A reader called me to say how much he enjoyed my book, The Other Brain, and then confided the true reason for his call: he wanted to share with me an extraordinary change in his brain and ask for my neurobiological insight. “After having a stroke I found that I could read other people’s minds,” he said.
The public craves information about neuroscience. It is difficult to read a newspaper or popular magazine without reading about brain research. Many students, even those not yet in college, also have an interest in neuroscience. Although reading books, magazines, journal articles and web sites can provide the background about scientific discovery, there is nothing like working in a lab to really experience science.
As a kid, one of my dreams was to be able to look at the brain with a microscope and find every connection between each neuron. When I started neuroscience research, I realized this was an unrealistic dream – the number of connections is too big. To find all the connections between every neuron in a chunk of brain smaller than one cubic millimeter, I would have to spend years, if not decades, under the electron microscope, clicking on a computer. Completing the entire brain would be impossible in a lifetime, even for a large group of scientists. Recently, a professor at the MIT has developed a tool that might change this. Continue reading
Passwords are private pieces of information that protect important aspects of our lives. They lose their main function when known by others, and they need to be complex enough not to be guessed too easily. A fascinating study published in Current Biology suggests that a species of birds has developed a system of communication between parents and offspring that resembles passwords. Families of Superb Fairywren use this system to recognize each other as a defense against an intruding parasite species. Continue reading
Our social environment is hierarchical and we can all guess roughly where we and others lie in this hierarchy. It rarely needs to be stated explicitly – a boss does not need to remind his employee that he’s the boss every day. Yet hierarchy acts in the background, like an invisible hand, modifying almost each of our interactions. It makes us more or less polite, familiar, or audacious with those people for whom each attitude is more or less appropriate. Continue reading
Like many animals, we thrive to repeat the behaviors that have paid off in the past and avoid those that did not. This principle is at the heart of most learning theories. It is also one of the most important functions of the brain: to adjust behaviors according to our experiences. Continue reading