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Neuroscience

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

The interoceptive turn is maturing as a rich science of selfhood

Noga Arikha writes: In 1926, Virgina Woolf wrote about how, when one is ill: All day, all night the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane – smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or

Ditch the GPS. It’s ruining your brain

M.R. O’Connor writes: It has become the most natural thing to do: get in the car, type a destination into a smartphone, and let an algorithm using GPS data show the way. Personal GPS-equipped devices entered the mass market in only the past 15 or so years, but hundreds of millions of people now rarely travel without them. These gadgets are extremely powerful, allowing people to know their location at

Feminists never bought the idea of the computational mind set free from its body. Cognitive science is finally catching up

Sally Davies writes: We are shackled to the pangs and shocks of life, wrote Virginia Woolf in The Waves (1931), ‘as bodies to wild horses’. Or are we? Serge Faguet, a Russian-born tech entrepreneur and self-declared ‘extreme biohacker’, believes otherwise. He wants to tame the bucking steed of his own biochemistry via an elixir of drugs, implants, medical monitoring and behavioural ‘hacks’ that optimise his own biochemistry. In his personal

Seeing our expectations

Jordana Cepelewicz writes: Imagine picking up a glass of what you think is apple juice, only to take a sip and discover that it’s actually ginger ale. Even though you usually love the soda, this time it tastes terrible. That’s because context and internal states, including expectation, influence how all animals perceive and process sensory information, explained Alfredo Fontanini, a neurobiologist at Stony Brook University in New York. In this

Open to the unexpected: Why jazz musicians are more creative than classical musicians

PsyPost reports: Scientists at Wesleyan University have used electroencephalography to uncover differences in how the brains of Classical and Jazz musicians react to an unexpected chord progression. Their new study, published in the journal Brain and Cognition, sheds new light on the nature of the creative process. “I have been a classical musician for many years, and have always been inspired by the great jazz masters who can improvise beautiful

To improve memory, tune it like an orchestra

Benedict Carey writes: Anyone above a certain age who has drawn a blank on the name of a favorite uncle, a friend’s phone number or the location of a house key understands how fragile memory is. Its speed and accuracy begin to slip in one’s 20s and keep slipping. This is particularly true for working memory, the mental sketch pad that holds numbers, names and other facts temporarily in mind,

Can we get better at forgetting?

Benedict Carey writes: Whatever its other properties, memory is a reliable troublemaker, especially when navigating its stockpile of embarrassments and moral stumbles. Ten minutes into an important job interview and here come screenshots from a past disaster: the spilled latte, the painful attempt at humor. Two dates into a warming relationship and up come flashbacks of an earlier, abusive partner. The bad timing is one thing. But why can’t those

How the brain links gestures, perception and meaning

Raleigh McElvery writes: The tendency to supplement communication with motion is universal, though the nuances of delivery vary slightly. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, people point with their noses and heads, while in Laos they sometimes use their lips. In Ghana, left-handed pointing can be taboo, while in Greece or Turkey forming a ring with your index finger and thumb to indicate everything is A-OK could get you in

How the body and mind talk to one another to understand the world

By Sarah Garfinkel Have you ever been startled by someone suddenly talking to you when you thought you were alone? Even when they apologise for surprising you, your heart goes on pounding in your chest. You are very aware of this sensation. But what kind of experience is it, and what can it tell us about relations between the heart and the brain? When considering the senses, we tend to

Evidence mounts that gut bacteria can influence mood, prevent depression

Science magazine reports: Of all the many ways the teeming ecosystem of microbes in a person’s gut and other tissues might affect health, its potential influences on the brain may be the most provocative. Now, a study of two large groups of Europeans has found several species of gut bacteria are missing in people with depression. The researchers can’t say whether the absence is a cause or an effect of