Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryNeuroscience

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Octopus in water

Micro RNAs: A New Clue About Octopus Intelligence?

While octopus brains are very different from vertebrate brains, they share with vertebrates, a huge number of microRNAs

In general, the “intelligent” animals (apes, elephants, crows, whales, dogs, dolphins) are vertebrates, not invertebrates. There is one glaring exception: the cephalopods (octopuses, squid, cuttlefish). They, like vertebrates, developed large, complex brains and unexpectedly sophisticated cognitive abilities. When thinking about the puzzle, we sometimes fall victim to a sort of confusion: We reason that greater intelligence results from the fact that it “helps the octopus survive better.” Perhaps it does. But, while greater intelligence might help many life forms survive better, only a few develop it. In short, we need a “how” explanation here, not a “why” explanation. A recent study from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine points to the possible role of microRNAs (miRNAs). MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are Read More ›

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Data center cloud connection network router and switch

Researchers: The Brain’s Claustrum Acts as a Router for Thoughts

Francis Crick thought the claustrum might be the “seat of consciousness,” an inherently materialist concept. The researchers think he was wrong.

Remember Francis Crick (1916–2004) and The Astonishing Hypothesis (1994)?: “You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are, in fact, no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons’.” Crick focused on the brain region known as the claustrum as closely tied to consciousness. According to University of Maryland medical researchers, he thought of it as the “seat of consciousness.” Now, the very concept of a “seat of consciousness” assumes that consciousness is a material thing that needs a seat. In other words, consciousness must be found specifically in one place and not Read More ›

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Equestrian sport - dressage

Do Centaurs Really Exist? The Surprising Truth

Well, a half human/half horse cannot literally exist — but the way horses and humans work together has been called a “miracle”

Classical Greek mythology featured the “centaur,” a creature that was half human, half horse. Neuroscientist and horse trainer Janet Jones, author of Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship (Trafalgar Square, 2020), tells us that there is a truth behind the myth (as so often). In what amounts to a “neurobiological miracle,” the horse — a prey animal — and the human — a predator — can learn complete neurological co-operation to perform complex feats that neither can manage alone. How complex are these equestrian feats? Horse-and-human teams perform complex manoeuvres in competitions of all sorts. Together, we can gallop up to obstacles standing 8 feet (2.4 metres) high, leave the ground, and fly blind – neither party able Read More ›

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Opabinia in Cambrian Seas - Three Opabinia regalis animals hunt for prey on a reef of Cambrian Seas in the Paleozoic Era.

Earliest Brain Found — From Over Half a Billion Years Ago

No one was expecting the Cardiodictyon fossil to have a brain

A surprising find for evolutionary neuroscientists is that a tiny life form that lived more than half a billion years ago had a brain. Creatures like Cardiodictyon were not supposed to have had brains: A study published in Science—led by Nicholas Strausfeld, a Regents Professor in the University of Arizona Department of Neuroscience, and Frank Hirth, a reader of evolutionary neuroscience at King’s College London—provides the first detailed description of Cardiodictyon catenulum, a wormlike animal preserved in rocks in China’s southern Yunnan province. Measuring barely half an inch (less than 1.5 centimeters) long and initially discovered in 1984, the fossil had hidden a crucial secret until now: a delicately preserved nervous system, including a brain. University of Arizona, “525-million-year-old fossil Read More ›

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Tree with no leaves shapes like human brain as illustration

Evolution of Human Consciousness SOLVED! — Yet Again, It Seems…

What does the term “evolution” contribute to the discussion of the origin of human consciousness?

At Psychology Today, we read a bold and simple claim about the evolution of consciousness: “A type of information processing called unlimited associative learning (UAL) may be necessary and sufficient for very basic sentience.” The article by University of Toronto psychiatrist Ralph Lewis begins on a very self-assured note: Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. The gradualism of evolution has explained and dissolved life’s mysteries—life’s seemingly irreducible complexity and the illusion that living things possess some sort of mysterious vitalizing essence. So, too, evolution is likely to be key to demystifying the seemingly inexplicable, ethereal nature of consciousness. Ralph Lewis, “Learning May Be the Key to the Evolution of Consciousness” at Psychology Today (November 3, Read More ›

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Two hands holding a paper with human head and a puzzle piece. Finding a cure to heal the disease. Mental health concept, memory loss and dementia disease. Alzheimer's losing brain and memory function.

