December 28, 2010

No Implants Needed: Movement-Generating Brain Waves Detected and Decoded Outside the Head

brain injury,neuroscience — alice @ 2:52 pm

From: ScientificAmerican.com

New research holds promise for a noninvasive brain-computer interface that allows mental control over computers and prosthetics.

Our bodies are wired to move, and damaged wiring is often impossible to repair. Strokes and spinal cord injuries can quickly disconnect parts of the brain that initiate movement with the nerves and muscles that execute it, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) draw the process out to the same effect. Scientists have been looking for a way to bypass damaged nerves by directly connecting the brain to an assistive device—like a robotic limb—through brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. Now, researchers have demonstrated the ability to nonintrusively record neural signals outside the skull and decode them into information that could be used to move a prosthetic.

Past efforts at a BCI to animate an artificial limb involved electrodes inserted directly into the brain. The surgery required to implant the probes and the possibility that implants might not stay in place made this approach risky.

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December 23, 2010

A Prescription for Abdominal Pain: Due Diligence

From: NYTimes.com: “For some reason people respect headaches,” said Dr. Carlo Di Lorenzo, a leading pediatric gastroenterologist and a professor of clinical pediatrics at Ohio State. “I’ve never seen a parent or a pediatrician tell a child complaining of a headache, ‘You don’t have a headache — it’s not real.’ Bellyache is just as real as headache.”

Indeed it is. And recurrent abdominal pain in children is common, frustrating and often hard to explain.

Consider a girl who came to the clinic for her 10-year physical exam. She gets these bellyaches, she told me. Had a bad one that week, but her stomach wasn’t hurting right at the moment.

She’d been treated for constipation; she’d been tested for celiac disease and other problems. Every blood and stool test over the two years since the pain began was completely normal. One night the bellyache was so bad she went to the emergency room — and her abdominal X-rays were normal as well.

The diagnostic term for this common and perplexing condition is “functional abdominal pain”: recurrent stomachaches, as the American Academy of Pediatrics put it in 2005, with no “anatomic, metabolic, infectious, inflammatory or neoplastic disorder” to explain them.

When I was a resident, we often smirked when we spoke of functional abdominal pain, treating it as a code for a troublesome patient, dubious symptoms or an anxious family. But recent research suggests we were too biomedically narrow in our thinking.

Scientists are coming to understand that abdominal pain is transmitted by a specialized nervous system that may be hypersensitive or hyperactive in some children. Studies in which researchers inflated balloons in children’s intestines suggested that those with functional abdominal pain might be unusually sensitive to any distension on the inside.

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December 20, 2010

Tracing the Spark of Creative Problem-Solving

brain networks,neuroscience — alice @ 11:59 am

From: NYTimes.com.

Check out the puzzles in this article. They look easy, and mostly they are. Click here to see the puzzles.
Given three words: trip, house, and goal, for example, find a fourth that will complete a compound word with each. A minute or so of mental trolling (housekeeper, goalkeeper, trip?) is all it usually takes.

The payoff of tackling a mental exercise: leaps of understanding that seem to come out of the blue, without the incremental drudgery of analysis.

But who wants to troll?

Let lightning strike. Let the clues suddenly coalesce in the brain as they do so often for young children solving a riddle. As they must have done, for that matter, in the minds of those early humans who outfoxed nature well before the advent of deduction, abstraction or SAT prep courses. Puzzle-solving is such an ancient, universal practice, scholars say, precisely because it depends on creative insight, on the primitive spark that ignited the first campfires.

And now, modern neuroscientists are beginning to tap its source.

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December 15, 2010

Breathe In, Breathe Out, Fall in Love

emotions,meditation — alice @ 2:54 pm

From: NYTimes.com. In the front hall of the Victorian house was a laminated sign that said “Shoes,” and underneath it a row of Birkenstocks and Danskos stretched along the wall. I could hear voices coming from the meditation hall upstairs, so I figured people were already finding their seats. I sat down and pulled off my motorcycle boots, wishing every object had its own little sign. If only my ex-boyfriend had worn a sign the night before that said “ex-boyfriend,” I would not have slept with him.

