“Consciousness, Dreams & Drugs” — Podcast 2

On the second Connectome podcast, I muse about three of the hottest topics in neuroscience today: what “consciousness” might be, how it relates to dreams, and how drugs can play some strange tricks on that relationship.   Click here to play or download: If the SoundCloud link doesn’t play, you can download the original mp3. Enjoy, and feel free to email us questions and suggestions for next time!   (Produced by Devin O’Neill at The Armageddon Club) Continue reading “Consciousness, Dreams & Drugs” — Podcast 2

Neuroscience Friends!

I’ve just returned from a thrilling weekend at the BIL Conference in Long Beach, California (yes, the pun on “TED” is very intentional) where I met all kinds of smart, fun people – including lots of folks who share my love for braaaiiins! So I thought I’d introduce you guys to some of the friends I made. I think you’ll be as surprised – and as excited – as I am. Backyard Brains Their motto is “neuroscience for everyone” – how cool is that? They sell affordable kits that let you experiment at home with the nervous systems of insects … Continue reading Neuroscience Friends!

Harry Potter and the Nature of the Self

Yup, this is what we’re doing today. I finally got to see Deathly Hallows Part 2, and it got me thinking about neuroscience like frickin’ everything always does, and I came home and wrote an essay about the nature of consciousness in the Harry Potter universe. And we’re going to talk about it, because it’s the holidays and can we please just pull it together and act like a normal family for the length of one blog post? Thank you. I really mean it. Besides, I guarantee you that this stuff is gonna bug you too once I’ve brought it … Continue reading Harry Potter and the Nature of the Self

Brain Scans & Lucid Dreams

The brain activity of lucid dreamers – people who become aware that they’re in a dream state – shows some interesting similarities with that of people who are awake, says a new study. By studying the brain activity of lucid dreamers under electroencephalograms (EEGs) and fMRI scans, researchers have found that activity in the somatosensory and motor cortices – regions crucial for touch and movement, respectively – show very similar activation patterns during lucid dreams to those they display when people make or imagine those same movements while awake. Though dreams have fascinated philosophers and scientists since the dawn of history … Continue reading Brain Scans & Lucid Dreams

Inside the Vegetative Mind

For the first time, scientists have successfully communicated with patients trapped in vegetative bodies. As a report published in the journal NeuroImage explains, these patients’ thought patterns come through quite clearly on an fMRI scanner, and they’re able to respond to questions in ways that demonstrate that they understand what’s being asked: To answer yes, [one patient] was told to think of playing tennis, a motor activity. To answer no, he was told to think of wandering from room to room in his home, visualising everything he would expect to see there, creating activity in the part of the brain governing spatial … Continue reading Inside the Vegetative Mind

Sleepocalypse 2011

For the first time in history, scientists have recorded functional images of brain activity as humans shift from consciousness into unconsciousness. What they’ve learned is that the process of falling asleep involves a variety of areas within the brain. Some of these areas systematically inhibit others, until an entirely different type of functional network is created: The images show that changes in the anesthetized brain start in the midbrain, where certain receptors for a neurotransmitter called GABA are plentiful. From the midbrain, changes move outward to affect the whole brain; as [GABAergic] messages spread from region to region, consciousness dissolves. GABA (short for … Continue reading Sleepocalypse 2011

Sharing Thoughtspace

A couple posts back, I asked what you thought it’d be like to not have a self. Today, I want to ask a related question with a very different set of implications. Exactly where are the boundaries of your self? Maybe you’d say its limits are defined by the physical boundaries of your nervous system. On the other hand, you might define the boundaries of your self more abstractly, and identify them with the limits of your assembled sensory perceptions, feelings, and thoughts. The tricky thing is, no matter how we try to define those boundaries, philosophers have come up … Continue reading Sharing Thoughtspace