Re-align trajectory

neuromorphogenesis:

Brain Encodes Time And Place Of Taste Memory

Have you ever eaten something totally new and it made you sick? Don’t give up; if you try the same food in a different place, your brain will be more “forgiving” of the new attempt. In a new study conducted by the Sagol Department of Neurobiology at the University of Haifa, researchers found for the first time that there is a link between the areas of the brain responsible for taste memory in a negative context and those areas in the brain responsible for processing the memory of the time and location of the sensory experience. When we experience a new taste without a negative context, this link doesn’t exist.

The area of the brain responsible for storing memories of new tastes is the taste cortex, found in a relatively insulated area of the human brain known as the insular cortex. The area responsible for formulating a memory of the place and time of the experience (the episode) is the hippocampus. Until now, researchers assumed that there was no direct connection between these areas – i.e., the processing of information about a taste is not related to the time or the place one experiences the taste. The accepted thinking was that a negative experience – for example, being exposed to a bad taste – would be negative in the same way anywhere, and the brain would create a memory of the taste itself, divorced from the time or place.

But in this new study, conducted by doctoral student Adaikkan Chinnakkaruppan in the laboratory of Prof. Kobi Rosenblum of the Sagol Department of Neurobiology at the University of Haifa, in cooperation with the Riken Institute, the leading brain research institute in Tokyo, the researchers demonstrate for the first time that there is a functional link between the two brain regions.

In the study the researchers sought to examine the relationship between the taste cortex (which is responsible for taste memory), and three different areas in the hippocampus: CA1, which is responsible for encoding the concept of space (where we are located); DG, the area responsible for encoding the time relationship between events; and CA3, responsible for filling in missing information. To do this the researchers took ordinary mice and mice that were genetically engineered by their Japanese colleagues such that these three areas of the brain functioned normally but were lacking plasticity, which did not allow new memories reliant on them to be created.

“In brain research, the manipulation we do must be very delicate and precise, otherwise the changes can make the entire experiment irrelevant to proving or refuting the research hypothesis,” said Prof. Rosenblum.

The mice were exposed to two new tastes, one that caused stomach pains (to mimic exposure to toxic food) and another that didn’t cause that feeling. By comparing the two groups it emerged that when the new taste was not accompanied by an association with toxic food, there was no difference between the normal mice and those whose various functional areas in the hippocampus didn’t allow plasticity. But when the taste caused a negative feeling, there was clear involvement of the CA1 area, which is responsible for encoding the space.

“The significance of this is that the moment we go back to the same place at which we experienced the taste associated with a bad feeling, subconsciously the negative memory will be much stronger than if we come to taste the same taste in a totally different place,” explained Prof. Rosenblum. Similarly, the DG area, which is responsible for encoding the time between incidents, was involved the more time that passed between the new taste and the stomach discomfort. “This means that even during a simple associative taste, the brain operates the hippocampus to produce an integrated experience that includes general information about the time between events and their location,” he said.

The findings, which were recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, expose the complexity and richness of the simple sensory experiences that are engraved in our brains and that in most cases we aren’t even aware of. Moreover, the study can help explain behavioral results and the difficulty in producing memories when certain areas of the brain become dysfunctional following and illness or accident. The better we understand the encoding of simple sensory experiences in the brain and the link between the feeling, time and place of the experiences; we will better understand the complex process of creating memories and storing them in our brains.

neuromorphogenesis:

Sleeping brains can process and respond to words

Talking in your sleep might be annoying, but listening may yet prove useful. Researchers have shown that sleeping brains not only recognise words, but can also categorize them and respond in a previously defined way. This could one day help us learn more efficiently.

Sleep appears to render most of us dead to the world, our senses temporarily suspended, but sleep researchers know this is a misleading impression.

For instance, a study published in 2012 showed that sleeping people can learn to associate specific sounds and smells. Other work has demonstrated that presenting sounds or smells during sleep boosts performance on memory tasks – providing the sensory cues were also present during the initial learning.

Cat or hat?

Now it seems the capabilities of sleeping brains stretch even further. A team led by Sid Kouider from the Ecole Normale Supérieur in Paris trained 18 volunteers to classify spoken words as either animal or object by pressing buttons with their right or left hand.

Brain activity was recorded using EEG, allowing the researchers to measure the telltale spikes in activity that indicate the volunteers were preparing to move one of their hands. Since each hand is controlled by the motor cortex on the opposite side of the brain, these brainwaves can be matched to the intended hand just by looking at which side of the motor cortex is active.

Once the volunteers had repeated the task enough times for the process to become automatic, they were taken to a bed in a dark room. Here, they were instructed to continue the task as they drifted off to sleep.

Once the EEG recording confirmed they were asleep, the researchers presented the volunteers with a new set of words. The volunteers brains’ continued to respond in the same way – preparing to make the movement appropriate to each word’s category, even though they were no longer moving

their hands. Fresh words were introduced to ensure that the volunteers were still analysing the words’ meanings rather than merely responding to learned associations.

Automatic for the people

"This opens the door to a lot of questions about how much linguistic processing happens during sleep," says Ken Paller at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who is investigating whether it is possible to implant false memories during sleep. “That’s unexplored territory.”

