Most of us know that drinking too much can lead to car accidents, addictions or worse. We know drinking a little can make us giggly or weepy, lose our balance or lose our lunch, feel ravenously hungry the morning after or want nothing more than to be still in a dark room until that terrible pounding subsides.
But few of us know much more than the above, especially when it comes to what’s actually going on inside the body to create these reactions.
Once upon a time, these preserved human and animal brains were once lovingly studied by Soviet-era neuroscientists. But when the lab was abandoned — perhaps in a hurry — these lonely brains were left behind.
There are few details on this abandoned neuroscience lab, so we’ll have to take the photographer’s word that it’s the real deal. Supposedly, this former Soviet laboratory sits in Moscow, where it was operated by the army. Some time after the lab was hastily abandoned, it was sealed off. But civilians who venture inside will see skinned animal heads, slides depicting brain cross-sections, and lots and lots of actual brains amidst the more mundane dirty dishes and glassware. Head over to the Russian blog brusnichka for more macabre photos from the lab.
Around 1800, Italian scientist Jean Aldini zapped the brains of dead felons with electricity to make their bodies move. He later reported using the same technique to cure “melancholy.” This sounds like the history of electroconvulsive (shock) therapy, but those were actually the first experiments in transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS), tweaking the brain with very mild shocks, 1,000 times less intense than delivered by shock therapy. A resurgence in tDCS is now underway. (Experiment “Consent Video” above from the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation.) Indeed, neuroscientists at the University of New Mexico are using a tDCS device powered by a 9-volt battery to see if 2 milliamps shocks to certain regions of the scalp can improve cognition and learning. Early results are promising. (In fact, tDCS may even prime neurons to respond to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a technique we’ve posted about on BB many times in which bursts from a magnetic coil near the head alter brain activity. TMS has been tested as a potential treatment for certain severe neurological and psychological disorders. Scientific journal Nature surveys the tDCS field in its latest issue.
Ramachandran is incredibly entertaining, presenting complex ideas on the function of the brain. I love it that he is applying his findings to theories on abstraction, metaphor, & creativity.
I can’t decide whether - besides being a neuroscientist - he is also a poet or a stand-up comedian: “you can’t have disembodied pain just floating out there.”
Daniel Tammet sees every number up to 10,000 as an individual object and can calculate massive equations on the fly, Daniel is one of the world’s few savants. He also has a unique trait — synesthesia. What are your thoughts about Synesthesia? What is the brain doing to calculate in such a precise way?
First, what is synesthesia?
Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses such as sight. Another form of synesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people’s names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor. The word synesthesia comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception). Therefore, synesthesia literally means “joined perception.”
Synesthesia can involve any of the senses. The most common form, colored letters and numbers, occurs when someone always sees a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet or number. For example, a synesthete (a person with synesthesia) might see the word “plane” as mint green or the number “4” as dark brown. There are also synesthetes who hear sounds in response to smell, who smell in response to touch, or who feel something in response to sight. Just about any combination of the senses is possible. There are some people who possess synesthesia involving three or even more senses, but this is extremely rare.
Synesthetic perceptions are specific to each person. Different people with synesthesia almost always disagree on their perceptions. In other words, if one synesthete thinks that the letter “q” is colored blue, another synesthete might see “q” as orange.
There are drugs that help you remember what you learn, and ones that erase your memory. But until now, there have no substances with the power to enhance and strengthen old memories hovering on the brink of being forgotten. Now a group of neuroscientsts say they’ve isolated a single enzyme in the brain that can help long-term memories remain crisp in your mind.
Have you ever stood in the supermarket, deciding between two different types of toothpaste, when suddenly you realize you’ve been there for ten minutes? Here’s how you’re being tricked into thinking small decisions are actually important.
Jonah Lehrer over at Wired describes this exact experience and seeks out an explanation. It turns out, when we have a lot of options put in front of us, decisions become more difficult — and we associate that difficulty with the importance of the decision. Scientists Aner Sela and Jonah Berger explain:
Our central premise is that people use subjective experiences of difficulty while making a decision as a cue to how much further time and effort to spend. People generally associate important decisions with difficulty. Consequently, if a decision feels unexpectedly difficult, due to even incidental reasons, people may draw the reverse inference that it is also important, and consequently increase the amount of time and effort they expend. Ironically, this process is particularly likely for decisions that initially seemed unimportant because people expect them to be easier.
The two researchers demonstrated this idea through a study that showed harder-to-read fonts actually made people think a decision was more important—simply because it required more brainpower to make.
There’s not much you can do to fix this, but it’s something to keep in mind next time your’e at the supermarket. When you realize you’ve been standing there for over 30 seconds, think to yourself: “is the decision between these two brands of deodorant really important?” The answer’s probably no.
Read more at: Wired