Tag Archives | Neuroscience

How the magic of cinema unlocked one man’s coma-bound world

Nikkormat FT3-Cinestill 800
This article originally appeared on MindHacks.com.

An Alfred Hitchcock film helped to prove one patient had been conscious while in a coma-like state for 16 years. The discovery shows that neuroscience may still have lots to learn from the ancient art of storytelling, says Tom Stafford.

If brain injury steals your consciousness then you are in a coma: we all know that. What is less well known is that there exist neighbouring states to the coma, in which victims keep their eyes open, but show no signs of consciousness. The vegetative state, or ‘unresponsive wakefulness syndrome’, is one in which the patient may appear to be awake, and even goes to sleep at times, but otherwise shows no reaction to the world. Patients who do inconsistently respond, such as by flinching when their name is called, or following a bright object with their eyes, are classified as in a ‘minimally conscious state’.… Read the rest

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DARPA is implanting chips in soldiers’ brains

There’s a sudden rash of stories about DARPA‘s bizarre projects, and this one from Fusion may be the most disturbing:

For decades, DARPA, the secretive research arm of the Department of Defense, has dreamed of turning soldiers into cyborgs. And now it’s finally happening. The agency has funded projects that involve implanting chips into soldiers’ brains that they hope will enhance performance on the battlefield and repair traumatized brains once the fog of war has lifted.

brain power

“Of the 2.5 million Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 300,000 of them came home with traumatic brain injury,” journalist Annie Jacobsen told NPR. “DARPA initiated a series of programs to help cognitive functioning, to repair some of this damage. And those programs center around putting brain chips inside the tissue of the brain.”

In her new book about the history of DARPA, “The Pentagon’s Brain,” Jacobsen writes that scientists are already testing “neuroprosthetics” brain implants, but that despite her multiple appeals to the Defense Department, she was not allowed to interview any of the “brain-wounded warriors.”

However, Defense One, an online magazine that covers the military, reported last year on DARPA’s work on brain chips to treat PTSD, and said that DARPA was not yet in the testing phase.

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Meet The Hackers Who Are Decrypting Your Brainwaves

“The convergence of budget EEG gear and big-data analysis tools is leading to a revolution in DIY brain research for mind-reading technology,” writes Sean Captain at Fast Company:

I’m wearing a piece of 3-D-printed plastic headgear that looks like a bicycle helmet designed by Buckminster Fuller. Tiny metal pins inside it poke lightly into my scalp. On a screen in front of me are the electroencephalogram (EEG) readouts of signals picked up by the metal pins. And beyond the monitor is a wall of windows giving this dilapidated Brooklyn office building the sweetest view of a Manhattan sunset I have ever seen.

EEG Headset a

That lovely view makes it easier when Conor Russomanno, a self-described neurohacker, asks me to close my eyes and relax. After a few seconds, he tells me later, the screen showed a slight spike at around 10 Hz—a rise in the alpha waves that indicates a restful state.

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Trust Me: Research Sheds Light on Why People Trust

Adrian Ruiz (CC BY 2.0)

Adrian Ruiz (CC BY 2.0)

Dartmouth College Via ScienceDaily:

Trust matters whether it’s love, money or another part of our everyday lives that requires risk, and a new study by a Dartmouth brain researcher and his collaborators sheds light on what motivates people to make that leap of faith.

The findings appear in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Collaboration is essential to human life, fostering interpersonal relationships that are intrinsically rewarding, fulfill a basic social need to belong and promote positive physical and mental health. One critical aspect of collaboration is trust, or assuming mutual risk with a partner.

In the new study, participants thought they were playing an economic investment game with a close friend, a stranger or a slot machine. In reality, they were playing with a simple algorithm that reciprocated trust 50 percent of the time. The researchers developed a computational model that predicted each player’s decision for each round given their previous experiences in the game.

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Did my brain make me do it? Neuroscience and Free Will (2)

Brain make me do it

This post was originally published on Philosophical Disquisitions.

Part 1.

Discoveries in neuroscience, and the science of behaviour more generally, pose a challenge to the existence of free will. But this all depends on what is meant by ‘free will’. The term means different things to different people. Philosophers focus on two conditions that seem to be necessary for free will: (i) the alternativism condition, according to which having free will requires the ability to do otherwise; and (ii) the sourcehood condition, according to which having free will requires that you (your ‘self’) be the source of your actions. A scientific and deterministic worldview is often said to threaten the first condition. Does it also threaten the second?

