Posts Tagged ‘Neuroscience 2008’

Neuroscience 2008: Let’s Zero in on Core Concepts 4, 5, and 6!

November 26, 2008

The Platform: The Society for Neuroscience: 8 Core Concepts

The Twitter: Hey! Do you know the core concepts of neuroscience?

The Big Idea: Teach 8 core concepts of neuroscience and watch for the tranformation of science and culture at large!

transparent_sfnlogo2As previously noted on this blog, The Society for Neuroscience has a noble vision: Identify 8 core neuroscience concepts, teach those concepts (and related principles) to children and teens and imagine a future redefined by a new and inspired league of young brain scientists. “Life should be so good,” as my grandmother use to say.

For neuroscience to compete with the pop wizardry of computer tech, it will take more than mere naming of concepts. I’ll be on the look out for some nifty interactive gizmos and gadgets, the toys and games that drive the concepts home and park them directly in front of the theater of the young mind. Inventors, designers, artists take note!

Since Core Concepts 1, 2, and 3 have been previously noted or inferred in this blog, (for review see below*), I’d like to comment directly on Core Concepts 4, 5, and 6.

Core Concepts 4, 5, and 6 are particularly interesting for those with general interest in brain matters and brain fitness and for those of us who teach or work in creative fields:

4. Life experiences change the nervous system.

5. Life arises as the brain reasons, plans and solves problems.

6. The brain makes it possible to communicate knowledge through language.

jpuzbaw

O.K., is it me or do other readers detect the over arching “ratio-empirical” bias to these general concepts? Granted they’ve been conceived by scientists for those studying science. But we’re talking about the whole brain and central nervous system, the brain and spine that keeps our heart and liver pumping, that loves, invents games, pretends, dreams, dances, tells stories in pictures, shares feelings with flowers or with something more gross like dumping garbage in your older brother or boyfriend’s bed! I think what we have here is a conflation of brain and mind, especially, the Enlightenment paradigm for the rational, speaking and writing mind.

Core Concept 5 is a case in point: “Intelligence arise as the brain reasons, plans….” Wait! When did the brain suddenly show itself to be adapted only to analytical practices of difference-detecting leading to logic and planning? What happened to the idea of “multiple intelligence” put forward by Harvard prof. Howard Gardner? What about soma-sensory intelligence? Auditory signals? Visual Icons?images1Granted, one needs to read further to discover that Concept 5 includes human perception in the process of arising intelligence, e.g.: “senses, emotions, instincts and remembered experience” are counted as being relevant for information processing. Even consciousness gets its due: “Consciousness depends on the normal activity of the brain.” Fair enough, especially if one is learning about traumatic brain injury and coma.

Yet for those who read deeply into neuroscience literature and into other cultural models of consciousness, remember Gerald Edelman’s argument for the limits of philosophic debate on consciousness. Seems SfN has transgressed the limits and put the question back on the table.

Concept 4 (Life changes the NS): This concept is easier to digest if only due to the increasing press on neuroplasticity. Here we are taught to recognize the interactivity of nature/nurture, to awaken to the role our own lives play in developing nerve cells, to recognize how we affect the health of cells by way of stress and trauma and how we can generate neural growth through our own efforts. A curious notation: “Neuronal death is a natural part of development and aging.” For the anti-aging activists like Aubrey de Grey, this will surely be contested.

And Concept 6? (Communicating knowlege through language) ….What can I say?

Speaking on behalf of the somanauts, artists and designers I’ve taught for over 15 years, I have to wonder where scientists have been during during the culture and cyber wars of the last century? Were they not told of the departmental battles that dared to push “knowledge” and “language” into the larger domains of cultural “meaning” and “sign systems?” Are they simply unaware of pertinent research conducted in fields that stretch from info technology to cultural anthropology?

Allow me then to urge science and all other educators who plan to use the core concepts and who wish to avoid the built in biases, to write to SfN requesting clarification: http:// http://www.sfn.org

Better yet, form study groups and invite a semiotician, a designer, a choreographer, a cultural ethnographer or an intellectual historian — any one who can offer an expanded view of actual brain/mind function in the world!

Finally, I welcome your thoughts and comments and will gladly refer you to texts and topics that unpack these thorny issues. And Look for my comments in days to come on Core Concepts 7 & 8

I remain synaptically yours,

Dr. G. sending breath your way

* Core Concepts 1, 2, 3 (see blogs Nov 17 and 18)

1. The Brain is the body’s most complex organ.

2. Neurons communicate using electrical and chemical signals.

3. Genetically determined circuits are the foundation of the nervous system.

Neuroscience 2008: We Sleep to Remember!

November 19, 2008

The Twitter: “We remember to sleep so we can sleep to remember!” — William Fishbein

The Big Idea: Sleep is a prime protagonist in the story of neurogenesis!

