In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and religion, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety.

Social Psychologist John Jost (and fellow scholars)

(Source: alternet.org)

neuromorphogenesis:

What Happens If You Apply Electricity to the Brain of a Corpse?
Some habits die hard. Like humans zapping their brains. We did this back in Ancient Greece, when medics used electric fish to treat headaches and other ailments. Today we’re still at it, as neuroscientists apply electric currents to people’s brains to boost their mental function, treat depression, or give them lucid dreams.
Subjecting the brain to external electricity has an influence on mental function because our neurons communicate with each other using electricity and chemicals. This has become relatively common knowledge today, but only two centuries ago scientists were still quite baffled by the mystery of nerve communication.
Issac Newton and others suggested that our nerves communicate with each other, and with the muscles, via vibrations. Another suggestion of the time was that the nerves emit some kind of fluid. Most opaque, and still popular, was the idea – first mooted in ancient times – that the brain and nerves are filled with mysterious “animal spirits”.
“Animal electricity”
During the eighteenth century our understanding of electricity was growing apace, and the use of electricity to treat a range of physical and mental ailments, known as electrotherapy, was incredibly popular. But still it wasn’t obvious to scientists at the time that the human nervous system produces its own electric charge, and that the nerves communicate using electricity.
Among the first scientists to make this proposal was the Italian physician Luigi Galvani (1737-1798). Most of Galvani’s experiments were with frogs’ legs and nerves, and he was able to show that lightning or man-made electrical machines could cause the frogs’ muscles to twitch. He subsequently came up with the idea of “animal electricity” – that animals, humans included, have their own intrinsic electricity.
“I believe it has been sufficiently well established that there is present in animals an electricity which we … are wont to designate with the general term ‘animal’ … “ he wrote. “It is seen most clearly … in the muscles and nerves.”
Neuroscience’s macabre past
However, to Galvani’s frustration, he failed to show that zapping the brain had an effect on the facial or peripheral muscles. Here, he was helped in dramatic, macabre fashion by his nephew Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834).
In 1802, Aldini zapped the brain of a decapitated criminal by placing a metal wire into each ear and then flicking the switch on the attached rudimentary battery. “I initially observed strong contractions in all the muscles of the face, which were contorted so irregularly that they imitated the most hideous grimaces,” he wrote in his notes. “The action of the eylids was particularly marked, though less striking in the human head than in that of the ox.”
During this era, there was fierce scientific debate about the role of electricity in human and animal nervous systems. Galvani’s influential rival, Alessandro Volta, for one, did not believe in the notion that animals produce their own electricity. In this context, the rival camps engaged in public relations exercises to promote their own views. This played to Aldini’s strengths. Something of a showman, he took his macabre experiments on tour. In 1803, he performed a sensational public demonstration at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, using the dead body of Thomas Forster, a murderer recently executed by hanging at Newgate. Aldini inserted conducting rods into the deceased man’s mouth, ear, and anus.
One member of the large audience later observed: “On the first application of the process to the face, the jaw of the deceased criminal began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process, the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion. It appeared to the uninformed part of the bystanders as if the wretched man was on the eve of being restored to life.”
Although Frankenstein author Mary Shelley was only five when this widely reported demonstration was performed, it’s obvious that she was inspired by contemporary scientific debates about electricity and the human body. Indeed, publication of her novel coincided with another dramatic public demonstration performed in 1818 in Glasgow by Andrew Ure, in which application of electric current to a corpse appeared to cause it to resume heavy breathing, and even to point its fingers at the audience.
Death is a process
If a body is dead, how come its nerves are still responsive to external electric charge? In 1818, one popular but mistaken suggestion was that electricity is the life force, and that the application of electricity to the dead could literally bring them back to life. Indeed, so disturbed were many members of the audience at Ure’s demonstration that they had to leave the building. One man reportedly fainted. Modern scientific understanding of the way nerves communicate undermines such supernatural interpretations, but you can imagine that witnessing such a spectacle as performed by Ure or Aldini would even today be extremely unnerving (excuse the pun). A pithy explanation of why electricity appears to animate a dead body comes courtesy of Frances Ashcroft’s wonderful book The Spark of Life:
“The cells of the body do not die when an animal (or person) breathes its last breath, which is why it is possible to transplant organs from one individual to another, and why blood transfusions work,” she writes. “Unless it is blown to smithereens, the death of a multicellular organism is rarely an instantaneous event, but instead a gradual closing down, an extinction by stages. Nerve and muscle cells continue to retain their hold on life for some time after the individual is dead and thus can be ‘animated’ by application of electricity.”
The grisly experiments of Aldini and Ure seem distasteful by today’s standards, but they were historically important, stimulating the imagination of novelists and scientists alike.