Why Is the Human Brain Different?

Well, here’s one way. The human body is typically symmetrical. We have two kidneys and two nostrils. But that’s not what happens with the human brain, as researchers from the Max Planck Institute report: But this so-called lateralization, the tendency for brain regions to process certain functions more in the left or right hemisphere, varies from person to person. And not only in the minority whose brains are specialized mirror-inverted compared to the majority. Even people with classically arranged brains differ in how pronounced their asymmetry is. Earlier studies had shown that this, in turn, can also affect the functions themselves. For example, a lack of left asymmetry of certain language areas is observed in dyslexia. Insufficient brain lateralization also Read More ›

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A sad young female student sitting at the table, studying.

Can We Rewire Our Brains To Be More Fluent in Math?

An artsy who flunked math — but later became an electrical engineering prof — says yes

Barbara Oakley, a self-confessed math phobe, nonetheless became a professor of electrical engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, as well as an author. In 2014, she offered some secrets: at Nautilus. Be warned: Her secrets are not “Forget homework!” or “Math is a tool of oppression!” No, this is quite a different message. It’s about neuroplasticity, the ways our brains adapt to our circumstances, to give us the tools we need. But to adapt, the brain needs practice: Japan has become seen as a much-admired and emulated exemplar of these active, “understanding-centered” teaching methods. But what’s often missing from the discussion is the rest of the story: Japan is also home of the Kumon method of teaching mathematics, which emphasizes Read More ›

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Left and Right Human Brain Anatomy Illustration. 3D rendering

Study: Loss of Half the Brain Doesn’t Mean No Word, Face Contact

Researchers astounded: Contrary to theory, in a recent study, the single remaining brain hemisphere supported both word and face reading functions

Some children have half of their brains removed (hemispherectomy) to control massive seizures that would otherwise destroy the child’s whole brain. Specialists were surprised that the children functioned fairly normally — certainly compared to what would have been expected. A recent study of post-hemispherectomy patients has provided dramatic evidence of rewiring: An unprecedented study of brain plasticity and visual perception found that people who, as children, had undergone surgery removing half of their brain correctly recognized differences between pairs of words or faces more than 80% of the time. Considering the volume of removed brain tissue, the surprising accuracy highlights the brain’s capacity — and its limitations — to rewire itself and adapt to dramatic surgery or traumatic injury. The Read More ›

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types of coffee placed to taste or smell

Designed to Dine, Part 2: How, Exactly, We Compute Flavor

Once a universally enjoyed but scientifically ignored phenomenon, flavor bursts out as an extraordinary event of a biological computer

Since Part 1 of this article was served up, have you experienced food and drink with greater awareness of flavor? Part 1 laid out the elements of flavor, including the smell, taste, texture, and mouth feel of foods and drinks. Smell delivers 80% of what we experience as flavor, coming from the thousands of sensory nerves in our noses detecting individual molecules. From the tongue comes taste sensations of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (savory). Flavor is like a dynamic 3-D hologram, a multi-dimensional composition of sensory inputs fluctuating in real-time, all delivered as data to the brain for final processing. Flavor makes eating fun! The Computation of Yummy The complicated and integrated systems of smell, taste, and other Read More ›

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Table filled with snacks and traditional eastern European (Lithuanian) food for a feast celebration.

Designed to Dine: Humans are Computers of Flavor

Food itself has no flavor at all. Flavor is in the sensations — really the brain — of the beholder (and taster)

Whether you’re a professional gourmet, a self-styled “foodie,” or an everyday North American who likes to eat, you probably look forward to celebration dinners. At any feast on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or the Passover Seder, the focal feature is the food. It doesn’t occur to us to ask: How do we sense the flavors of the food? After all, the food itself has no flavor at all. Flavor is in the mouth — and the nose, tongue, eyes, inner ears, and really the brain — of the beholder. Venture to learn how human beings enjoy food, and you’ll discover exquisite evidence of intelligent design. Like so many biological systems, detecting flavor involves specialized hardware components and the corresponding software to Read More ›

