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

What’s Individuality, and Where Does It Come From?

In this article for Scientific American, I dig into one of mankind’s oldest and deepest questions: What’s that special something that makes you different from me? Where does it come from, an how early can we find it? A new German study may have found some surprising answers to these age-old mysteries. Three months later, the researchers reexamined the mice, and found not only that their brains had grown more and more individually distinct over time, but that the brains of the mice with the highest roaming entropy had grown and changed the most of all. Specifically, these mice sprouted … Continue reading What’s Individuality, and Where Does It Come From?

Tomorrow’s Anti-Anxiety Drug Is… Tylenol?

In this article for Scientific American, I talk about a new study that may have found an unusual use for a popular pain drug. Could Tylenol – also known by the drug name acetaminophen – really be the anti-anxiety drug of the future? If so, how would that work? Why would it work? And are high doses of Tylenol safe for patients’ bodies? The brain scans were clear: The ACCs of people who’d been taking acetaminophen didn’t respond nearly as strongly to feelings of social rejection as the ACCs of people who’d been on a placebo. The drug was buffering … Continue reading Tomorrow’s Anti-Anxiety Drug Is… Tylenol?