20 July 2010

Bite Sized Brain Bits

Spanish researchers have developed advanced techniques for filtering and analysing data from electroencephalography, to help in the diagnosis of subtle forms of epilepsy. They hope to develop the same techniques for earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and other brain pathologies.

You are almost asleep when you feel something crawling on your hand. Effortlessly, you sweep your opposite hand across, to brush the disturbance away. But British and Spanish scientists have discovered that just a brief magnetic pulse to the parietal cortex can confuse the brain's locator sense. They are using the magnetic pulse probe to locate specific brain centers which control particular functions -- in an effort to better understand various developmental disorders in children.

UCLA scientists are teaching cultures of brain cells how to keep time. Human cognition is based upon large-scale oscillatory patterns which can synchronise for brief periods of time across variable distances in the brain. Teaching cultures of brain cells to communicate in this way could lead to increasingly complex cognitive machines based upon the germinal idea of neuronal "time keeping" and synchronisation of oscillations.

Researchers in Shanghai have discovered a persistent pattern of gene regulation in brain cells from early in life, which may contribute to unnecessary aging and degeneration in the brains of older persons. The scientists speculate that such "runaway development", or dysfunctional persistence of a developmental pattern of gene regulation well beyond its usefulness, may play a part in the brain diseases and dysfunction seen in aging brains.

Scientists from London, Vienna, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, have provided evidence to help understand the stability of social networks. They found that people generally tend to avoid stress-causing relationships in social networks, which appears to make the networks more stable: "Specifically, the theory deals with positive and negative links between three individuals, where 'the friend of my enemy is my enemy' is more stable (and therefore more common) than 'the friend of my friend is my enemy."

The default choice in many situations is the one which causes the least stress or conflict. This helps to maintain peaceful relationships -- both internal and external -- but when such defaults serve to help avoid all cognitive dissonance, they can stunt the individuals growth. Persons can become stuck on "local optima", even when a "global optimum" may be nearby. But such defaults can also protect persons from the (usually) futile pursuit of perfection to the neglect of the merely good.

Such conflicts are common in life, if generally overlooked or missed. The ubiquitous development of societal moral systems -- whether religious or secular -- have generally served to limit such conflict to manageable levels in most "normal" persons. Awareness of and exploitation of such conflicts by advertisers, political operatives, environmental groups, used car salesmen, and propagandists of all kinds can lead to higher levels of conflict which are often missed until catastrophic choices are made.

More: New discoveries about the important role of astrocytes in the brain are being made by researchers in England and Sweden. Astrocytes are one form of glial cells. These "glue" cells have been found to be so important that they are now referred to as The Other Brain.


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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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