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Bowerbird Architecture

[ 0 ] January 24, 2012

The New York Times recently covered some cool new research that shows that Australia’s Great Bowerbirds use techniques of illusion and perspective to make their mate-attracting constructions sexier. The researches explain:

Male great bowerbirds actively maintain size-distance gradients of objects on their bower courts that create forced-perspective illusions for females viewing their displays from within the bower avenue.

Bowerbird aesthetics offer an interesting angle on evolution and art itself — there are a variety of theories about the biology of art, which we explore here at The Beautiful Brain.  Some of the most striking theories are reductionist views: perhaps art sprung directly from sexual selection – the need to impress our mates – and it’s variety, constant change, and centrality to human life should be viewed through an evolutionary lens.  It’s an interesting thought, and certainly gets some support from the bowerbird arts collective.

Sloan and Science on Screen

[ 0 ] January 18, 2012

Yesterday, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced a nearly $500,000 dollar grant to the Science on Screen program.  Conceived by the Coolidge Corner Theatre, a beloved New England movie house whose foundation is dedicated to providing audiences with excellent and interesting cinematic experiences,  Science on Screen pairs feature films and presentations with lively presentations by science and technology experts.  In 2012 and 2013, 20 independent non-profit nationwide—up from 8 last year—will receive $7,000 dollar grants to develop their own Science on Screen programs.

For example, Randy Criss, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida Department of Physics explains the science behind Mel Brooks’ classic comedy “Young Frankenstein:”

Science on Screen

Hooray For NMDA!

[ 0 ] January 5, 2012

NMDA receptors are neurological celebrities. They’ve been implicated in the most basic, neccasary forms of learning and synaptic plasticity, highlighted by their ability to activate only when certain conditions are met in both “pre” and “post” synaptic neurons.

The now-old neuroscience adage “those that fire together, wire together,” is a fundamental truism primarily because of the work of NMDARs.  So it isn’t surprising that a recent paper in Neuron, by Joe Tsien et al, argues that NMDA receptors play a vital role in habit formation.  Check out the video abstract above for more.

Pixar: “What Goes on Inside Our Heads?”

[ 2 ] December 7, 2011

In a recent Charlie Rose interview of John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar revealed more about the next Pixar project, to be directed by Pete Docter. The animator said that it will take place inside the mind of a girl, with her emotions as characters.

Lasseter said that the film concept came from the simple question, “What is going on in people’s heads?” Good question. Though this doesn’t sound like the neuroscience-epic-IMAX-3D-blockbuster I’ve been dreaming of, maybe Pixar will be able to reflect both past and the latest neuroscience/psychology research, as well as shedding some light on the matter with their artistic freedom.

At the least, it’ll be a good time at the theatres.

Here’s the full interview.

Who’s In Charge?

[ 2 ] November 30, 2011

“Free Will” is a tough topic in cognitive science.  The neuroscience research that goes into answering questions of agency and free will is complicated and can be interpreted in so many ways.

Legendary cognitive scientist, Michael Gazzaniga, argues in his new book “Who’s In Charge,” that we’re looking in the wrong place.

Surely our behaviors are the results of physical processes in the brain, and thus can, every one, ultimately be linked to a neurological root.  However, the shape and architecture of such “roots” is shaped by our world, and in the case of personal responsibility and ownership of actions, they’re shaped by our social world.  Gazzaniga believes we’re talking about free will the wrong way – ownership of our actions happens in our interactions with others, and is affected by those interactions.  Should be an interesting read.

A History of the Brain, Podcasted

[ 0 ] November 14, 2011

BBC Radio 4 has been running a series by Dr. Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, who takes the listener on a journey through 5,000 years of human understanding of the brain.  He starts with fossil skulls that suggest trepanation, the oldest form of neurosurgery—quite literally a hole in the head.  The latest one posted covers the 18th century curiosity with electricity, and how that influenced ideas about the brain.  I’m particularly looking forward to the next hundred years…

Shout to Mindhacks, where I found these.  You can check them out on iTunes, or here.

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