neuromorphogenesis:

What Happens If You Apply Electricity to the Brain of a Corpse?

Some habits die hard. Like humans zapping their brains. We did this back in Ancient Greece, when medics used electric fish to treat headaches and other ailments. Today we’re still at it, as neuroscientists apply electric currents to people’s brains to boost their mental function, treat depression, or give them lucid dreams.

Subjecting the brain to external electricity has an influence on mental function because our neurons communicate with each other using electricity and chemicals. This has become relatively common knowledge today, but only two centuries ago scientists were still quite baffled by the mystery of nerve communication.

Issac Newton and others suggested that our nerves communicate with each other, and with the muscles, via vibrations. Another suggestion of the time was that the nerves emit some kind of fluid. Most opaque, and still popular, was the idea – first mooted in ancient times – that the brain and nerves are filled with mysterious “animal spirits”.

“Animal electricity”

During the eighteenth century our understanding of electricity was growing apace, and the use of electricity to treat a range of physical and mental ailments, known as electrotherapy, was incredibly popular. But still it wasn’t obvious to scientists at the time that the human nervous system produces its own electric charge, and that the nerves communicate using electricity.

Among the first scientists to make this proposal was the Italian physician Luigi Galvani (1737-1798). Most of Galvani’s experiments were with frogs’ legs and nerves, and he was able to show that lightning or man-made electrical machines could cause the frogs’ muscles to twitch. He subsequently came up with the idea of “animal electricity” – that animals, humans included, have their own intrinsic electricity.

“I believe it has been sufficiently well established that there is present in animals an electricity which we are wont to designate with the general term ‘animal’ “ he wrote. “It is seen most clearly in the muscles and nerves.”

Neuroscience’s macabre past

However, to Galvani’s frustration, he failed to show that zapping the brain had an effect on the facial or peripheral muscles. Here, he was helped in dramatic, macabre fashion by his nephew Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834).

In 1802, Aldini zapped the brain of a decapitated criminal by placing a metal wire into each ear and then flicking the switch on the attached rudimentary battery. “I initially observed strong contractions in all the muscles of the face, which were contorted so irregularly that they imitated the most hideous grimaces,” he wrote in his notes. “The action of the eylids was particularly marked, though less striking in the human head than in that of the ox.”

During this era, there was fierce scientific debate about the role of electricity in human and animal nervous systems. Galvani’s influential rival, Alessandro Volta, for one, did not believe in the notion that animals produce their own electricity. In this context, the rival camps engaged in public relations exercises to promote their own views. This played to Aldini’s strengths. Something of a showman, he took his macabre experiments on tour. In 1803, he performed a sensational public demonstration at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, using the dead body of Thomas Forster, a murderer recently executed by hanging at Newgate. Aldini inserted conducting rods into the deceased man’s mouth, ear, and anus.

One member of the large audience later observed: “On the first application of the process to the face, the jaw of the deceased criminal began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process, the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion. It appeared to the uninformed part of the bystanders as if the wretched man was on the eve of being restored to life.”

Although Frankenstein author Mary Shelley was only five when this widely reported demonstration was performed, it’s obvious that she was inspired by contemporary scientific debates about electricity and the human body. Indeed, publication of her novel coincided with another dramatic public demonstration performed in 1818 in Glasgow by Andrew Ure, in which application of electric current to a corpse appeared to cause it to resume heavy breathing, and even to point its fingers at the audience.

