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An anonymous reader writes: Transcranial magnetic stimulation has been used for years to diagnose and treat neural disorders such as stroke, Alzheimer's, and depression. Soon the medical technique could be applied to virtual reality and entertainment. Neuroscientist Jeffrey Zacks writes, "it's quite likely that some kind of electromagnetic brain stimulation for entertainment will become practical in the not-too-distant future." Imagine an interactive movie where special effects are enhanced by zapping parts of the brain from outside to make the action more vivid. Before brain stimulation makes it to the masses, however, it has plenty of technical and safety hurdles to overcome.
88 comments | 3 days ago
With the holidays coming up, Bennett Haselton has updated his geek-oriented gift guide for 2014. He says: Some of my favorite gifts to give are still the ones that were listed in several different previously written posts, while a few new cool gift ideas emerged in 2014. Here are all my current best recommendations, listed in one place. Read on for the list, or to share any suggestions of your own.
113 comments | about a week ago
HughPickens.com writes Maria Konnikova writes in The New Yorker that mondegreens are funny but they also give us insight into the underlying nature of linguistic processing, how our minds make meaning out of sound, and how in fractions of seconds, we translate a boundless blur of sound into sense. One of the reasons we often mishear song lyrics is that there's a lot of noise to get through, and we usually can't see the musicians' faces. Other times, the misperceptions come from the nature of the speech itself, for example when someone speaks in an unfamiliar accent or when the usual structure of stresses and inflections changes, as it does in a poem or a song. Another common cause of mondegreens is the oronym: word strings in which the sounds can be logically divided multiple ways. One version that Steven Pinker describes goes like this: Eugene O'Neill won a Pullet Surprise. The string of phonetic sounds can be plausibly broken up in multiple ways—and if you're not familiar with the requisite proper noun, you may find yourself making an error.
Other times, the culprit is the perception of the sound itself: some letters and letter combinations sound remarkably alike, and we need further cues, whether visual or contextual, to help us out. In a phenomenon known as the McGurk effect, people can be made to hear one consonant when a similar one is being spoken. "There's a bathroom on the right" standing in for "there's a bad moon on the rise" is a succession of such similarities adding up to two equally coherent alternatives.
Finally along with knowledge, we're governed by familiarity: we are more likely to select a word or phrase that we're familiar with, a phenomenon known as Zipf's law. One of the reasons that "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" substituted for Jimi Hendrix's "Excuse me while I kiss the sky" remains one of the most widely reported mondegreens of all time can be explained in part by frequency. It's much more common to hear of people kissing guys than skies.
244 comments | about two weeks ago
brindafella writes Our ancient ancestor, Homo erectus, around 500,000 years ago, has been shown to make doodles or patterns. So, it seems that we Homo sapiens have come from a thoughtful lineage. The zig-zag markings cut into the covering of a fossil freshwater shell were from a deposit in the main bone layer of Trinil (Java, Indonesia), the place where Homo erectus was discovered by Eugène Dubois in 1891, says Dr Stephen Munro, a palaeoanthropologist with the Australian National University. The team's testing shows the erectus doodling was from 0.54 million years to a minimum of 0.43 million years ago. This pushes back the thoughtful making of marks by hundreds of thousands of years. The thoughtful gathering of shellfish and their nutrients also points to possible explanations for the evolving of bigger brains.
59 comments | about two weeks ago
An anonymous reader writes: Anyone with even a passing interest in the sciences must have wondered what it's like to work at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN. What's it like working in the midst of such concentrated brain power? South African physicist Claire Lee, who works right on ATLAS – one of the two elements of the LHC project that confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson in 2012 — explains what a day in the life of a CERN worker entails. She says, "My standard day is usually comprised of some mix of coding and attending meetings ... There are many different types of work one can do, since I am mostly on analysis this means coding, in C++ or Python — for example, to select a particular subset of events that I am interested in from the full set of data. This usually takes a couple of iterations, where we slim down the dataset at each step and calculate extra quantities we may want to use for our selections.
