In the eerie science fiction film, Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien vixen clothed in human skin, roaming the earth in search of single men for nefarious purposes, a turning point comes when she offers a hooded man on a dark road a ride in her vehicle. When the man takes off his hood we see his shockingly disfigured face. It is not make up. The disfigurement is caused by a genetic condition, neurofibromatosis, affecting actor Adam Pearson. Pearson’s brother has the same disorder, but no disfigurement. Instead he suffers memory problems. The film is a head scratcher–in the best possible way–but neurofibromatosis is not. Let’s have a look.
As we turn the page on 2014, here’s a list of some of the year’s highlights in neuroscience – along with a heavy dose of speculation about what they might mean for the future of the brain.
Typically we are introduced to the nervous system by analogy to an electrical circuit, like a door bell or a telephone line carrying a signal rapidly over long distances to activate a specific process. Never mind that electrical impulses are not transmitted through nerve axons anything like electrons flowing through a copper wire, this electronic circuit analogy is useful up to a point. If you want to understand how the brain works at a more complex level, you are going to need a new analogy, and if you play an acoustic guitar you’ll find it under your fingertips.
In this episode, Micah Allen, postdoctoral researcher at the University College London, discusses the evolution and function of cognition and metacognition. Continue reading
As a new biography of Alan Turing hits the big screen, it’s worth remembering the foundational role Turing played in artificial intelligence and his contribution to the idea of how brains learn. Continue reading
A few weeks ago the Nobel Prize Committee announced that John O’Keefe, Edvard Moser and May-Britt Moser would be the recipients of the 2014 prize for Physiology and Medicine for their work in deciphering the neural code in the rat hippocampal region.1 The work is frequently summarized as revealing the functioning of the brain’s GPS system. While the GPS part is true, the work is far broader, giving insights into the neural substrate of broad areas of cognition that include memory, planning, creativity and internal thought. Continue reading
Recently scientists have been exploring part of the brain that has been relatively unexplored in learning–white matter, comprising half of the human brain. Here new research is detecting cellular changes during learning that are entirely different from the synaptic changes between neurons in gray matter. A new study shows that learning a new motor skill requires generation of new myelin, the electrical insulation on nerve axons.