Kouider suggests this unconscious processing is possible because the task can be automated in a way that bypasses the prefrontal cortex, a region known to be heavily suppressed during sleep. “When you sleep, some brain regions sleep, while others remain totally awake,” he says. “Sleep is much more local than previously believed.”

This hints at what the limitations of unconscious processing might be. The prefrontal cortex is critical for executive functions such as planning, problem-solving and task-switching. “When you have two tasks you have to switch between, I’m not sure you could do that [in your sleep],” says Kouider.

On waking, the volunteers weren’t able to recall any of the words they processed while asleep but Kouider’s group is now investigating whether the approach can be extended so that new information is retained. “If you have a learning procedure, if it’s automatized enough, and if it’s simple, you might be able to learn it even during sleep,” he says.

The team is also investigating more complex linguistic processing. “We’re now looking at whether you can process a full sentence while sleeping, and detect whether it’s meaningful or not,” he says. “Or whether you can even pull out information relevant to the sleeper from a mixture of voices.”

Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.08.016

neuromorphogenesis:

Can Neuroscientists Improve Our Minds?
Can neuroscientists improve our minds? Steve M. Potter working at Georgia Institute of Technology thinks that external stimulation of our brains can help to solve numerous problems.
“It could quell our aggression, allow us to appreciate all people, and help us devise new technology: for global distribution of food, water, and energy; for preventing diseases and accidents; for dealing with natural disasters; for seeing both sides of every disagreement,” he says.
In fact, thousands of patients suffering from various mental diseases are already assisted by so called Deep Brain Stimulation devices. These implants normalize working of malfunctioning areas with the help of electrical impulses. Although this technology is pretty primitive at the moment, technical improvements should allow to create more sensitive instruments, which will be able to adjust to individuals needs.
Impact of this technology on everyday life was neatly described by one of the patients of Belgian psychologist Paul Cosyns: “Well, Dr. Cosyns, when I’m at home doing my regular things, I’d prefer to have contact two, but if I’m going out for a party where I have to be on and, you know, I’m going to do a lot of socializing, I’d prefer contact four because it makes me revved up and more articulate and more creative.”
This technique is still in its infancy. But once it will be well developed, it can become useful not only for individuals having brain damages, but also for those, who want to increase their mental abilities.
Neural activities are usually altered using electric signals. However, different ways of regulation are available and advanced. Most promising developments are done in the field of optogenetics. Researchers are able to exert influence on neurons without direct surgical intervention.
“By splicing a gene from certain light-sensitive algae or bacteria into a neuron’s DNA, the neuron can be switched off and on at will, with light,” the scholar explains. This technique allows to target specific cell types. This is very important, because the brain is not a homogeneous, but rather heterogeneous system, which is constructed from different neurons doing various tasks.
“It is exciting to imagine these technologies making the transition from clinical treatments for diseased and disabled people, to enhancements for all of us. This is as inevitable as space travel was for Jules Verne,” Potter says.
Article: Potter, S. M., 2013, Better Minds: Cognitive Enhancement in the 21st Century. In D. Bulatov (Ed.), Evolution Haute Couture: Art and Science in the Post-biological age, Part 2 – Theory, pp. 304-319, Kalingrad: National Center for Contemporary Arts, source link.

neuromorphogenesis:

Can Neuroscientists Improve Our Minds?

Can neuroscientists improve our minds? Steve M. Potter working at Georgia Institute of Technology thinks that external stimulation of our brains can help to solve numerous problems.

“It could quell our aggression, allow us to appreciate all people, and help us devise new technology: for global distribution of food, water, and energy; for preventing diseases and accidents; for dealing with natural disasters; for seeing both sides of every disagreement,” he says.

In fact, thousands of patients suffering from various mental diseases are already assisted by so called Deep Brain Stimulation devices. These implants normalize working of malfunctioning areas with the help of electrical impulses. Although this technology is pretty primitive at the moment, technical improvements should allow to create more sensitive instruments, which will be able to adjust to individuals needs.

Impact of this technology on everyday life was neatly described by one of the patients of Belgian psychologist Paul Cosyns: “Well, Dr. Cosyns, when I’m at home doing my regular things, I’d prefer to have contact two, but if I’m going out for a party where I have to be on and, you know, I’m going to do a lot of socializing, I’d prefer contact four because it makes me revved up and more articulate and more creative.”

This technique is still in its infancy. But once it will be well developed, it can become useful not only for individuals having brain damages, but also for those, who want to increase their mental abilities.

Neural activities are usually altered using electric signals. However, different ways of regulation are available and advanced. Most promising developments are done in the field of optogenetics. Researchers are able to exert influence on neurons without direct surgical intervention.

“By splicing a gene from certain light-sensitive algae or bacteria into a neuron’s DNA, the neuron can be switched off and on at will, with light,” the scholar explains. This technique allows to target specific cell types. This is very important, because the brain is not a homogeneous, but rather heterogeneous system, which is constructed from different neurons doing various tasks.

“It is exciting to imagine these technologies making the transition from clinical treatments for diseased and disabled people, to enhancements for all of us. This is as inevitable as space travel was for Jules Verne,” Potter says.

