Neurophilosophy

Archives for October, 2009

FOLLOWING the surgical removal of a body part, amputees often report sensations which seem to originate from the missing limb. This is thought to occur because the brain’s model of the body (referred to as the body image) still contains a representation of the limb, and this leads to the experience that the missing limb…

A pictorial history of neurotechniques

THE latest issue of Technology Review contains a photo essay by yours truly, called Time Travel Through the Brain, in which I look at how techniques used to investigate the brain have evolved during the 100 year history of modern neuroscience. The essay begins with a drawing by the great Spanish neuroanatomist Santiago Ramón y…

THE humble fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) has the ability to learn and remember, and to make predictions about the outcome of its behaviours on the basis of past experience. Compared to a human brain, that of the fruit fly  is relatively simple, containing approximately 250,000 cells. Even so, little is known about the anatomical basis…

Mice navigate a virtual reality environment

USING an inventive new method in which mice run through a virtual reality environment based on the video game Quake, researchers from Princeton University have made the first direct measurements of the cellular activity associated with spatial navigation. The method will allow for investigations of the neural circuitry underlying navigation, and should lead to a…

THINKING of and saying a word is something that most of us do effortlessly many times a day. This involves a number of steps – we must select the appropriate word, decide on the proper tense, and also pronounce it correctly. The neural computations underlying these tasks are highly complex, and whether the brain performs…

ATHLETES who are on a winning streak often claim that they perceive their targets to be bigger than they actually are. After a run of birdies, for example, golfers sometimes say that the cup appeared to be the size of a bucket, and baseball players who have a hit a few home runs say that…

THIS image by Dominik Paquet of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich is one of the winners of the 2009 Nikon Small World Photomicrography competition. It’s a confocal fluoresence microscopy image of zebrafish larvae expressing a mutant form of human Tau protein, which forms the neurofibrillary tangles that are a pathological hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease. The work is…

SECOND LIFE is an online “virtual world” which enables users to create a customised avatar, or digital persona, with which they can interact with each other. It has become incredibly popular since its launch just over 6 years ago, with millions of “residents” now using it regularly to meet others, socialize and even to have…

Visual analgesia: Seeing the body reduces pain

VISION is now well known to modulate the senses of touch and pain. Various studies have shown that looking at oneself being touched can enhance tactile acuity, so that one can discriminate between two pinpoints which would otherwise feel like a single sensation. And last year, researchers from the University of Oxford showed that using…

SEVERAL hundred species of fish have evolved the ability to generate electric fields, which they use to navigate, communicate and home in on prey. But this ability comes at a cost – the electric field is generated continuously throughout life, so consumes a great deal of energy, and it can also attract predators which are…