I crept upstairs and tried to open the door soundlessly. Inside, two dozen people were perched on pillows. They were the same kind of people you find at a bookstore — a lot of spectacles, lumpy sweaters, laptop bags. A few were still whispering, but I sensed the room was about to fall into a trance of majestic silence. So I hurried to join them.

Sitting cross-legged, my hands cupped upward, I began to struggle with the basics of Vipassana meditation, trying to pay attention to my breath as it tickled my nostrils. “Vipassana” comes from the Pali word for “insight,” but here in Cambridge, Mass., the term connotes something else — a certain East Coast, over-educated style of sitting on a pillow.

On the dais, the teacher lounged on his meditation bench in a weathered Patagonia hoodie, his gray hair tied in a knot. “For the next eight hours, you will not say a word,” he told us brightly. “Did everyone remember to bring a bag lunch?”

At that point in my life I had never attempted a full day of meditation.

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Vital Signs; Regimes: Meditation, for the Mind and the Heart

altered states,meditation — alice @ 12:52 pm

From: NYTimes.com. Could the mental relaxation produced by transcendental meditation have physiological benefits? A study presented last week at the American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Fla., suggests that it may, at least in the case of people with established coronary artery disease.

Researchers followed about 200 high-risk patients for an average of five years. Among the 100 who meditated, there were 20 heart attacks, strokes and deaths; in the comparison group, there were 32. The meditators tended to remain disease-free longer and also reduced their systolic blood pressure.

”We found reduced blood pressure that was significant — that was probably one important mediator,” said Dr. Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, a research institute based at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, who presented the findings.

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December 13, 2010

How Mindfulness Can Make for Better Doctors

meditation — alice @ 12:09 pm

From: NYTimes.com One night during my training, long after all the other doctors had fled the hospital, I found a senior surgeon still on the wards working on a patient note. He was a surgeon with extraordinary skill, a doctor of few words whose folksy quips had become the stuff of department legend. “I’m sorry you’re still stuck here,” I said, walking up to him.

He looked up from the chart. “I’m not working tomorrow, so I’m just fine.”

I had just reviewed the next day’s operating room schedule and knew he had a full day of cases. I began to contradict him, but he held his hand up to stop me.

“Time in the O.R.,” he said with a broad grin, “is not work; it’s play.”

For several years my peers and I relished anecdotes like this one because we believed we knew exactly what our mentor had meant. All of us had had the experience of “disappearing” into the meditative world of a procedure and re-emerging not exhausted, but refreshed. The ritual ablutions by the scrub sink washed away the bacteria clinging to our skin and the endless paperwork threatening to choke our enthusiasm. A single rhythmic cardiac monitor replaced the relentless calls of our beepers; and nothing would matter during the long operations except the patient under our knife.

We had entered “the zone.” We were focused on nothing else but our patients and that moment.

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December 7, 2010

The Same Old Consciousness

From: ErvinLaszlo.com:  It makes sense to paraphrase Einstein’s famous dictum in regard to consciousness. Our problem is the unsustainability of the world we have created, and we should be clear that we can’t solve this problem with the same kind of consciousness that gave rise to it.

But many people try to do just that, even the leaders of the world’s twenty richest and most powerful nations. The November 2010 meeting of the G20 in Seoul gave indisputable proof of it. Not only did the meeting fail to achieve its main objectives (among them rebalancing international trade and reaching an accommodation between the U.S. and South Korea), the objectives themselves proved to be out-of-date. They centered on re-stabilizing the same moribund economic and financial system that made the world unsustainable in the first place.

But why is the G20’s failure due to wrong consciousness? Because consciousness in the social, political, and cultural context is sum total of our view of the world, with its values, aspirations, and background assumptions. It’s the “paradigm” that underlies the way we think and the way we set our priorities. The consciousness of the G20 gives rise to an obsolete view of the world, with faulty values and outdated aspirations. The leaders view the world as the arena for a Darwinian struggle for survival, seen as a competition for growth in the economies of nations. Since assured growth cannot be achieved even by the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world by itself, the leaders recognize the need for some level and form of cooperation—as a means to an end. The end is for the rich nations to make sure that they remain rich.

