Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

Site Search

Sharing

Facebooktwittermail

Follow

rss

Categories

Archives

Recent Posts

Neuroscience

‘Noise’ in the brain encodes surprisingly important signals

Jordana Cepelewicz writes: At every moment, neurons whisper, shout, sputter and sing, filling the brain with a dizzying cacophony of voices. Yet many of those voices don’t seem to be saying anything meaningful at all. They register as habitual echoes of noise, not signal; as static, not discourse. Since scientists first became capable of recording from single neurons 60 years ago, they’ve known that brain activity is highly variable, even

Science as we know it can’t explain consciousness – but a revolution is coming

MRI scan of the brain. MRIman By Philip Goff, Durham University Explaining how something as complex as consciousness can emerge from a grey, jelly-like lump of tissue in the head is arguably the greatest scientific challenge of our time. The brain is an extraordinarily complex organ, consisting of almost 100 billion cells – known as neurons – each connected to 10,000 others, yielding some ten trillion nerve connections. We have

Perceptions of musical octaves are learned, not wired in the brain

Elena Renken writes: In the lowlands of Bolivia, the most isolated of the Tsimané people live in communities without electricity; they don’t own televisions, computers or phones, and even battery-powered radios are rare. Their minimal exposure to Western culture happens mostly during occasional trips to nearby towns. To the researchers who make their way into Tsimané villages by truck and canoe each summer, that isolation makes the Tsimané an almost

The illusion of reason

Robert A Burton writes: In wondering what can be done to steer civilization away from the abyss, I confess to being increasingly puzzled by the central enigma of contemporary cognitive psychology: To what degree are we consciously capable of changing our minds? I don’t mean changing our minds as to who is the best NFL quarterback, but changing our convictions about major personal and social issues that should unite but

Demagogues thrive by whipping up our fury. Here’s how to thwart them

George Monbiot writes: In every age there have been political hucksters using aggression, lies and outrage to drown out reasoned argument. But not since the 1930s have so many succeeded. Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Scott Morrison, Rodrigo Duterte, Nicolás Maduro, Viktor Orbán and many others have discovered that the digital age offers rich pickings. The anger and misunderstanding that social media generates, exacerbated by troll factories,

Your brain chooses what to let you see

Jordana Cepelewicz writes: Last week, Quanta reported on the filtering mechanisms that allow us to focus our attention on stimuli of interest — that let us tune out the music in a room to listen to a nearby conversation, or disregard greens, blues and yellows in a crowd when searching for a friend wearing red. That kind of processing, which involves the suppression of some sensory data to highlight signals

To pay attention, the brain uses filters, not a spotlight

Jordana Cepelewicz writes: We can pick out a conversation in a loud room, amid the rise and fall of other voices or the hum of an air conditioner. We can spot a set of keys in a sea of clutter, or register a raccoon darting into the path of our onrushing car. Somehow, even with massive amounts of information flooding our senses, we’re able to focus on what’s important and

Consciousness doesn’t depend on language

Christof Koch writes: The contrast could not have been starker—here was one of the world’s most revered figures, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, expressing his belief that all life is sentient, while I, as a card-carrying neuroscientist, presented the contemporary Western consensus that some animals might, perhaps, possibly, share the precious gift of sentience, of conscious experience, with humans. The setting was a symposium between Buddhist monk-scholars and Western

Did parasite manipulation influence human neurological evolution?

Christopher Packham writes: It seems so obvious that someone should have thought of it decades ago: Since parasites have plagued eukaryotic life for millions of years, their prevalence likely affected evolution. Psychologist Marco Del Giudice of the University of New Mexico is not the first researcher to suggest that the evolution of the human brain could have been influenced by parasites that manipulate host behavior. But tired of waiting for

Meditation and yoga practice linked to reduced volume in brain region tied to negative emotions

PsyPost reports: Meditation and yoga practice is associated with smaller right amygdala volume, a brain region involved in emotional processing, according to research published in Brain Imaging and Behavior. For their study, the researchers analyzed data that had been collected during the Rotterdam Study, an ongoing population-based study that has been conducted in The Netherlands since 1990. The study has recruited more than 15,000 subjects aged 45 years or over.

Without inner narratives we would be lost in a chaotic world

Robert A. Burton writes: We are all storytellers; we make sense out of the world by telling stories. And science is a great source of stories. Not so, you might argue. Science is an objective collection and interpretation of data. I completely agree. At the level of the study of purely physical phenomena, science is the only reliable method for establishing the facts of the world. But when we use

To be able to remember, you have to be able to forget

Lauren Gravitz writes: Memories make us who we are. They shape our understanding of the world and help us to predict what’s coming. For more than a century, researchers have been working to understand how memories are formed and then fixed for recall in the days, weeks or even years that follow. But those scientists might have been looking at only half the picture. To understand how we remember, we

The fruitless quest to simulate the human brain

Ed Yong writes: On July 22, 2009, the neuroscientist Henry Markram walked onstage at the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, England, and told the audience that he was going to simulate the human brain, in all its staggering complexity, in a computer. His goals were lofty: “It’s perhaps to understand perception, to understand reality, and perhaps to even also understand physical reality.” His timeline was ambitious: “We can do it within

The mystery of free will

Brian Gallagher writes: In The Good Place, a cerebral fantasy-comedy TV series, moral philosophy gets teased. On YouTube, the show released a promotional video, “This Is Why Everyone Hates Moral Philosophy,” that gets its title from a line directed at Chidi, a Senegalese professor of moral philosophy who suffers from chronic indecision: The pros and cons of even trivial choices have long paralyzed him. We see him, as a precocious

How our brain sculpts experience in line with our expectations

Daniel Yon writes: The Book of Days (1864) by the Scottish author Robert Chambers reports a curious legal case: in 1457 in the town of Lavegny, a sow and her piglets were charged and tried for the murder of a partially eaten small child. After much deliberation, the court condemned the sow to death for her part in the act, but acquitted the naive piglets who were too young to

Life’s a blur — but we don’t see it that way

By Tim Vernimmen The image above, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” was painted in 1884 by French artist Georges Seurat. The black lines crisscrossing it are not the work of a toddler wreaking havoc with a permanent marker, but that of neuroscientist Robert Wurtz of the National Eye Institute in the US. Ten years ago, he asked a colleague to look at the painting while