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Sat, 18 Sep 2021
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Our brains perceive our environment differently when we're lying down

woman lying down
© shutterstock
You're agitated by the sound of a mosquito buzzing around your head. The buzzing stops. You feel the tiny pinprick and locate the target. Whack! It's over.

It's a simple sequence, but it demands complex processing. How did you know where the mosquito was before you could even see it?

The human body is covered in about two square metres of skin, but somehow even before looking you knew the precise location of the spindly predator. After visual confirmation, your hand found its way to the scene of the crime and applied fatal force to the bug, but you didn't hurt yourself in the process.

What did it take for all that to happen? Good question.

For all the advancements the world has seen in every field of science, including neuroscience, the mechanics of perception and thinking still elude complete understanding.

Even the list of basic human senses is still up for debate: beyond the five traditional senses, many argue that balance — the body's mechanism for orienting itself in space — should have been included long ago.

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Sleep loss sabotages new memory storage in the hippocampus

Interneurons
© Frank Raven
Somatostatin-expressing interneurons in the mouse dentate gyrus, labeled with Brainbow 3.0, which labels each neuron a distinct color. cFos, labeled green, is present in the nuclei of surrounding pyramidal cells which are active during sleep. I
While some students may think it's a good idea to pull an all-nighter before an exam, conventional wisdom may be correct: A good night's sleep may actually be more helpful, according to University of Michigan research.

U-M scientists Sara Aton and James Delorme found when mice are sleep-deprived, there is an increase in activity in inhibitory neurons in the hippocampus, an area of the brain essential for navigation, as well as for processing and storing new memories.

"Because these neurons limit activity in their neighbors, this physiological response makes it impossible to muster normal neuronal activity in the hippocampal structure," said Aton, an associate professor in the U-M Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and a member of the U-M Center for RNA Biomedicine executive committee. "I always tell my students that an overnighter is not helping them prepare for an exam."

The researchers' results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and their findings could have implications for human performance and learning strategies.

Previous research has shown there is a sensitive window of time — a few hours following learning — during which mice have to sleep in order to fully consolidate a memory. During this period, neuronal activity must remain undisturbed in the hippocampus, and RNA transcription and translation within the neurons must occur normally. Aton and Delorme, formerly a U-M neuroscience graduate student, studied the possible links between changes in neurons' activity after learning and changes in their protein translation.

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Longer breaks during learning lead to more stable activation patterns in the brain

We remember things longer if we take breaks during learning, referred to as the spacing effect. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology gained deeper insight into the neuronal basis for this phenomenon in mice. With longer intervals between learning repetitions, mice re-use more of the same neurons as before - instead of activating different ones. Possibly, this allows the neuronal connections to strengthen with each learning event, such that knowledge is stored for a longer time.
Learning
© MPI of Neurobiology / Kuhl
Longer intervals between learning events improve memory and lead to more robust activation patterns in the brain.
Many of us have experienced the following: the day before an exam, we try to cram a huge amount of information into our brain. But just as quickly as we acquired it, the knowledge we have painstakingly gained is gone again. The good news is that we can counteract this forgetting. With expanded time intervals between individual learning events, we retain the knowledge for a longer time.

But what happens in the brain during the spacing effect, and why is taking breaks so beneficial for our memory? It is generally thought that during learning, neurons are activated and form new connections. In this way, the learned knowledge is stored and can be retrieved by reactivating the same set of neurons. However, we still know very little about how pauses positively influence this process - even though the spacing effect was described more than a century ago and occurs in almost all animals.

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MindMatters: Finding Your Red Line: Lessons from Milgram and the Holocaust

red line
As things continue to get worse culturally and politically, it pays to ask oneself how far one will go. What are the limits to my obedience to authority? At what point do I become what I hate? To avoid becoming a monster, the first step is to draw some red lines: things we simply will not do. But will we actually stick to them, or simply go along with the crowd when the challenge proves too difficult? History is not flattering to our high ideals and self-images. When it comes down to it, the vast majority of people will do whatever they are told to do, given the right conditions. That's why a study of history and the famous Milgram experiment can be so helpful.