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December 3, 2010

‘Consciousness signature’ discovered spanning the brain

From: Newscientist.com:   Electrodes implanted in the brains of people with epilepsy might have resolved an ancient question about consciousness.

Signals from the electrodes seem to show that consciousness arises from the coordinated activity of the entire brain. The signals also take us closer to finding an objective “consciousness signature” that could be used to probe the process in animals and people with brain damage without inserting electrodes.

Previously it wasn’t clear whether a dedicated brain area, or “seat of consciousness”, was responsible for guiding our subjective view of the world, or whether consciousness was the result of concerted activity across the whole brain.

Probing the process has been a challenge, as non-invasive techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging and EEG give either spatial or temporal information but not both. The best way to get both simultaneously is to implant electrodes deep inside the skull, but it is difficult to justify this in healthy people for ethical reasons.

Brainy opportunity

Now neuroscientist Raphaël Gaillard of INSERM in Gif sur Yvette, France, and colleagues have taken advantage of a unique opportunity. They have probed consciousness in 10 people who had intercranial electrodes implanted for treating drug-resistant epilepsy.

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November 25, 2010

Canadian Psychological Association 72nd Annual Convention

conferences — alice @ 9:37 pm

CPA’s 72nd Annual convention is being held in Toronto, Ontario, June 2-4, 2011. Come and connect with fellow CPA colleagues and find out what interesting work people have been conducting in the field of psychology!

The Convention brings together psychology scientists, practitioners, educators and students from all corners of Canada as well as from abroad; it is our trading center for discoveries, innovations and ideas. Use the Convention as a vehicle for ensuring that your science gets translated into, and is informed by, education and practice and that your practice and education remain on a solid foundation of science. Please join us in beautiful Toronto, so we can reconnect and together bask in the city’s warmth and hospitality.

For more information, click here for the conference website.

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November 24, 2010

Annual Cognitive Neuroscience Society Meeting: 2011

conferences — alice @ 9:34 pm

The 18th Annual Cognitive Neuroscience Meeting will be held April 2-5, 2011 in San Francisco, California at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Situated right on the Embarcadero waterfront, you are just steps away from the historic Ferry Building, the ferry to Alcatraz and the San Francisco Bay.

Convention activities will begin on the afternoon of Saturday, April 2nd. In addition to the regular symposia, slide, and poster sessions, the annual George A. Miller Lecture will be Sunday evening, with a reception afterwards. We will also be awarding two new Young Investigator Awards followed by talks given by the winners. The 4-day program will continue with a host of symposia, poster sessions, invited addressees, publisher exhibits, and special events.

For more information, please click here for the conference website.

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November 15, 2010

Mental Training Through Meditation Enhances Attentional Stability

A. Lutz, H. Slagter, et al.
Article in Journal of Neuroscience

Abstract
The capacity to stabilize the content of attention over timevaries among individuals, and its impairment is a hallmark ofseveral mental illnesses. Impairments in sustained attentionin patients with attention disorders have been associated withincreased trial-to-trial variability in reaction time and event-relatedpotential deficits during attention tasks. At present, it isunclear whether the ability to sustain attention and its underlyingbrain circuitry are transformable through training. Here, weshow, with dichotic listening task performance and electroencephalography,that training attention, as cultivated by meditation, can improvethe ability to sustain attention. Three months of intensivemeditation training reduced variability in attentional processingof target tones, as indicated by both enhanced theta-band phaseconsistency of oscillatory neural responses over anterior brainareas and reduced reaction time variability. Furthermore, thoseindividuals who showed the greatest increase in neural responseconsistency showed the largest decrease in behavioral responsevariability. Notably, we also observed reduced variability inneural processing, in particular in low-frequency bands, regardlessof whether the deviant tone was attended or unattended. Focusedattention meditation may thus affect both distracter and targetprocessing, perhaps by enhancing entrainment of neuronal oscillationsto sensory input rhythms, a mechanism important for controllingthe content of attention. These novel findings highlight themechanisms underlying focused attention meditation and supportthe notion that mental training can significantly affect attentionand brain function.

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November 12, 2010

Cosmic Symphony — A Deeper Look at Quantum Consciousness

From: ErvinLaszlo.com

The rise of quantum consciousness could be the biggest step our species has taken since it came down from the trees. It would bring us to a new stage of species maturity � and could also enable us to surmount the problems that threaten our life and our future.