Sleep. Aaah, what a beautiful thing!

Yet when we mere mortals are deprived of our zzzzss, we get cranky and frustrated, if not downright nasty in negotiating simple tasks like adding numbers on a grocery bill or attempting to avoid freeway gridlock by rerouting a shorter drive home! Talking to a local Starbucks barista, I learned having no sleep is “way worse than getting sick!”

I’m not sure researchers at Neuroscience 2008 have tackled the nuances of that claim, but of those who are working in the sleep research field, sleep in all of its blessed and disturbed varieties –uninterrupted, interrupted, fragmented – along with napping, is being explored with new enthusiasm.

Looking back on his long career in sleep research, William Fishbein at City University in NY, remarked how far and expanded the field of sleep research had become. Speaking on a press panel of distinguished sleep researchers, Fishbein presented data that pointed up to our neuro-cognitive need for naps. What do naps actually accomplish? Fishbein and colleagues showed that a snooze siesta reinforces the neural networks formed during morning hours devoted to relational (or associative) learning!

As previously reported on this blogsite, napping has moved front and center into the discussion of high performance and human productivity. Fishbein’s research adds to the richly layered network of findings that suggest memory, decision-making, rote skill performance and the substrate of neurogenesis are enhanced with a rested brain, depleted with a tired brain.

The take home message? Sleep, like oxygen, is necessary for growth and survival of the human brain/body on Planet Earth!

Reporting from D.C. this is Dr. G. wishing you an uninterrupted good night’s rest.

Neuroscience 2008: Nature/Nuture and Neuro-Plasticity!

November 18, 2008

The Twitter Nurture your Nature!

The Big Idea: Neuro-Plasticity is critical to neurogenesis (But when and how?)

Allow me to start with a question:  How many of you really believe that “exercise” can change your brain?  How many of you have already adapted yourselves to a non-fast food diet of low fat, low sugar, low volume eating lifestyle? And how many of you take a nap to replenish memory of all those nifty concepts and technical skills you learned in the early a.m.?

Well if you were a fly on the wall in any of the Neuroscience 2008 sessions (rather than submitted to a lab of brain probe research!), you would detect a consistent pattern in neuroscience research: Nature and Nurture are inextricably linked — so much so as to push us to think why did we ever think otherwise? Or to put it another way, news from the brain labs reinforces what we’ve learned from cardiac research and training grounds, namely: Lifestyle can make or break one’s future in obtaining a clear mind and good and healthy longevity!

Having the opportunity to meet and listen to neuroscientists who are paving the way to our understanding of both the normal and diseased brain and body has pointed up to some insights worth sharing:

1. Scaling the practice of Brain Mapping:  When it comes to neuroscience as a research area of biotechnology, the bio here means both neuroanatomical, neurochemical and neurogenetic levels of inquiry and analysis.  For the lay reader, this means brain research is scaled and mapped from the macro to the micro levels of network analysis.

2.  Neuro-Plasticity, like comedy is all about timing! Different levels of circuit analysis open doors to understanding the phenomenon of neuro-plasticity — best periods, best practices, and the conditions when “too much plasticity” appears implicated as in cases of schizophrenia.   Given the trendiness that has brought neuro-plasticity into critical mass awareness, scientists at this conference were quite clear if not humble in making claims for the play-doh capacity of the brain.  Today’s press conference on the developing brain drove home this message in this way:

Animal studies, such as the songbird studies run by Dr. Allison Doupe (see previous blog), point to a critical period for neuro-plasticity to express itself in learning and memory.

Dr. Takao Hench* reinforces Doupe’s perspective, noting if the critical period is disturbed in embryonic development, then plasticity is interrupted.   Hench studies proteins in embryonic head development, finding their importance in developing visual function and spinal chord development.

No doubt, the evidence for embryonic and childhood neuro-plasticity opens new doors to asking how and when new neuronal landscapes are formed in later periods of life.  The aging brain question on the table?  Does the brain recapitulate earlier strategies for neuroplasticity in the adult stage and to what degree?  (All you meditators out there: Think cultivating beginner’s mind.)

3.  Nurture your Nature: With the advent of genetics,  neuroscience has leaped into a new age of epigenetic studies:  This may be one of the areas that speaks directly to how we as non-scientists can make sense of brain science in terms of our own daily lives.   To give you a quick brief, think of the old nature/nurture argument, seemingly put to rest by the genome mapping project and the insights scientists have had regarding the role “environment” plays in shaping the genetic expression.

