What Songbirds Tell Us About Human Nature

Every once in a while, we hear of amazing scientific feats about how some new drug successfully reduces weight without dieting or exercise in monkeys, or how scientists slowed aging in worms and doubled their lifespans. These studies are often a cause for ridicule in the media, which reduces their significance and validity by implying that mice, flies, birds—any animal really—is not a true representation of the human condition.Continue reading

“Free Bird:” How to Stay on Key

If you’ve ever done Karaoke, then you know how horribly some people sing, especially when the background music is too loud for them to hear themselves.  The ability to adjust to the environment is essential for all sensory systems, which use feedback mechanisms to modify behavior.  Usually the environmental cues are contaminated by noise, so your brain has to decide whether to modify behavior based on sensory feedback (and risk “adapting” to signals that do not accurately reflect performance) or to ignore sensory input (and risk leaving errors uncorrected).  So, how does your brain deal with this mismatch between the actual and expected sensory feedback, so you can have a better Karaoke performance?Continue reading

A New Year. A New You.

Yesterday, millions of people across the world made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, or follow their dreams.  Chances are that this isn’t the first time they made these resolutions!  We start off the year with much fervor, but inevitably this enthusiasm fades out.  Why are we unable to sustain our New Year’s resolutions?Continue reading

Towards A Better Brain Model

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

Brain Battery

“The human generates more bio-electricity than a 120-volt battery and over 25,000 BTVs of body heat.  There are fields…endless fields, were human beings are no longer born.  We are grown…  The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world, built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.”  – Morpheus, The Matrix (1999).

Continue reading

24-Hour Service: The Circadian Clock

Have you ever woken up minutes before your alarm sounded?  This strange phenomenon isn’t just a bizarre coincidence!  Like most living things, we have an extremely accurate and powerful internal biological clock.  As its name implies, this circadian clock operates over “about a day” and is responsible for controlling our sleep-wake cycles, digestive activities, mood, and many other physiological processes.  In order to achieve such global results, the circadian rhythm operates over a hierarchy of oscillators that function at the cellular, tissue, and systems levels.Continue reading

Let There Be Light!

When I was an undergraduate student, I was an expert at pulling “all-nighter” study sessions prior to exams and project deadlines.  Once everything was said and done the next day, many of my classmates moved on to celebratory happy hours, while the only thing that could make me happy at the time was heading to bed!  Even after some rest, however, I was slow, lethargic, and felt misplaced.Continue reading

Quick buzz. Slow learning.

Beer and wine are quite possibly the oldest known man-made beverages.  Anthropologists have discovered beer jugs that date back to the Neolithic period (10,000 B.C.), and Egyptian pictographs clearly show that wine was a common beverage as early as 4,000 B.C.  Throughout history, alcohol has been used for both celebratory and practical reasons.  Today, consuming alcohol is a way to mark special occasions, socialize with friends, relax after a long week, and (sadly) ease the pain of rejection.Continue reading