Tag Archives: the brain

Google Your Mind

If you are a human being with a functioning brain, you have undoubtedly been frustrated at some points by the limitations in your memory. The NYTimes Magazine speculates about the future of human memory-enhancement – using memory chips and “neural prosthetics” to improve brain functioning:

However difficult the practicalities, there’s no reason in principle why a future generation of neural prostheticists couldn’t pick up where nature left off, incorporating Google-like master maps into neural implants. This in turn would allow us to search our own memories — not just those on the Web — with something like the efficiency and reliability of a computer search engine.

Ahh! The future! Well, cramming for exams would be the least of our worries with this kind of technology, which is probably nowhere near fruition anyway.

Neuroscience to Explain Politics?

Interesting story today in the LA Times about the neuroscience of liberal vs. conservative college students:

In a simple experiment being reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

The results show “there are two cognitive styles — a liberal style and a conservative style,” said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected to the latest research.

Participants were college students whose politics ranged from “very liberal” to “very conservative.” Scientists instructed them to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

Researchers got the same results when they repeated the experiment in reverse, asking another set of participants to tap when a W appeared.

Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Personality and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said results “provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity.”

Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.

Sulloway said the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as a flip-flopper for changing his mind about the conflict.

Based on the results, he said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.


Nasally-Administered Sex Drug

How’s this for a byline: “Now entering Phase 3 clinical trials: the first real, honest-to-God, horny-making, body-shaking, equal-opportunity aphrodisiac.” Yeah, that’ll grab…pretty much anyone’s attention.

New York Magazine reports on what might be the biggest thing to happen to sex…ever?

Horn of rhinoceros. Penis of tiger. Root of sea holly. Husk of the emerald-green blister beetle known as the Spanish fly. So colorful and exotic is the list of substances that have been claimed to heighten sexual appetite that it’s hard not to feel a twinge of disappointment on first beholding the latest entry—a small white plastic nasal inhaler containing an odorless, colorless synthetic chemical called PT-141. Plain as it is, however, there is one thing that distinguishes PT-141 from the 4,000 years’ worth of recorded medicinal aphrodisiacs that precede it: It actually works.

And it’s coming to a medicine cabinet near you. The drug will soon enter Phase 3 clinical trials, the final round of testing before it goes to the Food and Drug Administration for review, and with the FDA’s approval it could reach the market in as soon as three years. The full range of possible risks and side effects has yet to be determined, but already this much is known: Putting that inhaler up your nose and popping off a dose of PT-141 results, in most cases, in a stirring in the loins in as few as fifteen minutes. Women, according to one set of results, feel “genital warmth, tingling and throbbing,” not to mention “a strong desire to have sex.” Among men, who’ve been tested with the drug more extensively, the data set is, shall we say, richer:

“With PT-141, you feel good, not only sexually aroused,” reported anonymous patient 007, a participant in a Phase 2 trial, “you feel younger and more energetic.” Said another patient: “It helped the libido. So you have the urge and the desire. . . . You get this humming feeling; you’re ready to take your pants off and go.” And another: “Twice me and my wife had sex twice in one night. I came in [to work] and I just raved about it: ‘Jesus, guys . . . 58 years old and you don’t do that.’ ” Tales of pharmaceutically induced sexual prowess among 58-year-olds are common enough in the age of the Little Blue Pill, but they don’t typically involve quite so urgent a repertoire of humming, throbbing, tingling, and double-dipping. Or as patient 128 put it: “My wife knows. She can tell the difference between Viagra and PT-141.”

The precise mechanisms by which PT-141 does its job remain unclear, but the rough idea is this: Where Viagra acts on the circulatory system, helping blood flow into the penis, PT-141 goes straight to the brain itself. And there it goes to work, switching on the same neural circuitry that lights up when a person actually, you know, wants to.

“It’s not merely allowing a sexual response to take place more easily,” explains Michael A. Perelman, co-director of the Human Sexuality Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a sexual-medicine adviser on the PT-141 trials. Though he cautions against jumping to conclusions, he’s hopeful that the drug represents a breakthrough. “It may be having an effect, literally, on how we think and feel.”


Holy crap. Can you think of the societal effects?? It’ll be like that Simpsons’ episode where Homer and Grampa Simpson try to market a love tonic and everyone is convinced all the adults have become reverse vampires…

From his treehouse, through a telescope, Bart observes men chugging the
tonic and running indoors to their female partners.

Bart: OK, it’s not *painfully* clear the adults are *definitely*
paving the way for an invasion by the saucer people.

You fool! Can’t you see it’s a massive government conspiracy?
Or have they gotten to you too?
[he and Bart start wrestling]
Hey! Hey, hey, stop it! Stop it! Why are you guys jumping
to such ridiculous conclusions? Haven’t you ever heard of
Occam’s Razor? “The simplest explanation is probably the
correct one.”

[condescending] So what’s the simplest explanation?

I don’t know. Maybe they’re all reverse vampires and they
have to get home before dark.