At Neuroscience 2008, several scientists were on hand to discuss their epigenetic research highlighting the effects of lifestyle and cultural habit on the brain as seen at the level of genetic expression.  Let’s be clear here, the expression is not seen at the level of change in DNA structure but in the level of “gene expression.”  For you genomic neophytes out there, I came to understand this by way of a great explanation offered by Dr. Quincy LaPlant who noted his use of microray analysis to distinguish between DNA sequence and sequence organization.

The long and short of this:  The implications of lifestyle cannot be under-estimated:  Stress, early childhood abuse and neglect, high-fat diets all manifest as modifers the brain at the level of genetic organization, the level of brain function, and the level of human experience!!!!!

Epigenetics — keep your eye on that term!

More tomorrow….

Until then, conference tip for brain fitness:  “We remember to sleep so that we can sleep to remember!” (William Fishbein)

*Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard University

Neuroscience 2008: The map is the territory…at least for now.

November 17, 2008

The Platform: Neuroscience 2008, Washington D.C., Convention Center, Day 2

The Twitter: Systems analysis comes to Neuroscience!

The Big Idea: Brain Maps and Brain Circuits Open the Doors to Studies in Neuroplasticity!

If there is a primary metaphor, a picture which best communicates the paradigm shift in neuroscience, it is the image of “mapping.” Makes sense, right? Maps, as we all know, hail back to some of the earliest days of navigational science, when cartography was as much a visual art as an artifact of empirical science.

old_world_map_21

Today, mapping along with circuits, networks, and other info-tech terms have entered the lexicon of neuroscientific thinking — and to that end, has in part redefined how neuroscientists study the neurogenetic and neurochemical operations of the brain. No doubt, the cyberpunks and digerati reading this blog do so in complete and utter wonder. Yes, it seems a collective head scratching is in order when putting the neuroscience paradigm shift in context to the cybernetic revolution named nearly sixty or so years prior. Then again, as historian Thomas Kuhn reminds us, glacial is the speed of great scientific revolutions.

sfnphoto2Surveying the mob scene at Neuroscience 2008 and listening to some of the symposia lectures, I suspect the shift has come with a generation of researchers who grew up on Atari and first generation X Boxes, who have played with “code” on Second Life, or who have picked up a thing or two from grad students who majored in 3-D modeling before they decided to switch to neuroscience. It might also be the case that the cognitive systems science work of Maturana and Varela, the Neural Darwinist writings of Gerald Edelman and new biotech imaging tools have made their way into labs throughout the world. These are questions I will pose to the scientists and doctoral students during the next two days.

In the meantime, under the clear, shining light of brain circuit mapping, “epigenetics” and “neuroplasticity” have taken center stage in neurodevelopmental and neurochemical studies. There were some like Zack Lynch of NIO* who questioned a round table discussion of NIH directors regarding the future of government funding to these studies. Dr. Nora Volkow of the NIH Drug Abuse program was one who offered a particularly optimistic view stating, ‘Epigenetic evidence opens the doors to future studies in neuroplasticity’ — studies that can unlock the mysteries of how human experience actually modifies and shapes the genetic markers of brain development.

Yes, gang, it’s “the brain creates culture, culture creates the brain” argument rethought in neurogenetic and neurochemical terms. Seems we are back to talking about nature/nature once more.

I leave with one thought on brain mapping, rethinking the words of American philosopher Josiah Royce who is quoted as saying, “The map is not the territory.”

Well, at Neuroscience 2008, the map is the territory, at least for now.

From D.C. this is Dr. G, wish you good neural networking!

*Neurotechnology Industry Organization

Neuroscience 2008 descends on D.C.!

November 16, 2008

The Platform: NEUROSCIENCE 2008, Convention Center, Washington D.C.

The Twitter: How many neuroscientists does it take to put in a light bulb?

The Big Idea: The future of neuroscience lays in the hands of youth.

Intense? Immersive? An Indeterminate Neural Network? Making it through a crowd of over 30,000 people, and a four day roster that includes symposia, mini symposia, keynote lectures, satellite events and over a 1000 poster and slides sessions, does, as one AI scientist once remarked, separate the human from the robot.

And it is that extraordinary navigational capacity of human intelligence and specifically, the human brain, along with a whole host of questions about the brain that has drawn neuroscientists young and old to the rainy U.S. capital, to share their research, update their brains and discuss the future of advocating brain awareness at NEUROSCIENCE 2008!images-21

With neuroscience becoming the seductive frontier of 21st century biological, medical and cognitive science study, as well as the field of promising and lucrative applied biotechnologies, NEUROSCIENCE 2008 is the brain child of the Society for Neuroscience, a dedicated group of scientists that has grown in membership and in sensibility regarding the role they play in developing allied research, public policy and K-12 education where the brain is concerned.