Death is a process

If a body is dead, how come its nerves are still responsive to external electric charge? In 1818, one popular but mistaken suggestion was that electricity is the life force, and that the application of electricity to the dead could literally bring them back to life. Indeed, so disturbed were many members of the audience at Ure’s demonstration that they had to leave the building. One man reportedly fainted. Modern scientific understanding of the way nerves communicate undermines such supernatural interpretations, but you can imagine that witnessing such a spectacle as performed by Ure or Aldini would even today be extremely unnerving (excuse the pun). A pithy explanation of why electricity appears to animate a dead body comes courtesy of Frances Ashcroft’s wonderful book The Spark of Life:

“The cells of the body do not die when an animal (or person) breathes its last breath, which is why it is possible to transplant organs from one individual to another, and why blood transfusions work,” she writes. “Unless it is blown to smithereens, the death of a multicellular organism is rarely an instantaneous event, but instead a gradual closing down, an extinction by stages. Nerve and muscle cells continue to retain their hold on life for some time after the individual is dead and thus can be ‘animated’ by application of electricity.”

The grisly experiments of Aldini and Ure seem distasteful by today’s standards, but they were historically important, stimulating the imagination of novelists and scientists alike.

skunkbear:

As Virginia Hughes noted in a recent piece for National Geographic’s Phenomena blog, the most common depiction of a synapse (that communicating junction between two neurons) is pretty simple:

Signal molecules leave one neuron from that bulby thing, float across a gap, and are picked up by receptors on the other neuron. In this way, information is transmitted from cell to cell … and thinking is possible.

But thanks to a bunch of German scientists - we now have a much more complete and accurate picture. They’ve created the first scientifically accurate 3D model of a synaptic bouton (that bulby bit) complete with every protein and cytoskeletal element.

This effort has been made possible only by a collaboration of specialists in electron microscopy, super-resolution light microscopy (STED), mass spectrometry, and quantitative biochemistry.

says the press release. The model reveals a whole world of neuroscience waiting to be explored. Exciting stuff!

You can access the full video of their 3D model here.

Credit: Benjamin G. Wilhelm, Sunit Mandad, Sven Truckenbrodt, Katharina Kröhnert, Christina Schäfer, Burkhard Rammner, Seong Joo Koo, Gala A. Claßen, Michael Krauss, Volker Haucke, Henning Urlaub, Silvio O. Rizzoli

shawnali:

The first time I held a human brain in Anatomy Lab I was completely speechless. I looked at my classmates expecting a similar reaction and they looked back at me confused like…”dude let’s start identifying the structures.” I had to take a step back and let it process…in my hands was someone’s entire life. From start to finish, every memory, every emotion, every bodily control…was right there in my hands.

shawnali:

The first time I held a human brain in Anatomy Lab I was completely speechless. I looked at my classmates expecting a similar reaction and they looked back at me confused like…”dude let’s start identifying the structures.” I had to take a step back and let it process…in my hands was someone’s entire life. From start to finish, every memory, every emotion, every bodily control…was right there in my hands.

When people come close to death, they sometimes report a whole series of strange experiences, collectively known as a near-death experience (NDE). Although the order varies slightly, and few people experience them all, the most common features are: going down a dark tunnel or through a dark space towards a bright white or golden light; watching one’s own body being resuscitated or operated on (an OBE [out-of-body experience]); emotions of joy, acceptance, or deep contentment; flashbacks or a panoramic review of events in one’s life; seeing another world with people who are already dead or a ‘being of light’; and finally deciding to return to life rather than enter that other world. After such experiences people are often changed, claiming to be less selfish or materialistic, and less afraid of death.

NDEs have been reported from many different cultures and ages, and seem to be remarkably similar in outline. The main cultural differences are in the details; for example, Christians tend to see Jesus or pearly gates; while Hindus meet ramdoots or see their name written in a great book. Religious believers often claim that the consistency of the experiences proves their own religion’s version of life after death. However, the consistency is far better explained by the fact that people of all ages and cultures have similar brains, and those brains react in similar ways to stress, fear, lack of oxygen, or the many other triggers for NDEs.