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Neural networks of the human brain. 3d illustration of abstract nerve centers. Electrical impulses in brain. Bright full color

Rats with Human Brains? The Real Story About Brain Organoids

Human brain organoids use adult stem cells from volunteer donors; they bypass the use of fetal tissue from abortions

In Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy (2013) , the characters in the first book navigate a dystopian near-future with few ethical boundaries. Chicken has been genetically modified to be nothing more than meat and a mouth. For entertainment, they watch either pornography or televised executions. One of the central characters, the scientist who made the genetically engineered humans, ends up unleashing a synthetic pathogen intended to rid the world of evil. The excesses are reminiscent of Earth as described in the Flood narrative in the Bible (“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” Genesis 6:11). As in the Biblical account, a “flood” occurs when the synthetic pathogen ends up killing most of humanity. The remaining Read More ›

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depressed woman sitting on bed and holding head in hands through window with raindrops

Study: Depressed Patients’ Brains Can Rewire, Lifting the Gloom

The paper will be presented at as conference of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology

We are always learning new, mostly hopeful, things about the human brain. This one may help medics treat depression: Scientists believe that the structure of the adult brain is generally rigid and incapable of rapid changes; now new work has shown that this is not true. German researchers have shown that in-patient treatment for depression can lead to an increase in brain connectivity, and those patients who respond well to this treatment show a greater increase in connectivity than those who don’t. European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, “Scientists discover structure of adult brain — previously thought to be fixed — is changed by treatment” at Eurekalert (October 17, 2022) The paper will be presented at the 35th European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Read More ›

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side view of senior man in coma on bed in hospital

Researchers: Comatose People Can Have “Covert Consciousness”

Claassen and Edlow found that the brain patterns of a woman who could not respond physically to commands showed that she recognized them

Columbia University neurologist Jan Claassen and Harvard medical school neurologist Brian L. Edlow introduce us to a vital new concept in consciousness: “covert consciousness,” which is experienced by 15–20% of people who are in a coma: Thirty-year-old New York City resident Maria Murkevich, for example, suffered a ruptured blood vessel in her brain and was comatose. Conventional tests (wiggle your toes, etc.) produced no response but her loved ones still believed she was “in there.”: They were right. But it took a high-tech method to demonstrate that: The medical team gave her an EEG — placing sensors on her head to monitor her brain’s electrical activity — while they asked her to “keep opening and closing your right hand.” Then Read More ›

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colorful abstract iridescent space art swirl background

Is Consciousness a “Controlled Brain Hallucination”? No.

Anil Seth explains away consciousness away using fashionable terms like that. As a pediatric neurosurgeon, I know from clinical experience that he is wrong

Philosopher David Chalmers famously divided the problem of understanding how consciousness is related to the brain by distinguishing between the easy and hard problems of consciousness. The easy problem of consciousness is typically faced by working neuroscientists — i.e., what parts of the brain are metabolically active when we’re awake? What kinds of neurons are involved in memory? These problems are “easy” only in the sense that they are tractable. The neuroscience necessary to answer them is challenging but, with enough skill and perseverance, it can be done. The hard problem of consciousness is another matter entirely. It is this: How can first-person subjective experience arise from brain matter? How do we get an ‘I’ from an ‘it’? Compared with Read More ›

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Glowing lightbulb with virtual brain and orange light . Creative new business idea concept.

How Can We Tell a Genius From a Really Smart Person?

Members of Mensa, a club for people with high IQ, think that the difference is exceptional creativity

A few years ago, Claire Cameron, Nautilus’s Social Media & News Editor asked five present or former members of Mensa, an international high-IQ society, founded in 1946. To qualify as members, they had to score above the 98th percentile on an IQ test or another standardized one. Her conversation with Richard Hunter, a retired finance director at a drinks distributor; journalist Jack Williams; Bikram Rana, a director at a business consulting firm; LaRae Bakerink, a business consultant; and clinical hypnotist John Sheehan brings into sharp relief the difference between high intelligence and genius — a fact that the high-IQ scorers were happy to admit. Some snippets from the conversation (participants are identified by their initials): RH: You can have a Read More ›

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Funny boy and his dog looking at piles of coins