But just what is quantum consciousness � QC? I have spoken about QC in my previous posts, but the question merits a further, deeper look.

First of all, what is consciousness? The commonsense assumption is that consciousness is a stream of experience produced by the brain. As long as the brain functions, there is consciousness; when the brain shuts down, consciousness vanishes. This, however, is not necessarily the case. It could be that our brain no more produces consciousness than the radio produces the symphony that comes through its speakers. The symphony, too, disappears when the radio is shut down, yet we know that it�s not produced by the radio. Both the radio and the brain pick up signals, transform them, and display the result in our stream of conscious experience.

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November 11, 2010

What Makes You Uniquely You?

From: Discovermagazine.com

Feb 2009

Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman says your brain is one-of-a-kind in the history of the universe.

Some of the most profound questions in science are also the least tangible. What does it mean to be sentient? What is the self? When issues become imponderable, many researchers demur, but neuro­scientist Gerald Edelman dives right in.

A physician and cell biologist who won a 1972 Nobel Prize for his work describing the structure of antibodies, Edelman is now obsessed with the enigma of human consciousness—except that he does not see it as an enigma. In Edelman’s grand theory of the mind, consciousness is a biological phenomenon and the brain develops through a process similar to natural selection. Neurons proliferate and form connections in infancy; then experience weeds out the useless from the useful, molding the adult brain in sync with its environment.

Edelman first put this model on paper in the Zurich airport in 1977 as he was killing time waiting for a flight. Since then he has written eight books on the subject, the most recent being Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge. He is chairman of neurobiology at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego and the founder and director of the Neurosciences Institute, a research center in La Jolla, California, dedicated to unconventional “high risk, high payoff” science.

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November 10, 2010

“What Babies Want” – An exploration of the Consciousness of Infants

From: WhatBabiesWant.com

DVD Documentary starring Charlie Rose, Noah Wyle, and Joseph Chilton Pearce.

What Babies Want is an award winning documentary film that explores the profoundly important and sacred opportunity we have in bringing children into the world. Filled with captivating stories and infused with Noah Wyle’s warmth as narrator, the film demonstrates how life patterns are established at birth and  before. The documentary includes groundbreaking information on early development as well as appearances by the real experts: babies and families.

Research is now showing us that our society is a product of how we welcome and raise our children. When babies are welcomed with love and warmth and given the immediate opportunity to bond with parents,  they develop minds that are coherent and flexible, ready in turn to make compassionate and meaningful connections with others as they grow.

As we learn how early relationships shape the structure and function of the brain, we are also gaining a new appreciation of the wisdom of ancient cultures that understood the importance of welcoming children before, during and after the moment of birth.

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November 6, 2010

Long-term Memories The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

From The Dana Foundation

Editor’s note: Traumatic memories haunt the lives of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and other illnesses. Fortunately, recent research into the changeability of long-term memories may someday develop into treatments for such individuals. But before this can happen, writes Cristina Alberini, Ph.D., of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, researchers must determine just how effectively the fear associated with older memories—especially those involved in PTSD—can be reduced and for how long. Researchers must also address the ethical issues that go hand in hand with modifying memory.

For more than a century, clinicians, psychologists, and biologists have worked to understand the mechanisms underlying the formation and storage of long-term memories. Recently, scientists found that when a stored memory is recalled, it becomes sensitive to disruption for a limited time.1,2 This finding indicates that it might be possible to weaken or even erase memories of traumatic experiences that become uncontrollably intrusive in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This possibility has drawn great interest from scientific and clinical communities, as well as from nonscientists, who became interested in its potential clinical applications; furthermore, it raised ethical concerns.

Many ethical questions and debates about treatments designed to weaken memories may reflect the still poor understanding of how memory recall or reactivation results in memory fragility and the many unknowns surrounding its temporal boundaries. Whereas the study of animal models and healthy humans has provided some knowledge about post-recall memory disruption, data on the use of such disruption to treat PTSD symptoms are still conflicting. The strengthening of memory with the passage of time, the resilience of strong memories to disruption, and the specific aspects of memory that become sensitive to disruption raise questions about the limitations of this approach and warrant more research. Here, we will look at how we form memories of an emotional event and how these memories become fragile after recall. That will help us consider the potential, limitations, and ethics of disrupting memories of emotion.

