129 posts tagged Mind
Neurons that can multitask greatly enhance the brain’s computational power, study finds.
Over the past few decades, neuroscientists have made much progress in mapping the brain by deciphering the functions of individual neurons that perform very specific tasks, such as recognizing the location or color of an object.
However, there are many neurons, especially in brain regions that perform sophisticated functions such as thinking and planning, that don’t fit into this pattern. Instead of responding exclusively to one stimulus or task, these neurons react in different ways to a wide variety of things. MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller first noticed these unusual activity patterns about 20 years ago, while recording the electrical activity of neurons in animals that were trained to perform complex tasks.
“We started noticing early on that there are a whole bunch of neurons in the prefrontal cortex that can’t be classified in the traditional way of one message per neuron,” recalls Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT and a member of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.
In a paper appearing in Nature on May 19, Miller and colleagues at Columbia University report that these neurons are essential for complex cognitive tasks, such as learning new behavior. The Columbia team, led by the study’s senior author, Stefano Fusi, developed a computer model showing that without these neurons, the brain can learn only a handful of behavioral tasks.
“You need a significant proportion of these neurons,” says Fusi, an associate professor of neuroscience at Columbia. “That gives the brain a huge computational advantage.”
Lead author of the paper is Mattia Rigotti, a former grad student in Fusi’s lab.
Foc.us headset claims to shock the brain for better gaming, we go forehead-on
We’ve seen a number of headsets tap into the mind, to geotag your mood, grant you remote control over gadgets or simply let you wiggle a pair of cat ears. None of those are quite like the foc.us, however, which serves up transcranial direct-current simulation (tDCS) — a controversial form of neurosimulation that transmits current to a particular area of the brain. Originally used to help patients with brain injuries, tDCS has supposedly been found to increase cognitive performance in healthy adults. These claims haven’t been proven yet though, and shocking your own cranium isn’t exactly FDA approved.
Still, the foc.us is one of a few tDCS headsets designed for the consumer market and can, the inventor Michael Oxley claims, improve your working or short-term memory when the electrodes are placed on your prefrontal cortex. A low-intensity current is passed through the different nodes, exciting that part of the brain. Interestingly, Oxley is positioning it as a way to boost your video gaming prowess for the “ultimate gaming experience,” a concept we found a little odd. That said, you don’t actually have to wear the headset while shooting up bad guys or other brain-draining tasks. The idea behind the foc.us headset is to put it on your noggin, fire it up, and wait for around five to ten minutes, then take it off and go about your day. We did just that and all the gory details are after the break. (via Foc.us headset claims to shock the brain for better gaming, we go forehead-on)
Gain insight into how your mind works by tracking your focus during any activity you choose. Understand yourself. Learn differently. (via Melon: A Headband and Mobile App to Measure Your Focus by Melon — Kickstarter)
Read of the day:
I do not identify with my body. I have a body but I am a mind. My body and I have an intimate but awkward relationship, like foreign roommates who share a bedroom but not a language. As the thinker of the pair, I contemplate my body with curiosity, as a scientist might observe a primitive species. My mind is a solitary wanderer in this universe of bodies.
Though I identify with mind, the mind itself is matter. I remember dissecting a fetal pig’s brain in high school. As I sliced layers of cerebellum and cerebrum, I imagined someone likewise cutting my own brain from my skull and examining the weird intersection of my mind and body. There I would lie in the petri dish, the whole mystery of my being made visible, the unutterable complexities of consciousness, thought and personality reduced to a three-pound mass of squiggly pink tissue. Hello, self. Where is the vaporous soul I am said to be, the exiled child of God from another world? This looks, rather, like some Martian’s bizarre pet.
go read this..
Fantasia: A Composer’s Experience of Synesthesia
Composer and synesthete Harley Gittleman visited our institute today to discuss his perception. Synesthesia is when you experience more than one sensory perception in response to stimulation of a single sensory modality. Often, people see numbers as having colors (even when they are uncolored physically, they see specific replicable colors matched to numbers. Estimates are as much as 5% of the population have some degree of synesthesia.
Harley perceives specific colors and shapes when he hears certain tones. That’s especially interesting in his case because he is a professional composer and musician. Harley played some of his wonderful music for us = and pointed to colors as he experienced synesthesia in relationship to the tones, in real time. His daily life is awash in color, motion and shape. He listens only to talk shows when he drives and he’s been known to walk into a wall or two when he absent-mindedly attends to the floating colors and shapes in front of him instead of to the real world.
Current theories suggest that synesthesia is due to wiring between neighboring brain areas that usually are not connected together. This idea is bolstered by brain imaging studies showing increased connectivity and mutual functional activation between neighboring brain areas in synesthetes as compared to non-synesthetes.
Synesthesia might be due to mutations in genes controlling neural plasticity and pruning of neurons. In that case, it may have an adaptive value from an evolutionary standpoint, as it brings new insight and relationships between neural experiences in a way that is interesting and fairly harmless.
