If I wanted to write about addiction today, my own NPR habit would be an excellent place to begin. News, blogs, radio, podcasts, it’s just so accessible! Today’s entry is not about addiction, but this story does start with “so I was reading NPR News…”
So I was reading NPR News, namely an article titled “What Makes You Feel Fear?” which turned out to be even more intriguing than I expected when I decided to read it. Evidently, researchers have used carbon dioxide inhalation to elicit panic and anxiety in patients with amygdala damage in both hemispheres: patients with no fear centers. How could this be?
This startling discovery comes from a paper published this month in Nature Neuroscience by scientists at the University of Iowa. They tested three patients with Urbach-Wiethe disease (which resulted in bilateral amygdala lesions) by having them inhale CO2. All three experienced panic attacks as a result, and showed significantly increased respiration rates – even with respect to healthy controls. This finding lead the authors to hypothesize that the amygdala may even be able to temporarily inhibit panic, as it has many GABAergic outputs to brainstem regions responsible for panic responses. All of this is pretty stunning. (Of course, the results would have been more stunning if there were a larger group of lesioned patients – all three of them did experience panic attacks in response to the CO2 but so did three of the controls. Fortunately, though, people with bilateral amygdala damage are hard to come by. One could see how a lack of fear could be dangerous!)
Neuroscience researchers in China have created a method of transforming brainwaves into music by combining EEG and fMRI scans into sounds that are recognizable to human beings. The EEG adjusts the pitch and duration of a note, while the fMRI controls the intensity of the music. According to Jing Lu and his associated colleagues from the University of Electronic Science and Technology in China, this brain music, “embodies the workings of the brain as art, providing a platform for scientists and artists to work together to better understand the links between music and the human brain.”
Applying EEG and fMRI data to make better music represents the limitless opportunities of the brain, potentially leading to improvements useful for research, clinical diagnosis or biofeedback therapy. In fact, researchers at the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate have already looked at a form of neuro-training called ‘Brain Music’, which uses music created from an individual’s brain waves to help the individual move from an anxious state to a relaxed state.
Sometimes, writing is tough. The passion isn’t there, and every word is a struggle. We’ve all had those moments when forced to do something artistic or creative, whether it be writing or drawing or playing an instrument (or anything really). We’re just not into it, we don’t feel the pulse of the art pounding in our blood. Yet at other times, it’s like our blood rushes in a massive torrential pour, as if it had been held back by a massive dam for a thousand years. Whether its a subject that makes you jump for joy, a song you can head-bang to, or some other Picasso, some things just burst forth in a sudden and fervent explosion of productivity and creativity.
I think we’ve all had those moments when the pieces all click together, and a piece of work flows from us as easily as a hot knife through butter. During those moments, we feel alive, throbbing with a vibrant energy as our whole being is focused onto a single task. It’s an exhilarating feeling, yet at the same time, when you finally come down out of this strange natural high, it feels as though there was something slightly wrong about that, as if those who are capable of reaching that level often must have something wrong with them.
This is in reference to a 2011 lecture entitled “Plato’s Philosophy of Art”, given by Dr. James Grant of the University of London, Birkbeck. An audio recording of the lecture can be found at the bottom.
Today, Plato is probably known best for his work Republic, an outline of a highly idealistic and just city-state. Many remember bits and pieces from their Intro to Philosophy classes, but a criticism that is generally brushed over in discussion of the Republic is Plato’s flat-out renunciation of art. A prerequisite in understanding Plato’s position is realizing the role that art, and specifically poetry, played in Greek culture.
Poetry in the time of Plato played a similar role to the Bible in early American culture. Sections were recited at schools, in homes, and children were expected to memorize various passages for later recitation. Much like the Bible, these poems formed early moral backbones in young Greeks and were very much responsible for the development of certain cultural norms. It wasn’t so much a problem for Plato that art had such a grip on the cultural norms and moral fibers of a society, but rather that the artists themselves had no understanding of what they were representing, and thus inspired corrupt and destructive morals. In the eyes of Plato, the artist or poet was typically not the ideal moral character in any society, and thus should not have been in charge of dictating moral grounds or developing cultural norms. A second complaint Plato had about the role of the artist was that even if they were generally a moral and civilized human being, they were falsely representing reality through their art, something which Plato very much opposed to and which undermined a central theory in Platonism. More
It is certainly satisfying to see scientific evidence that your favorite foods are really good for you. And I’m not just talking about chocolate. That’s next, I promise. But check out all of these delicious things that can improve your cardiovascular health and as a result, cognitive function! Miracle blackberries, anyone?
