We live in an era where the rapid advances in technology are constantly changing how we perceive and interact with the world around us. The question on everyone’s mind is always “what’s next?” The answer: brain-machine interfaces. For the average consumer, brain-computer interfaces are becoming increasingly available on the mass market and their current uses offer a wide range of fascinating opportunities.
A company that’s been in the news a lot lately is NeuroVigil. Their product known as the iBrain has been used to help world-renowned astrophysicist Steven Hawking communicate with a computer simply by thinking. Hawking, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease, developed his own solution to allow him to speak by twitching his cheek to select words from a computer. In its current state, the iBrain is still slower than Hawking’s solution, but NeuroVigil’s founder MD Philip Low hopes that it will eventually be possible to read thoughts aloud. NeuroVigil also made the news by signing a contract with Roche, a major Swiss pharmaceutical company, to use the iBrain in clinical studies for evaluating drugs for neurological diseases.
We’ve all felt down on our luck sometimes. Maybe we didn’t do as well on a test as we would have liked, or we argued with one of our close friends, or we didn’t get that job we wanted. Maybe all we wanted to do at that moment was climb into bed and wish the world wasn’t there.
Yet those moments are fleeting sadness, a minor blip in the grand scheme of things. There’s no major brain chemistry changes occurring, unlike in medical depression (major depressive disorder). Despite years of study and investigation, the underlying cause of MDD is still puzzling to many researchers. Nearly all antidepressive medication is based on research done dozens of years ago. Furthermore, most of those drugs take weeks to months to take effect, if they ever take effect at all, making depression one of the most disabling conditions in modern society. More
With Halloween fast approaching, people are going to get scared. Zombies, ghosts, and werewolves will soon be stalking the streets of Boston, frightening innocent college students. Yet, when we are jumping back in fright from costumed pranksters, what is really happening inside of our brains? For years, it was considered fact that the amygdala, a part of the limbic system in our brain that processes components of emotion, was solely responsible for this reaction. Yet, this simplistic explanation doesn’t truly explain was happens inside our brains every time we feel fear. To investigate what really happens, we need to first talk about anxiety.
One thing I have always struggled with in reading philosophy is the doctrine of Innatism, which holds that the human mind is born with ideas or knowledge. This belief, put forth most notably by Plato as his Theory of Forms and later by Descartes in his Meditations, is currently gaining neuroscientific evidence that could validate the belief that we are born with innate knowledge of our world.
Have you ever seen a goat (or any animal, for that matter) do this?
Neither had I. But these are the sorts of things that come up at family parties and pique my curiosity. Perhaps the nickname and title of the YouTube video “fainting goats” is a misnomer (as National Geographic pointed out) as the goats are not actually losing consciousness when they go rigid and topple over. So why the wipe-outs? More
The year is 1966. After months of extensive preparation and creative troubleshooting, three scientists studying the brain’s unique split personality eagerly awaited the results of their carefully designed experiment. By placing an electrode into a cat’s corpus callosum, they were hoping to decode the brain’s elusive internal code. What they ended up finding was something much more profound, and much more revealing… More
Zombies are terrifying creatures. The most panic-inducing aspect of their completely factual existence among us is that they have a taste for human blood and they will do anything to get to it. Recently, the Zombie Research Society (ZRS) has been attempting to scan (with some difficulty due to the fact that zombies aren’t huge fans of staying still in MRIs) and create a map of the zombie brain. A leading researcher in ZRS, Dr. Bradley Voytek, lectured about these terrors at Nerd Night SF. In his presentation he gives a medical term to describe the zombie condition: “consciousness deficit hypoactivity disorder (CDHD)- the loss of rational voluntary and conscious behavior replaced by delusional/impulsive aggression, stimulus-driven attention, and the inability to coordinate motor or linguistic behaviors.” So with those messy scans and some preliminary facts we know about the living dead, researchers such as Dr. Voytek have been able to come up with multiple images of what a real zombie brain must look like. More
Lobsters, Axons, Telephones, and Extracellular Recordings – A look at how neuronal signals can be transmitted differently under certain pharmacological conditions.
Neuronal signals are normally transmitted from cell bodies, or somas, to terminals via extensions called axons. At these terminals, connections called synapses are made with other neurons whereby the signals are released via the aide of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Many still believe that axons are reliable conductors of these signals.
However, with several years’ worth of experiments, scientists have questioned the fidelity of axonal conduction. They’ve realized that axons do not work like telephones. While telephones and axons may both have buttons – at the terminals in axons – only telephones faithfully conduct signals. And only telephones ring aloud and send messages to voicemail…
In any case, neuronal signals, unlike telephone signals, can change along their paths. Moreover, the pre-synaptic neuron may communicate a different message from the one originally sent from the soma to the synapse with the post-synaptic cell. Researchers at the lab I’ve been working at this summer, the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, have focused on the role of neuromodulation in signal transmission along axons, particularly by the well-known neurotransmitter – dopamine. More
You’re lying on a sandy beach on a hot sunny afternoon, enjoying a few hours of much needed laziness. As you open your eyes and confront the vastness of the ocean in front of you, light of 600nm wavelength hits your retina, kindling an impossibly long cascade of events in your brain: a molecule called retinal changes shape, neurons fire action potentials down the optic nerve, arrive at the lateral geniculate nucleus deep in the brain causing more action potentials in primary visual cortex in the back of your head, and so on ad infinitum. At some point, the mechanical wonder of 100 billion neurons working together produces something special: your experience of the color blue. What’s special is not that you can discriminate that color from others; nor that you are aware of it and paying attention to it. It is not notable that you can tell us about it, or assign a name to it. It’s that you have a subjective, qualitative experience of the color; there is something it is like to experience the color blue. Some philosophers call these experiences qualia – meaning “what kind” – but it is not important what kind of experience you are having, just that you are having one at all. Modern science hypothesizes that subjective experience is a product of the brain, but has no explanation for it. More
Using the human nervous system as a representational medium, are there parts of the universe that are innately unknowable to us- are there realities that we can experience but not objectively measure? Is spirituality real, or a man-made delusion to justify ambiguous emotions and guide behavior? Is consciousness an emergent property or does it extend beyond?
These are timeless ontological questions that have been posed by both philosophers and the common man for centuries. But only recently has the new field of neurotheology, the study of correlations between neural phenomena and subjective experiences of spirituality, emerged on the scene to advance our understanding of what the brain undergoes during religious practices. Whereas before we could only rely on logic and speculation in an attempt to tackle some of these controversial issues, today neuroscientists are beginning to uncover substantial information regarding the relationship between brain activity and “the feeling of God”.
Scientists have long been intrigued by claims of mystical encounters. Though these assertions may seem to be all too uncommon and even downright outlandish in an increasingly “secular” nation, still a survey by the Pew Form on Religion and Public Life demonstrated that nearly half of American adults today have had what they consider a “religious” or “mystical experience” of some kind. In order to investigate the biological basis of these obscure episodes, scientists first explored the effects of psychedelic drugs, which have a long history of traditional use in religion. Since users of psychedelics often report of the drug’s ability to elicit a sense of the spiritual, as well as promote mental healing, researchers sought empirical support for the notion that psychedelic drugs could facilitate “religious experiences”. More