Article: Potter, S. M., 2013, Better Minds: Cognitive Enhancement in the 21st Century. In D. Bulatov (Ed.), Evolution Haute Couture: Art and Science in the Post-biological age, Part 2 – Theory, pp. 304-319, Kalingrad: National Center for Contemporary Arts, source link.

neuromorphogenesis:

How to treat your brain during revision time
If you’re a student, you rely on one brain function above all others: memory.
These days, we understand more about the structure of memory than we ever have before, so we can find the best techniques for training your brain to hang on to as much information as possible. The process depends on the brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to reorganise itself throughout your life by breaking and forming new connections between its billions of cells.
How does it work? Information is transmitted by brain cells called neurons. When you learn something new, a group of neurons activate in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. It’s like a pattern of light bulbs turning on.
Your hippocampus is forced to store many new patterns every day. This increases hugely when you are revising. Provided with the right trigger, the hippocampus should be able to retrieve any pattern. But if it keeps getting new information, the overworked brain might go wrong. That’s what happens when you think you’ve committed a new fact to memory, only to find 15 minutes later that it’s disappeared again.
So what’s the best way to revise? Here are seven top tips to get information into your brain and keep it there.
Forget about initial letters
Teachers often urge students to make up mnemonics – sentences based on the initial letters of items you’re trying to remember. Trouble is, they help you remember the order, but not the names. The mnemonic Kings Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach can help you recall the order of taxonomy in biology (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) but that’s only helpful if you’re given the names of the ranks.
The mnemonic is providing you with a cue but, if you haven’t memorised the names, the information you want to recall is not there. You’re just giving your overflowing hippocampus yet another pattern of activity to store and retrieve.
Repeat yourself
Pathways between neurons can be strengthened over time. Simple repetition – practising retrieving a memory over and over again – is the best form of consolidating the pattern.
Use science to help you retrieve info
Science tells us the ideal time to revise what you’ve learned is just before you’re about to forget it. And because memories get stronger the more you retrieve them, you should wait exponentially longer each time – after a few minutes, then a few hours, then a day, then a few days. This technique is known as spaced repetition.
This also explains why you forget things so quickly after a week of cramming for an exam. Because the exponential curve of memory retrieval does not continue, the process reverses and within a few weeks, you have forgotten everything.
Take regular breaks
Breaks are important to minimise interference. When your hippocampus is forced to store many new (and often similar) patterns in a short space of time, it can get them jumbled up.
The best example of this is when you get a new telephone number. Your old number is still so well-entrenched in your memory that remembering the new one is a nightmare. It’s even worse if the new one has a few similarities to the old.
Plan your revision so you can take breaks and revise what you’ve just learned before moving on to anything new.
Avoid distractions
Attention is the key to memorising. By choosing to focus on something, you give it a personal meaning that makes it easier to remember. In fact, most of our problems when it comes to revision have very little to do with the brain’s capacity for remembering things; we just struggle to devote our full attention to the task in hand.
Playing music while revising will make your task harder, because any speech-like sounds, even at low volume, will automatically use up part of the brain’s attention capacity.
Sleep is vital
We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping and it’s never as important as during revision time. Sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation – this is when the brain backs up short-term patterns and creates long-term memories. The process is believed to occur during deep sleep, when the hippocampal neurons pass the patterns of activity to another part of the brain called the neocortex, which is responsible for language and the generation of motor commands.
Past research in Nature Neuroscience shows how memories are decluttered and irrelevant information is deleted during this process. This results in the important memories (the pathways that have been strengthened through repetition) becoming easier to access.
Control your emotions
We remember emotionally charged events far better than others, and this is especially the case if the emotion was a positive one. It is not always possible to have warm feelings about your revision, but if you can associate a particular fact with a visual, auditory or emotional experience from the past, then you have a better chance of remembering it, as you have created multiple pathways for retrieval.
Try to reduce anxiety, because it uses up working memory, leaving a much smaller capacity available for processing and encoding new information.

neuromorphogenesis:

How to treat your brain during revision time

If you’re a student, you rely on one brain function above all others: memory.

These days, we understand more about the structure of memory than we ever have before, so we can find the best techniques for training your brain to hang on to as much information as possible. The process depends on the brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to reorganise itself throughout your life by breaking and forming new connections between its billions of cells.

How does it work? Information is transmitted by brain cells called neurons. When you learn something new, a group of neurons activate in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. It’s like a pattern of light bulbs turning on.

Your hippocampus is forced to store many new patterns every day. This increases hugely when you are revising. Provided with the right trigger, the hippocampus should be able to retrieve any pattern. But if it keeps getting new information, the overworked brain might go wrong. That’s what happens when you think you’ve committed a new fact to memory, only to find 15 minutes later that it’s disappeared again.

So what’s the best way to revise? Here are seven top tips to get information into your brain and keep it there.

Forget about initial letters

Teachers often urge students to make up mnemonics – sentences based on the initial letters of items you’re trying to remember. Trouble is, they help you remember the order, but not the names. The mnemonic Kings Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach can help you recall the order of taxonomy in biology (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) but that’s only helpful if you’re given the names of the ranks.

The mnemonic is providing you with a cue but, if you haven’t memorised the names, the information you want to recall is not there. You’re just giving your overflowing hippocampus yet another pattern of activity to store and retrieve.

Repeat yourself

Pathways between neurons can be strengthened over time. Simple repetition – practising retrieving a memory over and over again – is the best form of consolidating the pattern.

