“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?
In Isaac Asimov’s 1950 short story collection I, Robot, intelligent robots with positronic brains exist alongside humans. Unlike conventional computer hardware, the word positronic implies that electrical current is carried in the wires of these robots’ brains by positrons, the antimatter counterpart of the familiar electron. Though the advantage of antimatter here is anyone’s guess, the stories of I, Robot may have introduced the positron to the public. And as bizarre as Asimov’s fantasy sounds, neuroimaging has given the term “positronic brain” yet another meaning.
The first human magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan was acquired almost 40 years ago. The scanner — hand-built by Dr. Raymond Damadian with the help of his two postdoctoral fellows — took nearly five hours to produce one snapshot of the human chest, and Dr. Damadian was eventually awarded the National Medal of Technology for his accomplishment.
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
A kid stealing candy in a convenience store grows up to be a convicted criminal. A husband who flirts with a coworker ends up as a serial cheater. A politician telling a few “white lies” to his or her constituents is eventually convicted of fraud. These are all extreme — but plausible — scenarios where dishonesty might escalate over time, resulting in dramatic and life-changing consequences. But how far does this slippery slope actually go? How can science help us answer this question?Continue reading
Cute things are usually vulnerable, fragile and weak. But cuteness itself is mighty indeed. Morten L. Kringelbach and his colleagues at the University of Oxford recently described cuteness as ‘one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behavior.’ And yet, despite its elemental importance, cuteness might be a fluid, evolving concept and trait.Continue reading
If you grew up with siblings, it is likely that you have heard the phrase, ”Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” However, it wasn’t until a groundbreaking finding in the 1990s that the neural correlate to imitation was discovered in a class of neurons called mirror neurons. Continue reading
If you’re in a room with ten adults, chances are two of them are going to develop a mental illness –- and only one of them will receive proper treatment. Depending upon the psychiatric condition, common treatments include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and pharmacotherapy. Continue reading
Over the past few decades, the neurochemical dopamine has earned the reputation of being the brain’s reward molecule. This image is built on observations that when animals and humans experience surges of dopamine, they feel rewarded and motivated to pursue more of the experience or substance which triggered the dopamine release. Researchers theorize that this neurochemical is at the root of an ancient system that evolved to make us feel gratified and thus more likely to approach situations and objects that might satisfy our needs — anything from nutrition to the more sophisticated desires for social approval or even money, a universal ticket for access to most resources.Continue reading
Have you ever wondered why the same brain regions are often implicated again and again in many tasks and behaviors? For instance, the prefrontal cortex is implicated in so many cognitive tasks that citing its involvement, per se, is hardly more illuminating or meaningful than throwing up one’s hands and saying, “It happened in the brain!” Continue reading
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