“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.
Our thoughts are often mysterious to us. You probably don’t know why you suddenly think about a Komodo dragon while sitting in traffic or Citizen Kane while shopping for groceries. Such moments remind us that we are each the emergent property of an amazingly complex organ that never stops surprising us. Nonetheless, we usually feel in control of our thoughts. Even with the occasional unexpected thought, life continues as normal.Continue reading
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
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
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
You don’t know you know this song, but you definitely know this song: “Hey Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you…” Did the end of the lyric materialize in your mind, complete with musical accompaniment? Your memory of Toni Basil’s “Mickey” is so ingrained, it will probably continue to annoy for several hours after you finish reading this article. Sorry. However, the example illustrates “stuck song syndrome” or more formally, involuntary musical imagery (INMI), a universal phenomenon of having music looping in one’s head. How do musical tunes affix to the architecture of the brain? Is the structure of some brains “stickier” than others?Continue reading
In a recent hack, private information from nearly 30 million users was leaked from Ashley Madison, a “dating” website intended to facilitate extramarital affairs. The sheer number of Ashley Madison users on this website raises some age-old questions of monogamy: is it instinctual, or even healthy? What is it about our brains that cause some to seek monogamy and others to reject it?Continue reading
“I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting…”
The old shepherd’s thoughts from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale resonate centuries later when we consider examples of stereotypical teenage behavior – emotional outbursts, angst, and recklessness just to name a few. But if we dismiss teenagers as lacking emotional discipline, we fail to understand the complex neural underpinnings that drive much of this behavior and allow a concerned adult to guide teens through this critical stage of brain development.Continue reading