Neuroscience Blogs of Note
As the first post on Neurevolution, I would like to review several other neuroscience blogs that have been around for a while.
First is Mind Hacks, a blog by the two authors of the book by the same name. According to the authors, the blog and book include "neuroscience and psychology tricks to find out what's going on inside your brain". Many of the topics covered are very similar to those that will be covered here: issues at the edge of cognition and neuroscience.
A post of particular interest simply quoted Marvin Minsky (a prominent figure in the field of artificial intelligence) from his book Society of Mind.
People ask if machines have souls. And I ask back whether souls can learn. It does not seem a fair exchange – if souls can live for endless time and yet not use that time to learn – to trade all change for changelessness.
What are those old and fierce beliefs in spirits, souls, and essences? They're all insinuation that we're helpless to improve ourselves. To look for our virtues in such thoughts seems just as wrongly aimed a search as seeking art in canvas cloths by scraping off the painter's works.
I found this quote very moving, as it expresses (by comparison) the wonderful joy of learning and change. It's also profound because it questions certain long-held assumptions about what immortality would be like, and what we would want it to be like.
Another post of interest explained how the retina ("the only part of the central nervous system visible from outside the body") and associated structures can reveal a great deal about cognitive functions. It turns out that as items are stored in working memory the pupil dilates (more with each successive item), and as the items are recalled and repeated back to the experimenter the pupil contracts down to its normal size. What does this say about system integration in the brain? It likely means that even low-level regions controlling pupil dilation or eye-movement initiation are tied intimately with regions involved in higher level cognition such as working memory.
The next blog I'm going to mention is Retrospectacle (old entries are found here), a blog by a neuroscience Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan by the name of Shelley Batts. She blogs about her personal experiences as a budding scientist, issues of interest in neuroscience, issues of interest in the news (especially if science-related), and other autobiographical issues (such as her recent trip to China).
A recent post relating to science in general explored how major journals such as Science and Nature could publish so many fabricated studies. Examples include the 'Hwang stem cell scandal', in which a prominent South Korean biologist published and later retracted two articles in Science. More recently a similar scandal has emerged with a German physicist retracting a staggering 21 articles from Science, Nature, and Physical Review. Blogger Shelley Batts asks if such cases reflect some bias in the peer review process at these journals, or if this is all just coincidence.
Another post explored a recent study that suggests that depression can be diagnosed based on how taste is perceived. It turns out that the level of two neurotransmitters (serotonin and norepinephrine) in the brain can determine how certain flavors are experienced. These same neurotransmitters are altered during major depression. As quoted in the post:
During the trial, 'healthy' volunteers were given two anti-depressant drugs, which raised the levels of both chemicals in their brain. Increased serotonin levels appeared to improve sensitivity to sweet and bitter tastes, while increased noradrenaline levels appeared to improve sensitivity to bitter and sour tastes.
The next blog I'm going to include here is Action Potential, by the editors at Nature Neuroscience. Posts on this blog tend to relate to the type of material published in Nature Neuroscience, which is mostly cellular and molecular neuroscience. Neurevolution is focused mostly on higher-level neuroscience, including systems and cognitive neuroscience. A few things relating to these levels of organization have been posted recently, however.
One such post relating to higher-level cognition mentioned a recent approval of $1 billion for research and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders. They mention research showing that autistic children have enlarged amygdalas, while autistic adults have smaller amygdalas than average. From the article:
Narelle Towie reports on a study of amygdala size in people with autism in Archives of General Psychiatry. According to the article, children with autism tend to have enlarged amygdalas. The authors found that adults with autism who most avoided eye contact (a common symptom in autism) had smaller amygdalas than other adults and children with autism. Therefore, the authors concluded that the amygdala may be hyperexcitable in children with autism, which may lead to amygdalar cell death and symptom progression in adults.
Another recent post related to cognition mentioned a finding suggesting that dyslexia, despite its being a disorder in the visual domain, could be due to a disruption in auditory cognition. It was found that a set of learning-disabled and dyslexic children had trouble with certain sound discrimination.
I have mentioned these neuroscience blogs to begin to define Neurevolution's niche in the blogosphere. Also see our About page for more niche-defining discussion.