Encephalon 14

Welcome, everyone, to the 14th installment of the brain blogging carnival Encephalon. If you're in the United States, I hope you've got today off, and that you've at least taken a moment to think about the contribution that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. made to our society. If you're not in the United States, you're going to have to take a break from whatever you're doing, because this installment's got a hell of a lot of posts for you to read. So wherever you are, grab a cup o' joe, make sure you're in a comfortable chair, and enjoy.

i-1e4fdcea95e9e22944ab448830425e9e-PrefrontalCortex.jpgLet's start, randomly, with some cognitive neuroscience. What's the prefrontal cortex for? There are lots of theories, and in an excellent series, new ScienceBlogs blogger Chris Chatham of Developing Intelligence describes many of them. The posts are titled "The Anterior Frontier: Prefrontal Cortex," "Neural Cascades in Prefrontal Cortex," and "King of the Cortex: Anterior PFC."

On a lighter note, The Neurocritic gives us "Neuroshopping." In typical Neurocritic fashion, research on the neural correlates of purchasing discussions is dissected and deconstructed.

Next, it appears that brain imaging and psychoanalysis are coming together somewhere in the cognitive neuroscience world, as Dr. Deborah Serani mentions an imaging study of transference in a post titled "Map of the Mind."

Wrapping up the cognitive stuff, The Thinking Meat Project gives us descriptions of several news stories on memory. There's some interesting news in there.

i-340bdfa629450f4d1ab324e8a1bf1aba-theater.JPGMoving along, we come to philosophy of mind, which means we have to talk about consciousness. There are a couple interesting posts about consciousness in this installment. First, at the The Price of Rice!, Barry Mahfood gives us his thoughts on the relationship between the mind and the brain in "The Mind-Brain Question." Then D.A.N. gives us his/her own thoughts on the mind and consciousness at Sights and Sounds from the Fifth Column, in "Look at the Human Mind Part 1: An Introduction." It should be interesting to read both of their posts and compare their perspectives.

On a topic that is very important in philosophy of psychology these days (well, as someone whose work is on knowledge representation, it's important to me at least), Paul of Memoirs of a Postgrad dives into the dangerous waters of knowledge representation with "Lessons for Symbolic and Sub-Symbolic Architectures From Biology." In the post, he describes a middle road between the often warring symbolicist and connectionist/parallen distributed processing factions.

Finally, addressing a different brain-related philosophical problem, Vaughan of Mind Hacks describes recent discussions of the relationship between contemporary neuroscience and free will, in Freedom Is Slavery. He begins with,

We have the impression that our free will is supreme, but modern neuroscience is starting to challenge the idea that we are the masters of our fate and captains of our soul.

And by the end of the post, we get some idea of what this challenge means.

i-7e55a85402bcd11f6410c1b84c2a0cc5-crossword.jpgNow we can leave the lab or the philosopher's armchair, and look at some posts on applied brain sciences. There's been some interesting recent work on cognitive training and brain fitness, and brain bloggers haven't missed it. First, Caroline of SharBrains asks, "Do I Really Need a Brain Fitness Progra?" Her answer? "Yes, you need a brain fitness program if you want to keep your mind in top shape and dramatically slow the effects of age-related cognitive decline." Also at SharpBrains, Alvaro reviews "The Dana Guide to Brain Health," which, among other things, also advises us to pay attention to brain fitness. Then fellow SBer Jake Young of Pure Pedantry describes recent research on a specific cognitive training programs for the elderly, in "Will Doing Crosswords Prevent Age-Related Cognitive Decline?" The answer is yes, but the research shows that better cognitive performance may not increase quality of life.

Simply keeping your brain fit may not be enough for you, though. You may want to have an extraordinary mind. If that's the case, then two posts by fellow SBer Joseph of Corpus Callosum may be for you. He describes lessons we've learned about expertise by studying, among others, chess grandmasters and physicians, in "Training the Expert Mind" and "Training the Expert Mind, Part II: Medical Diagnosis."

Moving along, from fellow SBer and bird woman, Shelly of Retrospectacle, we get an interesting discussion of research on the neuroscience of addiction, in "Neural Pathways Explain Why Addicts Become Addicts."

On a completely unrelated applied note, Sunil of Musings On Neurology And Lenitives In Simplistic Art describes work at the intersection of nanothechnology and neuroscience, which may have important medical implications, in Nanotechnology and Neuroscience."

i-4e4986b99b29baad9abb5d9cd523828a-phantomlimb.JPGNext up, there are several posts in this installment that look at the brain sciences' intersection with and implications for societal issues. First, the Neurophilosopher gives us two posts on torture, the first on classic research ("The Banality of Evil") and the second on more recent research ("People Are Willing to Commit Virtual Torture Too").

In a post on phantom limbs, "Men in War," The Neurocritic points us to discussions of research on the neural correlates of phantom limbs, and connects the issue to current wars, where many men and women are losing limbs.

In another entry from Shelley of Retrospectacle, "Is It Ethical? Mentally Handicapped Child Frozen in Time By Surgery," she looks at the very interesting and ethically challenging case of a severely handicapped young girl whose parents, in order to make it easier to care for her as she grows, consented to surgery that insured she would remain small for the rest of her life. I should also note that, while she didn't submit her post, Lindsay of Majikthise also weighed in on the ethics of this case here.

Finally in the category of brain sciences and society, we have a post from World Success which talks about "Using an Entrepreneurial Spirit to Find a Cure for Deadly Diseases such as Lou Gehrig's."

i-0899ba83a09242ff053c6424e1d97473-Encephalon.JPGFinally, since all of those brain and society posts are pretty heavy, and some of them rather depressing, I thought I'd end Encephalon #14 on a much, much lighter note. Looking around the web for sites mentioning encephalon, the Neurophilosopher stumbled upon the website of a death metal band called.... Encephalon. Follow the link, and you can watch a video of the recording of one of their songs.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed all the posts in this edition of Encephalon. The fifteenth edition will be at SharpBrains on January 29th, so be sure to look for it then.

Oh, and don't forget the science blogging anthology that Bora of A Blog Around the Clock is putting together. In addition to the two Corpus Callosum posts in this edition of Encephalon, there'll be posts by brain bloggers like Cognitive Daily ("False Confessions: Not as Rare as You Think"), Neurophilosophy (The Discovery of the Neuron"), and Neurontic ("When It Comes to the Brain, Does Size Really Matter") in the book.


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Hey Chris, great post. But you should really fix the "Neural Cascades in Prefrontal Cortex" link. It's got some bad HTML in it.