Use science to help you retrieve info

Science tells us the ideal time to revise what you’ve learned is just before you’re about to forget it. And because memories get stronger the more you retrieve them, you should wait exponentially longer each time – after a few minutes, then a few hours, then a day, then a few days. This technique is known as spaced repetition.

This also explains why you forget things so quickly after a week of cramming for an exam. Because the exponential curve of memory retrieval does not continue, the process reverses and within a few weeks, you have forgotten everything.

Take regular breaks

Breaks are important to minimise interference. When your hippocampus is forced to store many new (and often similar) patterns in a short space of time, it can get them jumbled up.

The best example of this is when you get a new telephone number. Your old number is still so well-entrenched in your memory that remembering the new one is a nightmare. It’s even worse if the new one has a few similarities to the old.

Plan your revision so you can take breaks and revise what you’ve just learned before moving on to anything new.

Avoid distractions

Attention is the key to memorising. By choosing to focus on something, you give it a personal meaning that makes it easier to remember. In fact, most of our problems when it comes to revision have very little to do with the brain’s capacity for remembering things; we just struggle to devote our full attention to the task in hand.

Playing music while revising will make your task harder, because any speech-like sounds, even at low volume, will automatically use up part of the brain’s attention capacity.

Sleep is vital

We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping and it’s never as important as during revision time. Sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation – this is when the brain backs up short-term patterns and creates long-term memories. The process is believed to occur during deep sleep, when the hippocampal neurons pass the patterns of activity to another part of the brain called the neocortex, which is responsible for language and the generation of motor commands.

Past research in Nature Neuroscience shows how memories are decluttered and irrelevant information is deleted during this process. This results in the important memories (the pathways that have been strengthened through repetition) becoming easier to access.

Control your emotions

We remember emotionally charged events far better than others, and this is especially the case if the emotion was a positive one. It is not always possible to have warm feelings about your revision, but if you can associate a particular fact with a visual, auditory or emotional experience from the past, then you have a better chance of remembering it, as you have created multiple pathways for retrieval.

Try to reduce anxiety, because it uses up working memory, leaving a much smaller capacity available for processing and encoding new information.

➜ Consciousness is constructed through a discrete set of activity spaces.

neuroticthought:

by Deric Bownds

This fascinating work by Hudson et al. shows that as the brain recovers consciousness from a perturbation such as anesthesia, it does not follows a steady and monotonic path towards consciousness, but rather passes through several discrete activity states. They performed a principal component analysis on local field potentials recorded with electrodes inserted into rat anterior cingulate and retrosplenial cortices and the intralaminar thalamus:

It is not clear how, after a large perturbation, the brain explores the vast space of potential neuronal activity states to recover those compatible with consciousness. Here, we analyze recovery from pharmacologically induced coma to show that neuronal activity en route to consciousness is confined to a low-dimensional subspace. In this subspace, neuronal activity forms discrete metastable states persistent on the scale of minutes. The network of transitions that links these metastable states is structured such that some states form hubs that connect groups of otherwise disconnected states. Although many paths through the network are possible, to ultimately enter the activity state compatible with consciousness, the brain must first pass through these hubs in an orderly fashion. This organization of metastable states, along with dramatic dimensionality reduction, significantly simplifies the task of sampling the parameter space to recover the state consistent with wakefulness on a physiologically relevant timescale.

neuromorphogenesis:

Strange Findings on Comb Jellies Uproot Animal Family Tree

"It’s a paradox," said Leonid Moroz, a neurobiologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville and lead author of a paper in Nature about the biology of the comb jelly nervous system. “These are animals with a complex nervous system, but they basically use a completely different chemical language” from every other animal. “You have to explain it one way or another.”

The way Moroz explains it is with an evolutionary scenario—one that’s at odds with traditional accounts of animal evolution.

Moroz and his colleagues have been studying comb jellies, whose scientific name is ctenophores (pronounced TEN-o-fors), for many years, beginning with the sequencing of the genome of one species, the Pacific sea gooseberry, in 2007. The sea gooseberry has 19,523 genes, about the same number as are found in the human genome.

The scientists enlarged their library to the genes of ten other species of comb jelly (out of the 150 or so species known to exist) and compared them to the analogous genes in other animals. And when they looked at the genes involved in the nervous system, they found that many considered essential for the development and function of neurons were simply missing in the comb jelly.

Some of those missing genes are involved in building neurons in embryos. The cells in any animal start out in the embryo as stem cells, looking pretty much identical to one another and capable of turning into any particular type of cell. Only later in embryonic development do some stem cells switch on specific genes that transform them into neurons. This process is much the same in humans as it is in flies, slugs, and just about every other animal with a nervous system.

But comb jellies, Moroz and his colleagues found, lack those neuron-building genes altogether. Which means that comb jelly embryos must build their neurons from a different set of instructions—instructions no one yet understands.

Nor do comb jellies use the standard complement of neurotransmitters found in other animals, the scientists found. The genes for most of the neurotransmitters in other animals are either missing or silent in the comb jelly—except for one, the gene for the neurotransmitter glutamate. No wonder Moroz likes to call these creatures “aliens of the sea.”

