Category: Pop Culture

Failing Relationship? Take Some Neurochemicals!

February 28th, 2012 in Article, Pop Culture 1 comment

The one day of the year dreaded by the many people in, out of, and between relationships has come and passed. Being a huge neuroscience nerd, I spent much of February 14th searching for articles and scholarly papers about the neuroscience of love, sex, attraction, friend zones, what have you. But nothing really blew me away. In my third year of studying neuroscience, I have a relatively extensive knowledge of the brain. I certainly have heard all about neurochemicals being released during sex, when you’re constantly thinking (to the point of obsessing) about that special someone, and even when you just look at a photograph of them. And sure, it’s cool the first five times you read about how fascinating oxytocin and serotonin are. But I’m over hearing it. More

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The Zombie Brain

November 15th, 2011 in Pop Culture 0 comments

Ever wonder why zombies are after brains? Perhaps because their own brains don’t function as they should. Based on the clear cognitive deficits exhibited by zombies, UC Berkley neuroscientist Bradley Voytek and colleague Timothy Verstynen have modeled what their brains might look like.

A model of what the zombie brain would look like

Amodel for what the zombie brain would look like

All of the zombies’ “symptoms” would likely be caused by loss of the association areas of the brain, essentially ridding zombies of higher cognitive functions, as demonstrated by their overly-aggressive behavior and aphasia. Along with deficits of the association areas, the hippocampi would be massively damaged, resulting in memory defects. Finally, a loss of the majority of the cerebellum could explain their lack of coordinated movements. What would remain unimpaired, however, are most of the primary cortices. From so-called “behavioral observations”, Voytek and Verstynen concluded that vision, hearing, olfaction and gustation would still work perfectly, and somatosensation would be preserved for the most part. Since zombies are alive (or at least, undead) most parts of their thalami and midbrains, hindbrains, and spinal cords would be either over-active or preserved.

Many of these damaged regions of the zombie brain are part of the Papez circuit. James Papez identified the circuit while trying to understand the strong link between memory and emotion. He tested his hypothesis by injecting cats with a rabies virus to watch how it would spread. Sure enough, the disease spread through the hippocampus (important for memory formation), the orbitofrontal cortex (social cognition and self-control), the hypothalamus (hunger regulation, etc.), the amygdala (emotional regulation), and so on. Voytek even suggest that a virus similar to rabies could create zombies…maybe.

The widespread nature of zombie brain damage accounts for almost all of a zombie’s behaviors. It explains their over-active aggression circuit, global aphasia (they can’t speak or understand language), impaired pain perception, long term memory loss…With all this knowledge, we should be able to avoid the zombie apocalypse…right?

The Zombie Brain by Bradley Voytek – Quora

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A Diet to Boost Your Brain's Performance

November 11th, 2011 in Pop Culture 7 comments

Our culture obsesses over self-image and appearance, and people are always trying to find the next miracle diet to make them thin, buff, and beautiful. However, tailoring a diet to ensure the fitness and optimal function of the most important organ, the brain, is just as important. The search for the perfect brain diet has yielded many different results, and now the Nerve Blog will give you the aggregated, ultimate, and effective diet for your brain. More

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LSD and Creativity

November 4th, 2011 in Pop Culture 1 comment

In 2007, Albert Hofmann, the creator of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), wrote a letter to Steve Jobs on behalf of his friend Rick Doblin, who was the founder of the nonprofit organization Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).  Hofmann was with hopes, at the age of 101, that Jobs might want to make a donation to support Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Peter Gasser’s proposed study of LSD-assisted psychotherapy.  The main mission of MAPS is to develop psychedelics and marijuana into prescription drugs that could be made available to treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pain, drug dependence, anxiety, and depression.  Hofmann, a large supporter of the organization, pushed the idea that his creation has helped others and could provide crucial benefits in future health treatments and so asked Jobs for “help in the transformation of [his] problem child into a wonder child.” Many others who have had the opportunity to experiment with this psychedelic drug brought on an entirely different perspective of what LSD provides: an awakening of the Self and for many innovative thinkers an eye-opening journey in expanding their creativity. More

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In Lieu of Halloween…

October 28th, 2011 in Pop Culture 0 comments

Yup, that’s all I’ve got. Enjoy being spooky!

Tarman Wants More Brains – YouTube

Emerging Research on Crowd Behavior

October 12th, 2011 in Pop Culture 0 comments

City dwellers are all too familiar with crowds. In Boston, students regularly navigate through them on their way to class, and more broadly, natives and visitors all have to navigate through sports crowds. These can be particularly dense and sometimes rowdy crowds (have you ever been near Fenway Park after a Red Sox-Yankees game?!).

With crowds occasionally come large-scale riots. A recent notable riot occurred in Vancouver after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup over the Canucks. One of the first signs of unrest was bottles being thrown at TV screens by spectators outside the stadium. It was followed with burning of Bruins apparel and flags. Eventually, a car and truck were overturned and set on fire, and windows of local businesses were smashed. Chaos followed, 100 people were arrested, and there were numerous injuries.

