in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience that summarizes this research. Check out the infographic for a description of the review paper.
In our previous post, we considered the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in the context of a thought experiment: a thinking tool used by scientists and philosophers to reframe an unintuitive problem in a new, more familiar context.
Another great thought experiment of the 1960s is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Developed in parallel as both a novel by Arthur C. Clarke and a film by Stanley Kubrick, Space Odyssey is a story about the evolution of humanity and intelligence. Beginning with the invention of tool use in Africa, the story asks how intelligence might continue to evolve after humans develop sophisticated technology. Both the novel and the film follow astronaut Dave Bowman on his journey to the Outer Solar System guided by HAL 9000, an artificial intelligence (AI) that controls the spaceship and is responsible for the well being of the crew.
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
Would you trust a memory if it felt as real as all your others? And other people confirmed they remember it, too? What if the memory turned out to be false?Continue reading
We all know too much sugar is bad for us. But did you know that having unfettered access to sugar might produce brain changes similar to highly stressful situations, such as neglect or abuse? A recent study published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience comparing the effects of unlimited sugar availability and the effects of early life stress in rats might suggest just that.Continue reading
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.” – William Blake
The friendly headlamps and grill of a car. A sly electrical outlet. The full moon gazing back at you. A strangely anthropomorphic cloud. A house with personality.Continue reading
“Do you know what you did yesterday?” asks the doctor.
“No, I don’t,” responds the patient.Continue reading
You probably have certain skills that I don’t. Each of us, having spent enough time practicing something new, can become an expert. A simple, ubiquitous example is driving a car with a manual transmission. The precise sequence and timing of controlling the clutch, giving gas, and shifting the gears are challenging to coordinate when initially learning to drive a stick shift. But eventually, the precision with which we can perform these sequences of movements is impressive. Specifically, the errors we make when learning, indicated by gear grinding and stalling, are reduced with repeated practice. Skill learning is relatively easy to train both in humans and in animals. It therefore serves as a great way to study how the brain forms memories and uses those memories in the future.Continue reading
Like it or not, we all have preferences in choosing romantic partners. Piercings, freckles, hair color, eye color, body physique – through adolescence and into adulthood, we begin to develop sexual preferences to help guide our choice in whom to talk to, whom to date, and whom to marry. While it’s tempting to attribute these tendencies to hormonal activity, much of our mate preference is due to classical conditioning. Much like aversion (which has already been thoroughly studied in the context of fear conditioning), sexual preferences may also be an example of classical conditioning.Continue reading
Imagine having a memory that haunts you, sneaks into your daily thoughts and turns over on itself in your dreams. Escape seems impossible. Now imagine you are injected with a virus that blocks the expression of a certain protein known to reactivate memories. With minimal side effects and the small chance of erasing or altering other memories, would you do it?Continue reading