Instead of the typical neurotransmitter genes, the scientists found, comb jellies produce a huge diversity of receptors on the surface of their neurons. Moroz can’t say yet what the receptors are doing there, but he says they’re probably grabbing neurotransmitters, maybe as many as 50 to 100 neurotransmitters in all (comparable to the number of neurotransmitters in the human brain).

Rewriting Evolutionary History

The unique nature of the comb jelly nervous system led the Florida scientists to hypothesize a new evolutionary history for these marine animals, which they laid out in the Nature paper. The earliest animals, according to this new theory, had no nervous system at all. The cells of these early animals could sense their environment directly, and could send signals directly to neighboring cells.

Millions of years later, those signals and receptors became the raw material for the nervous system. But its evolution, according to Moroz, took place in two separate lineages. One led to today’s ctenophores. The other led to all other animals with nervous systems—from jellyfish to us.

If there was indeed a parallel evolution with two separate lineages, the split would have happened long ago. Fossils that look a lot like modern-day ctenophores date back some 550 million years, making them among the oldest traces of complex animal life.

But precisely how and when the comb jelly split off from other animal lineages remains controversial. To draw the animal evolutionary tree, Moroz and his colleagues analyzed the similarity of DNA in different species. According to the authors, ctenophores belong to a lineage all their own that split off from the others at the tree’s base.

In finding that relationship, the new paper confirms the findings of a team led by Andy Baxevanis, head of the Computational Genomics Unit at the National Human Genome Research Institute, who arrived at a similar conclusion in December after sequencing the genome of another ctenophore species, the American comb jelly (Mnemiopsis leidyi). “You couldn’t ask for a better outcome,” he said about Moroz’s research. “It really shakes up how we think animal complexity evolved.”

Gert Woerheide, an evolutionary geobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, who was not involved in the research, agreed that Moroz and his colleagues have made a thorough case for their revised view of brain evolution. “I think, in this respect, this is a great paper,” he said.

But in terms of the actual shape of the animal family tree, Woerheide is less convinced. He isn’t sure that comb jellies branched off at the base of the tree, he said; sponges, for example, might have branched off first. In Woerheide’s view, the exact reconstruction of the tree reaching so far back in evolutionary history remains an open question.

No matter how the nervous systems of comb jellies evolved, though, everyone agrees that they are weird—and thus worth getting to know better. As Casey Dunn, an evolutionary biologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who was not involved in the research, pointed out, comb jellies are turning out to be “even more different from other animals than had previously been appreciated.”

neuromorphogenesis:

Our Subconscious Internal Reality
We live in automatic mode most of the time.
Our brain is the most complex structure. Throughout our lifespan—culminating in our mature years—our brain develops a working model of our reality. We live in our mind much more than in reality. The mind becomes so good at this that we live in an unconscious mode. Even if we think that we are making conscious decisions, they are not conscious in the way we understand it.
As we grow older we become more sophisticated at internalizing the world and learning to predict and anticipate changes. This is our model of the world and our sense of self. We get so good at this that we do this automatically all the time. It is not that we are not aware of what we are doing, it is that we become aware and respond after our unconscious mind has already determined it. John Bargh from Yale University has written extensively on the unconscious. He pushes for the concept of the unconscious determining decision-making. People often do not give much conscious thought to how they vote, what they buy, what they eat or the way they negotiate their daily life. Consciousness is an afterthought.
The world has always been very complex and we cannot deal with this complexity without shortcuts that our internal model of reality can create. We live within this model of the world. Our brain is complex enough to allow an internal representation of the world, and we live vicariously through this model. Chun Siong Soon and other scientists from Germany and Belgium have studied this phenomenon and measured in minute details when consciousness is brought into play within our internal world. They reported that areas in the brain initiate an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness. Our awareness seems to be an illusion of control, an after thought.
Writing more than three decades ago, Felicia Pratto discussed how we are constantly engaged in evaluating our immediate environments without being aware of the process, the outcome of the process, nor even of the stimuli we are faced with. Furthermore, she perceptively argues that it may be that we cannot control automatic evaluations, but they can influence our conscious experiences, including judgments, emotions, and attitudes.
Older adults are experts of this unconscious reality. Our brain has been designing these simulations of our immediate environment for many decades and it has become so good at it that we interact in our life in automatic most of the time. Most psychologists put this reliance on our internal world as a result of some diminished or compromised cognitive or recall ability.  A reliance on “gist”memory is perhaps older adults reliance on their very complex internal representation rather than the unique details of the immediate environment. This works well until we have a trauma. A dissonance between the reality and the internal model. Then we wake up. We switch the automatic pilot off (or it is switched off) and we have to figure how to engage in our immediate environment consciously. That is when we face problems.

neuromorphogenesis:

Our Subconscious Internal Reality

We live in automatic mode most of the time.

Our brain is the most complex structure. Throughout our lifespan—culminating in our mature years—our brain develops a working model of our reality. We live in our mind much more than in reality. The mind becomes so good at this that we live in an unconscious mode. Even if we think that we are making conscious decisions, they are not conscious in the way we understand it.

As we grow older we become more sophisticated at internalizing the world and learning to predict and anticipate changes. This is our model of the world and our sense of self. We get so good at this that we do this automatically all the time. It is not that we are not aware of what we are doing, it is that we become aware and respond after our unconscious mind has already determined it. John Bargh from Yale University has written extensively on the unconscious. He pushes for the concept of the unconscious determining decision-making. People often do not give much conscious thought to how they vote, what they buy, what they eat or the way they negotiate their daily life. Consciousness is an afterthought.

