Brains of Autistic Children Are Surprisingly Hyper-Connected

In this article for Discover Magazine, I explore a new study that’s found an intriguing difference in the brains of autistic children: Different brain regions aren’t actually under-connected, as some researchers have believed – they’re actually hyper-connected, exchanging information much more than they would in a non-autistic brain. What does this mean? Could it point toward potential treatments for autism? The studies, one at San Diego State University and another at Stanford University, consisted of fMRI scanning of children and teens with autism and a non-affected control group, all of whom were directed to think about nothing in particular. The … Continue reading Brains of Autistic Children Are Surprisingly Hyper-Connected

“Crowdsourcing a Neuroscience Revolution” — Podcast 10: Sebastian Seung

On Episode 10 of The Connectome Podcast, I chat with Sebastian Seung, a neuroscience researcher whose latest work — in cooperation with teams at MIT, at Germany’s Max Planck Institute and at other cutting-edge institutions — is proving that an improbable-sounding dream isn’t so improbable after all: We may be able to map the structure and function of every neural connection in an entire mammalian nervous system, from the cellular level up… and it may happen within our lifetimes. Seung’s bestselling book Connectome offers an exciting tour through this fast-growing field of connectomics — and in fact, it was his … Continue reading “Crowdsourcing a Neuroscience Revolution” — Podcast 10: Sebastian Seung

The Neuroscience Revolution Will Be Crowdsourced

In this article for Scientific American, I dig into one of my very favorite scientific projects: The Human Connectome Project at MIT. What’s the deal with all this excitement? What exactly are these researchers trying to accomplish? And how close are they to accomplishing it? The answers to all these questions may surprise you. Once humans have drawn in these neuronal skeletons, an automated computer algorithm builds out a 3D model of each neuron’s three-dimensional shape. “If people had to color in the full three-dimensional shape of a neuron, instead of just drawing the skeleton, each neuron would take ten … Continue reading The Neuroscience Revolution Will Be Crowdsourced

Sexy Neuroscience IV

Every culture and subculture has its own rituals of greeting and affection – handshakes, backslaps, fist-bumps, hugs and so on – but when it comes to erotic contact, cultural differences seem to melt away into something more primal: Touch that just feels good for its own sake. In fact, a new study has confirmed that erogenous zones are remarkably similar and consistent among people from widely different cultures. This first “systematic survey of the magnitude of erotic sensations from various body parts” found that both men and women in Britain and in sub-Saharan Africa love be caressed on their lips, … Continue reading Sexy Neuroscience IV

“Learning How Brains Learn” — Podcast 9: Jeff Hawkins

On Episode 9 of the Connectome podcast, I’m joined by Jeff Hawkins, a computer engineer and neuroscience geek who’s obsessed with understanding how the brain learns. Jeff is the inventor of the Palm Pilot and the founder of Palm Computing – as well as another computing company called Handspring – but in addition to his computer skills, he’s also been fascinated by neuroscience since the late 70s. Today, his company Numenta designs a range of software known as Grok, which learns and thinks like a living brain. Jeff’s superb book On Intelligence lays out his theory in detail, and he … Continue reading “Learning How Brains Learn” — Podcast 9: Jeff Hawkins

A Secret Society of Cells Runs Your Brain

In this article for Scientific American, I talk about a new study that discovered some surprising things about a class of brain cells that’ve long been assumed to sit silently. Oligodendrocytes aren’t neurons – they’re support cells; and for a long time, their exact behavior was a mystery. Now, researchers are discovering that they take a much more active role in brain function than anyone expected. Bergles was intrigued by the persistent cycling of these progenitors, so he and his team determined to study the behavior of individual oligodendrocyte progenitors in living brains. The researchers set to work engineering mice … Continue reading A Secret Society of Cells Runs Your Brain

“Hallucination & Imagination” — Podcast 8: Oliver Sacks

On Episode 8 of the Connectome podcast, I talk with Oliver Sacks, renowned neuroscientist and author of such books as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia and Hallucinations. In particular, Sacks joins us to talk about some patients of his who’ve been hallucinating strange varieties of musical notation. But musical hallucinations are only the beginning – Sacks also shares his insights on dreams, hallucinogenic drugs, selfhood, and plenty of other phenomena that make subjective experience so mysterious. Whether you’re new to Dr. Sacks’ work or a lifelong fan of his writing, this interview raises some consciousness-related … Continue reading “Hallucination & Imagination” — Podcast 8: Oliver Sacks