“The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.” – René Magritte
Magritte’s comments on our fascination with the unknown rings true not just in artistic surrealism, but also in many of our scientific research endeavors. The human mind is continually fascinated with what it has yet to understand, and curiously enough, the human mind itself is one such mystery. However, recent efforts focused on imaging and analyzing the entire brain, performed by both scientists and artists alike, have helped shed some light on this mystery. With this new technology, however, comes the question of how neuroimaging can influence the perspectives of a sentient being. What does it mean to see a reflection of our own cognition, both for our understanding of science and for our perception of humanity and living creatures?
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?
The phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” seems especially true for scientists. What we study becomes not only intellectually beautiful, but also literally beautiful: the form is pleasing to the eyes. Appreciation and endearment develops over time as scientists gaze on their subject for hours, days, years. In fact, research by the psychologist Robert Zajonc shows that the more familiar you are with something, the more likely you are to enjoy it.
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.
Brain stimulation might sound like some Frankensteinian demonstration from a Victorian science fair. But in reality, it is a contemporary technique making a huge impact in neuroscience by addressing a longstanding limitation of traditional methods for investigating human brain function. Such techniques, like EEG and fMRI, can only be used to infer the effects of a stimulus or task on brain activity, and not vice versa. For example, a scientist might use EEG to study the effect of a task like arm movement on brain activity, but how can one study the effect of brain activity on arm movement?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
Last month, on the big island of Hawaii, I swam with giant, beautiful aliens. Or at least that’s what it felt like. I went night snorkeling with manta rays and had the privilege of seeing 10 or 11 graceful behemoths. Some had a wingspan of over 10 feet long. Before our group got in the water, to prepare us for what we were about to see, our guide reassured us that manta rays are like sharks, but only the good parts, none of the scary parts. They don’t have teeth, they only eat plankton, and they have no stinger like their sting ray counterparts.Continue reading
We have someone new joining our team! She is a neuroscience PhD student at the University of Iowa, and she studies speech perception – but let’s let the animation she created explain exactly what that means:Continue reading