The amount of data we have is huge – petabytes of data per year stored around the world at various high performance computing centers and clusters. It’s impossible to have anything but the smallest subset available locally – hence the iterations – and so we use the LHC Computing Grid (a specialized worldwide computer network) to send our analysis code to where the data is, and the code runs at these different clusters worldwide (most often in a number of different places, for different datasets and depending on which clusters are the least busy at the time)."
34 comments | about three weeks ago
HughPickens.com writes Michael Tarm reports that a former high school quarterback has filed a lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association saying it didn't do enough to protect him from concussions when he played and still doesn't do enough to protect current players. This is the first instance in which legal action has been taken for former high school players as a whole against a group responsible for prep sports in a state. Such litigation could snowball, as similar suits targeting associations in other states are planned. "In Illinois high school football, responsibility — and, ultimately, fault — for the historically poor management of concussions begins with the IHSA," the lawsuit states. It calls high school concussions "an epidemic" and says the "most important battle being waged on high school football fields ... is the battle for the health and lives of" young players. The lawsuit calls on the Bloomington-based IHSA to tighten its head-injury protocols. It doesn't seek damages. "This is not a threat or attack on football," says attorney Joseph Siprut, who reached a $75 million settlement in a similar lawsuit against the NCAA in 2011. "Football is in danger in Illinois and other states — especially at the high school level — because of how dangerous it is. If football does not change internally, it will die. The talent well will dry up as parents keep kids out of the sport— and that's how a sport dies."
233 comments | about three weeks ago
concertina226 writes Scientists working together from several international universities have discovered that it is possible to block a pathway in the brain of animals suffering from neuropathic pain, which could have a huge impact on improving pain relief in humans. So far, the most successful ways to treat chronic pain from a pharmacological point of view are to create drugs that that interact or interfere with various channels in the brain to decrease pain, including adrenergic, opioid and calcium receptors. However, there is another way – a chemical stimulator called adenosine that binds to brain receptors to trigger a biological response. Adenosine has shown potential for killing pain in humans, but so far, no one has managed to harness this pain pathway successfully without causing a myriad of side effects. Led by Dr Daniela Salvemini of SLU, the researchers discovered that by activating the A3 adenosine receptor in the rodents' brains and spinal cords, the receptor was able to prevent or reverse pain from nerve damage (the cause of chronic pain).
83 comments | about three weeks ago
HughPickens.com writes Jason Kane reports at PBS that emergency treatments delivered in ambulances that offer "Advanced Life Support" for cardiac arrest may be linked to more death, comas and brain damage than those providing "Basic Life Support." "They're taking a lot of time in the field to perform interventions that don't seem to be as effective in that environment," says Prachi Sanghavi. "Of course, these are treatments we know are good in the emergency room, but they've been pushed into the field without really being tested and the field is a much different environment." The study suggests that high-tech equipment and sophisticated treatment techniques may distract from what's most important during cardiac arrest — transporting a critically ill patient to the hospital quickly.
Basic Life Support (BLS) ambulances stick to simpler techniques, like chest compressions, basic defibrillation and hand-pumped ventilation bags to assist with breathing with more emphasis placed on getting the patient to the hospital as soon as possible. Survival rates for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients are extremely low regardless of the ambulance type with roughly 90 percent of the 380,000 patients who experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital each year not surviving to hospital discharge. But researchers found that 90 days after hospitalization, patients treated in BLS ambulances were 50 percent more likely to survive than their counterparts treated with ALS. Not everyone is convinced of the conclusions. "They've done as much as they possibly can with the existing data but I'm not sure that I'm convinced they have solved all of the selection biases," says Judith R. Lave. "I would say that it should be taken as more of an indication that there may be some very significant problems here."