That is what Christian List and Peter Menzies article “My brain made me do it: The exclusion argument against free will and what’s wrong with it” tries to figure out.… Read the rest

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This Device Brings ‘Brave New World’ to Life

If you could have a device implanted in your brain that could bring instant nirvana at the press of a button, would you want it? Daily Beast says it’s coming and has neuroethicists in a bind:

Last week, a team of researchers developed a new implant that has the ability to wirelessly deliver drugs directly into the brain with the press of a button, like changing the channel on a TV.

BRAINADE! the Brain Grenade by Emilio Garcia

No wider than a strand of human hair, the device combines brain implants with a remote control drug delivery system. With the ability to genetically modify individual neurons, the implant inevitably calls up dystopian fictions from the likes of Vonnegut’s Harry Bergeron or Huxley’s Brave New World.

To demonstrate the amount of control this device is capable of, investigators made mice walk in circles by injecting a morphine-like drug directly into their ventral tegmental area (VTA), a brain region responsible for motivation and reward.

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Memory Loss Man: “We’ve Never Seen Anything Like This Before”

jodene e (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

jodene e (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

You wake up and go to a dentist appointment for a routine root canal. The treatment includes some local anesthesia. Everything goes fine. Except after the procedure, you can only remember the last 90 minutes of your life. This is exactly what happened to WO.

It appears that the dental procedure is not the cause of the memory loss and WO has no structural abnormalities in his brain. Scientists are understandably baffled.

So what happened?

via PsyBlog:

However, there’s no evidence that the dental procedure caused the condition.

This is what has puzzled the scientists.

Normally, such serious memory problems are accompanied by brain damage, typically in a structure called the hippocampus.

But, in WO’s brain there are no structural abnormalities.

Apart from the memory problems, WO seems the same as before, physically and psychologically.

He is capable of learning (although he forgets everyting within a day), his personality is the same and his intellect is intact.

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Psychosurgeons Using Lasers To Burn The Bad From Brains

Photo: thomasbg (CC)

Photo: thomasbg (CC)

It may sound uncomfortably close to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but nevertheless brain surgeons are using lasers to burn away parts of the brain that they believe lead to mental illness, reports Wired:

A brain surgeon begins an anterior cingulotomy by drilling a small hole into a patient’s skull. The surgeon then inserts a tiny blade, cutting a path through brain tissue, then inserts a probe past sensitive nerves and bundles of blood vessels until it reaches a specific cluster of neural connections, a kind of switchboard linking emotional triggers to cognitive tasks. With the probe in place, the surgeon fires up a laser, burning away tissue until the beam has hollowed out about half a teaspoon of grey matter.

This is the shape of modern psychosurgery: Ablating parts of the brain to treat mental illnesses. Which might remind you of that maligned procedure, the lobotomy.

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Neurologist Studies Brain Waves of Alien Abductees


Doctor Michael B. Russo maps the brainwaves of alleged abductees and finds abnormalities in their parietal lobe.

Paul Seaburn at Mysterious Universe has the scoop:

Dr. Russo has the only dense-array electroencephalography (DEEG) machine in Hawaii – a $200,000 device for mapping brain waves. The Big Island must be popular with aliens because Dr. Russo has had numerous patients claiming to be abducted and having transmitters implanted in their brains. He scanned each and compared the results. What Dr. Russo found was that the patients all showed abnormalities in their parietal lobe.

Russo explains what this might mean.

That’s the area that does visual and auditory integration into higher order thinking. The parietal areas process visual and auditory data, but they can intrinsically create it themselves and then send it to the pre-frontal region, where you become aware of it. … there’s something in the parietal areas that’s generating (the feeling that transmissions from aliens are being sent to the brain).

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How Julian Jaynes’ famous 1970s theory about consciousness is faring in the neuroscience age.

Hartwig HKD (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Hartwig HKD (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Julian Jaynes, author of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mindis well known for his controversial theory that consciousness in humans began only 3,000 years ago.

At Nautlius, Veronique Greenwood analyzes Jaynes’ thesis and its continued impact in philosophy and neuroscience circles:

In the beginning of the book, Jaynes asks, “This consciousness that is myself of selves, that is everything, and yet nothing at all—what is it? And where did it come from? And why?” Jaynes answers by unfurling a version of history in which humans were not fully conscious until about 3,000 years ago, instead relying on a two-part, or bicameral, mind, with one half speaking to the other in the voice of the gods with guidance whenever a difficult situation presented itself. The bicameral mind eventually collapsed as human societies became more complex, and our forebears awoke with modern self-awareness, complete with an internal narrative, which Jaynes believes has its roots in language.

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