David Kirkpatrick

March 13, 2009

A look at the future of neuroscience

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:34 pm

Informative blog post at FutureTechie.com on the future of neuroscience.

From the link:

Before we come up with some kind of Evil Hollywood Science Fiction Artificial Intelligence that for some reason utilizes the horribly inefficient human body as a power source, we are stuck with brains.  We are already doing with brains what the machines do with humans in the classic film “The Matrix”.

Animal brains, that is.  Scientists at University of Reading have removed the neural cortex of a fetal rat, put it in a nutrient and neuron rich broth surrounding a circuit board, and waited.  Over 300,000 rat neurons eventually forged their own new and unique connections with the cortex and circuit board:

Also from the link:

Some say we will lose our unique individualism as we merge with machines, I predict the opposite.  Just as an uneducated, starved brain from the medieval dark ages or poverty-stricken Africa is limited in comparison to an educated healthy brain, in the future our minds will expand and become more varied in psychology, ideas, creativity, and perception as we voluntarily tinker with our intelligence, speed of thought, memory, and even how the basic components of our brains are organized.  Similar to how a prosthetic leg helps one walk again or a pacemaker allows one to live additional years brain-computer interfaces will be just another step.

February 24, 2009

Is social networking turning us into babies?

I’m going to get out there on a limb and say no.

Didn’t stop this Brit professor to state otherwise. Sadly, her comment is very indicative of the overall quality of UK medical research and opinion. Check out some of the bogus “research” published by the Lancet over the last few years to get a broader picture. Overt bias and research driven to meet pre-ordained results seems the order of the day across the pond.

From the link:

No less an authority on the brain’s workings than Susan Greenfield, a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University and the director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, told a British newspaper on Tuesday that social networking sites remind her of the way that “small babies need constant reassurance that they exist” and make her worry about the effects that this sort of stimulation is having on the brains of users. Lady Greenfield (she’s a neuroscientist and a baroness) told the Daily Mail:

My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.

June 12, 2008

The internet is changing our brains

Filed under: Arts, et.al., Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:24 am

Just read Nicholas Carr’s piece in the July/August 2008 print Atlantic Monthly, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The article raises some very interesting points, most importantly bringing into sharper focus the relatively new neuroscience idea that our brain continually changes, improves and otherwise re-wires itself. This is counter the long-held belief that once you reach adulthood, your brain is permanentlyset. Sort of like concrete poured into a mold. Instead the medium a malleable, and the mold is constantly refiguring itself.

The larger concept is the internet, and its unique structure, is affecting the way we access and process information. Certainly true. I’ve included an excerpt from the article about how acquiring a typewriter affected Nietzsche’s writing.

I completely understand this idea. When writing for business or media I use the computer keyboard, but when writing fiction I often will write in longhand. It’s a different experience and it slows my thinking down forcing me to contemplate each word a bit more. Sure I do some fiction at the keyboard, but much of that writing is done with pen set to paper. And my journal of many years is one hundred percent longhand. Something about the pen, or pencil, scratching across the page still appeals to me. Plus I like looking at the large stack of spiral-bound notebooks holding my thoughts dating back twenty-plus years.

From the article:

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.

But the machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”

The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. “The brain,” according to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”