112 comments | about three weeks ago
Zothecula writes Tasting lemons when they see a number seven, regarding a certain letter as being yellow in color. Not a great deal is known about why some people experience an overlapping of the senses, a phenomena known as synesthesia. But a new study conducted at the University of Sussex has suggested that specific training of the mind can induce the effects of the condition. The study even suggests that such training can boost a person's IQ.
68 comments | about a month ago
KentuckyFC writes: The halting problem is to determine whether an arbitrary computer program, once started, will ever finish running or whether it will continue forever. In 1936, Alan Turing famously showed that there is no general algorithm that can solve this problem. Now a group of computer scientists and ethicists have used the halting problem to tackle the question of how a weaponized robot could decide to kill a human. Their trick is to reformulate the problem in algorithmic terms by considering an evil computer programmer who writes a piece of software on which human lives depend.
The question is whether the software is entirely benign or whether it can ever operate in a way that ends up killing people. In general, a robot could never decide the answer to this question. As a result, autonomous robots should never be designed to kill or harm humans, say the authors, even though various lethal autonomous robots are already available. One curious corollary is that if the human brain is a Turing machine, then humans can never decide this issue either, a point that the authors deliberately steer well clear of.
335 comments | about 1 month ago
vinces99 writes A couple of years ago a scientist looking at dozens of MRI scans of human brains noticed something surprising: A large fiber pathway that seemed to be part of the network of connections that process visual information that wasn't mentioned in any modern-day anatomy textbooks. "It was this massive bundle of fibers, visible in every brain I examined," said Jason Yeatman, a research scientist at the University of Washington's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. "... As far as I could tell, it was absent from the literature and from all major neuroanatomy textbooks.'"With colleagues at Stanford University, Yeatman started some detective work to figure out the identity of that mysterious fiber bundle. The researchers found an early 20th century atlas that depicted the structure, now known as the vertical occipital fasciculus. But the last time that atlas had been checked out was 1912, meaning the researchers were the first to view the images in the last century. They describes the history and controversy of the elusive pathway in a paper published Nov. 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. You'd think that we'd have found all the parts of the human body by now, but not necessarily.
114 comments | about a month ago
sciencehabit writes: If you had the choice between hurting yourself or someone else in exchange for money, how altruistic do you think you'd be? In one infamous experiment, people were quite willing to deliver painful shocks to anonymous victims when asked by a scientist. But a new study that forced people into the dilemma of choosing between pain and profit finds that participants cared more about other people's well-being than their own. It is hailed as the first hard evidence of altruism for the young field of behavioral economics.
123 comments | about a month ago
Recently you had a chance to ask acclaimed author of comics, novels, and television, Warren Ellis, about his work and sci-fi in general. Below you'll find his answers to your questions.
15 comments | about a month ago
sciencehabit writes Researchers have figured out how to anesthetize octopuses so the animals do not feel pain while being transported and handled during scientific experiments. In a study published online this month in the Journal of Aquatic Animal Health, researchers report immersing 10 specimens of the common octopus in seawater with isoflurane, an anesthetic used in humans. They gradually increased the concentration of the substance from 0.5% to 2%. The investigators found that the animals lost the ability to respond to touch and their color paled, which means that their normal motor coordination of color regulation by the brain was lost, concluding that the animals were indeed anesthetized. The octopuses then recovered from the anesthesia within 40 to 60 minutes of being immersed in fresh seawater without the anesthetic, as they were able to respond to touch again and their color was back to normal.
105 comments | about a month ago
sciencehabit writes: Blind from infancy, Daniel Kish learned as a young boy to judge his height while climbing trees by making rapid clicking noises and listening for their echoes off the ground. No one taught him the technique, which is now recognized as a human form of echolocation. Like Kish, a handful of blind echolocators worldwide have taught themselves to use clicks and echoes to navigate their surroundings with impressive ease — Kish can even ride his bike down the street. A study of sighted people newly trained to echolocate now suggests that the secret to Kish's skill isn't just supersensitive ears. Instead, the entire body, neck, and head are key to 'seeing' with sound — an insight that could assist blind people learning the skill.
