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Neuroscience and Psychology Blog Carnival: Encephalon #15

(Note: the fol­low­ing is inspired by real events but not quite. Car­o­line is a col­league, not my grand­ma!)

Over the week­end, I dropped by to say Hi to my grand­ma Car­oli­na, the Wise Neu­ro­sci­en­tist every fam­i­ly should have. She always helps me out. Imag­ine, then, my relief when she hap­pi­ly spent a few hours with me going over the print­ed sub­mis­sions for Encephalon #15. The con­ver­sa­tion went so well, that we are adding it to our Neu­ro­science Inter­view Series on learn­ing and “brain gyms”.

Alvaro: Thanks again! I have heard organ­isms have some­thing called a bio­log­i­cal clock — what is that?

Car­oli­na: Accord­ing to Bora of A Blog Around The Clock, a bio­log­i­cal clock is a struc­ture that times reg­u­lar re-occur­rence of bio­chem­i­cal, phys­i­o­log­i­cal and behav­ioral events in an organ­ism in con­stant envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. The word “clock” is a metaphor, and the con­cept tries to exclude direct respons­es to the envi­ron­ment. Make sure to under­stand this prop­er­ly, oth­er­wise Bora sug­gests explain­ing it to you this way: “If I give you an elec­troshock every two hours, you will exhib­it a 2‑hour cycle of convulsions…but that’s not a bio­log­i­cal clock”.

Alvaro: Crys­tal clear. Hmmm, I am think­ing of noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar right now, my mind wan­ders, like a riv­er stream…what may be hap­pen­ing in my brain?

Car­oli­na: Noth­ing spe­cial, as The Neu­r­o­crit­ic seems to argue in his series Default Mode or Detri­tus?, Day­dream­ing and Thought-Sam­pling, and Resist­ing a rest­ing state. Don’t be eas­i­ly seduced by sexy neu­roimag­ing into believ­ing that “default” con­sti­tutes some kind of base­line.

Alvaro: I wouldn’t dare do so, by no means. Did you go to the hair­dress­er? I like your new style. How is my brain pro­cess­ing that infor­ma­tion?

Car­oli­na: Jake of Pure Pedantry answers the more inter­est­ing ques­tion you should have asked, “How are fea­tures bound togeth­er to form objects” He describes a very inter­est­ing exper­i­ment that con­cludes that Per­cep­tu­al bind­ing takes time, which means that it has to take place in some brain area.

Alvaro: OK, I may be get­ting a bit lost here. Is there some cool sto­ry or anec­dote I can just try to remem­ber and tell to impress my friends?

Car­oli­na: Indeed. Vaugh­an of Mind Hacks describes how flow­ers’ fra­grance may be con­tribut­ing to the whole born-again phe­nom­e­non. I won’t tell you more.

Alvaro: OK, that is fun enough to keep me going. Does some­one com­ment on issues relat­ed to learn­ing?

Car­oli­na: Both Chris of Devel­op­ing Intel­li­gence and Sandy of The Mouse Trap talk about how we cat­e­go­rize things. Chris empha­sizes the util­i­ty of labels, while Sandy explores how to book­mark the inter­est­ing pages on the web and con­trasts assim­i­la­tion and accom­mo­da­tion with restruc­tur­ing.

Alvaro: Inter­est­ing. Now that I use gmail and don’t cat­e­go­rize emails any­more, yet can always retrieve them on demand, what is going on?

Car­oli­na: Maybe the restruc­tur­ing of restruc­tur­ing. Our brains are prob­a­bly not there yet, but may be inter­est­ing to spec­u­late on what a gbrain may look like. Neu­rophiloso­pher has a Book review: “Mind Wars”, by Jonathan D. Moreno, where he posits about cog­ni­tive­ly and phys­i­cal­ly enhanced super sol­diers. Maybe they will be able to do just that. Anoth­er route: Paul Mem­oirs of a Post­grad defines what con­di­tions must exist for “Cog­ni­tive Robot­ics” to make sense as a sci­en­tif­ic field: maybe we need enti­ties that can both reflect on the best struc­ture for his/ her/ its gmail account while email­ing back and forth like crazy, like most of you young peo­ple do these days.

Alvaro: Any news on mem­o­ry?

Car­oli­na: Chris reports on how retrieval, encod­ing, and con­sol­i­da­tion may have dif­fer­ent devel­op­men­tal tra­jec­to­ries, sug­gest­ing that mem­o­ry prob­lems at dif­fer­ent ages may be due to dif­fer­ent under­ly­ing mech­a­nisms and teas­es us to stay tuned for future posts where he will relate this with the anatom­i­cal devel­op­ment of brain struc­tures involved in long-term mem­o­ry.

Alvaro: What about the hot area of emo­tions and deci­sion-mak­ing?

Car­oli­na: Orli of Neu­ron­tic describes The Lim­its of Ratio­nal Thought, sup­port­ing her the­sis that emo­tions are essen­tial to healthy func­tion­ing on a Cap­gras Delu­sion case described in The Echo Mak­er nov­el and on the post “Walt Whit­man’s con­nec­tion to mod­ern neu­ro­science,” by Jon­ah Lehrer, where we learn that Dama­sio spent years study­ing patients who could­n’t gen­er­ate emo­tions because they lacked the brain regions nec­es­sary for inter­pret­ing phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions, like the pound­ing of the heart. She ends up advo­cat­ing that “instinc­tive snap deci­sions are more reli­able than deci­sions tak­en using high­er-lev­el cog­ni­tive process­es.”

Alvaro: Is that always so?

Car­oli­na: Well, not nec­es­sar­i­ly. Sandy elab­o­rates on Moral Intu­itions: Mus­ings con­tin­ued, where we are pre­sent­ed with a num­ber of moral dilem­mas that pre­sum­ably should not be decid­ed impul­sive­ly. As an inter­est­ing aside, Paul presents A brief overview of Mir­ror Neu­rons, where he sug­gests that recent evi­dence is show­ing that mir­ror neu­ron play an impor­tant part of how peo­ple use imi­ta­tion to learn new skills. We need to know more about in what domains we can trust “genet­ic intu­ition” vs. learned one.

Alvaro: Wow, this Encephalon thing is very use­ful to learn about so many top­ics. Now, your mir­ror neu­rons are prob­a­bly alert­ing you to my urgent, irre­press­ible, need to ask about brain fit­ness and our blog. What arti­cles have you enjoyed the most?

Car­oli­na: You have a cou­ple of good ones this week. One, Life­long learn­ing, lit­er­al­ly: neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty for stu­dents, boomers, seniors…. I also found the Inau­gur­al Edi­tion: Brain Fit­ness Blog Car­ni­val pret­ty inter­est­ing. I will try some of the tech­niques on your grand­pa.

Alvaro: Feel free to, but don’t blame me….oops! It is get­ting late, and I have to leave. Thanks for your help! Have to dri­ve back home.

Car­oli­na: As always, glad to help. One day you too will be able to under­stand those posts. Before you leave: make sure to fol­low Cog­ni­tive Dai­ly Dave’s advice: Want to dri­ve safe­ly? Talk­ing to pas­sen­gers may be okay, but talk­ing on the phone isn’t.


Next Encephalon edi­tion: Mind Hacks on 12th Feb­ru­ary, 2007.

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7 Responses

  1. Michelle B says:

    Alvaro and Car­o­line, I real­ly enjoyed how you framed the con­tent of the car­ni­val in this post. Great job–clever and cre­ative.

  2. Alvaro says:

    We exer­cised a few neu­rons 🙂 glad you enjoyed it!

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