Pain and the avoidance behaviors it induces are important survival tools for animals, keeping them away from situations that threaten their safety. When we hurt ourselves and feel pain, it is due to nociceptors, which are nerves located throughout our body, for instance in our skin or the surface of our eyes. Nociceptors can be activated mechanically (for instance when a part of skin is cut) and by hot or cold temperatures. They can also be activated by some chemicals, and you might have already experienced it if you ate a meal with chili peppers. Continue reading
The financial and political torrent now undermining the foundation of scientific research creates a unique calamity for scientists in training, which will have profound and long-lasting consequences for society. See Huffington Post Science: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-douglas-fields/the-collapse-of-science-n_b_3416953.html
Thinking is the weirdest thing. No one really understands how it works and neuroscience has barely begun to address how the brain creates thoughts. Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties in understanding thinking is that it is a little bit like art or cooking; there are many ways of doing it, according to every one’s culture, preferences and knowledge. But like art and cooking, there are some productive, successful ways of thinking that certain people master. The masters have done it for long enough that they have accumulated good tricks – particular ways of dipping the brush in the paint, of pressing the pedal on the piano, secret ingredients. Daniel Dennett is one of those masters and in his most recent book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, he has cataloged some of his and others’ best tools for thinking developed and learned through decades of reflection on computer science, biology and psychology. Continue reading
Even a seemingly simple behavior–like trying to remember if the name of the person you just met is “Elizabeth” or “Patricia”–can tax our memories. These short-term memory drains are part of what we neuroscientists call “working memory”.
When you think about it, it’s quite a remarkable neural feat that we can do this at all! Somehow our brains are able to take in information (like the sound waves that hit our ears in just the right way to make us perceive the sound that is the name “Patricia”), hold that information in some neural pattern/buffer/code, and then retrieve that information at will (if we’re lucky).
Memory is our most prized human treasure. It defines our sense of self, and our ability to navigate the world. It defines our relationships with others – for good or ill – and is so important to survival that our gilled ancestors bear the secret of memory etched in their DNA. If you asked someone over 50 to name the things they most fear about getting older, losing one’s memory would be near the top of that list. There is so much worry over Alzheimer’s disease, the memory thief, that it is easy to forget that our modern understanding of memory is still quite young, less than one, very special lifespan.
Meet the Patient Zero of memory disorders, H.M.