Today on MindMatters we look at the limits of obedience to authority (with reference to Christopher Browning's book Ordinary Men, and Philip Zimbardo's Lucifer Effect). These facts about human nature may be depressing, but they also offer the way out by providing the motivation to prepare for the future, now. Without a bit of self-knowledge, there is no guarantee you will not be just another miserable cell in the collective mob. But with it, there's at least a chance of hope that you can resist, and that others will be inspired to follow suit.


Running Time: 01:10:05

Download: MP3 — 56.2 MB



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Can consciousness be explained by Quantum Physics?

Consciousness
© vitstudio/Shutterstock
Some scientists believe consciousness is generated by quantum processes, but the theory is yet to be empirically tested.
One of the most important open questions in science is how our consciousness is established. In the 1990s, long before winning the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for his prediction of black holes, physicist Roger Penrose teamed up with anaesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff to propose an ambitious answer.

They claimed that the brain's neuronal system forms an intricate network and that the consciousness this produces should obey the rules of quantum mechanics - the theory that determines how tiny particles like electrons move around. This, they argue, could explain the mysterious complexity of human consciousness.

Penrose and Hameroff were met with incredulity. Quantum mechanical laws are usually only found to apply at very low temperatures. Quantum computers, for example, currently operate at around -272°C. At higher temperatures, classical mechanics takes over. Since our body works at room temperature, you would expect it to be governed by the classical laws of physics. For this reason, the quantum consciousness theory has been dismissed outright by many scientists - though others are persuaded supporters.

Instead of entering into this debate, I decided to join forces with colleagues from China, led by Professor Xian-Min Jin at Shanghai Jiaotong University, to test some of the principles underpinning the quantum theory of consciousness.

In our new paper, we've investigated how quantum particles could move in a complex structure like the brain - but in a lab setting. If our findings can one day be compared with activity measured in the brain, we may come one step closer to validating or dismissing Penrose and Hameroff's controversial theory.

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MindMatters: Arthur Versluis: The New Inquisitions vs the Mystical State

versluis
Arthur Versluis, professor of religious studies at Michigan State University, is the author of many books and an expert on Western mysticism and esotericism, especially the Christian theosophic tradition. He's also an expert on the intellectual origins of totalitarianism, the subject of his excellent 2006 book, The New Inquisitions.

Today on MindMatters we talk with Arthur about a range of subjects: totalitarianism, ponerology, gnosis, Christian mystics, decentralization, and the "mystical state," a vision of politics informed not by dualistic and secular philosophy, but the mystical center of the spiritual life - the topic of his 2011 book of the same name. Arthur also talks about his latest book, a conversation with psychologist and Christian theosophist Robert J. Faas.


MindMatters on LBRY

Running Time: 01:14:08


Download: MP3 — 68 MB


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What does the sleeping brain think about?

Thanks to a unique system that decodes brain activity during sleep, a UNIGE team is deciphering the neuronal mechanisms of memory consolidation.
Brain and Sleep
© UNIGE, Virginie Sterpenich
During deep sleep, the brain replay important events of the previous day. It reactivates spontaneously the memories associated to reward.
We sleep on average one third of our time. But what does the brain do during these long hours? Using an artificial intelligence approach capable of decoding brain activity during sleep, scientists at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, were able to glimpse what we think about when we are asleep. By combining functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG), the Geneva team provides unprecedented evidence that the work of sorting out the thousands of pieces of information processed during the day takes place during deep sleep. Indeed, at this time, the brain, which no longer receives external stimuli, can evaluate all of these memories in order to retain only the most useful ones. To do so, it establishes an internal dialogue between its different regions. Moreover, associating a reward with a specific information encourages the brain to memorise it in the long term. These results, to be discovered in the journal Nature Communications, open for the first time a window on the human mind in sleep.

In the absence of tools capable of translating brain activity, the content of our sleeping thoughts remains inaccessible. We however do know that sleep plays a major role in memory consolidation and emotional management: when we sleep, our brain reactivates the memory trace built during the day and helps us to regulate our emotions. "To find out which brain regions are activated during sleep, and to decipher how these regions allow us to consolidate our memory, we developed a decoder capable of deciphering the activity of the brain in deep sleep and what it corresponds to", explains Virginie Sterpenich, a researcher in the laboratory of Professor Sophie Schwartz in the Department of Basic Neurosciences at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine, and the principal investigator of this study. "In particular, we wanted to see to what extent positive emotions play a role in this process."

