Some intriguing new research published in the most recent issue of Neuron seeks to elucidate the neural substrates of courage. The researchers used a experimental paradigm by testing subjects with snake phobias and allowing them to press a button that moves a snake (a non-poisonous one of course) closer and further from their body while they lied in an fMRI machine. Moving the snake closer was consider an act of “courage.”
Activity in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) was found to be correlated with courageous behaviors, and was even shown to diminish activity in the fear-sensitive amygdala.
I hope the snake-fearing subjects in this study were compensated nicely!
View the video abstract here: http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(10)00467-8
Goethe wrote that “Architecture is crystallized music.” Animator Michal Levy created a stunning architectural animation for the classic Coltrane tune “Giant Steps” that represents her own synaesthetic experience with music.
"When I listen to music I see colors and shapes and when I watch visual art I hear sounds. I wanted to express my sensing of shapes, colors and music in this short animation." - Michal Levy
Check out the full animation at Michal Levy’s website.
A team of scientists led by Daniela Dieterich from CalTech have developed a new fluorescent imaging technique to precisely trace the growth and migration of individual proteins in the brain. In a paper published in this month’s Nature Neuroscience, Dietrich’s team produced these stunning images of fluorescent neurons studded with nascent proteins:
Visualization of newly synthesized proteins in dissociated primary hippocampal neurons. (Dietrich et al, Nature Neuroscience, July 2010)
The scientists describe their technique in the paper’s abstract:
“This technique can be used to detect changes in protein synthesis and to evaluate the fate of proteins synthesized in different cellular compartments.”
In a guest post written last month for Scientific American, neuroscientist and author Douglas Fields discusses recent claims that there is brain imagery woven into Michelangelo’s illustrations in the Sistine Chapel.
Fields appears to be fairly convinced that Michelangelo knowingly incorporated anatomical features of the human brainstem into his masterpiece, as seen above. Are you convinced?
“Whatever language a person is reading, the same area of inferotemporal cortex, the visual word form area, is activated. Why should all human beings have this built-in facility for reading when writing is a relatively recent cultural invention?”
So asks Oliver Sacks in a piece featured in this week’s New Yorker, which discusses the work of Mark Changizi, who was previously featured on our March podcast.
Changizi’s groundbreaking research has shown that all forms of writing tap into our brain’s natural preferences for certain forms found in nature– that is, the forms of letters evolved from physical forms our brains knew long before written language came along. Sacks sums up this line of work: “Writing, a cultural tool, has evolved to make use of the inferotemporal neurons’ preference for certain shapes.”
The New York Times has a terrific interactive timeline of the history of smart machines, which goes along with a June 24 article about the cutting edge in speech technology and artificial intelligence.
Interacting with these new intelligent machines will gradually become commonplace in the next decade. There are clear applications–from medical use, to clerical and secretarial work– and the progress being made is quite rapid. As the article notes,
The number of American doctors using speech software to record and transcribe accounts of patient visits and treatments has more than tripled in the past three years to 150,000. The progress is striking. A few years ago, supraspinatus (a rotator cuff muscle) got translated as “fish banana.” Today, the software transcribes all kinds of medical terminology letter perfect, doctors say. (full article)