Written by Nita Farahany, professor of law and philosophy at Duke University
Pick up a newspaper any day of the week and you’ll likely see articles breathlessly describing our progress towards unlocking the mysteries of the human brain. If the 1990s were the decade of the human genome, marked by the Human Genome Project (the world’s largest collaborative biological project), this is the era of the human brain.
With projects such as BRAIN and the Human Brain Project now well underway, and billions of dollars of private funding advancing neurological research and discovery, the future of brain science is within sight.
When he launched the BRAIN initiative in the United States, President Barack Obama said: “As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter between our ears.” Unlocking those mysteries will be transformative for society. Which is terrific, and terrifying. Consider the possibilities:
Read more on World Economic Forum website, published on Thursday 21 January 2016.
“It’s clear to everybody that any attempt to understand how the brain works, or ultimately what we might mean by cognition, is so daunting and so large that no one institution could hope to be a stand-alone leader in such an effort,” said Graham Fleming, UC Berkeley vice chancellor for research as scientists from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory revealed their teams’ bold plans to jump-start new brain research.
BRAINseed is a one-of-a-kind collaboration among the three institutions in which each put up $1.5 million over three years to seed innovative but risky research, included basic research in Nanotech and Optogenetics. The collaboration is expected to yield discoveries to accelerate President Barack Obama’s national BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative and California’s own Cal-BRAIN Initiative.
Michel Maharbiz of electrical engineering and computer science describes a project to probe more deeply into the cerebral cortex. Roy Kaltschmidt photo, LBNL.
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It has long been known that happiness depends on many different life circumstances.
Now scientists have developed a mathematical equation that can predict momentary delight. They found that participants were happiest when they performed better than expected during a risk-reward task. Brain scans also revealed that happiness scores correlated with areas known to be important for well-being. The team says the equation, published in PNAS Journal, could be used to look at mood disorders and happiness on a mass scale. It could also help the UK government analyse statistics on well-being, which they have collected since 2010.
From Stanford Medicine News Center
Mice suffering chronic pain undergo a change in brain circuitry that makes them less willing to work for a reward, even though they still want it.
Chronic pain is among the most abundant of all medical afflictions in the developed world. It differs from a short-term episode of pain not only in its duration, but also in triggering in its sufferers a psychic exhaustion best described by the question, “Why bother?”
A new study in mice, conducted by investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine, has identified a set of changes in key parts of the brain that may explain chronic pain’s capacity to stifle motivation. The discovery could lead to entirely new classes of treatment for this damaging psychological consequence of chronic pain. Read More
Heated debate over a high-profile project of the European Commission to simulate the entire brain on a supercomputer – a long needed “paradigm-shift” in neuroscience, or an over-hyped, over-funded boondoggle destined to fail, at the expense of other smaller, cheaper, less sexy researches?
Researchers say European commission-funded initiative to simulate human brain suffers from ‘substantial failures’
From The Guardian
Many researchers refused to join on the grounds that it was too premature to attempt a simulation of the entire human brain. Photograph: Sebastian Kaulitzki /Alamy
The world’s largest project to unravel the mysteries of the human brain has been thrown into crisis with more than 100 leading researchers threatening to boycott the effort amid accusations of mismanagement and fears that it is doomed to failure.
By Dr Llewellyn Cox, Principal, LieuLabs
On an otherwise unremarkable Saturday in June 2014, a group of computer scientists, public figures, and celebrities gathered at London’s Royal Society. They were all there for one reason — to engage in a text-based chat game to determine if a computer could pass the “iconic” Turing test.
A few hours later, the results were in. Professor Warwick of Reading University announced that a chatbot had successfully tricked 33% of the judges into thinking it was a real boy, and had therefore become the first computer to have passed the Turing test:
It is fitting that such an important landmark has been reached at the Royal Society in London, the home of British science and the scene of many great advances in human understanding over the centuries. This milestone will go down in history as one of the most exciting. — Prof. Kevin Warwick
Within hours, breathless tweets, likes and pins swept across the internet, announcing this amazing result to the world, or at least across the subculture that apparently really f***ing loves science, but doesn’t seem to have much time or inclination toward actual critical analysis. A day or so later came the rebuttals and debunkings from the more inquisitive corners of the online universe. So what really happened, and what does a machine passing a Turing test mean for society?
By Morgan Kelly for Princeton University News
So accustomed are we to metaphors related to taste that when we hear a kind smile described as “sweet,” or a resentful comment as “bitter,” we most likely don’t even think of those words as metaphors. But while it may seem to our ears that “sweet” by any other name means the same thing, new research shows that taste-related words actually engage the emotional centers of the brain more than literal words with the same meaning.
Researchers from Princeton University and the Free University of Berlin report in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience the first study to experimentally show that the brain processes these everyday metaphors differently than literal language. In the study, participants read 37 sentences that included common metaphors based on taste while the researchers recorded their brain activity. Each taste-related word was then swapped with a literal counterpart so that, for instance, “She looked at him sweetly” became “She looked at him kindly.”
Researchers from Princeton University and the Free University of Berlin found that taste-related metaphors such as “sweet” actually engage the emotional centers of the brain more than literal words such as “kind” that have the same meaning. If metaphors in general elicit a similar emotional response, that could mean that figurative language presents a “rhetorical advantage” when communicating with others. (Photo illustration by Matilda Luk, Office of Communications)
By Courtney Seiter for the Buffer Blog
Every day it seems like we feel hundreds of different emotions – each nuanced and specific to the physical and social situations we find ourselves in.
According to science, it’s not that complicated by a long shot. A new study says we’re really only capable of four “basic” emotions: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted.
But much like the “mother sauces” of cooking allow you to make pretty much any kind of food under the sun, these four “mother emotions” meld together in myriad ways in our brains to create our layered emotional stews.
Robert Plutchik’s famous “wheel of emotions” shows just some of the well known emotional layers.
In this post we’ll take a close look at each of the four emotions, how they form in the brain and the way they can motivate us to surprising actions. Read More
By Dr Llewellyn Cox, Principal, LieuLabs
ASK a person to describe themself, and they will probably recite a list of their physical features — their height, weight, the color of their skin, hair, and eyes. If they’re more a more externalized type, they might mention their job, sexuality, religion, or a major life achievement. Some might feel a desire to be precise and catalog their external features: their eyes, face, arms, hands, legs, feet, fingers, and toes for you.
Few will ever mention their brain.