During deep sleep, the hippocampus - a structure of the temporal lobe which stores temporary traces of recent events - sends back to the cerebral cortex the information it has stored during the day. A dialogue is established which allows the consolidation of memory by replaying the events of the day and therefore reinforce the link between neurons.

Black Magic

The language of totalitarian dehumanization

cuba protest police
© YAMIL LAGE / AFP) (Photo by YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images
Feature image: A man is arrested during a demonstration against the government of President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Arroyo Naranjo Municipality, Havana on July 12, 2021. Thousands of Cubans participated in Sunday’s demonstrations, chanting “Down with the dictatorship.” (
A week before the massive protests erupted in Cuba, I was celebrating Fourth of July at a friend's house in Oakland, California, and listening to her tell me stories about her adventures there. She is a Jewish red diaper baby and today seems to identify as some sort of "libertarian socialist." I found myself squirming as she enthused about the Left radicals she knows, and lamented the persecution of communists in the US. During the years of McCarthyite paranoia, American communists did indeed have their reputations, careers, and occasionally their lives ruined. A few were sent to prison, and in 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of spying for Stalin and executed. I wanted to point out that the persecution of communists by communists during the Cold War was far worse, and that the Rosenbergs were in fact guilty, unlike the millions of people murdered or worked to death in Gulags by Stalin for allegedly operating as Trotskyist or Western agents or spies. Still, I was a guest in my friend's home, so I held my tongue.

Comment: Whilst the author fails to recognize the role of Western regime change operations, as well as the near total corruption of the Western model, it is true that the initial dehumanization of a people is reflected in language and one must be on guard to not fall into the same polarizing rhetoric lest they unwittingly become caught up in the next, potentially more terrible, stages: Also check out SOTT radio's:


People 2

Extroverts likely to suffer higher mental health toll in Covid lockdown

Cardiff Wales
© Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
An empty high street in Cardiff, Wales, in February.
Society's most creative and entrepreneurial people are likely to have suffered a greater hit to their mental health than the rest of the UK population during Covid lockdown, according to a study of more than 5,000 people that suggested extroverts had struggled more.

Individuals with open and extrovert personalities experienced higher deterioration in their mental health than other personality types, according to research by University of Glasgow academics based on the biggest running study of its kind. Open personalities - a widely used definition of people who tend to be curious and keen to try new things - were linked with a particularly marked increase in mental health problems in January 2021. Overall, a quarter of people who had moderately open personalities showed at least one additional symptom of mental deterioration.

By contrast, people whose personalities were judged to be dominated by "agreeableness" experienced less negative mental health consequences, according to analysis of the UK household longitudinal study - known as Understanding Society. Agreeableness is a personality category widely used by psychologists and indicates a desire for social stability, altruism and consideration of others' needs and feelings.

"People with an open personality, especially women, are paying a big price from this lockdown in terms of mental health," said Prof Eugenio Proto of the Adam Smith business school at the University of Glasgow. "Openness is a personality trait typical of creative people like artists and entrepreneurs, hence this can have repercussions on the economy and on the society as a whole in the post-Covid era. If there is a long-term effect we might expect a lower level of innovation and that could be a big cost."

Comment: See also:


Brain

Psychedelics spur growth of neural connections lost in depression

mushrooms
© stock.adobe.com
The psychedelic drug psilocybin, a naturally occurring compound found in some mushrooms, has been studied as a potential treatment for depression for years. But exactly how it works in the brain and how long beneficial results might last is still unclear.

In a new study, Yale researchers show that a single dose of psilocybin given to mice prompted an immediate and long-lasting increase in connections between neurons. The findings are published July 5 in the journal Neuron.

"We not only saw a 10% increase in the number of neuronal connections, but also they were on average about 10% larger, so the connections were stronger as well," said Yale's Alex Kwan, associate professor of psychiatry and of neuroscience and senior author of the paper.