Do you experience synesthesia? If so, is it useful to your everyday life? (via Fantasia: A Composer’s Experience of Synesthesia | Sleights of Mind)
The first idea I propose to you concerns the language you are using when referring to freedom of mind. Consider for example the thought that we are as a society currently using different kind of languages to describe different aspects of reality, be it the language of science (hard facts, empirical observations, measurements and so on) the language of technology (bits and bytes and user interfaces etc.) or the language of philosophy (meta-concepts, logic, metaphors..) or the very elusive language of poetry (with its synonyms and analogies, narratives and so on). What all these different kind of languages have in common is their fundamental attribute of mapping reality. And yet consider the fact that when you think you do not map reality using one language only but are using an amalgam of all of these and others as well, languages made not of words but of sensations, sights, images, colors, and even abstract shapes you will find hard to describe.
Neuroscience: Idle minds
Neuroscientists are trying to work out why the brain does so much when it seems to be doing nothing at all.
For volunteers, a brain-scanning experiment can be pretty demanding. Researchers generally ask participants to do something — solve mathematics problems, search a scene for faces or think about their favoured political leaders — while their brains are being imaged.
But over the past few years, some researchers have been adding a bit of down time to their study protocols. While subjects are still lying in the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners, the researchers ask them to try to empty their minds. The aim is to find out what happens when the brain simply idles. And the answer is: quite a lot.
Some circuits must remain active; they control automatic functions such as breathing and heart rate. But much of the rest of the brain continues to chug away as the mind naturally wanders through grocery lists, rehashes conversations and just generally daydreams. This activity has been dubbed the resting state. And neuroscientists have seen evidence that the networks it engages look a lot like those that are active during tasks.
Resting-state activity is important, if the amount of energy devoted to it is any indication. Blood flow to the brain during rest is typically just 5–10% lower than during task-based experiments1. And studying the brain at rest should help to show how the active brain works. Research on resting-state networks is helping to map the brain’s intrinsic connections by showing, for example, which areas of the brain prefer to talk to which other areas, and how those patterns might differ in disease. (via Neuroscience: Idle minds : Nature News & Comment)
A Virtual Pack, to Study Canine Minds
In 1995, Brian Hare began to wonder what his dog Oreo was thinking.
At the time, he was a sophomore at Emory University, where he was studying animal psychology with Michael Tomasello. Dr. Tomasello was comparing the social intelligence of humans and other animals.
Humans, it was known at the time, are exquisitely sensitive to signals from other humans. We use that information to solve problems that we might struggle to figure out on our own.
Dr. Tomasello discovered that chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, typically fail to notice much of this social information. Pointing to the location of a hidden banana will usually not help a chimp find the banana, for example. Perhaps the pointing test revealed something important about how the human mind evolved.
But Mr. Hare had his doubts. “I think my dog can do that,” he declared.
“Because it’s big data, we can ask questions that nobody could have a chance to look at,” he said.
The tests are now available online: For a fee, dog owners get video instructions for how to carry them out. (Besides the pointing test, they include a test in which the owner yawns and then watches to see if the dog does too — a potential sign that dog and owner are strongly bonded.) The company then analyzes how a given dog compares with others in its database for qualities like empathy and memory. Not every expert is convinced, however, that such seemingly objective judgments can be gleaned from research that is still in its early stages. (via Enlisting a Virtual Pack, to Study Canine Minds - NYTimes.com)
Babies’ brains emit electrical bursts that signal a budding awareness of the visual world by the time they are 5 months old, a new study concludes. But some researchers are skeptical that these neural surges correspond to conscious experience.
From age 5 months to 15 months, the brain begins to develop the ability to register and remember sights, according to the research by cognitive neuroscientist Sid Kouider of École Normale Supérieure in Paris and his colleagues. The researchers showed babies images that included faces flashed increasingly slowly on a screen. They started at a speed so fast that even adults wouldn’t consciously notice the images, and then the researchers increased the amount of time each image appeared. Infants displayed a sequence of rapid brain responses that first signaled unconscious and then conscious perception of faces, Kouider’s team reports April 18 in Science.
“We weren’t expecting to see any evidence of a neural marker for consciousness in 5-month-olds,” Kouider says. Babies at that age exhibited a weak, delayed version of a brain response that occurs when adults report seeing a face flashed just long enough to be consciously perceived, Kouider asserts.
Stronger and faster brain responses corresponding to visual awareness emerged in 12- and 15-month-olds, Kouider found, although older infants still fell well short of the adult pattern.
If further research confirms the existence of a neural marker of consciousness in babies, scientists could adapt their visual task to evaluate whether infants show brain indications of feeling pain during medical procedures or after receiving numbing drugs, he suggests.
Men find it hard to read female emotions, say scientists
Scientists have now found proof for something many women have been claiming for years – men find it difficult to read female emotions.
Men found it twice as hard to guess a woman’s mood than a man’s after being shown pictures of people’s eyes and estimating how they were feeling, researchers found. However, the study showed that it is not because of men’s lack of trying - the male volunteers were given brain scans while they looked at the pictures, and the data suggested an unusual reason for the difficulty in reading women’s feelings. When looking at male eyes, men related what they saw to themselves, with the parts of their brains linked to past thoughts and feelings lighting up, the Daily Mail reported. The study suggested that they understood what other men felt by remembering similar moments in their own lives, and then used them to evaluate the image, the researchers said. But when they looked at female eyes, the men were baffled, as their brains searched for memories of when they had seen another woman who looked similar to the image, and meant men found it harder to empathise with women’s feelings. (via Men find it hard to read female emotions, say scientists - Telegraph)