136 comments | about a month ago
samzenpus writes Rachel Sussman is a photographer whose work covers the junction of art, science, and philosophy. Perhaps her most famous work is the "Oldest Living Things in the World" project. Working with biologists, she traveled all over the world to find and photograph organisms that are 2,000 years old and older. Sussman gave a TED talk highlighting parts of the project including a clonal colony of quaking aspen 80,000-years-old and 2,000-year-old brain coral off Tobago's coast. Rachel has agreed to put down her camera and answer any questions you may have about photography or any of her projects. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.
35 comments | about a month ago
An anonymous reader writes In a new study, paleontologists revealed that armor–plated Ankylosaurs had an exceptional capability to change the temperature of the air they breathed with the help of their long, winding nasal passages. From the article: "Led by paleontologist Jason Bourke, a team of scientists at Ohio University used CT scans to document the anatomy of nasal passages in two different ankylosaur species. The team then modeled airflow through 3D reconstructions of these tubes. Bourke found that the convoluted passageways would have given the inhaled air more time and more surface area to warm up to body temperature by drawing heat away from nearby blood vessels. As a result, the blood would be cooled, and shunted to the brain to keep its temperature stable."
34 comments | about a month ago
concertina226 writes that researchers have found a virus that appears to reduce people’s thinking power and attention span. "Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Medical School and the University of Nebraska have discovered an algae virus that makes us more stupid by infecting our brains. The researchers were conducting a completely unrelated study into throat microbes when they realized that DNA in the throats of healthy people matched the DNA of a chlorovirus virus known as ATCV-1. ATCV-1 is a virus that infects the green algae found in freshwater lakes and ponds. It had previously been thought to be non-infectious to humans, but the scientists found that it actually affects cognitive functions in the brain by shortening attention span and causing a decrease in spatial awareness. For the first time ever, the researchers proved that microorganisms have the ability to trigger delicate physiological changes to the human body, without launching a full-blown attack on the human immune system."
275 comments | about a month ago
MTorrice writes: Bioengineers want to connect electronics and neurons to make devices such as new cochlear implants or prosthetic limbs with a seemingly natural sense of touch. They also could build synthetic neural circuitry to use to study how the brain processes information or what goes wrong in neurodegenerative diseases.
As a step toward these applications, a team of researchers has developed a way to direct the growth of axons, the connection-forming arms of neurons. They use transparent silicon nitride microtubes on glass slides to encourage the cells' axons to grow in specific directions. The cultured nerve cells grow aimlessly until they bump into one of the tubes. The axon then enters the tube, and its growth is accelerated 20-fold. Silicon nitride already is used in some orthopedic devices, and could serve as a substrate for electronics to interface with the growing neurons.
23 comments | about a month and a half ago
New submitter xgeorgio writes: From MIT Technology Review: "The human brain carries out many tasks at the same time, but how many? Now fMRI data has revealed just how parallel gray matter is. ... Although the analysis is complex, the outcome is simple to state. Georgiou says independent component analysis reveals that about 50 independent processes are at work in human brains performing the complex visuo-motor tasks of indicating the presence of green and red boxes. However, the brain uses fewer processes when carrying out simple tasks, like visual recognition.
That's a fascinating result that has important implications for the way computer scientists should design chips intended to mimic human performance. It implies that parallelism in the brain does not occur on the level of individual neurons but on a much higher structural and functional level, and that there are about 50 of these. 'This means that, in theory, an artificial equivalent of a brain-like cognitive structure may not require a massively parallel architecture at the level of single neurons, but rather a properly designed set of limited processes that run in parallel on a much lower scale,' he concludes." Here's a link to the full paper: "Estimating the intrinsic dimension in fMRI space via dataset fractal analysis – Counting the `cpu cores' of the human brain."
91 comments | about a month and a half ago