The world has always been very complex and we cannot deal with this complexity without shortcuts that our internal model of reality can create. We live within this model of the world. Our brain is complex enough to allow an internal representation of the world, and we live vicariously through this model. Chun Siong Soon and other scientists from Germany and Belgium have studied this phenomenon and measured in minute details when consciousness is brought into play within our internal world. They reported that areas in the brain initiate an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness. Our awareness seems to be an illusion of control, an after thought.

Writing more than three decades ago, Felicia Pratto discussed how we are constantly engaged in evaluating our immediate environments without being aware of the process, the outcome of the process, nor even of the stimuli we are faced with. Furthermore, she perceptively argues that it may be that we cannot control automatic evaluations, but they can influence our conscious experiences, including judgments, emotions, and attitudes.

Older adults are experts of this unconscious reality. Our brain has been designing these simulations of our immediate environment for many decades and it has become so good at it that we interact in our life in automatic most of the time. Most psychologists put this reliance on our internal world as a result of some diminished or compromised cognitive or recall ability.  A reliance on “gist”memory is perhaps older adults reliance on their very complex internal representation rather than the unique details of the immediate environment. This works well until we have a trauma. A dissonance between the reality and the internal model. Then we wake up. We switch the automatic pilot off (or it is switched off) and we have to figure how to engage in our immediate environment consciously. That is when we face problems.

neuromorphogenesis:

How to treat your brain during revision time
If you’re a student, you rely on one brain function above all others: memory.
These days, we understand more about the structure of memory than we ever have before, so we can find the best techniques for training your brain to hang on to as much information as possible. The process depends on the brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to reorganise itself throughout your life by breaking and forming new connections between its billions of cells.
How does it work? Information is transmitted by brain cells called neurons. When you learn something new, a group of neurons activate in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. It’s like a pattern of light bulbs turning on.
Your hippocampus is forced to store many new patterns every day. This increases hugely when you are revising. Provided with the right trigger, the hippocampus should be able to retrieve any pattern. But if it keeps getting new information, the overworked brain might go wrong. That’s what happens when you think you’ve committed a new fact to memory, only to find 15 minutes later that it’s disappeared again.
So what’s the best way to revise? Here are seven top tips to get information into your brain and keep it there.
Forget about initial letters
Teachers often urge students to make up mnemonics – sentences based on the initial letters of items you’re trying to remember. Trouble is, they help you remember the order, but not the names. The mnemonic Kings Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach can help you recall the order of taxonomy in biology (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) but that’s only helpful if you’re given the names of the ranks.
The mnemonic is providing you with a cue but, if you haven’t memorised the names, the information you want to recall is not there. You’re just giving your overflowing hippocampus yet another pattern of activity to store and retrieve.
Repeat yourself
Pathways between neurons can be strengthened over time. Simple repetition – practising retrieving a memory over and over again – is the best form of consolidating the pattern.
Use science to help you retrieve info
Science tells us the ideal time to revise what you’ve learned is just before you’re about to forget it. And because memories get stronger the more you retrieve them, you should wait exponentially longer each time – after a few minutes, then a few hours, then a day, then a few days. This technique is known as spaced repetition.
This also explains why you forget things so quickly after a week of cramming for an exam. Because the exponential curve of memory retrieval does not continue, the process reverses and within a few weeks, you have forgotten everything.
Take regular breaks
Breaks are important to minimise interference. When your hippocampus is forced to store many new (and often similar) patterns in a short space of time, it can get them jumbled up.
The best example of this is when you get a new telephone number. Your old number is still so well-entrenched in your memory that remembering the new one is a nightmare. It’s even worse if the new one has a few similarities to the old.
Plan your revision so you can take breaks and revise what you’ve just learned before moving on to anything new.
Avoid distractions
Attention is the key to memorising. By choosing to focus on something, you give it a personal meaning that makes it easier to remember. In fact, most of our problems when it comes to revision have very little to do with the brain’s capacity for remembering things; we just struggle to devote our full attention to the task in hand.
Playing music while revising will make your task harder, because any speech-like sounds, even at low volume, will automatically use up part of the brain’s attention capacity.
Sleep is vital
We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping and it’s never as important as during revision time. Sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation – this is when the brain backs up short-term patterns and creates long-term memories. The process is believed to occur during deep sleep, when the hippocampal neurons pass the patterns of activity to another part of the brain called the neocortex, which is responsible for language and the generation of motor commands.
Past research in Nature Neuroscience shows how memories are decluttered and irrelevant information is deleted during this process. This results in the important memories (the pathways that have been strengthened through repetition) becoming easier to access.
Control your emotions
We remember emotionally charged events far better than others, and this is especially the case if the emotion was a positive one. It is not always possible to have warm feelings about your revision, but if you can associate a particular fact with a visual, auditory or emotional experience from the past, then you have a better chance of remembering it, as you have created multiple pathways for retrieval.
Try to reduce anxiety, because it uses up working memory, leaving a much smaller capacity available for processing and encoding new information.

neuromorphogenesis:

How to treat your brain during revision time

If you’re a student, you rely on one brain function above all others: memory.