Researchers Are Zeroing In on Animal Number Sense

We’re beginning to find out more about how animals that don’t really “think” much can keep track of numbers, when needed

University College cognitive psychology prof Brian Butterworth, author of Can fish count? (Basic Books, 2022), talks about animal number sense in a recent article in Psyche: He offers many examples of animals counting single digit numbers but then helpfully addresses the question of how they do it. We are talking here about a variety of very different types of neurological equipment — insects vs. amphibians, for example. Neuroscientists are beginning to pinpoint specific brain functions associated with counting for specific tasks: Female túngara frogs benefit by mating with the male that can produce six croaks in one breath, over the male that can manage only five, because this is an indicator of respiratory fitness. Naturally, the male will try to Read More ›

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senior, depressed african american man looking at photo frame

New Function for Our Brains’ Cerebellum: Emotional Memory

Memory is all immaterial information. But very different types of information. Researchers found that the cerebellum handles a lot of emotional memory

We use the same word “memory” to mean very different types of things. There’s the new phone number, in which we have no emotional investment. Then there’s the smell of cinnamon buns from a long-ago home-town bakery, which is a non-shareable emotional investment. And again, there’s a colleague’s advice about addressing a difficult client’s needs… that’s a mixture of a number of different types of memory, in getting the right approach down pat. All memory is immaterial information, of very different types. And a team of researchers finds that our brains’ cerebellum handles a lot of emotional memory: The cerebellum is known primarily for regulation of movement. Researchers at the University of Basel have now discovered that the cerebellum also Read More ›

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Galapagos Giant Tortoise head shot smiling walking slowly on Galapagos Islands. Animals, nature and wildlife close up of tortoise in the highlands of Galapagos, Ecuador, South America.

How Can the Two-Headed Tortoise Have Different Personalities?

Many would be surprised to learn that either head had any personality, and yet…

Recently, a “two-headed” tortoise at the Geneva Museum of Natural History reached the remarkable age of 25, thanks to constant care by his handlers: Janus also has two hearts, two pairs of lungs, and two distinct personalities. Sometimes the heads wish to go in different directions. “The right head is more curious, more awake, it has a much stronger personality,” Angelica Bourgoin, who leads the turtle’s care team, said. “The left head is more passive and loves to eat.” News, “Two-headed tortoise Janus celebrates 25th birthday” at DW (September 3, 2022) So how could the tortoise heads have two different “personalities?” Janus — despite the single name given — seems to be a set of conjoined tortoise twins. (Here’s a Read More ›

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Two hands holding a paper with human head and a puzzle piece. Finding a cure to heal the disease. Mental health concept, memory loss and dementia disease. Alzheimer's losing brain and memory function.

The Human Brain Rewires Itself in Middle Age

After we hit forty, our brains integrate more and compartmentalize less

It seems designed to get the best of human longevity: In a systematic review recently published in the journal Psychophysiology, researchers from Monash University in Australia swept through the scientific literature, seeking to summarize how the connectivity of the human brain changes over our lifetimes. The gathered evidence suggests that in the fifth decade of life (that is, after a person turns 40), the brain starts to undergo a radical “rewiring” that results in diverse networks becoming more integrated and connected over the ensuing decades, with accompanying effects on cognition. Ross Pomeroy, “The brain undergoes a great “rewiring” after age 40” at Big Think (September 24, 2022) According to the researchers, when we are young, our brains are modular, suited Read More ›

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Young attractive handicapped beauty blogger is filming video with smartphone at home.

Reality Check: Can Bionic Hands Really Compete With Nature?

A geographer born without a left forearm offers an honest assessment of the “bionic hand” arms race

The author of a recent article in IEEE Spectrum was born without a left forearm so she can talk about the tech reality of prostheses from the front lines: Today, the people who design prostheses tend to be well-intentioned engineers rather than amputees themselves. The fleshy stumps of the world act as repositories for these designers’ dreams of a high-tech, superhuman future. I know this because throughout my life I have been fitted with some of the most cutting-edge prosthetic devices on the market. After being born missing my left forearm, I was one of the first cohorts of infants in the United States to be fitted with a myoelectric prosthetic hand, an electronic device controlled by the wearer’s muscles Read More ›