In my vision modeling class this week, we were learning about the structure of the (primate) visual cortex and one of my classmates posed an interesting question: how is it that birds sustain such amazing visual acuity when they don’t seem to have the cortical volume to process that detailed information? In other words, how does a bird brain deal witha bird’s eye view? I’m curious – and I still am, because so far I have not found a lot of research on the topic. Indeed, I imagine it’s difficult to come up with a definitive way to determine what a bird is experiencing for the sake of a laboratory experiment. Although, if I had to hazard a guess, perhaps much of a bird’s reaction to what it sees relies on more primitive structures – maybe birds rely more on instinct than interpretation? While this seems to remain mysterious, scientists do know some neat stuff about how birds’ eyes function in ways that allow them to see what we can’t. Check it out!
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
One of the things people have not been able to understand, both morally and biologically, is what drives criminal behavior. When people hear about shootings on the news, such as the one in Colorado at the movie premier of The Dark Night Rises, a question that commonly runs through people’s minds, is “Why on earth would someone do that?” People seem to ask this question with the assumption that the person is at fault for what they have done. However, can we certainly blame the individual for what they did? David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain and neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, attempts to unveil the mysteries that surround this question. More
For many feminists, this effort to better understand female sexuality can be a means of empowerment, and it is not surprising that neuroscience research has branched into this area. Many people, rightfully so, believe that to understand our body and mind we must also understand the mechanisms of behavior in the brain. Yet due to its complexity, much of neuroscience research gets misinterpreted, reduced, or even generalized when written about for the public sphere.
Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, attempts to explain female sexuality by pulling from both subjective accounts and neuroscience to support her arguments. But what exactly does neuroscience research have to contribute to our knowledge of female sexuality? Although Wolf’s attempt at writing such a boldly stated book is admirable, it fell short, especially in terms of the science. Wolf misinterprets the roles of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin in the brain and how they could plausibly influence a female’s romantic relationships.
As Maia Szalavits so eloquently wrote:
“The kind of oversimplification seen in Wolf’s book and, sadly, in many other popular accounts of neuroscience, threatens to perpetuate a psychological myth. Rather than illuminating the complex interplay between mind and body, it portrays human beings — especially women — as automatons, enslaved by brain chemicals we cannot control.”
So what does neuroscience have to say about female sexuality? At last year’s Society for Neuroscience Conference in Washington D.C., a 3D movie was presented of the brain during a female orgasm. Barry Komisaruk, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to map brain activity in several women. The women were required to masturbate to an orgasm in the fMRI machine. (fMRI results are brain images reflecting activation in specific areas, and these areas are said to be lit up.) More
Dr. Frank Werblin at UC Berkeley has dedicated nearly his entire academic life to the study of the eye and visual processing. More recently Dr. Werblin has completed his model of the retinal processing system he has deemed “The Retinal Hypercircuit”. The Hypercircuit itself is made up of the five classical retina cell types: Photoreceptor, Horizontal, Bipolar, Amacrine and Retinal Ganglion Cells, but more recently, a collaborative effort has identified over 50 morphologically different cell types. Of this vast array of unique cell types the most variance falls in the morphology of the Amacrine cells, which offer horizontal properties in the Inner Plexiform Layer between the Bipolar and Ganglion Cells. Although the mechanics behind the Hypercirtuit are fascinating, what I find arguably more important is the output of the system, a topic which Werblin has indirectly stumbled upon, but which I believe could potentially lead to an incredibly progressive line of research. More
Yes, I know it’s a little bit early to be bringing this up. While the holiday itself may have already passed, many of you are probably still recovering from the hangover that the entire country was forced to endure. I mean really, this isn’t even a good feeling to wake up from this hangover, not that a hangover is something you should usually look forward to. But lets be honest, there is more damage done than overall achievement. This isn’t the morning after where you reminisce about the absolutely stupendous series of events that took place hours ago. This isn’t one of those mornings where you are left in shambles in a downright disgusting alley looking around for your best friend who was lost the day of a wedding. Plain and simple, this is not a good time.