All these triggers can cause the release of pleasure-inducing endorphins, and can set off random neural activity in many parts of the brain. The effects of this random activity depend on the location: activity in visual cortex produces tunnels, spirals, and lights (as do hallucinogenic drugs that have similar neural effects); activity in the temporal lobe induces body image changes and OBEs, and can release floods of memories; and activity in other places can give rise to visions of many kinds, depending on the person’s expectation, prior state of mind, and cultural beliefs. There is no doubt that many people really are changed by having an NDE, usually for the better, but this may be because of the dramatic brain changes, and because they have had to confront the idea of their own death, rather than because their soul has briefly left their body.

Blackmore, Susan J.. Consciousness A Very Short Introduction, p. 110-111. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print. (via academicatheism)

10 Good Reasons Not to Trust Your Brain

Perhaps the most damaging flaw is the brain’s tendency to think it’s right. In fact, it often insists it is right even in the face of contradictory evidence. So the next time you’re absolutely, positively sure you’re right, consider these 10 reasons not to trust your brain.

jupiter2:

This Is Your Brain
University of California researchers have created  a system that shows how the brain works in real time, allowing users to navigate right inside their own heads and see their neuronal activity firing in 3D.
Each color represents source power and connectivity in a different frequency band (theta, alpha, beta, gamma) and the golden lines are white matter anatomical fiber tracts. Estimated information transfer between brain regions is visualized as pulses of light flowing along the fiber tracts connecting the regions.

jupiter2:

This Is Your Brain

University of California researchers have created  a system that shows how the brain works in real time, allowing users to navigate right inside their own heads and see their neuronal activity firing in 3D.

Each color represents source power and connectivity in a different frequency band (theta, alpha, beta, gamma) and the golden lines are white matter anatomical fiber tracts. Estimated information transfer between brain regions is visualized as pulses of light flowing along the fiber tracts connecting the regions.

Nature has employed at least two very different ways of making a brain—indeed, there are almost as many ways as there are phyla in the animal kingdom. Mind, to varying degrees, has arisen or is embodied in all of these, despite the profound biological gulf that separates them from one other, and us from them.

“The bottom line is that saying there are differences in male and female brains is just not true. There is pretty compelling evidence that any differences are tiny and are the result of environment not biology,” said Prof Rippon.

“You can’t pick up a brain and say ‘that’s a girls brain, or that’s a boys brain’ in the same way you can with the skeleton. They look the same.”

Prof Rippon points to earlier studies that showed the brains of London black cab drivers physically changed after they had acquired The Knowledge – an encyclopaedic recall of the capital’s streets.
She believes differences in male and female brains are due to similar cultural stimuli. A women’s brain may therefore become ‘wired’ for multi-tasking simply because society expects that of her and so she uses that part of her brain more often. The brain adapts in the same way as a muscle gets larger with extra use.

“What often isn’t picked up on is how plastic and permeable the brain is. It is changing throughout out lifetime

“The world is full of stereotypical attitudes and unconscious bias. It is full of the drip, drip, drip of the gendered environment.”

Prof Rippon believes that gender differences appear early in western societies and are based on traditional stereotypes of how boys and girls should behave and which toys they should play with.

Men and Women Do Not Have Different Brains, Claims Neuroscientist (via featherframe)

THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN SAYING.  Glad to see even more research to back it up, though.  ;-)

(Source: thegendercritic)

skeptv:

What is your brain not telling you?

Just because your brain recognizes something, doesn’t mean you see it. Learn more about what your brain is keeping from you in this episode from Stuff to Blow Your Mind.

via Stuff to Blow Your Mind.
Twitter https://twitter.com/blowthemind
Facebook http://www.facebook.com/blowthemind
Google+ https://plus.google.com/+StuffToBlowYourMind/

sagansense:


Not So Dumb
Mysterious brain cells called microglia are starting to reveal their secrets thanks to research conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Until recently, most of the glory in brain research went to neurons. For more than a century, these electrically excitable cells were believed to perform the entirety of the information processing that makes the brain such an amazing machine. In contrast, cells called glia – which together account for about half of the brain’s volume – were thought to be mere fillers that provided the neurons with support and protection but performed no vital function of their own. In fact, they had been named glia, the Greek for “glue,” precisely because they were considered so unsophisticated.
But in the past few years, the glia cells – particularly the tiny microglia that make up about one-tenth of the brain cells – have been shown to play critical roles both in the healthy and in the diseased brain.
The octopi-like microglia are immune cells that conduct ongoing surveillance, swallowing cellular debris or, in the case of infection, microbes, to protect the brain from injury or disease. But these remarkable cells are more than cleaners: In the past few years, they have been found to be involved in shaping neuronal networks by pruning excessive synapses – the contact points that allow neurons to transmit signals – during embryonic development. They are probably also involved in reshaping the synapses as learning and memory occurs in the adult brain. Defects in microglia are believed to contribute to various neurological diseases, among them Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. By clarifying how exactly the microglia operate on the molecular level, scientists might be able to develop new therapies for these disorders.
More than a decade ago, Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Steffen Jung developed a transgenic mouse model that for the first time enabled scientists to visualize the highly active microglia in the live brain. Now Jung has made a crucial next step: His laboratory developed a system for investigating the functions of microglia.
The scientists have equipped mice with a genetic switch: an enzyme that can rearrange previously marked portions of the DNA. The switch is activated by a drug: When the mouse receives the drug, the enzyme performs a genetic manipulation – for example, to disable a particular gene. The switch is so designed that over the long term, it targets only the microglia, but not other cells in the brain or in the rest of the organism. In this manner, researchers can clarify not only the function of the microglia, but the roles of different genes in their mechanism of action.
As reported in Nature Neuroscience, Weizmann scientists, in collaboration with the team of Prof. Marco Prinz at the University of Freiburg, Germany, recently used this system to examine the role of an inflammatory gene expressed by the microglia. They found that the microglia contribute to an animal disease equivalent of multiple sclerosis. Prof. Jung’s team included Yochai Wolf, Diana Varol and Dr. Simon Yona, all of Weizmann’s Immunology Department.

via neurosciencestuff

sagansense:

Not So Dumb

Mysterious brain cells called microglia are starting to reveal their secrets thanks to research conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Until recently, most of the glory in brain research went to neurons. For more than a century, these electrically excitable cells were believed to perform the entirety of the information processing that makes the brain such an amazing machine. In contrast, cells called glia – which together account for about half of the brain’s volume – were thought to be mere fillers that provided the neurons with support and protection but performed no vital function of their own. In fact, they had been named glia, the Greek for “glue,” precisely because they were considered so unsophisticated.

But in the past few years, the glia cells – particularly the tiny microglia that make up about one-tenth of the brain cells – have been shown to play critical roles both in the healthy and in the diseased brain.

The octopi-like microglia are immune cells that conduct ongoing surveillance, swallowing cellular debris or, in the case of infection, microbes, to protect the brain from injury or disease. But these remarkable cells are more than cleaners: In the past few years, they have been found to be involved in shaping neuronal networks by pruning excessive synapses – the contact points that allow neurons to transmit signals – during embryonic development. They are probably also involved in reshaping the synapses as learning and memory occurs in the adult brain. Defects in microglia are believed to contribute to various neurological diseases, among them Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. By clarifying how exactly the microglia operate on the molecular level, scientists might be able to develop new therapies for these disorders.

More than a decade ago, Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Steffen Jung developed a transgenic mouse model that for the first time enabled scientists to visualize the highly active microglia in the live brain. Now Jung has made a crucial next step: His laboratory developed a system for investigating the functions of microglia.

The scientists have equipped mice with a genetic switch: an enzyme that can rearrange previously marked portions of the DNA. The switch is activated by a drug: When the mouse receives the drug, the enzyme performs a genetic manipulation – for example, to disable a particular gene. The switch is so designed that over the long term, it targets only the microglia, but not other cells in the brain or in the rest of the organism. In this manner, researchers can clarify not only the function of the microglia, but the roles of different genes in their mechanism of action.

As reported in Nature Neuroscience, Weizmann scientists, in collaboration with the team of Prof. Marco Prinz at the University of Freiburg, Germany, recently used this system to examine the role of an inflammatory gene expressed by the microglia. They found that the microglia contribute to an animal disease equivalent of multiple sclerosis. Prof. Jung’s team included Yochai Wolf, Diana Varol and Dr. Simon Yona, all of Weizmann’s Immunology Department.

via neurosciencestuff