Welcome to the first edition of Encephalon, a fortnightly compendium of neuroscience-related writing. I received some excellent contributions, so, without further ado, let’s take a look.
First of all, any non-specialist readers might like to read The Brain in a Nutshell, which I penned for a science writing competition, and which provides an introduction to neuroscience, starting at the molecular/cellular level and working up to higher order brain function.
A Science paper about the neurobiological basis of dread caused a few reactions in the neuroscience blogosphere. Jake found the research compelling (and, during a sleepless night, decided to brush up on neuroeconomics); the Neurocritic was – you guessed it – critical; and for Mary, who dislikes flying, the paper struck a nerve!
Mary also discusses how emotions can be infectious, and looks at evidence that Prozac stimulates neurogenesis, as does the Neurocritic, who also summarizes what is known about hippocampal neurogenesis.
Several recent papers describe investigations into the executive control of cognitive functions. John Hawks considers the involvement of Broca’s area in the temporal organization of a cognitive task. The NY Times reported last month that high school kids are downloading high frequency ringtones which are out of the hearing range of some of their teachers.
David wrote an article for the NY Times magazine about the experimental use of deep brain stimulation for treating depression. He defends his piece against complaints, some of which come from people he thinks have misinterpreted him.
In his classic 1932 book Remembering, Bartlett describes the reconstructive (as opposed to reproductive) nature of memory, which has serious implications for the use of eye-witness testimonies in court. Source monitoring is the process by which we decide if our memories are real or imagined.
In a comprehensive post, Chris asks if source monitoring errors are involved in the detachment from reality observed in schizophrenics. He also argues that we are all essentialists when it comes to categorizing social concepts, and discusses how the brain distinguishes between the gait of men and women (make sure you check out the link to the BioMotion lab, it’s really cool! My post about the same work appeared in the first edition of The Synapse.)
Related to Chris’s post about social categorizing (sort of) is one of Bora‘s contributions, about neuroimaging studies of partisan voters viewing images of Kerry and Bush; he also discusses the evolution of the cnidarian circadian rhythm.
In the 1930s, J. Ridley Stroop discovered the interference that some attributes of an object have over the processing of information about other attributes. Dave asks us to try out two variations on the Stroop effect which distinguish between object- and space-based attention.
From Brains, we have a discussion of evidence that vertebrate neurons can release neurotransmitters in a graded manner in response to small fluctuations in membrane potential (which I also wrote about), and something about the philosophy of consciousness.
While we’re on the subject, Neubrain wonders why theories of consciousness by non-neuroscientists are so ridiculous.
The announcement last month by two American start-up companies that they will soon be offering brain scans which can determine if a person is lying or telling the truth created a furore. Neuroscientists are almost unanimously agreed that our current knowledge of brain function is too rudimentary for this kind of information to be obtained by neuroimaging, and bioethicists are worried about how such data might be exploited. Adam Kolber draws our attention to the timely formation of the Neuroethics Society.
How the trillions of connections in the human brain are formed must be one of the most intriguing questions in neuroscience. Dan looks at the role of corridor cells in guiding the extension of neocortical cell processes.
Fiona delights in a talk at the Royal Society which debunks claims of out-of-body experiences. I’m all for this, as long as we’re clear that what is being debunked is the claim that the soul actually leaves the body, and not the phenomenological change in consciousness that occurs during this, and other, anomalous psychological experiences.
Joe Kissel writes about synaesthesia, the condition in which stimuli entering one sensory system also evoke sensations in other sensory modalities. Synaesthetes often associate particular sounds with colours. According to a recent survey, synaesthesia is far more common than was previously thought. In one sense (excuse the pun!), we are all synaesthetes, as taste consists in large part of smell – try eating something while holding your nose.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a carnival without a freakshow. I’m very skeptical about the authenticity of this film clip, provided by OmniBrain, which allegedly shows the decapitated head of a dog kept alive by apparatus which suppplies oxygenated blood (some may find the footage disturbing).
And there you have it. Many thanks to all the contributors for making it happen. Co-hosts can see the updated hosting schedule at the carnival homepage.