Your groggy, you must resume your daily routine, you have to be at work in an hour, the clock already says your going to be 30 minutes late with the estimated travel time, and you probably gained a minimum of 5 lbs considering how many potatoes you’ve consumed. Hell, you nearly re-enacted the exact opposite of the Irish potato famine in your dining room, not to mention the 20 loafs of bread consumed in ‘this that and another’ stuffing. And then to add insult to injury, you have to open the fridge and think to yourself, “Hmm what the hell am I gonna have for lunch today” right? Wrong! What your really saying to yourself is, “How the hell am I supposed to make turkey or thanksgiving leftovers of any sort sound appetizing again?” And while this may be true, that should be the least of your problems. What your primary worry should be is, “How am I going to stay awake for this crucial late afternoon presentation my boss conveniently scheduled the day after this lovely thanksgiving massacre, when I’m stuffing (pun intended) down marshmallow covered sweet potatoes, [explicit] turkey sandwiches, and some classic Campbell’s green bean casserole at the 2 o’clock lunch break?” Tie all these delightful dishes together and you yourself have found the ultimate thanksgiving myth: Are turkey and all the other thanksgiving fixings responsible for your holiday hangover? Let us find out shall we… More
The world seems as though it is starting to move faster and faster, and thus the demand for information and information accessibility is drastically speeding up as well. Modern computers and related technologies, however, have done a remarkable job with both creating and keeping up with the ever growing demand for data and access people need to it. Perhaps one of the interesting innovations on the scene as of late is the emergence of a new form of information sharing and storing colloquially called “cloud computing”. More
Philosophy of Mind came into its most compelling forms during the age of modern philosophy beginning with René Descartes. Perhaps infamously, Descartes claimed that mind and body are two distinct substances – philosophical jargon for what exists without the aid of any other thing. For Descartes, the world was clearly and distinctly physical in one sense and entirely mental in another. This seems perplexing, and Descartes did concede that the mind and body were closely intertwined and appeared to act with respect to one another, but his arguments clearly press that they are not causally connected in any way. These notions of dualism seem nearly preposterous with the advent of modern science, but were nonetheless important in developing our thought about the mind in the modern era.
Dualism gave rise to other interesting, yet now strongly refuted movements. One of these was idealism, or the doctrine argued famously by George Berkeley that states that all that exists are either ‘ideas’ or minds that perceive them. In this sense, an idea is defined as that which is perceived, inclusive of information imprinted on the senses, passions and operations of the mind, and conceptions formed by imagination and memory. Importantly, Berkeley argues that these ideas exist ‘in the mind’ exclusively: that is, they are purely mental and all things are simply combinations and aggregations of ideas. These immaterial ‘ideas’ then, are the only objects of human knowledge under idealism, and this theory denies the existence of physical objects entirely! The notion seems preposterous, but there is a very interesting argument found within idealism that can throw our conception of perception for quite the proverbial loop. More
As I’ve struggled to think of a topic to kick off my sophomore year blog series, I’ve scanned over practically every YouTube video and online article trying to find some sort of inspiration to come up with the next hot topic. While pop culture is at a stand still at this point with the media hiding under every surface because of the heat from “Occupy this, that, and the next big city,” I’ve decided that I’m going to switch up my role as a writer.
Rather than informing you, my lovely audience, about some irrelevant pop culture icon or explaining random biological processes, I’m going to create my own rant about success. However, this wouldn’t belong in the nerve blog if it was just some college student rambling about his own opinions that nobody cares to listen to, so for that reason, I’ll tie in a norepinephrine reference to make it real ‘neuroscience-y.’ So if you’ve made it through my introduction and are interested in seeing what I have to say, please continue. But, if your already making disgruntled looks at your computer screen after the first two paragraphs, now is the time for you to return to Facebook or whatever else you may be doing… More