Tag Archives | Neuroscience

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

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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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Can we unlearn social biases while we sleep?

Betsssssy (CC BY 2.0)

Betsssssy (CC BY 2.0)

Xiaoqing Hu, University of Texas at Austin

Your brain does a lot when you are asleep. It’s when you consolidate memories and integrate the things you’ve learned during the day into your existing knowledge structure. We now have lots of evidence that while you are sleeping, specific memories can be reactivated and thus strengthened.

We wondered whether sleep could play a role in undoing implicit social biases. These are the learned negative associations we make through repeat exposure – things like stereotypes about women not being good at science or biases against black people. Research has shown that training can help people learn to counter biases, lessening our knee-jerk prejudices, many of which can operate without our notice. We know from earlier studies that sound can cue the process of memory consolidation. Can this sleep-based memory trick strengthen newly learned information and in turn help reduce or reverse biases?… Read the rest

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Hacking the Brain to Get Smarter

Want to get smarter? There are ways… The Atlantic investigates brain hacking:

The perfectibility of the human mind is a theme that has captured our imagination for centuries—the notion that, with the right tools, the right approach, the right attitude, we might become better, smarter versions of ourselves. We cling to myths like “the 10 percent brain”—which holds that the vast majority of our thinking power remains untapped—in part because we hope the minds of the future will be stronger than those of today. It’s as much a personal hope as a hope for civilization: If we’re already running at full capacity, we’re stuck, but what if we’re using only a small fraction of our potential? Well, then the sky’s the limit.

brain

Credit: TZA (CC)

 

But this dream has a dark side: The possibility of a dystopia where an individual’s fate is determined wholly by his or her access to cognition-enhancing technology.

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Neuroscientists Can Read Minds

Former neuroscientist Sharon Darwish believes that neuroscientists can already read minds, which is a bit of a stretch IMO, but here’s her reasoning at the Guardian:

As a former neuroscientist, a question I am often asked is, “Do you think neuroscientists will ever be able to read people’s minds?”.

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My initial reaction to this question to this used to be along the lines of, “Never – our minds are far too complex for any technology to even begin to decode our thoughts,” but upon further research, I would now say that neuroscientists are already reading minds.

In recent years, a fast growing understanding of how our nervous system works has enabled a fusion between man and machine, once only envisioned in science fiction, to become a reality. Bionic limbs have been built into amputees, scientists are beginning to restore a sense of touch to these patients, and we are on our way to restoring vision in the blind.

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The Electric Mood-Control Acid Test

We recently ran a post about brain-altering devices like Zen Vibez and Thync. MIT Technology Review dives deep on the latter:

I’m working on a story that’s almost due. It’s going well. I’m almost finished. But then everything falls apart. I get an angry e-mail from a researcher who’s upset about another article. My stomach knots up. My heart pounds. I reply with a defensive e-mail and afterward can’t stop mentally rehashing my response. Taking deep breaths and a short walk don’t help. I can’t focus on finishing my story, and as the deadline approaches, that makes me more uptight and it gets even harder to write.

brain power

But then I apply electrodes to my head and neck, power up a small electronic device, and shock myself. Within a few minutes I calm down. I can focus on my story. I meet the deadline.

The device, which you’ll be able to buy later this year for a price that has yet to be disclosed, was developed by a team of neuroscientists and engineers at the startup Thync.

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Network theory sheds new light on origins of consciousness

The black dots correspond to the 264 areas of the cerebral cortex that the researchers probed, and the lines correspond to the increased strength of the functional connections between each of these brain areas when subjects consciously perceive the target. The "hotter" colors are associated with stronger connections. This figure illustrates that awareness of the target corresponds to widespread increase in the strength of functional connections (Credit: Marois / Godwin).

The black dots correspond to the 264 areas of the cerebral cortex that the researchers probed, and the lines correspond to the increased strength of the functional connections between each of these brain areas when subjects consciously perceive the target. The “hotter” colors are associated with stronger connections. This figure illustrates that awareness of the target corresponds to widespread increase in the strength of functional connections (Credit: Marois / Godwin).

Melanie Moran Via Medical Express:

Where in your brain do you exist? Is your awareness of the world around you and of yourself as an individual the result of specific, focused changes in your brain, or does that awareness come from a broad network of neural activity? How does your brain produce awareness?

Vanderbilt University researchers took a significant step toward answering these longstanding questions with a recent imaging study, in which they discovered global changes in how brain areas communicate with one another during awareness.

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Anandamide: The Feel-Good Gene

Emperor Traianus Decius (Mary Harrsch).jpg If you’re lucky you have a genetic mutation that produces high levels of  anandamide, which Richard A. Friedman refers to as “the so-called bliss molecule and our own natural marijuana.” He describes the latest neuroscience research in the New York Times:

Chances are that everyone on this planet has experienced anxiety, that distinct sense of unease and foreboding.

Most of us probably assume that anxiety always has a psychological trigger.

Yet clinicians have long known that there are plenty of people who experience anxiety in the absence of any danger or stress and haven’t a clue why they feel distressed. Despite years of psychotherapy, many experience little or no relief. It’s as if they suffer from a mental state that has no psychological origin or meaning, a notion that would seem heretical to many therapists, particularly psychoanalysts.

Recent neuroscience research explains why, in part, this may be the case. For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that a genetic variation in the brain makes some people inherently less anxious, and more able to forget fearful and unpleasant experiences.

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Brain-Altering Devices Now Available

Imagine this: you can change your mood without drugs, meditation, or any of the other more or less undesirable techniques now in use for mood alteration. How? With brain-altering devices now coming to market, reports the Daily Dot:

It feels like a long time since the Quantified Self movement caught us in its clutches. The first fitness bands and their corresponding apps sucked us in; the ability to monitor self-defined statistics made us feel more in control of ourselves. It’s part narcissism, part hypervigilance.

(C) Zen Vibez

(C) Zen Vibez

 

But the most significant roadblock has been taking all the information we’re self-quantifying and acting on it. You know you’re taking 1,000 too few steps a day, eating 500 more calories than you should, and getting only a fraction of the outside time you need; actually doing something with the data is the hard part.

Motivation and habit change are hard, and no heart-monitoring bracelet is going to magically solve that problem.

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