Posts Tagged ‘Society for Neuroscience’

Core Neuroscience Concepts 7 & 8: The future is in our hands and brains!

November 27, 2008

The Platform: Society for Neuroscience 8 Core Concepts

The Twitter: The Human Brain….it gets curiouser and curiouser!

The Big Idea:  Curiosity is the natural province of the human brain!  

Of the 8 Core Concepts put forward recently by the Society for Neuroscience, Concepts 7 & 8 may be the most important to drive home, not just to kids and teens but to culture changers and thought leaders of any age: What makes these two concepts so special?   Gather for yourself:

7.  The human brain endows us with a natural curiousity to understand how the world works. [Notice it doesn’t say why the world works]

8.  Fundamental discoveries promote healthy living and treatment of disease.

     [http://www.sfn.org/index.cfm?pagename=core_concepts]

For those of you who worship at the temple of the incurious, I guess you can stop reading here.  But if you stay with me, I bet it’s because you, like many of us, wish curiosity would come back into style, not in the form of paparazzi gossip feeders but more in the way of thirst that drives explorers, artists and scientists to wander this earth, striving to reach new vistas of insight and understanding. Those of you who saw the recent Werner Herzog film Encounters at the end of the World, will have an idea what I mean.  Or check out http://www.stellaraxis.com, a stunning project organized by my dear colleague Lita Albuquerque, who like Herzog, received National Science Foundation grants for art and science expeditions to study the biosphere of Antartica.

By emphasizing curiosity as a given condition of the human brain, SfN sets up the logic for neuroscience itself, that is, to pose questions about the very thing that enables us to be curious, i.e., the brain extended by the nervous system.  In a world suffocating with information overload and in a country like the U.S. that has shown venal scepticism towards scientific endeavors, it’s a rare day that we chance to relish scientific achievement.  Still, leaders of SfN assure us that neuroscience is that field that will astonish us with “unexpected discoveries that can benefit humanity.”

A colleague recently wrote of neuroscience as perhaps, the single most creative field study within his lifetime.  Given my reading and in light of conferences I’ve recently attended, I would have to agree: We are witnessing the rapid emergence of a science that overturns some of the fundamental questions of human physiology, psychology and philosophy while bearing out the truth of others. And with that revolution comes the development of new technologies that allow us to penetrate into the mysteries of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, TBI along with a host of other brain and nervous systems disorders!

Of the many disruptions, one of my favorites is the evidence pointing to the neuroplastic ways in which we ourselves can change our brains and transform stress, injury and unhappiness through daily practice of meditation or focused states of attention.

I will return to these subjects as they are at the heart of my mission in setting up this blog along with a new one that will launch in weeks to come!

Stay tuned and for those in the States, I’d like to dedicate this Thanksgiving holiday to all of the researchers, inventors, intellectuals, artists, coaches and teachers who dare to use their curiosity and encourage others to do so!

Happy Turkey Day!  May the Breath Be With You!

Dr. G. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Neuroscience 2008: Expanding Brain Awareness

November 23, 2008

The Platform: Neuroscience 2008: Expanding Brain Awareness

The Twitter: ” I’m aware. Are You?” Brain Awareness Week 2009

The Big Idea: Neuroscience 2108: What will we know? How do we get there?

brain-763982-1

To an audience of young neuroscientists and neuro-leaders gathered to learn more about Brain Awareness Week 2009 (March 16-22), incoming Society for Neuroscience President Professor Thomas Carew reminded the group: ‘Neuroscience research rises out of and gives back to the public good.’

However noble (and ethical) the gesture, it seems there’s nothing cooler than studying the very thing that makes us “human.” And as I’ve tried to show over this last year, there are numerous good reasons why anyone living on Planet Earth in 2008 would want to know how a human brain actually works. More intimate with our bodies than our cell phones, more complicated than our laptops, the human brain begs our curiosity, our devoted attention, our awe! It goes without saying that with an average of 100 billion neurons signaling to each other on any given day, and with the prospect of neuroplasticity programmed into each nerve cell, the brain demands a readied corps of impassioned researchers capable and willing to spend hours, days, months and years observing and decoding the complex and emergent system we call
the nervous system.

The Society of Neuroscience and the Dana Alliance have joined forces to lay the foundational grounds for raising that corps by creating Brain Awareness Week, an international, consciousness raising event devoted to inspiring youth of all ages to learn about the science of the brain. To be frank, I have a lot of faith already in the new grad students entering neuroscience labs. As a generation suckled on the Internet and diagnosed en mass with ADD, they self-admittedly bring to the table, a seasoned sense of video gaming, social networking and a pharmaceutically managed skills of focus and attention. You’ll find them scratching their heads, trying to imagine how their parents ever thought the mind was not connected to the body. With their biotechologically retooled focus on neural networks, these future scientists will map the non-linear circuits of the brain with new neuro-infoschematic programs. Turning to the Allen Spine Atlas to which they will likely contribute, the next generation of neuroscientists will uncover the mysteries of how we regenerate neural tissue, of how we heal and walk again.

With 2009 Brain Awareness Week in mind, SfN leaders announced it will be promoting its 8 “Core Concepts.” In this coming week, I will introduce the core concepts as it relates to the concerns of this blog.

In the meantime, please write to me and ask how you and your friends, your network, your school or your organization can create a knock out Brain Awareness campaign for 2009! (No pun intended!)

With all nerve cells firing!

I remain synaptically yours,

Dr. G. sending breath your way!

For futher info:

The Society of Neuroscience <http://www.sfn.org&gt;

The Dana Alliance <http://www.dana.org/brain.aspx&gt;

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.