What Makes a Genius?
This show aired on the Science channel several months ago which demonstrated some of the tests and ways of determining what it is about the brain that makes a “genius.” The host presents a number of different brain imaging techniques and research that shows why some people may be more prone to being a genius than others (i.e different synaptic connections and the integration of mini-columns*).
Some of these very tests have sparked ideas in my own research. This is the first 10 minutes of the show but the rest can be found on youtube. Enjoy!
* “Mini-columns” refer to the synaptic connections between neurons in the six cell layers of the human cortex.
In my spare time (cough cough) I will sometimes listen to lectures that I find on iTunes University to educate myself on a range of topics that I might otherwise not have time, nor the access to study. If you get the opportunity I highly suggest going to iTunes University and searching some of the courses and lectures that they have to offer.
Currently, I am listening to Jeremy Wolfe at MIT who is an excellent speaker. In a recent lecture he discussed the causes of motion sickness (which correlated with other work I was studying at the time.)
The brain has a number off areas purely used for integration information from a variety of sensory systems. These association areas can be in a variety of places in the brain, including the cortex and several midbrain/hindbrain structures.
Now, in the case of motion sickness what happens to the brain during that bumpy airplane ride that we feel ill? Well, the vestibular system which senses balance is constantly trying to correct itself as it is being thrown about the plane. In another sense our visual system is also allowing for certain self-corrections using the vestibular-occular reflex. This reflex can be demonstrated by staring at this word and moving your head back and forth. The VOR is a very robust system that allows images to stay clear on your retina using information between the visual and vestibular system in an open loop.
Most often when flying in a plane you do not fully register to bumps, motions, and minor jolts of air pressure changes over the wings. What part of your body does notice? The vestibular system. Your brain now is stressed with the task of trying to processing visual data that is held constant by the VOR and a highly active vestibular system. Because each sensory system is providing a different interpretation of the world the brain triggers a line of defense including nausea. This system is based on a symptom brought on by evolutionary equation.
If the brain cannot integrate sensory systems then the body has been poisoned by a noxious neurotoxin. Therefore nausea triggers the body into removing whatever the body has most recently ingested because it may have been poisoned by a neurotoxin (i.e certain species of frog, mushrooms, berries, etc.)
In need of a study break, and I meant to put this Stanford project up forever ago. I’m obviously a sucker for anything that bridges neuroscience and “music”.
Sonification offers a complementary way to explore the data and in a literal sense ties in closely with the idea of listening to a dynamic conversation among neurons. During single electrode experiments, electrophysiologists listen to the amplified output while lowering the electrode into the brain in order to estimate depth and identify neurons. Once a neuron is isolated, listening to its spike train (which sounds like pops/clicks) provides a fast and convenient way to pick out for example how well a neuron responds to a particular stimulus in real time since one can listen to the neural activity while visually paying attention to the stimulus on the screen rather than splitting attention between the screen and a plot of the neural activity. Beyond a few neurons, it becomes difficult to hear nuances within the population activity. The idea behind this project is to concurrently sonify and visualize activity from a population of neurons both to try and provide an intuitive way to pick out patterns in the data and to explore different ways in which signals from the brain can be used to create music.
Today I had the privilege to teach neuroscience to a much younger age group than to that which I am usually accustomed. While admittedly I struggled with the thought of how to teach neuroscience, a rigorous study, to such a different crowd and reduce it to simple statements; I was happy to walk away successful. In the end I decided that if I cannot teach a concept, then I do not know the concept well-enough.
When I introduced the topic of neurons, one child put such an emphasis on the “o-n” sound in neurons that I began to think…”Well, are neurons really “on” often enough that we can’t just call them neuroffs?”
Needless to say I chuckled.
XVIVO Biology Animation Company
From the website:
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Notes: I personally found this a great website to get ideas about research, education, and resources. For the most part I was a big fan of the list of schools that hold strong Cognitive Science programs including Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD.