“2014’s Nobel Prize Co-Winner” – Podcast 13: Edvard Moser

Have you ever wondered what language your brain speaks when it talks to itself? I don’t mean your inner monologue – I mean the coded messages that your brain uses to collect, analyze, and make predictions about your environment. What would it feel like to decode even a small fraction of the signals flashing back and forth deep inside the brain – and know exactly what they encode? On Episode 13 of The Connectome Podcast, Ben is joined by Edvard Moser, who won the 2014 neuroscience Nobel prize for doing exactly that. Along with his wife May-Britt and his teacher John O’Keefe,…

The Best Free Online Neuroscience Courses

I have a confession to make: I never formally studied neuroscience. Actually, I freely admit this fact to anyone who asks – and the most frequent follow-up question I get is, “Then how did you teach yourself enough about neuroscience to write about it professionally?” The answer is that I took what’s known as the “brute-force” approach: I searched Google Scholar for every paper containing the keywords I was interested in. I saved and printed every paper that looked worth reading. I sat on my couch with a foot-high stack of papers beside me, and I read every single one. When I…

“Using Light to Talk With Neurons” – Podcast 12: Michael Hausser

On Episode 12 of The Connectome Podcast, Ben talks with Michael Hausser, a researcher who reads and writes information to and from brain cells with laser signals. This area of neuroscience – known as optogenetics – is one of the fastest-moving fields in science today, and Hausser and his team are on the cutting edge of it. They’ve just designed a new system that can read output from networks of neurons, select specific neurons to target in response to that output, shoot laser signals at the selected neurons, listen for a response from them, change targets again, and repeat – holding active…

The Top 5 Neuroscience Breakthroughs of 2014

The year-end roundup has become an annual tradition here at The Connectome. In 2012 and 2013, we broke down the top five most fascinating, transformative, implication-riddled neuroscience discoveries of the year. And now we’re back to do the same for 2014. This year has seen a lot of steps forward in many of the areas we predicted – including optogenetics, connectomics, and brain-to-brain interfaces. It’s also brought some discoveries that seemed to come utterly out of the blue, and that may change the way we look at some of neuroscience’s most central questions. So here – in countdown order – are this…

How Our Brains Process Books

In my latest article for Scientific American, I dig into some fascinating new research on reading. In this study, the researchers software that could actually predict what a person was reading about, just by seeing scans of their brain activity. What did these scans reveal about how our brains render fictional worlds? Could this research help explain how we’re able to “become” characters in the stories we read? Dialogue was specifically correlated with the right temporoparietal junction, a key area involved in imagining others’ thoughts and goals. “Some of these regions aren’t even considered to be part of the brain’s language system,”…

This Is Your Brain on Magic Mushrooms

In this article for Discover Magazine, I take a trip into the weird world of psychedelic neuroscience – which is actually a major area of serious research right now. Specifically, I delve into one new fMRI study, which found that psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, changes brain connectivity in two very distinct ways. Could this have implications for psychotherapy? And what does it tell us about the nature of psychedelic experiences? They found two main effects of the psilocybin. First, most brain connections were fleeting. New connectivity patterns tended to disperse more quickly under the influence of psilocybin than under…

Researchers “Copy and Paste” Fear From One Memory to Another

In this article for Discover Magazine, I explore a new set of experiments that sound like the plot of a bizarre sci-fi movie: Researchers taught a group of mice to fear a certain section of a maze, then electronically copied the mice’s fear from that memory and pasted it onto a different memory! How the hell did they do this? What does it tell us about how we form memories? Redondo and his team decided to take things one step further, and find out if it was possible to link the mice’s existing memories of fear and reward with completely new and…