After providing all the funding for The Brain from Top to Bottom for over 10 years, the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction informed us that because of budget cuts, they were going to be forced to stop sponsoring us as of March 31st, 2013.

We have approached a number of organizations, all of which have recognized the value of our work. But we have not managed to find the funding we need. We must therefore ask our readers for donations so that we can continue updating and adding new content to The Brain from Top to Bottom web site and blog.

Please, rest assured that we are doing our utmost to continue our mission of providing the general public with the best possible information about the brain and neuroscience in the original spirit of the Internet: the desire to share information free of charge and with no adverstising.

Whether your support is moral, financial, or both, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Bruno Dubuc, Patrick Robert, Denis Paquet, and Al Daigen

Tuesday, 8 January 2019
Daniel Glaser: A Neuroscientist Who Explains

This week I’d like to tell you about a little gold mine of easy-to-understand explanations of neuroscience. It’s a weekly blog and podcast called “A Neuroscientist Explains”, by Dr. Daniel Glaser, and you can access it on the website of the newspaper The Guardian.

Glaser has had an interesting career as a scientist who always places great emphasis on sharing his knowledge with the general public. He has also taken an interest for many years in the arts and in multidisciplinary approaches—for example, he has conducted studies in which he compared the activation of mirror neurons in the brains of ballet dancers and of practitioners of the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. Glaser is now the director of Science Gallery London, an organization that builds bridges between the arts, the sciences and health through research, experimentation and exhibitions to which the general public is invited.

Glaser began publishing his blog in September 2015. Each week he adds a short post on the neuroscience behind current events and phenomena of everyday life. He began producing his podcasts in January 2017 in collaboration with Max Sanderson, an audio producer for The Guardian. Each podcast is based on one of Glaser’s blog posts, runs about 30 to 40 minutes, and comprises an interview in which Glaser and Sanderson interview an expert on the subject of the blog post and pepper him or her with questions about it.

Since my blog and Glaser’s share the goal of explaining neuroscience to general audiences, it’s no surprise that the two blogs sometimes address similar topics. Here are a few examples of recent podcasts by Glaser on subjects that I have also discussed in this blog; by listening to the one and reading the other, you can get a richer understanding of these subjects.

In his podcast of April 9, 2018, about how we read words, Glaser interviews Cathy Price about the controversy between the theory embraced by people such as Stanislas Dehaene, regarding the “visual word form area”, and Price’s approach, which takes a far more dynamic view of the brain, with less emphasis on specialized brain areas.

Glaser’s podcast of March 19, 2018 deals with psychology’s replication crisis, using as an example a study that I had mentioned in my blog, comparing how holding a cup of hot coffee or a cup of cold tea for a few seconds biases your subsequent perception of someone as having a warm or a cold personality.

Glaser has also made some podcasts on more general subjects, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), that I have also discussed on my website (but the expert whom Glaser interviews goes into far more detail on the operating principles of MRI).

Here are a few examples of blog posts that Glaser has published and places where I discuss the same subjects in my website or my blog: his post on how rhythms become a vital part of us, my website discussion of our 24-hour biological clocks, and my blog post on dynamic nervous system processes that operate on other time scales; his blog post on the magic of everyday perception and my blog posts on the essential contributions of magicians and pickpockets to our understanding of attention in humans; and his blog post on why we replenish only some of our cells, a much debated aspect of the development of new neurons in the adult human brain, which I addressed in an April 2018 blog post on recent research in this area.

From the Simple to the Complex | No comments

Tuesday, 11 December 2018
Pedal Your Way To Healthy Aging!

The evidence of the benefits of physical activity for both the body and the brain continues to pile up. A study published by Pollock et al. in April 2018 dealt with a group of 125 male and female cyclists ages 55 to 79, a stage of life when normally our muscle fibres becomes less vascularized and our immune systems decline. But Pollock found that some of his subjects, at age 75, had the immune profiles of 20-year-olds!

As described in a summary of this study published in the French newspaper Le Monde, these cyclists (two-thirds of whom were men) had all been cycling for many years, still cycled 2.5 hours per week (at moderate but constant intensity) and could cycle 100 kilometres in 6.5 hours. (more…)

Body Movement and the Brain | No comments

Thursday, 29 November 2018
A Pickpocket Teaches the Science of Attention

When I give courses on the brain’s “higher functions”, and I get to the topic of attention and control, I often show videos of Apollo Robbins, a professional pickpocket whom many consider the best in the world. The video I show most often was produced by Scientific American and is entitled “Neuroscience Meets Magic”. It shows neuroscientists who specialize in the subject of attention analyzing his subtlest gestures and identifying the classic principles of attention that he is manipulating, such as bottom up, top down, frame of attention, and misdirection. (more…)

The Emergence of Consciousness | No comments

Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Political Allegiance and Brain Biology

How hard it is to get someone to shift their allegiance from one political party to another is something that many of us know from personal experience, but it has also been demonstrated experimentally. For example, in subjects who were exposed to political ideas opposed to their own, researchers have recorded brain activity similar to that associated with the processing of pain or negative emotions. Conversely, when subjects were asked to justify their own political positions, their ventral striatum became more active, the typical sign of a pleasant, positive experience—in short, a reward.

So does this mean that all of us are stuck in a self-referential loop that would significantly compromise the possibility of any genuine political debate? (more…)

Emotions and the Brain | No comments

Thursday, 1 November 2018
How the Concept of Affordances Has Evolved

Recently, I had the chance to realize how quickly a concept can change—in this case, the concept of affordances, In its original form, this concept first appeared in studies by James J. Gibson on the sense of sight, in the 1970s. In short, Gibson observed that when we see an object, what interests us the most is not so much its physical properties as the opportunities that it affords us to take action—to intervene more effectively in the world and thus better resist the ravages of time, or, in the elegant language of physics, to temporarily overcome the second law of thermodynamics, that entropy always increases.

For some years, this concept of affordances received little attention in cognitive science, because the prevailing highly computationalist paradigm, emphasizing inputs, manipulation of symbols, and outputs, militated against its full development. This is a common phenomenon in the history of ideas: a conceptual innovation that is just a bit ahead of its time does not fit into any existing, broader paradigm that would let the scientific community understand and embrace its full implications. (more…)

Body Movement and the Brain | No comments