Understanding The Brain Of A Man With No Conscious Memory
The primary problem E.P. experienced came in what we’d probably call conscious memory, or what professionals call declarative memory. This involves, as the names imply, the ability to be aware of something we know, and to state it, whether it’s a historic event or the term for an obscure object. For example, E.P. moved to San Diego shortly after his illness, but he was never able to consciously remember the layout of his apartment or where the Pacific Ocean was, even though it was two miles from home. And although he could relate stories about the events of his youth, he’d often get repetitive while doing so—after all, he couldn’t remember which parts of the stories he’d already related.
But that doesn’t mean he had no memory. We store short-term information (like the digits we’re carrying when we’re doing math) in a place called working memory—and E.P.’s working memory was just fine. In some tests, he was blindfolded and led along a path up to 15 meters in length. When it was over, he was able to remember his start position successfully. But wait a few minutes, and the entire test faded from his memory. When asked, he’d tell the researchers that he’d been “in conversation” a few minutes earlier.
Full Story: Ars Technica: Understanding the brain of a man with no conscious memory
(Remind anyone of Memento?)
Fully Wireless Brain Implants Are Closer Than You Think
I wrote for Wired:
Wouldn’t it be great if you could control your PC with your brain? Well, this sort of thing may be closer than you think.
Researchers at Brown University have built the first wirelessly rechargeable brain implant that could be used to control wheelchairs, robotic arms, or computer interfaces like cursors and keyboards, as detailed in a paper published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.
Brown and a commercial spin-off called BrainGate have been testing a wired version of the system for years. But being tethered to a computer limits a patient’s range of motion — and it leaves an incision in your head that’s susceptible to infection, says Juan Aceros, a researcher on the project who is now an engineering professor at North Florida University.
So far, the wireless version has only been tested in two Yorkshire pigs and four rhesus macaque monkeys, but Aceros says they plan to test the system on human subjects. This requires approval from the FDA, which may take a couple years. The good news is the devices have been implanted in the animal subjects for over a year without significant complications.
Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Yorkshire Pigs Control Computer Gear With Brain Waves
Intercontinental mind-meld unites two rats
Brain implants powered by spinal fluid
Is Speed Reading Actually Possible?
Brian Dunning writes:
To truly measure reading speed, we’d have to draw a line at some minimum acceptable level of comprehension.
Ronald Carver, author of the 1990 book The Causes of High and Low Reading Achievement, is one researcher who has done extensive testing of readers and reading speed, and thoroughly examined the various speed reading techniques and the actual improvement likely to be gained. One notable test he did pitted four groups of the fastest readers he could find against each other. The groups consisted of champion speed readers, fast college readers, successful professionals whose jobs required a lot of reading, and students who had scored highest on speed reading tests. Carver found that of his superstars, none could read faster than 600 words per minute with more than 75% retention of information.
Oh, and you know how speed reading instructions tell you not to subvocalize? Apparently that’s impossible — if you’re actually comprehending the words, you’ve gotta subvocalize.
What does work: practice.
Full Story: Skeptoid: Speed Reading
In Science, Men Are Assumed Competent Until Proven Otherwise. Women Are Assumed Incompetent Until Proven Otherwise
The Wall Street Journal on how men and women are treated differently in science. To sum it up: men are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise. Women are assumed to be incompetent until proven otherwise. Sharon Begley writes:
Ben Barres had just finished giving a seminar at the prestigious Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research 10 years ago, describing to scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and other top institutions his discoveries about nerve cells called glia. As the applause died down, a friend later told him, one scientist turned to another and remarked what a great seminar it had been, adding, “Ben Barres’s work is much better than his sister’s.”
There was only one problem. Prof. Barres, then as now a professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, doesn’t have a sister in science. The Barbara Barres the man remembered was Ben.
Prof. Barres is transgendered, having completed the treatments that made him fully male 10 years ago. The Whitehead talk was his first as a man, so the research he was presenting was done as Barbara.
Full Story: Wall Street Journal He, Once a She, Offers Own View On Science Spat
Oliver Sacks: Bad Ass
Great profile of Oliver Sacks from The Smithsonian magazine:
It’s easy to get the wrong impression about Dr. Oliver Sacks. It certainly is if all you do is look at the author photos on the succession of brainy best-selling neurology books he’s written since Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat made him famous. Cumulatively, they give the impression of a warm, fuzzy, virtually cherubic fellow at home in comfy-couched consultation rooms. A kind of fusion of Freud and Yoda. And indeed that’s how he looked when I spoke with him recently, in his comfy-couched consultation room.
But Oliver Sacks is one of the great modern adventurers, a daring explorer of a different sort of unmapped territory than braved by Columbus or Lewis and Clark. He has gone to the limits of the physical globe, almost losing his life as darkness fell on a frozen Arctic mountainside. He’s sailed fragile craft to the remotest Pacific isles and trekked through the jungles of Oaxaca. He even lived through San Francisco in the 1960s.
But to me, the most fearless and adventuresome aspect of his long life (he’s nearing 80) has been his courageous expeditions into the darkest interiors of the human skull—his willingness to risk losing his mind to find out more about what goes on inside ours.
I have a feeling this word has not yet been applied to him, but Oliver Sacks is a genuine badass, and a reading of his new book, Hallucinations, cements that impression. He wades in and contends with the weightiest questions about the brain, its functions and its extremely scary anomalies. He is, in his search for what can be learned about the “normal” by taking it to the extreme, turning the volume up to 11, as much Dr. Hunter Thompson as Dr. Sigmund Freud: a gonzo neurologist.