Researchers at Arizona State University are currently studying human behavior in crowds. They use computer modeling to study the outbreak and containment of city riots. One such example can be found here. This video shows the beginnings of a riot outbreak through an immersive model – the progression of the riot and overall crowd behavior is observed from a participant’s point of view. Though various viewpoints are shown in the video, there is initially a focal point of a key initiator, and users can choose their viewpoint when modeling in the program. More

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Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Book Review

October 6th, 2011 in Pop Culture 1 comment

If you were asked to describe the consistency of the human brain, how would you describe it? Like jelly? Cottage cheese? Dr. Katrina Firlik would say tofu—the “soft variety.” In her book, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe (Random House, 2006) Dr. Firlik, a practicing neurosurgeon, offers an insider’s perspective on the world of neurosurgery and recounts the journey that got her where she is today. Through her biting wit and the compassionate nature with which she describes her many patients, Firlik paints a vivid and engaging picture of a field about which many know only a little. More

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The Limits of Neuroscience

April 19th, 2011 in Pop Culture 0 comments

Time and time aLimitless The Moviegain college students are up all night writing a paper they should have started a week ago or cramming for an exam they are going to take the next day. How many times have you compromised your sleep to get things done? How many times have you found that you couldn’t concentrate on what you were doing, making the whole process longer? What if I were to offer you a pill that would let you use your brain at its full capacity?

In Limitless, the protagonist, Eddie Morra, finds this pill and it changes his life. He goes from being a recently-dumped, struggling writer into being a superhuman that no longer needs to sleep. Not only does he finish his novel in the matter of four days, he also manages to win a ridiculous amount of money from the stock market and to get back with his ex-girlfriend, Lindy. By the end of the movie, he is running for United States Senate, being considered for presidency, and has become superhuman due to the change in his brain chemistry after his use of the drug.

Unfortunately, I must inform you that this movie is far from being based on a true story. Not only is the fact that we only use twenty percent of our brains a myth, but neuroscience, as a field, is not developed enough to be able to use what we know about the brain in order to make a pill that allows us to do even half of what Eddie Morra did in the movie.

James Kakalios, a physics professor from the University of Minnesota comments on the movie, saying that even though there are chemicals available known to improve brain functioning and that medical science may soon develop drugs that make us smarter, “Taking a pill and becoming a supergenius? Mmmm, that’s kinda crazy. That understanding of neurochemistry far eludes us at this stage.” He goes on further to support that the claim that we only use twenty percent of our brain is a myth. He says, “We use all of our brains. We don’t understand a lot about how the brain works, but evolutionarily, everything in the three-pound hunk of meat on the top of your head is there for a reason.”
Brain Scan

It is suggested that the way that the media depicts neuroscience is problematic because it uses distorted data in order to back up false claims. A study by Diane Beck, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois suggests that this is because neuroscience studies explain human behavior in a seemingly simple way by citing biological data, which is considered more reliable than other types of data concerning human behavior. This study is further supported by another study done by researchers at Colorado State and UCLA that asked a group of undergraduate students to assess the validity of an argument based on data given to them. The argument was that, because both watching television and doing math problems activate the temporal lobe, watching television improves our mathematical ability. Participants of the experiment who were shown bar graphs “supporting” the data were less likely to find the claim convincing than were participants who were shown a brain scan, even though both pieces of data were cryptic. The assumption that what we know about the brain is directly related to what we know about the mind and human behavior suggests that the field of neuroscience is far more developed than it actually is. Although we have made great strides in the field of neuroscience and the field is rapidly developing, movies like Limitless imply that there is no gap between the science of the mind and the science of the brain.

“Limitless Brain Power Plot isn’t All That Crazy” MSNBC

“Neuroscience: Is it All In Your Mind?” Miller McCune

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My Dear Friend Charlie Sheen

April 13th, 2011 in News, Pop Culture 6 comments

My average morning: My alarm clock blasts the stereotypical sound associated with 7 a.m. mornings. I awake from what I wouldn’t even call sleep, and I stare at the ceiling wondering how I’m going to survive today’s chemistry exam when even the TA insists that this is his “cherry on the top.” Glancing over at my roommate as he snores louder than Yawkey Way on opening day at Fenway Park, I think to myself why couldn’t you just close your mouth and breath through your nose? Looking back at the clock, I guesstimate how much time I have left to savor the comfort of my own bed before jumping up to begin my whole routine. Well, at least this isn’t the worst day I’ve ever had…LOSING. More

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Hey Scientists, Where’s My Jetpack?! : The future is here; it just looks a little different than expected

April 6th, 2011 in News, Pop Culture 0 comments

In almost every major futuristic science-fiction work of the last century, jetpacks and flying cars are seemingly as ubiquitous as today’s oversized SUV’s, lining the closets and garages of every hardworking American.  Understandably, in the year 2011, this has lead many disenchanted Trekkies and purveyors of assorted geek cultures to ask, “Well, scientists, where’s my jetpack?!”  While I commiserate with my fellow fans of Asimov and Adams, several recent innovations have led me to believe that we all might be overlooking just how “futuristic” the time we live in really is.  Accessing Google on the iPhone is certainly as close to the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy as we may ever come.  We have the ability to beam blueprints of intricate plastic objects and now even organs anywhere in the world and literally print them out.  We have computers that can beat us in Jeopardy!  And last but not least, Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Brain Driver, the thought-controlled car.  On behalf of scientists everywhere, I accept your apologies, geeks. More

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