Neurophilosophy

Archives for November, 2008

The term body image was coined by the great neurologist Henry Head and refers to a mental representation of one’s physical appearance. Constructed by the brain from past experience and present sensations, the body image is a fundamental aspect of both self-awareness and self-identity, and can be disrupted in many conditions. Disruption of the body…

Blind people are better at finding their way

For most of us, visual perception is crucial for spatial navigation. We rely on vision to find our way around, to position ourselves and localize objects within the surroundings, and to plan our trajectory on the basis of the layout of the environment. Blind people would therefore seem to be at a disadvantage. Unable to…

Neural basis of congenital face blindness

Prosopagnosia is a neurological condition characterised by an inability to recognize faces. In the most extreme cases, the prosopagnosic patient cannot even recognize their own face in the mirror or a photograph, and in his 1985 book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, the neurologist Oliver Sacks describes the extraordinary case of…

Removal of a parasitic worm from the brain

Fox 10 News has a rather gruesome story about the removal of a live parasitic worm from a woman’s brain, which is accompanied by a film clip  containing footage of the surgical procedure. As the film explains, the woman, who lives in Arizona, first started to experience flu-like symptoms, followed by numbness in her left…

Zebrafish brainbow bioscape

This beautiful image of the brain of a 5-day-old zebrafish larva, which was created by Albert Pan of Harvard University, has just won 4th place in the 2008 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging competition. (See a larger version here.) It was created using the Brainbow technique, a genetic method for labelling neurons, with which individual cells…

Neuroscience on the wireless

Last Thursday’s episode of the Radio 4 programme In Our Time featured a very interesting discussion about recent developments in neuroscience research. Presenter Melvynn Bragg was joined by psychologist Martin Conway of Leeds University, cognitive neuroscientist Gemma Calvert of the University of Warwick and philosopher David Papineau of Imperial College, who talked about the concept…

Optogenetic therapy for spinal cord injury

Optogenetics is a recently developed technique based on microbial proteins called channelrhodopsins (ChRs), which render neurons sensitive to light when inserted into them,  thus enabling researchers to manipulate the activity of the cells using laser pulses. Although still very new – the first ChR protein was isolated from a species of green algae in 2002…

Christopher Wren & the architecture of the brain

The current issue of Nature contains an interesting article about Sir Christopher Wren’s contribution to neuroanatomy, by art historians Martin Kemp and Nathan Flis of Oxford University. The article focuses on the anatomical illustrations produced by Wren for Thomas Willis’s 1664 book Cerebri Anatome (The Anatomy of the Brain). This was a landmark publication in…

Young neurons led astray

It is now well established that the adult mammalian brain – including that of humans – contains at least two discrete populations of neural stem cells which continue to generate new nerve cells throughout life. These newborn neurons are quickly integrated into existing circuits and are essential for proper functioning of the brain. A new…

Half-brain micro-napping

Every autumn, millions of songbirds embark upon long distance southerly migrations to warmer climes. Some species migrate during the day, but the majority – including sparrows, thrushes and warblers – do so at night, leaving their daytime habitats just after dusk and spending the next 8-10 hours on the wing. Nocturnal migration has several benefits.…