Tag Archives | Brain

The Military Is Building Brain Chips to Treat PTSD

PIC: Camazine (CC)

PIC: Camazine (CC)

…and to make you a happy worker.  Patrick Tucker writes at the Atlantic:

How well can you predict your next mood swing? How well can anyone? It’s an existential dilemma for many of us but for the military, the ability to treat anxiety, depression, memory loss and the symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder has become one of the most important battles of the post-war period.

Now the Pentagon is developing a new, innovative brain chip to treat PTSD in soldiers and veterans that could bring sweeping new changes to the way depression and anxiety is treated for millions of Americans.

With $12 million (and the potential for $26 million more if benchmarks are met), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, wants to reach deep into your brain’s soft tissue to record, predict and possibly treat anxiety, depression and other maladies of mood and mind. Teams from the University of California at San Francisco, Lawrence Livermore National Lab and Medtronic will use the money to create a cybernetic implant with electrodes extending into the brain.

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Brain Zapping: The Future of War?

Photo: Michele Eaton 88 Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Photo: Michele Eaton 88 Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Military tech very often becomes consumer tech, so how long before we see students zapping their brains during exams? Or bond traders? Website editors? … BBC Future says, “Shocking the brain with mild electrical current was once a controversial treatment for the mentally ill. Now evidence is emerging that it could quicken learning and improve attention, and as Emma Young discovers, the US military is very interested in its potential”:

An unusual trial is underway at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. An airman sits at a monitor in a laboratory, wired up with electrodes, his jacket slung over the back of his chair. Plane-shaped icons keep entering his airspace. He has to decide whether each incoming plane is a friend or a foe. If it’s a foe, he must send a warning. If it flies off, fine. If it doesn’t, he must bring it down.

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Does Watching Porn Make You Stupid?

F2_jordy_porn_550Poor Jordy.

Something about this sets off my bullshit detector, but I’m no scientist. However, I do know that most guys watch porn or at least have at one time or another. It’s hard to find statistics without dredging up a bunch of crap from the usual purveyors of moral outrage, but what little I could find suggested between 70% and 77% of American men watch porn. (and I bet a healthy slice of the one’s who say then don’t are lying.)

Anyway, this reminds me of all of the anti-masturbation stuff people used to believe… Wait. Used to? Forgot about this.

Researchers found less grey matter in the brains of men who watched large amounts of sexually explicit material, according to a new study.

The research, which appears in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, could not determine if porn actually caused the brain to shrink however, and the authors called for additional study on the topic.

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DARPA Begins Program To Develop Brain Tech To Fight Mental Illness in Service Members

800px-DARPA_LogoHere comes the government microchip in the brain that we’ve been hearing about for so many years…

Work on DARPA’s Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program is set to begin with teams led by UC San Francisco (UCSF), and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The SUBNETS program seeks to reduce the severity of neuropsychological illness in service members and veterans by developing closed-loop therapies that incorporate recording and analysis of brain activity with near-real-time neural stimulation. The program, which will use next-generation devices inspired by current Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) technology, was launched in support of President Obama’s brain initiative.

UCSF and MGH will oversee teams of physicians, engineers, and neuroscientists who are working together to develop advanced brain interfaces, computational models of neural activity, and clinical therapies for treating networks of the brain. The teams will collaborate with commercial industry and government, including researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Medtronic, to apply a broad range of perspectives to the technological challenges involved.

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Neuroscientist Claims Internet Has Ruined The Way We Read

"No, it's fine. Enjoy reading "Top Ten Celebrity Liposuction Disasters. I'll just stay here and silently judge you."PIC: Dutch National Archives (CC)

“No, it’s fine. Enjoy reading “Top Ten Celebrity Liposuction Disasters. I’ll just stay here and silently judge you.”PIC: Dutch National Archives (CC)

Neuroscientist Maryanne Wolfe believes that the human brain has changed in response to to the way that information is presented online, and the changes aren’t entirely positive. Wolfe presents her initial problems enjoy Herman Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game as a consequence of these brain changes.