These days, we understand more about the structure of memory than we ever have before, so we can find the best techniques for training your brain to hang on to as much information as possible. The process depends on the brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to reorganise itself throughout your life by breaking and forming new connections between its billions of cells.

How does it work? Information is transmitted by brain cells called neurons. When you learn something new, a group of neurons activate in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. It’s like a pattern of light bulbs turning on.

Your hippocampus is forced to store many new patterns every day. This increases hugely when you are revising. Provided with the right trigger, the hippocampus should be able to retrieve any pattern. But if it keeps getting new information, the overworked brain might go wrong. That’s what happens when you think you’ve committed a new fact to memory, only to find 15 minutes later that it’s disappeared again.

So what’s the best way to revise? Here are seven top tips to get information into your brain and keep it there.

Forget about initial letters

Teachers often urge students to make up mnemonics – sentences based on the initial letters of items you’re trying to remember. Trouble is, they help you remember the order, but not the names. The mnemonic Kings Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach can help you recall the order of taxonomy in biology (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) but that’s only helpful if you’re given the names of the ranks.

The mnemonic is providing you with a cue but, if you haven’t memorised the names, the information you want to recall is not there. You’re just giving your overflowing hippocampus yet another pattern of activity to store and retrieve.

Repeat yourself

Pathways between neurons can be strengthened over time. Simple repetition – practising retrieving a memory over and over again – is the best form of consolidating the pattern.

Use science to help you retrieve info

Science tells us the ideal time to revise what you’ve learned is just before you’re about to forget it. And because memories get stronger the more you retrieve them, you should wait exponentially longer each time – after a few minutes, then a few hours, then a day, then a few days. This technique is known as spaced repetition.

This also explains why you forget things so quickly after a week of cramming for an exam. Because the exponential curve of memory retrieval does not continue, the process reverses and within a few weeks, you have forgotten everything.

Take regular breaks

Breaks are important to minimise interference. When your hippocampus is forced to store many new (and often similar) patterns in a short space of time, it can get them jumbled up.

The best example of this is when you get a new telephone number. Your old number is still so well-entrenched in your memory that remembering the new one is a nightmare. It’s even worse if the new one has a few similarities to the old.

Plan your revision so you can take breaks and revise what you’ve just learned before moving on to anything new.

Avoid distractions

Attention is the key to memorising. By choosing to focus on something, you give it a personal meaning that makes it easier to remember. In fact, most of our problems when it comes to revision have very little to do with the brain’s capacity for remembering things; we just struggle to devote our full attention to the task in hand.

Playing music while revising will make your task harder, because any speech-like sounds, even at low volume, will automatically use up part of the brain’s attention capacity.

Sleep is vital

We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping and it’s never as important as during revision time. Sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation – this is when the brain backs up short-term patterns and creates long-term memories. The process is believed to occur during deep sleep, when the hippocampal neurons pass the patterns of activity to another part of the brain called the neocortex, which is responsible for language and the generation of motor commands.

Past research in Nature Neuroscience shows how memories are decluttered and irrelevant information is deleted during this process. This results in the important memories (the pathways that have been strengthened through repetition) becoming easier to access.

Control your emotions

We remember emotionally charged events far better than others, and this is especially the case if the emotion was a positive one. It is not always possible to have warm feelings about your revision, but if you can associate a particular fact with a visual, auditory or emotional experience from the past, then you have a better chance of remembering it, as you have created multiple pathways for retrieval.

Try to reduce anxiety, because it uses up working memory, leaving a much smaller capacity available for processing and encoding new information.

neuromorphogenesis:

How your brain works during meditation

Mindfulness. Zen. Acem. Meditation drumming. Chakra. Buddhist and transcendental meditation. There are countless ways of meditating, but the purpose behind them all remains basically the same: more peace, less stress, better concentration, greater self-awareness and better processing of thoughts and feelings.

But which of these techniques should a poor stressed-out wretch choose? What does the research say? Very little – at least until now.

A team of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Oslo and the University of Sydney is now working to determine how the brain works during different kinds of meditation.

Different meditation techniques can actually be divided into two main groups. One type is concentrative meditation, where the meditating person focuses attention on his or her breathing or on specific thoughts, and in doing so, suppresses other thoughts. The other type may be called nondirective meditation, where the person who is meditating effortlessly focuses on his or her breathing or on a meditation sound, but beyond that the mind is allowed to wander as it pleases. Some modern meditation methods are of this nondirective kind.

"No one knows how the brain works when you meditate. That is why I’d like to study it," says Jian Xu, who is a physician at St. Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, Norway and a researcher at the Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging at NTNU.

Two different ways to meditate

Fourteen people who had extensive experience with the Norwegian technique Acem meditation were tested in an MRI machine. In addition to simple resting, they undertook two different mental meditation activities, nondirective meditation and a more concentrative meditation task. The research team wanted to test people who were used to meditation because it meant fewer misunderstandings about what the subjects should actually be doing while they lay in the MRI machine.

The results were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Nondirective meditation led to higher activity than during rest in the part of the brain dedicated to processing self-related thoughts and feelings. When test subjects performed concentrative meditation, the activity in this part of the brain was almost the same as when they were just resting.

