“You are here.” It’s the phrase that you’ll find on almost any map, punctuated with the ubiquitous oversized arrow. It is the salient mark in a sea of confusing lines, shapes and labels that provides orientation and a sense of direction. Since the release of Google Maps and smart phones, many of us have become accustomed to having a boundless map in the palms of our hands, one that constantly updates according to our position in the world, complete with a large arrow. But in the absence of a map, directory, or an oversized arrow, how do you find your way? Where is the internal map in your brain and how does it store information about the world in a sea of connected neurons? Neuroscientists have been asking these questions for nearly thirty years now, and we only have a vague idea of how the brain forms internal representations of the outside world.Continue reading
It’s 1920, and an epidemic is in full effect. Encephalitis lethargica (also known as sleepy sickness) has spread across the globe, leaving some of its victims as still as statues, unable to move or speak. With no known cure, these people become passive observers of the world around them as it evolved from the jazz age, through a world war, and into the modern age.Continue reading
We often fail to appreciate the small and precise functions of our motor system. How effortless and smooth our movements are when getting up from a chair! How quick and fine our movements are when driving a car!Continue reading
One of the fundamental goals of cognitive and systems neuroscience is to create a computer program that can simulate the activity of the human brain, from single neurons, through network level processing, to influences on behavior. The only problem is that the human brain contains almost 90 billion neurons with an estimated total of 100 trillion synapses! As staggeringly large as those numbers are, researchers actually aren’t too far away from producing such a complex computer program.Continue reading
Life is a continuum of learning motor skills to achieve goals. At a young age, children learn how sit up, walk, jump, and then cut with scissors. Later, they may learn how to play soccer or piano, but they will probably not be as proficient as professional athletes and musicians unless they dedicate their lives to perfecting that skill. So, how does practice make us more perfect? Here are suggested guidelines for efficient motor skill learning that neuroscience studies have proposed.Continue reading
More than a decade has passed since President Clinton first announced that the human genome project was successfully completed:
We are here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome. Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by human kind.
How many neural processes are going on within your body as you read this sentence? The answer to this question is hard to fathom, I know, but give it a shot. Try to imagine all the physiological events that are being controlled by your nervous system at this very moment. Our nervous systems control a dizzying array of sensory, motor, and cognitive processes simultaneously, without us granting them “permission” to do so. In fact, most of our neural functions require no mental energy on our part whatsoever! For this reason, it is extremely easy to take these basic processes for granted. However, if we were to witness the suffering of an individual with multiple sclerosis, we might begin to appreciate these things a little more.Continue reading