All of these wonderful things contain flavanols (a group of plant-derived flavanoids that exist as either one of the monomers catechin or epicatechin that go on to form polymers). This class of molecules appears to improve circulation by increasing nitric oxide (NO) -induced vasodilation (NO is released in response to stress, and works within cells to trigger an intracellular increase in cGMP which in turn relaxes smooth muscle) in both healthy patients and patients at risk for cardiovascular disease. More
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract in humans provides a home for many (1014) bacterial organisms. The colonization of the GI by bacteria, or microbiota, starts at birth and continues throughout early development and life. These microbiota affect many bodily functions, aiding metabolism, modulating inflammation, and defending against harmful micro-organisms. Each person has a unique profile of microbiota, which is influenced by genetics and the environment. Healthy people, however, generally have similar numbers and distributions of microbiota. Interestingly, disorders of the GI tract have a high comorbidity with mental illness.
It is not surprising then that research in this field has grown, with labs hoping to gain a better understanding of the ‘gut-brain-axis.’ If these labs can elucidate the effect of microbes in the GI tract on the central nervous system, they could shed light on why more than half of patients with irritable bowel syndrome meet the criteria for mood disorders, or how GI tract disorders and mental illnesses can be more effectively treated.
Many researchers are currently focusing on how variations in the composition of microbiota impact physiology and contribute to disease, such as obesity and inflammation. Increasingly, studies have been revealing that these microbiota communicate with the brain and influence its function and behavior, potentially by neural, endocrine, and immune pathways.
Technology has largely improved the quality of life for patients needing implantable electronic devices, such as pacemakers or cochlear implants. Pacemakers allow for the heart to function properly and cochlear implants restore hearing to deaf patients. The downfall of these types of technologies is the way in which they are powered. Batteries are a common power source, and while they can be designed to have lifespans of several years, they do eventually need to be replaced. One could argue that this, to an extremely small degree, undermines the benefits of having the implantable device.
Researchers at MIT may have found a way to completely remove this inconvenience associated with having an implantable electronic device. What if we used the resources in our own body to power the electronic components we put into it after injury? More
While up to our ears in physics homework last week, my roommate and I had a chat or two about caffeine. And I wondered (as I poured a cup of coffee), is there a way to brew this stuff to maximize the caffeine I end up drinking? After Wednesday, exam day, a day that included a shameful amount of caffeine, I became curious as to its nutritional or even neurological value…or perhaps just hopeful that it had some. Maybe this isn’t neuroscience news per say, but it’s certainly a curiosity, and certainly relevant to my success in “Elementary Physics I”.
I was sure I wasn’t alone in my caffeine-chemistry quest and figured there must be sufficient research published to generate some answers. As it turns out, in 1996, Leonard Bell et al. at Auburn University conducted a study with the aim of improving epidemiological analyses of caffeine intake by allowing researchers to control for the effect of brewing methods on caffeine content. It’s an interesting read, perhaps in part because the “Materials and Methods” section starts out with buying coffee beans at a local grocery store and proceeds to (very methodically) describe various ways of making coffee. More
A research team led by Laura Matzen at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuqurque, NM has demonstrated that it is possible to predict how well people will remember information by monitoring their brain activity while studying. Matzen’s team monitored test volunteers with electroencephalography (EEG) sensors to make accurate predictions. Why bother making a prediction if the result will show how well someone remembered the information anyways? Matzen brought up this example, ”if you had someone learning new material and you were recording the EEG, you might be able to tell them, ‘You’re going to forget this, you should study this again,’ or tell them, ‘OK, you got it and go on to the next thing.” Essentially providing a real-time performance metric, the applications of which many students would appreciate. More
A decision is a fact of life. Both the good and the bad, the wrong and the right, one seemingly unjust turn waiting to happen amid the uncertain crossroads of life. Lets be honest, making a decision will always provide the answer, that is the ideal outcome, nothing goes wrong, everything is perfect, happily ever after. On the contrary, there is the undesirable result, which you would rather keep trapped in a cage and have thrown into a river in order to prevent ‘it’ from ruining your party. Now with making a decision comes the possibility for his arch-nemesis “regret” to appear in the equation. Lets look at it this way, if your friend ‘decision’ calls and asks if you want to see this movie which you assume is going to be terrible, you’d probably say “No,” thereby rejecting ‘decision.’ A week later ‘regret’ sends you a letter saying ‘decision’ went to the movie that day, saw your partner, they both hit it off, ‘decision’ slept with them, and now your partner never wants to see you again. See why you should have gone to the movie! That my friends is exactly, to a tee, the comic strip you will see when you look up decision in the dictionary. More