Hacking your Brain with Smart Drugs

What if you could take a pill to enhance your cognitive abilities?  What if this pill could help you ace a test, get more work done efficiently, and truly multitask?  For entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and executives on Wall Street, the answer to these questions is a resounding “Yes!”  In these high stake environments, the use of nootropics, or “smart drugs,” by normal healthy people has become commonplace.  But what exactly are the compounds that are claimed to improve brain function?  And are they safe?Continue reading

How Do We Know? The Value of Scientific Models.

Last month, astronomers announced the prediction of a new giant planet in our solar system dubbed Planet IX, a genuine ninth planet with ten times the mass of Earth.  The announcement lead to some confusion on the Internet as to the whether the planet had actually been discovered.  In fact, no direct observation of this planet has been made. Rather, the planet has been predicted by a model, a simplified description of a system which often incorporates hypothetical elements to explain the variance in data.  Because many models use equations to describe a system, a model can often be thought of as a theory with a mathematical backbone.Continue reading

Is the brain smarter than a computer?

Is the Brain Smarter than a Computer?

Knowing Neurons is proud to present our inaugural entry in a new series of YouTube videos!  In this episode, Joel asks, “Is the brain smarter than a computer?”  With Joel as our tour guide, we embark on a journey through neurobiology, psychology, supercomputing, quantum physics, and even philosophy, all the while stopping on the street to ask the common person for thoughts and opinions.  Along the way, you’ll learn in what ways humans outperform computers, in what ways computers outperform humans, how the world’s most powerful supercomputers are simulating the human brain, the limits of human memory, how chess grandmasters memorize chess positions, what information in your brain is accessible to your conscious mind, and what it means to live in a simulation.

Buckle your seat belts, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!Continue reading

The Turing Test: Is that Human or Machine?

I propose to consider the following question, ‘Can machines think?’

Thus begins Alan Turing’s paper “Computing machinery and intelligence.”  It’s 1950 England, and the world’s first computer is being used to calculate the next known largest prime number, a feat meant to show off the power of the computer.  For Turing, the implications of this work go much further and spark a philosophical question: could computers one day acquire cognitive abilities rivaling human intelligence?Continue reading

The emotional mechanics of the robot-human interaction

The emotional mechanics of the robot-human interaction

First impressions are pivotal.  While reading another person’s cues, an abridged version of them forms as we draw on complex social inferences in merely seconds of interaction.  That is, if they are human.  What if they only resemble a human, but are incapable of inner experience or independent thought?  Is it possible to truly form an emotional connection with a robot?Continue reading

CRISPR-Cas9 Knowing Neurons

CRISPR-Cas9: Targeted Genome Editing



Infographic by Jooyeun Lee and Kate Fehlhaber.



Hsu P. & Feng Zhang (2014). Development and Applications of CRISPR-Cas9 for Genome Engineering, Cell, 157 (6) 1262-1278. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2014.05.010

Fineran P.C. (2014). Gene regulation by engineered CRISPR-Cas systems, Current Opinion in Microbiology, 18 83-89. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mib.2014.02.007

Doudna J.A. (2014). The new frontier of genome engineering with CRISPR-Cas9, Science, 346 (6213) 1258096-1258096. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1258096

Intracranial EEG and Mental Time Travel

A familiar progression of chords blares out of your speakers as the red lights of the surrounding traffic fade into the memory of a dark stage illuminated by pulsing neon lights.  You replace your current discomfort (horrendous traffic!) with the memory of the last concert you attended – reliving the percussive sensory experience and feeling the intensity of the vibrating sound waves.  As you bust out the occasional air guitar move and tap out the beat on your dashboard, you are successfully retrieving a memory and reinstating a specific pattern of neural activity.  This mental time travel enables you to escape the confinement of your surrounding environment and plunge into the memory of enjoyable past experiences.Continue reading

Surfing Brainwaves with EEG: A Classic Tool for Recording Temporal Brain Dynamics

Pictures are powerful tools for illustrating quantitative data and capturing public interest.  Each year, NASA releases many beautiful images of Martian dunes and distant nebulae which help win public funding.  Likewise, when it comes to grabbing headlines and commanding public attention, noninvasive studies of functional brain activity often do best when they beautifully illustrate said activity as colorful pixels dancing on the convoluted surface of the cerebral cortex.Continue reading

Mapping the Information Highway in the Brain Knowing Neurons

Mapping the Information Highway in the Brain

It’s hard to imagine life without Google Maps nowadays.  We use the interactive map daily to find out how to get from point A to point B.  Wouldn’t it be great if there were an online map to guide neuroscientists to study the brain?  In the newest issue of Cell, researchers from University of Southern California published a project mapping the neural networks of the mouse cortex, and they call it the Mouse Connectome Project (MCP).Continue reading

Taxi Photoswitch Knowing Neurons

Turning On A “Photoswitch” Helps Blind Mice See The Light

Our senses connect us to the world.  Your visual system lets you know that there is a yellow car ahead of you, and your auditory system lets you know that it is honking its horn.  As unique as each sensory system seems, they actually share basic characteristics and similarities of structure and function.  Beginning with a stimulus (the vision of the car or the sound of the horn), a cascade of complex interactions occurs that send signals through neural circuits so that we can respond to our surroundings.Continue reading