For the lay public, the hard science description of pain-staking empirical studies is enough to send the unitiated back to talking about Leggos, Pac-Man and 7th grade science fair. Yet as inimitable choreographer Mark Morris was apt to point out to the audience during the opening Keynote discussion, “the problem of talking about what’s going on in the brain, is not mine but yours!”

Mark Morris

Mark Morris

It was rather confirming for yours truly, to find the president of SFN, who researches rhythm, choosing the once bad boy post modern choreographer to open the annual meeting. The brain is, after all, in a body, and from the sessions I attended today, it seems more and more scientists are reading to point to roles experiment and experience play in shaping neural growth and visa versa. And yet, the questions put to Morris suggest that scientists might want to do more dancing or as Morris reminded them, “more skipping,” if they want to study the choreographic corellates in the somasensory cortex. Morris, a performing artist known for his love and sensitivity to the musicality of dancing, and now for his work with Parkinson’s disease, drove home the message of using somatic intelligence: ‘It’s not something that abstact, like thinking, “now this left foot, on this second beat.” It’s more like: “Here… Now.”‘

I must admit, the rudimentary science questions put to Morris pointed up to the old C.P. Snow two culture divide, pitting science and art against each other like political foes. I for one, was rather shocked by the retro p.o.v. pervading much of the scientific thinking, signaling a real gap in the education of scientists regarding the “research” conducted by somanauts like performing artists and athletes. Then again, Morris, the uber cosmopolitan, had no better understanding of the science of brain/mind/body connectivity. Sigh.

a1252_11The afternoon Presidential lecture given by Dr. Allison Doupe offered a different picture of art and science. Doupe gave an exquisite talk on the pattern recognition capacities of songbirds, and posed the question: ‘What can we can we learn about neural basis of “vocal” practices as distinct from performances? How does the nervous system mediate behavior?’

A terrific speaker, poised and passionate, Doupe’s research pointed to several neural circuits that appear to operate in directing the process of learning a new pattern of sound, practicing the new pattern, and performing it to accomplish a “salient” goal, in the case of songbirds, a male finch courting a female.

My favorite Doupe image? The one that showed how courting performance showed little randomness in pattern generation! The take home message? Forget the creativity bud. If ya want the girl, just sing the damn song!

Leaving some of us to ponder the implications of romantic innovation, Doupe’s lecture did reinforce one of the key ideas and metaphors, surfacing in the language of neuroscientists presenting at this conference: the role of pattern recognition and neural mapping in development and learning.

More tomorrow!

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.

Off to Neuroscience 2008!

November 13, 2008

Greeting Somanauts!

I’m off to Neuroscience 2008 where I will spend 4 days with ear and brain to the ground, wall and any other surface that is vibrating with news from the international neuroscience research field!  Thirty thousand scientists, neuronauts and neuroleaders are expected — that’s right, nearly 30,000 brains that have devoted hours of “attention density” to the frontier of neuroscience and neuroscience education. Talk about wattage!!!!transparent_sfnlogo

 

Due to an “embargo” placed on writing before the official press conferences, I will start posting formal review starting Sept 18.  

However, do look for my tweeters now and then.

Speaking of attention density, other news:   SpaceSuit Yoga Advocates the MindBody Project:

With Obama speaking directly to our broken health care system,  BrainMindBody health advocacy groups are organizing to create an ‘Educate Obama‘ campaign.  

Please Join me and others to inform our visionary President Elect and his transition team on the remarkable research in NeuroSomatic Health Practices, namely, the empirical research and education projects in brain/mind/body integration that point to the interrelation of 

increasing stress and rising health costs.

and

decreasing stress and lowering of health costs.

Below are two links for joining the effort of a media campaign to awaken our new American leaders to the benefits of preventative medicine:  This from a letter sent by http://www.worldtaichiday.org/

To Obama and Team:

The Obama Transition Team Site’s Contact Page is: http://change.gov/page/s/contact

A sample intro:

WHY IS STRESS AN INCREASING PROBLEM?

Bill Joy, the Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems estimates that the speed of change is doubling exponentially every 18 months, and the speed of change will only increase in coming months, years, and decades. Change is stressful, even good change.

The change we have faced is daunting, but nothing compared to the next generation’s challenges of managing the stress of accelerating change.

It is in our interest to provide stress management achieving mind/body tools to adults, but particularly to the new generation(s), because their accumulating unmanaged stress of today, will translate into trillions of dollars of health costs in years to come.

To Incoming Medical and Education Officials:

Go to the web page below and print out 3 copies of the form letter. Send a postal mail to the incoming Secretary of Health, the Secretary of Education, and the incoming Surgeon General, to arrive on their desk when they take office on January 20th.

http://www.worldtaichiday.org and follow the links to MEDICAL RESEARCH and EDUCATION PROJECTS!

As always, may the breath be with you!

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.