At Stanford University, nine men and eight women with no formal music training listened to obscure classical music (four symphonies by late-baroque composer William Boyce) while lying inside fMRI machines. The researchers used a type of imaging that let them examine all different areas of the brain over the entire time that the participants were listening to the recording.
To ensure that the brain activity they were mapping was in response to the music as a whole, and not just to one of its structural features, the researchers also had the subjects listen to altered versions of the symphonies: in one, all rhythm and timing was removed, and in the other, they were made atonal.
During the nine and a half minutes that the subjects spent listening to the music in its unadulterated form, the researchers noted a “highly distinctive and distributed set of brain regions” that was synchronized between each them. In the music from which some of the elements that make it musical were removed, on the other hand, brain activity was markedly different from subject to subject.
FOLK NEUROSCIENCE Popular misconceptions
■ The “left-brain” is rational, the “right-brain” is creative
The hemispheres have different specialisations (the left usually has key language areas, for example) but there is no clear rational-creative split and you need both hemispheres to be successful at either. You can no more do right-brain thinking than you can do rear-brain thinking.
■ Dopamine is a pleasure chemical
Dopamine has many functions in the brain, from supporting concentration to regulating the production of breast milk. Even in its most closely associated functioning it is usually considered to be involved in motivation (wanting) rather than the feeling of pleasure itself.
■ Low serotonin causes depression
A concept almost entirely promoted by pharmaceutical companies in the 1980s and 90s to sell serotonin-enhancing drugs like Prozac. No consistent evidence for it.
■ Video games, TV violence, porn or any other social spectre of the moment “rewires the brain”
Everything “rewires the brain” as the brain works by making and remaking connections. This is often used in a contradictory fashion to suggest that the brain is both particularly susceptible to change but once changed, can’t change back.
■ We have no control over our brain but we can control our mind
The mind and the brain are the same thing described in different ways and they make us who we are. Trying to suggest one causes the other is like saying wetness causes water.
Rather than trying prematurely to model the whole brain, the federal government should invest in understanding the fundamental question in neuroscience, which is how the brain connects to behavior.
Neuroscientist Gary Marcus responds to the Obama Administration’s announcement of an ambitious plan to study the human brain.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Seung has been trying to map the connectome.
Beloved cartoonist Lynda Barry is teaching a university-level course on doodling and neuroscience that you can audit remotely for free. She’s posting the weekly assignments on her Tumblr – this is the first one.
What does collective intelligence mean? It’s important to realize that intelligence is not just something that happens inside individual brains. It also arises with groups of individuals. In fact, I’d define collective intelligence as groups of individuals acting collectively in ways that seem intelligent. By that definition, of course, collective intelligence has been around for a very long time. Families, companies, countries, and armies: those are all examples of groups of people working together in ways that at least sometimes seem intelligent.
It’s also possible for groups of people to work together in ways that seem pretty stupid, and I think collective stupidity is just as possible as collective intelligence…
What’s new, though, is a new kind of collective intelligence enabled by the Internet. Think of Google, for instance, where millions of people all over the world create web pages, and link those web pages to each other. Then all that knowledge is harvested by the Google technology so that when you type a question in the Google search bar the answers you get often seem amazingly intelligent, at least by some definition of the word “intelligence”….
Our future as a species may depend on our ability to use our global collective intelligence to make choices that are not just smart, but also wise.
Freestylers enter a “flow” state, which researchers described as a “complete immersion in creative activity, typified by focused self-motivation, positive emotional valence and loss of self-consciousness.” Their creative gate is wide open.
“It’s the absence of attention,” said [researchers]. “When the attention system is partially offline, you can just let things fly and let things come without critiquing, monitoring or judging them.” “It’s almost like you’re able to think faster. … You’re able to incorporate multiple perspectives without thinking about it.”
Researchers examine newly released photos of Einstein’s brain to understand what physical features might have been behind his genius.
After Einstein’s death, pathologist Thomas Harvey removed his brain, preserved it in formalin, and took dozens of black-and-white photos of it before cutting it up into 240 blocks. He then took tissue samples from each block, mounted them onto microscope slides, and distributed the slides to some of the world’s best neuropathologists.
And still, as Einstein himself might have agreed, there’s more to “Truth and Beauty” than biology and wiring.
(↬ Not Exactly Rocket Science)
The patterns of neural activation when we’re reading for pleasure are not the same as those when we’re reading critically. It’s not just that the brain’s pleasure centers become activated in the more relaxed, immersed form of reading while the areas that have been implicated in attention and cognitive load are more active for the close reading. Instead, the transformation appears to be on a much broader level, with emotional, spatial, motor, and other areas all involved to various extents at various points.
During a series of ongoing experiments, [fMRI] images track blood flow in the brains of subjects as they read excerpts of a Jane Austen novel. Experiment participants are first asked to leisurely skim a passage as they might do in a bookstore, and then to read more closely, as they would while studying for an exam.
[The researchers] said the global increase in blood flow during close reading suggests that “paying attention to literary texts requires the coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions.” Blood flow also increased during pleasure reading, but in different areas of the brain [suggesting] that each style of reading may create distinct patterns in the brain that are “far more complex than just work and play.”
The experiment focuses on literary attention, or more specifically, the cognitive dynamics of the different kinds of focus we bring to reading.
The researchers expected to see pleasure centers activating for the relaxed reading and hypothesized that close reading, as a form of heightened attention, would create more neural activity than pleasure reading. If the ongoing analysis continues to support the initial theory…teaching close reading (i.e., attention to literary form) “could serve – quite literally – as a kind of cognitive training, teaching us to modulate our concentration and use new brain regions as we move flexibly between modes of focus.”
Pioneering Stanford study uses Jane Austen texts to examine attention and distraction during reading, suggesting different modes of reading may serve as valuable cognitive training for concentration.
Also see graphing Jane Austen.
(↬ Andrew Sullivan)
The trigger to transition between styles in this dual-process cognition is partially dependent on the sufficiency principle. Generally, when making a decision, we weigh how much we know against how much we need to know to make a confident judgment about a topic. If this gap between what we know and what we need to know is small, heuristic-style thinking is more likely. Conversely, if there is a large gap, we need to expend more mental resources to close it, thus encouraging systematic thinking. This Scrooge-like mental calculus determines how much we process the information we are inundated with everyday. And we readily recognize this game of cognitive economy, especially when browsing the web.
This is Your Brain on the Internet (Maybe).
Also see how our brains are wired for pattern-recognition.
To reflect the ongoing structural changes in the adolescent and twenty-something brain, many journalists and scientists use words and phrases like “unfinished,” “work in progress,” “under construction” and “half-baked.” Such language implies that the brain eventually reaches a kind of ideal state when it is “done.” But there is no final, optimal state. The human brain is not a soufflé that gradually expands over time and finally finishes baking at age 30. Yes, we can identify and label periods of dramatic development—or windows of heightened plasticity—but that should not eclipse the fact that brain changes throughout life.
Whether we can, at this moment in time, meaningfully link this life stage to neuroscience seems a tenuous proposition at best. By itself, brain biology does not dictate who we are. The members of any one age group are not reducible to a few distinguishing structural changes in the brain. Ultimately, the fact that a twenty-something has weaker bridges between various brain regions than someone in their thirties is not hugely important—it’s just one aspect of a far more complex identity.
Decoding Our Senses – a fascinating look at what happens to our brains in a world where our eyes and ears are constantly bombarded with colors, shapes, textures, and noises of all types.
(ᔥ The Atlantic)