Full Story: The Smithsonian: Why Oliver Sacks is One of the Great Modern Adventurers
The Science Of Intuition
Maria Popova recently reviewed on Answers for Aristotle, a book on the science of intuition by Massimo Pigliucci. The snap summary: intuition is essentially subconscious pattern recognition. Here’s an excerpt Popova included:
One of the first things that modern research on intuition has clearly shown is that there is no such thing as an intuitive person tout court. Intuition is a domain-specific ability, so that people can be very intuitive about one thing (say, medical practice, or chess playing) and just as clueless as the average person about pretty much everything else. Moreover, intuitions get better with practice — especially with a lot of practice — because at bottom intuition is about the brain’s ability to pick up on certain recurring patterns; the more we are exposed to a particular domain of activity the more familiar we become with the relevant patterns (medical charts, positions of chess pieces), and the more and faster our brains generate heuristic solutions to the problem we happen to be facing within that domain.
Full Story: The Science of “Intuition”
Your Unconscious Brain Can Do Math, Process Language
U.S. Military Funding Research On “Spidey Sense”
Sam Harris’ Take Down Of Newsweek’s “Heaven Is Real” Story
I had mostly written Sam Harris off (different story entirely), but this is important stuff regarding Newsweek‘s baffling cover story of Eben Alexander’s pseudoscientific (at best) claim that heaven is real:
As many of you know, I am interested in “spiritual” experiences of the sort Alexander reports. Unlike many atheists, I don’t doubt the subjective phenomena themselves—that is, I don’t believe that everyone who claims to have seen an angel, or left his body in a trance, or become one with the universe, is lying or mentally ill. Indeed, I have had similar experiences myself in meditation, in lucid dreams (even while meditating in a lucid dream), and through the use of various psychedelics (in times gone by). I know that astonishing changes in the contents of consciousness are possible and can be psychologically transformative.
And, unlike many neuroscientists and philosophers, I remain agnostic on the question of how consciousness is related to the physical world. There are, of course, very good reasons to believe that it is an emergent property of brain activity, just as the rest of the human mind obviously is. But we know nothing about how such a miracle of emergence might occur. And if consciousness were, in fact, irreducible—or even separable from the brain in a way that would give comfort to Saint Augustine—my worldview would not be overturned. I know that we do not understand consciousness, and nothing that I think I know about the cosmos, or about the patent falsity of most religious beliefs, requires that I deny this. So, although I am an atheist who can be expected to be unforgiving of religious dogma, I am not reflexively hostile to claims of the sort Alexander has made. In principle, my mind is open. (It really is.)
From there Harris proceeds to tear Alexander a new one.
Sam Haris: This Must Be Heaven
Scientists Plan To Upload Bee Consciousness To Robots
George Dvorsky writes:
A new project has been announced in which scientists at the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex are hoping to create the first accurate computer simulation of a honey bee brain — and then upload it into an autonomous flying robot.
This is obviously a huge win for science — but it could also save the world. The researchers hope a robotic insect could supplement or replace the shrinking population of honey bees that pollinate essential plant life.
io9: New project aims to upload a honey bee’s brain into a flying insectobot by 2015
Previously: Can You Imagine a Future Where London Police Bees Conduct Genetic Surveillance?
Photo by Steve Jurvetson / CC
Hardwired to Nurture: What the New Testosterone Study Really Says About Men
Still playing catchup:
An intriguing new long-term study of Filipino men has discovered that becoming a father lowers a man’s testosterone level. More specifically, what really drops male testosterone is the amount of time spent caring for children; men who spent three hours or more per day caring for a child had significantly less testosterone than those dads who were less involved with their children. It’s not that men with lower testosterone were “naturally” more inclined to be caregivers in the first place; based on the voluminous longitudinal data, it’s the act of caring itself that reduced testosterone significantly.
An otherwise reasonable New York Times piece on the study begins with the somber warning, “This is probably not the news most fathers want to hear.” But as several researchers in the article point out, this is actually great news for dads—and for all men. One of our great enduring myths about males is that we are biologically hardwired for violence and promiscuity, and that any attempt to encourage us to take on a nurturing, tender role is destined to end in failure. The “Caveman Cult” crowd, which includes a great many popular writers on gender, suggests that female physiology is optimized for caregiving while male physiology is optimized for conquest. And when pressed to cite the chief factor in this supposed male inability to care for children, these defenders of traditional gender roles almost invariably cite the overarching influence of testosterone.
Full Story: The Good Men Project: Hardwired to Nurture: What the New Testosterone Study Really Says About Men
Researchers Hack Brainwaves to Reveal PINs, Other Personal Data
Yeah, I know this is really old by internet time, but I’ve been really busy with work and I’m still catching up:
A team of security researchers from Oxford, UC Berkeley, and the University of Geneva say that they were able to deduce digits of PIN numbers, birth months, areas of residence and other personal information by presenting 30 headset-wearing subjects with images of ATM machines, debit cards, maps, people, and random numbers in a series of experiments. The paper, titled “On the Feasibility of Side-Channel Attacks with Brain Computer Interfaces,” represents the first major attempt to uncover potential security risks in the use of the headsets. [...]
Emotiv and NeuroSky both have “app stores,” where users of the devices can download third-party applications. The applications use a common API for access to the EEG device. [...]
“We simulated a scenario where someone writes a malicious app, the user downloads it and trusts the app, and actively supports all the calibration steps of the device to make the software work,” said Frank. In these seemingly innocuous calibration steps, which are standard for most games and other applications using the headsets, there could be the potential to harvest personal information.
Full Story: Wired: Researchers Hack Brainwaves to Reveal PINs, Other Personal Data
The paper is available on Scribd.
I wonder if this could be used to determine passwords that users don’t consciously remember?
I’ve said before: steganograph your brain before it’s too late!