Category: Arts + Media
Music: More than Just Entertainment
What is music? It’s something I listen to when I want to relax or when I want to focus. If I’m missing home, I listen to Bollywood. When it’s Christmas, I listen to carols, both classic and modern. So clearly, I think of music as a source of entertainment. In fact, in both ancient and modern times, music has been a key component of celebrations, like weddings and cultural events. Interestingly, scientific research on music and the brain has shown that music has more benefits than entertainment alone.
Spritz: The Faster Speed Reader Technique
How many times have you not completed the reading assignment for you systems physiology class because you ran out of time? How many times have you attempted to use speed reading techniques like not subvocalizing, or talking to yourself as you read? A new Boston-based start-up claims to have solved the ‘slow reader’ problem and promises 600 words per minute for all.
One must be skeptical when approaching the front line technologies, as it is easy to be convinced that people have invented what you desire. For instance, when Tony Hawk promotes a brand “hoverboard” technology, Back to the Future fans went berserk. However, Spritz is a bit more open about the actual science behind their product.
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!
America's Stutter-free Idol
On January 17th, the talented Lazaro Arbos, a 21-year-old from Florida, went viral on Youtube for his amazing performance during his American Idol audition. The most impressive part of his beautiful voice? The fact that it was stutter-free.
During normal speech, Arbos involuntarily makes long pauses and extended vowels, using his hands to trace the words he is trying to convey. However, as soon as he starts to sing, the difficulty disappears. His new Twitter fans are calling it a divine miracle, but the phenomenon is well-known to many stutter sufferers - industry legend has it that B.B.King and Carly Simon were among them!
What's going on here? The disorder is highly varied in its presentation and severity, so science is far from a consensus about the etiology, though there have been some compelling findings. One 2003 study by Van Borsel et al. at the Ghent University Hospital in Belgium showed a marked increase in activation of the right hemisphere during speech in fMRI studies of patients with the speech disorder; more so than in normal speakers, leading to the idea that perhaps this over-activation is interfering with the fluent production of speech on the left. Specifically, a study of stutterers in Frankfurt, Germany found that activity in the right frontal operculum was negatively correlated with the severity of stuttering symptoms in patients, suggesting a compensational role. This area has been associated with timing tasks in speech in healthy controls, adding further possible significance to the specific dysfunction in verbal timing seen in stutterers.
The Soundtrack of the Human Brain
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.
Defending Plato's Renunciation of Art
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
The Present State of Brain-Machine Interfaces
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.
Ned the Neuron
Sometimes it can be tough to explain the research work that I am involved in right now: I can't just say "I study the interaction between the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex" because inevitably, I get blank stares. So instead, I say "Neuroscience--brain stuff!" But I find this unfortunate: I want to be able to explain my research interests to people - even though they might be unfamiliar with neuroscience - without having to go into a 15-minute neuroanatomy lesson. But this is no fault of theirs: they have just never been exposed to the anatomy of the brain.
In grade school and high school most people are exposed to the body in anatomy classes and text-book diagrams. This tends not be true for the brain - the first time I was exposed to its anatomy was in my first neuroscience course, at a university. However, I think it is a necessary foundation for children to understand their own brains, even at a simplistic level. This is why I was excited to find that Erica Warp and Jessica Voytek have created an inspirational and fascinating children's storybook called Ned the Neuron. It's great to know that there are indeed ways that children can learn accurate information about the brain. And although this is a children's book, I would recommend it to adults, too! This is certainly a step in the right direction toward bringing knowledge of neuroscience to the general public. I've already bought my copy!
Ned the Neuron - Erika Warp and Jessica Voytek
A Dynamic Neuron & His Dynamic Poster At Society for Neuroscience 2012 - CENtral Science
That Was Awkward…
WHEW! Nothing like drawing inspiration from some late-night Youtube videos! Especially when my editor has to: 1) Make sure that this post is indeed relative to neuroscience 2) Verify that I've used proper grammar 3) Make media changes such as share links etc. 4) And have all of this done within a few hours during which I've procrastinated until the midnight hours of the new work week. Apologies to my editor...but man, am I pumped for what I've got in store with this post! Let's get started shall we?
Who doesn't love awkward situations? Well, actually, most people probably don't like awkward situations. But why...I tend to find it hilarious when there is so much discomfort in a room that it can be cut with a knife. In my opinion, that's what makes "awkward" so exciting. It's a moment where everyone is out of their comfort zone, nobody is safe, nobody can run and hide, and often nobody knows what to do. For example, consider the harmonious situation when the distraught, balling girlfriend confronts her cheating boyfriend. More
An Intersection between Neuroscience and Magic!
Luigi Anzivino speaks at the 2011 Technology Horizons Fall Research Exchange. Anzivino is a scientific content developer at the Exploratorium.
Other topics that took place at this conference included the idea of invisibility cloaks, quantum consciousness, designers lifeforms, etc. Anzivino's presentation fit right in. Check out his presentation below.
Luigi Anzivino: Science of Magic - Boingboing.net