I’m not so sure, myself. I wonder if she has considered that her reading tastes may have changed for other reasons, or maybe that The Glass Bead Game just isn’t her cup of tea? I read a ton of Herman Hesse in high school and college, but haven’t visited his work in a couple of decades. I’m not sure I’d enjoy any of it now, but I don’t believe the internet is to blame. Then again, I guess it might make a convenient excuse for why I can’t get through Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or James Joyce’s Ulysses in spite of numerous attempts to do so.… Read the rest

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How Magic Mushrooms Alter Your Brain

magic mushroomsVia Ultraculture, Jason Louv on how magic mushrooms temporarily quiet portions of the brain that normally constrain us:

According to two new studies released this week, psilocybin mushrooms apparently work by decreasing activity in key areas of the brain, rather than increasing it. Blood flow decreases to the medical prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). Overactivity in the mPFC is associated with depression, one reason why psilocybin can be associated with antidepressant effects; the PCC is often associated with consciousness and identity.

Researchers suggest that what may actually be happening with psychedelics is decreased blood flow to brain areas that constrain our sensory experience of the world and our sense of identity—allowing the brain to relax its grip on ordering reality and open up to a broader spectrum.

Professor David Nutt, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “We found that psilocybin actually caused activity to decrease in areas that… constrain our experience of the world and keep it orderly.

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The Quest for a Better Brain

320px-Utah_array_pat5215088How soon can we expect to see brain implants for perfect memory, enhanced vision, hypernormal focus or an expert golf swing?, ask Gary Marcus and Christof Koch for the Wall Street Journal:

What would you give for a retinal chip that let you see in the dark or for a next-generation cochlear implant that let you hear any conversation in a noisy restaurant, no matter how loud? Or for a memory chip, wired directly into your brain’s hippocampus, that gave you perfect recall of everything you read? Or for an implanted interface with the Internet that automatically translated a clearly articulated silent thought (“the French sun king”) into an online search that digested the relevant Wikipedia page and projected a summary directly into your brain?

Science fiction? Perhaps not for very much longer. Brain implants today are where laser eye surgery was several decades ago. They are not risk-free and make sense only for a narrowly defined set of patients—but they are a sign of things to come.

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Is Religion Good for Your Brain?

Eastman Johnson, Child at Prayer, circa 1873A scientific justification for otherwise inexplicable belief systems? From Discovery News:

If you live in Georgia, you’re more likely to have a healthy brain than if you live in Minnesota. That’s according to an annual state-by-state ranking released this week by a national health education campaign called Beautiful Minds.

While Georgians could use more “mental stimulation through reading and game playing,” their high level of religious activity elevated them to a No. 10 ranking. And while Minnesotans read more and are active in their communities, their low level of religious activities contributed to their No. 31 ranking.

Why the emphasis on religion? Research has linked religious activity with everything from reduced stress to better memory retention.

One recent study, published in December of 2013 in JAMA Psychiatry, found that people at risk of depression were much less vulnerable if they identified as religious: Brain MRIs revealed that religious participants had thicker brain cortices than those who weren’t as religious (those with a family history of depression often have a thinning of the cortices).

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The Brain Shrinking Except for the Frontal Lobe: It’s Growing

PIC: Camazine (CC)

PIC: Camazine (CC)

Scientific studies indicate that while the brain overall is shrinking, the frontal lobe – that part of the brain responsible for communication, planning and executive function, among other things – is growing. No one knows why for certain, but there are a lot of theories. Could it be related to the birth of reading and writing? Also interesting is an apparent increase in sexual dimorphism:

Via EvoAnth:

The 7,000 years or so these endocasts cover is also the period writing was invented and spread around the world; until many countries have almost universal literacy rates. In other words, as reading and writing becomes more important the region of the brain needed for it becomes larger, despite the fact the rest of the brain is shrinking. It’s a “no duh” question; but could there be a link? The researchers think so1, but it is worth noting the frontal lobe is also linked to planning and memory.

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Reductionist Neurophilosopher Dr. Patricia Churchland Awkwardly Ends Skeptiko Interview After Views Are Challenged

Pic: US Govt. (PD)

Pic: US Govt. (PD)

Was host Alex Tsakiris being too aggressive and disrespectful towards the good doctor? Or was Dr. Patricia Churchland – Oxford educated, MacArthur Fellowship awarded, highly regarded academic and author of recent you-are-your-brain book Touching a Nerve – simply ill-prepared for her long-standing beliefs, rooted in scientific materialism, to be contested?

LISTEN HERE: DIRECT DOWNLOAD

(Interview and transcript also available over at Skeptiko)

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