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Smelling Attraction

[ 6 ] October 10, 2010

Pheromones have almost gained a mythological status in popular culture, thanks to the goat extract at the gas station or perfumes that supposedly uses pheromones to make you irresistible. (Side note: perfumes often use glandular excretions from other animals as one of their main ingredients.) But there is some credence to the layers of fantasy. Several tests have been conducted that provide good evidence that humans can indeed sense pheromones from other humans. But there is still the mystery of what the sensory organ is for pheromones. One theory is that cranial nerve zero is at least in part responsible for our responses to pheromones. This nerve is barely noticeable and often destroyed during dissection, which is why it is not included in many textbooks yet.
Scientists have even found this nerve in whales, an animal that, through evolution, has long lost its olfactory cranial nerves. This supports the idea that cranial nerve zero is separate from the olfactory system. But more importantly, it underlines an evolutionary importance of cranial nerve zero, withstanding millennia of evolution.

Scientists’ Double Lives

[ 0 ] October 4, 2010

NOVA has a great new online series called “The Secret Life of Scientists.” The videos take a look at some leading scientists’ alternative, non-science lives – much like neuroscientist and Beautiful Brain contributor Joe Ledoux’s musical project, the Amygdaloids.

Here’s one of my favorite videos, featuring Joe DeGeorge, who is a physics student and lead singer/songwriter of the great Harry-Potter themed indie rock band Harry and The Potters.

Can We Measure Consciousness?

[ 4 ] October 1, 2010

Carl Zimmer has a nice piece in the New York Times on Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi’s quest to “quantify” consciousness. Zimmer writes,

Consciousness, Dr. Tononi says, is nothing more than integrated information. Information theorists measure the amount of information in a computer file or a cellphone call in bits, and Dr. Tononi argues that we could, in theory, measure consciousness in bits as well. When we are wide awake, our consciousness contains more bits than when we are asleep.


[I look forward to buying a “Consciometer” in 2050 – Imagine…when you’re sharp you measure 9.5 consciousness-units. When you space out and grab a hot pan on the stove you’re floating around 4.8 units.  Sleep is zero, and daydreaming is 3].


The Mystery of Qualia

[ 1 ] September 30, 2010

One of the largest philosophical mystery of the science of sensation and perception begins with the idea of “qualia.” Qualia is defined as the qualities of a conscious experience. When you see a striking painting, you may notice its vibrant colors, its beautiful brush strokes, or even the smell of aging canvas. These are all qualia. In the following video, Dr. V.S. Ramachandra delves into the idea of qualia and how it relates to consciousness.

The mystery arises when you consider the mechanism of sensation and perception. Do we need an ineffable, subjective experience to sense and to perceive a film, a song, or a painting? If not, why do we have qualia? And even more puzzling, where does it come from? As your grade school teacher might have once said, “there are no right answers.” But as is the nature of science, perhaps the proper adage is “there are no right answers yet.”

Does Neuro-Everything Mean We’re Living in a Neuro-Revolution?

[ 2 ] September 28, 2010

You may have caught terms floating around this site and others like neurotheology, neuromarketing, neuroaesthetics, neuroethics, or neuroliterature. More and more, it seems as though “neuro” is getting slapped on any discipline one cares to apply brain science to. So what are the merits of this trend, and does it mean we’re truly living in a time of brain science-driven revolution?

The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World, Zack Lynch, St. Martin's Press Hardcover, July 2009

A terrific essay at site deals with Zack Lynch’s book “The Neuro Revolution” and the pervasion of the brain sciences into every corner of our society, as well as the somewhat problematic tendency of depending on fMRI studies to reveal truths about our thinking, especially when it comes to the legal sphere.

Check out the essay here.

Neuroscience Rock Music, Snake Charmers, and More

[ 1 ] September 24, 2010

This weekend, as part of World Maker Faire, TalkingScience will present three performances of the Rock-It Science Cabaret, a science variety show featuring scientists and performers illustrating principles of physics, chemistry, and biology.

Ira Flatow, host of NPR’s live news/talk show Science Friday, will introduce the Rock-It Science Cabaret, and will be available at Science Friday’s booth at Maker Faire to meet and talk to fans after he leaves the Science Stage on Saturday.

Each of the Rock-It Science Cabaret’s three performances will feature a different program, with acts including:

  • Brainy music by The Amygdaloids, NYU neuroscientists led by Joseph LeDoux who sing about how the inside of your head works (Special note: Beautiful Brain editor Noah Hutton will be sitting in on drums for the Amygdaloids on Saturday)
  • Serpentina the Snake Charmer from Coney Island, who can show you how to make friends with big snakes;
  • Incredible science demos that you can take part in;
  • Science punk rock, green rap music, and more.


    Saturday, September 25, 2010, noon and 4:00 PM  – rain or shine.

    Sunday, September 26, 2010, 1:00 PM – rain or shine


    The New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th Street in Queens, NY