On Saturday, July 4, 2015, a horrifying bloodbath erupted before the eyes of passengers on the Red Line Metro subway train heading to Fourth of July festivities in Washington, DC. Wide-spread criticism in the press and social media erupted over the “apathetic” response of onlookers who reportedly said or did nothing to help the victim. But from the perspective of brain science, this scornful criticism is misguided.
Suddenly something streaks into your peripheral vision. Instantly, you jump back and raise your arms defensively. “What was that!” You exclaim in shock. Only then do you realize that the blurred streak you just dodged was a wayward basketball zinging like a missile on a collision course for your face. A rush of adrenaline flushes through your blood setting your heart pounding and muscles twitching, but there is nothing left to do. Your brain’s rapid response defense system has already detected the threat and avoided it before your conscious mind is even engaged. How is that possible, scientist, Peng Cao and colleagues of the Chinese Academy of Sciences wondered?
Ultron walks into a bar, and orders a drink. Bartender says, “We don’t serve robots!”. Ultron replies, “You will.” Continue reading
Pop culture is full of superheroes with incredible powers, especially in the summer. But none of these are as amazing as the superpower within your brain. Continue reading
After repeated encounters with a friendly rattlesnake last week I have snakes on the brain. Serpents are a storehouse of fascinating neuroscience. Infrared vision, venom, fast-twitch muscles to energize its “warning buzzer,” and more… Continue reading
A fascinating report on NPR by science correspondent Jonathan Hamilton yesterday (March 16, 2015) tells the story of Jonathan Keleher, a rare individual born with a major portion of his brain missing: the cerebellum. The name in Latin means “little brain,” because the cerebellum sits separately from the rest of the brain looking something like a woman’s hair bun. Neuroscientists have long understood that the cerebellum is important for controlling bodily movements, by making them more fluid and coordinated, but researchers have also long appreciated that cerebellum does much more. Exactly what these other functions are, have always been a bit mysterious.
Social media has been on fire with a debate – not over ISIS, healthcare or global warming – but over the perceived color of a dress. The dress provides a unique opportunity to consider two big questions at the interface of philosophy, neuroscience and psychophysics: is there an objective reality, and do we all experience it the same way? You may see the dress differently when you see it next.