A place for the mind to rest

"I was surprised that the activity of the brain was greatest when the person’s thoughts wandered freely on their own, rather than when the brain worked to be more strongly focused," said Xu. "When the subjects stopped doing a specific task and were not really doing anything special, there was an increase in activity in the area of the brain where we process thoughts and feelings. It is described as a kind of resting network. And it was this area that was most active during nondirective meditation.”

Provides greater freedom for the brain

"The study indicates that nondirective meditation allows for more room to process memories and emotions than during concentrated meditation,” says Svend Davanger, a neuroscientist at the University of Oslo, and co-author of the study.

"This area of the brain has its highest activity when we rest. It represents a kind of basic operating system, a resting network that takes over when external tasks do not require our attention. It is remarkable that a mental task like nondirective meditation results in even higher activity in this network than regular rest,” says Davanger.

Meditating researchers

Most of the research team behind the study does not practice meditation, although three do: Professors Are Holen and Øyvind Ellingsen from NTNU and Professor Svend Davanger from the University of Oslo.

Acem meditation is a technique that falls under the category of nondirective meditation. Davanger believes that good research depends on having a team that can combine personal experience with meditation with a critical attitude towards results.

"Meditation is an activity that is practiced by millions of people. It is important that we find out how this really works. In recent years there has been a sharp increase in international research on meditation. Several prestigious universities in the US spend a great deal of money to research in the field. So I think it is important that we are also active," says Davanger.

Image1: Changes in Brain Activity in IBMT Practitioners

Image2: The left images show the brain during concentrative meditation, while images to the right show the brain during nondirective meditation. Credit: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

➜ Controlling Self-Awareness During Sleep

Changing neural activity in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain can cause a sleeper to become aware of her dreaming state, a study shows. 

By Anna Azvolinsky

Most dreams occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phase. During REM, a sleeper is generally not aware she’s dreaming and experiences her dream as reality. This is thought to occur when certain parts of the prefrontal cortex—linked to awareness and higher cognitive function—are inactive. Some people also experience lucid dreams; they are aware that they are dreaming and may be able to modify their dreams’ outcomes. Unlike during REM sleep, parts of the prefrontal cortex have been previously shown to be active during the more self-aware lucid dreaming state.

Psychologist Ursula Voss at Germany’s Goethe University Frankfurt and her colleagues have now linked neuronal activity in the frontal and temporal brain lobes with lucid dreaming. In a study published today (May 11) in Nature Neuroscience, they report having been able to induce lucid dreams by applying low-current stimulation to the scalps of volunteers who were sleeping.

“This is an exciting study that demonstrates causality,” said Ryota Kanai, cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Sussex in the U.K., who was not involved in the study. “When a certain frequency of electric current is applied to the brain, this study shows that lucid dreaming can be induced.”

The researchers applied mild current at different frequencies to frontal and temporal brain positions across the scalps of 27 sleeping volunteers using a noninvasive technique called transcranial alternating current stimulation. This stimulation does not disturb sleepers; it modulates the resting potential of neurons, but does not cause an action potential, according to study coauthor Michael Nitsche, a professor of clinical neurophysiology at the University Medical Center in Göttingen, Germany, who helped develop the technique.

All 27 study participants were selected because they had not previously experienced lucid dreaming. The researchers stimulated sleeping participants with currents after two to three minutes of uninterrupted REM, about half-way through the night. They repeated the double-blind experiments on the same sleepers for up to four nights. After each night’s sleep, the participants immediately filled out dream reports including a quantitative sleep-consciousness questionnaire.

The authors found that only stimulation at a range of frequencies between 25 Hz  and 40 Hz—the so-called gamma frequency range—induced further gamma frequency activity in the frontal and temporal lobes. This gamma frequency activity correlated with lucid dreaming, as reported by the participants.

“I did not have much hope that this experiment would actually work,” said Voss. “For us, it was surprising that you can actually force the brain to take on a new brain rhythm—that the brain really adapts and the neurons begin to fire at the new frequency with just this mild stimulation.”

Martin Dresler, a neuroscientist at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour in Nijmegen, the Netherlands—who studies sleep-related memory but was not involved in the current study—was also surprised by the strong effects of the stimulation on the subjects’ consciousness that the researchers found. “It’s quite hard to get participants to a lucid sleep state in the laboratory,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist. “These findings are therefore very promising for lucid dreaming research in general, and for potential clinical applications.”

One potential application of this type of brain stimulation is to treat patients suffering from delusions and hallucinations. “The level of consciousness of these individuals may be relatively similar to those of healthy individuals in a REM sleep dream state in which the state seems to be reality,” said Nitsche. “Inducing what is known as a secondary mode of consciousness in which one is self-aware and capable of abstract thinking, may be useful for those suffering from altered reality states.”

Voss and Nitsche now plan to study the effects of these stimulations on waking people.

Dresler and Kanai cautioned that the long-term effects of even gentle electrical brain stimulation are not yet known. “It’s a controversial area, but it’s really exciting that it looks like it’s possible to induce lucid dreams by brain stimulation,” said Kanai.

U. Voss et al., “Induction of self awareness in dreams through frontal low current stimulation of gamma activity,” Nature Neuroscience, doi:10.1038/nn.3719, 2014.

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