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November 5, 2010

6 More Reasons to Meditate

From: Psychology Today

Why meditate? Outside of religious contexts, the most common reason is stress management. But as these latest research findings demonstrate, meditation is much more than just a relaxation technique. Here are a half-dozen more good reasons to take up meditation.

To enhance concentration
Meditation has an undeserved reputation for being esoteric and difficult to learn. In truth, it’s really nothing more than the practice of focusing the mind intently on a particular thing or activity. It seems logical that regular meditation would hone a person’s powers of concentration, and a recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience found just that. In the study, three months of intensive meditation training led to improvements in attentional stability – the ability to sustain attention without frequent lapses.

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November 4, 2010

Why Animals Are Biologically Conscious. The conscious brain has a long evolutionary history.

From: The Blog of Dr. Bernard J. Baars inPsychology Today

To the best of our knowledge, consciousness depends upon brains, and brains are biological organs. In a boxing match, a blow to the jaw often leads to a loss of consciousness, but the same impact to the torso does not. More specifically, scientists have long thought that human consciousness depends upon two large brain structures, the cortex and the thalamus. The daily cycle of waking, dreaming and sleep depends on distinctive global rhythm generators in the thalamus and cortex. (www.baars-gage.com, Chapter 8)

While deep brain nuclei control the daily sleep-waking cycle, the specific contents of conscious vision, like the sight of a coffee cup, are directly supported by known regions of the cortex and corresponding nuclei in the thalamus. Cortex and its satellites underlie speech and hearing, vision, hearing and touch, the ability to make decisions and to control our voluntary muscles.

In contrast, medical students have long learned that the two large lobes of the cerebellum, hanging from the rear of the cortex, can be damaged in humans without impairing consciousness significantly. Since the cerebellum has nearly the same numbers of neurons as cortex, the question therefore becomes: How it is that cortex supports conscious contents? Why not the cerebellum? (Figure 1).

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November 3, 2010

Charlie Rose: The Brain Series

The Charlie Rose Brain Series consists of interviews with some of the most knowledgeable scientists and researchers studying the human brain, including Drs. Eric Kandel and Oliver Sacks. Each monthly episode examines different subjects of the brain, including perception, social interaction, aging and creativity.

For more information, please check the Charlie Rose Brain Series website.

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November 2, 2010

Fear in Love: Attachment, Abuse, and the Developing Brain

From: The Dana Foundation

Editor’s note: Why do abused children attach and remain attached to abusive parents? In this article, Dr. Regina Sullivan explains how her research with rat pups has led to greater understanding of the infant brain, and how negative early experiences can cause long-term genetic, brain, behavioral, and hormonal changes that can affect not only the abuse victim but also the victim’s descendants.

Many parents have absolute faith that, with the right kind of stimulation, they can give their child an educational advantage. Conscientious mothers play Mozart to the baby in the womb, take their toddlers to Mommy and Me dance classes, and work their way through preschool applications as daunting as those for medical school. Yet even with the wide range of advantages available for infants today, many people are still surprised when I tell them that the way they treat their children will actually change the structure and circuitry of the child’s brain.

Click here to read the entire article

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November 1, 2010

Center for Consciousness Studies Conference: May2-8, 2011

conferences — alice @ 1:29 pm

The Center for Consciousness Studies promotes open, rigorous discussion of all phenomena relating to conscious experience.  Their annual conference is being held May 2-8, 2011, at the Aula Magna Hall, at Stockholm University in Sweden.

Toward a Science of Consciousness is an interdisciplinary conference emphasizing broad and rigorous approaches to the study of conscious awareness. Topical areas include neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, biology, quantum physics, meditation and altered states, machine consciousness, culture and experiential phenomenology. Held annually since 1994, the conference is organized by the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, and alternates yearly between Tucson, Arizona and various locations around the world. Toward a Science of Consciousness 2011 will be held at Stockholm University, Aula Magna Hall, Stockholm, Sweden, May 2-8, 2011.

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