Aah! Reverse vampires! Reverse vampires!
[Lisa sighs]

Reefer Madness 2.0

A new documentary coming out, The Purple Brain, is hoping to scare the shit out of viewers about the potential brain damage caused by marijuana use. And of course, it’s littered with more factual errors and unfounded claims than an episode of Bill O’Reilly:

The plot is as follows: Sure, the pot you and your 40-something peers once enjoyed may have been innocuous, but that’s only because it bears no resemblance to the super-potent weed of today– strains with such foreboding names as “Train wreck,” “AK-47,” and “The Purple.” As proclaimed by Drug Czar John Walters recently, “[W]e are no longer talking about the drug of the 1960s and 1970s — this is [in computer parlance] Pot 2.0.”

But…well…it’s wrong. And he’s wrong:

Growers in the business of selling marijuana have always attached pet names to selected strains of pot. In the 1970s, popular varieties included “Acapulco Gold” and “Maui Wowie.” Today, as in the past, most of these labels are little more than clever marketing gimmicks devised by producers and sellers to distinguish their particular product in a highly competitive marketplace.

While a handful of potent strains may be available in limited quantities today, these varieties compose only a minute percentage of the overall marketplace — at a price tag that is cost-prohibitive to anyone but the most wealthy of aficionados. For others, marijuana remains essentially the same plant it has always been, with its relatively mild rise in average potency akin to the difference between beer and wine.

Unlike alcohol — or even aspirin, — today’s marijuana still poses no risk of fatal overdose, regardless of the strength of its primary psychoactive ingredient, THC. Moreover, cannabis consumers readily distinguish between low and high potency marijuana and moderate their use accordingly.

Finally, despite claims that marijuana alters the brain, it is important to note that THC — regardless of its potency — is surprisingly non-toxic to the adult as well as the teenage brain. Recently scientists at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research reported that they could find “no … evidence of cerebral atrophy or loss of white matter integrity” attributable to cannabis use in the brains of frequent adolescent marijuana users (compared to non-using controls) after performing MRI scans and other advanced imaging technology. Separate studies assessing the cognitive skills of long-term marijuana smokers have also reported no demonstrable deficits.

Also hilarious, in my opinion, is that for all this complaining about “brain damage,” actual scientists have been studying THC for years arguing that it might be able to prevent Alzheimer’s and has shown potential for shrinking brain tumors in mice.

Study shows : Finger Length Predicts SAT Performance

Apparently there’s a correlation between the ratio of the length of your ring finger to your index finger, and how well you perform on the math compared to the critical reading section on the SAT.

LiveScience.com reports,

A quick look at the lengths of children’s index and ring fingers can be used to predict how well students will perform on SATs, new research claims.

Kids with longer ring fingers compared to index fingers are likely to have higher math scores than literacy or verbal scores on the college entrance exam, while children with the reverse finger-length ratio are likely to have higher reading and writing, or verbal, scores versus math scores.

Scientists have known that different levels of the hormone testosterone and estrogen in the womb account for the different finger lengths, which are a reflection of areas of the brain that are more highly developed than others, said psychologist Mark Brosnan of the University of Bath, who led the study.

Of course, the same measure of finger length also correlates with the level of aggression in men and various other cognitive functions, since it’s really just used as a measure of how much testosterone versus estrogen you were exposed to in the womb. Still, kinda cool, right?

Fight Spring Break Brainrot: Part 1

  • The Boy with the Incredible Brain – As the anonymous tipster who sent it says, “I mean HE MEMORIZED 22,500 DIGITS OF PI. And he learned Icelandic in A WEEK. And he sees every number from 0 to 10,000 as a different colorful, textural, moving object.” Yeah.
  • The Brain that Wouldn’t Die – a 1962 film with the tagline ” Alive… without a body… fed by an unspeakable horror from hell!” Check it out on IMDB. MST3K that shit. All by yourself. In your bathrobe.
  • Revolution OS a 2001 documentary which traces the history of GNU, Linux, and the open source and free software movements.

(to see any of the past ridiculously nerdy things I’ve posted for the horde, click on the tag “online learning.”)

Freakin’ awesome lecture

Edward W. Snowdon and the Wesleyan University Synapses to Self Series

Boston University

The Brain’s Cognitive Dynamics: The Link Between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness

Date: Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Time: 8:00 pm
Venue: 107 SHANKLIN

How does a brain give rise to a mind? How can the vividness of daily experience be represented in “the little gray cells” that constitute our brains? How do our brains continue to learn throughout life? Why are we Intentional Beings who learn expectations about what is about to occur and can get startled or upset if it does not occur? Why are we Attentional Beings who can focus upon some events and be oblivious to others? What sort of brain events can become conscious? Finally, do these questions have a unified answer? An enormous amount of progress has been made during the past forty years in discovering and modeling the principles and mechanisms whereby a brain gives rise to a mind. This talk will introduce some of the concepts and models that propose answers to the questions above. In addition, these models have been specialized for use in solving large-scale technological problems that require an ability to autonomously discover and learn intelligent hypotheses about a changing world.