Forget Me Not

Having trouble remembering where you left your keys? You can improve with a little practice, says a new study. It’s an idea that had never occurred to me before, but one that seems weirdly obvious once you think about it: people who train their brains to recall the locations of objects for a few minutes each day show greatly improved ability to remember where they’ve left things. No matter what age you are, you’ve probably had your share of “Alzheimer’s moments,” when you’ve walked into a room only to forget why you’re there, or set something down and immediately forgotten where you…

Taking Vision Apart

For the first time, scientists have created neuron-by-neuron maps of brain regions corresponding to specific kinds of visual information, and specific parts of the visual field, says a new study. If other labs can confirm these results, this will mean we’re very close to being able to predict exactly which neurons will fire when an animal looks at a specific object. Our understanding of neural networks has come a very long way in a very short time. It was just a little more than 100 years ago that Santiago Ramón y Cajal first proposed the theory that individual cells – neurons – comprised…

Saving Faces

A brain area that’s specialized to recognize faces has a unique structure in each of our brains – and mapping that area’s connectivity patterns can tell us how each of our brains use it, says a new study. The fusiform gyrus in the temporal lobe plays a part in our recognition of words, numbers, faces, colors, and other visual specifics – but it’s becoming increasingly clear that no two people’s fusiform gyrus structure is identical. By studying this region in a larger connectomic framework, though, researchers can now predict which parts of a certain person’s fusiform gyrus are specialized for face recognition.…

The Colors, Man! The Colors!

Scientists have discovered direct neural correlates of synesthesia, a new study reports. Not only have they detected activation patterns corresponding to synesthesic activity (such as “seeing” certain colors when thinking of certain numbers or sounds) – they’ve isolated an actual functional difference in the brains of synesthesic people. And what’s more, they’ve discovered a way to crank up synesthesic activity. Let’s break this down and talk about what they’ve done here. To understand what’s going on, let’s take a quick glance at history. Synesthesia’s fascinated artists and scientists since way back – in fact, the first people to write about it were the ancient Greeks,…

I Know Kung Fu

New technology may soon enable us download knowledge directly into our brains, says a new study. By decoding activation patterns from fMRI scans and then reproducing them as direct input to a precise area of the brain, the new system may be able to “teach” neural networks by example – priming them to fire in a certain way until they learn to do it on their own. This has led everyone from io9 to the National Science Foundation to make Matrix references – and it’s hard to blame them. After all, immersive virtual reality isn’t too hard to imagine – but learning…

Musical Matchups

Our brains process music via different sensory pathways depending on what we think its source is, a new study finds. As our brains organize information from our senses into a coherent representation of the world around us, they’re constantly hard at work associating data from one sense – say, sight – with data from another – say, hearing. A lot of the time, this process is pretty straightforward – for instance, if we see a man talking and hear a nearby male voice, it’s typically safe for our brains to assume the voice “goes with” the man’s lip movements. But it’s also not too hard for…

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 up. So…