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




Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Are crows just as good at planning as the great apes?

Over the years, many studies have been published on the intelligence of crows, ravens, jays and other corvids (members of the crow family). But according to several specialists on the subject, a study entitled “Ravens parallel great apes in flexible planning for tool-use and bartering,” published in July 2017 in the journal Science, reveals that birds in this family have a heretofore unexpected ability to plan a future behaviour after learning something under experimental conditions. The conditions in this study were such that the behaviour was unlikely to have arisen from a more or less innate adaptation to the birds’ natural environment. The ravens learned to use a rock to get a piece of food out of a box built by humans—certainly not a natural feature of the ecological niche in which their species evolved. Nevertheless, once they had learned this behaviour, they were able to select the rock out of a group of objects, then wait for as many as 17 minutes for the researchers to show them the box again, and then use the rock to get the food out of the box.

Previously, this kind of behaviour that is associated with planning had been observed only in adult primates and in humans starting at about age 4. If subsequent studies successfully demonstrate that this behaviour is indeed planning (and not simply associative learning, as some critics have claimed), it could mean that this kind of behavioural flexibility may have evolved independently at various times in the course of evolution, and not only in primates, as was previously believed.

And if that is indeed the case, what is especially interesting is that both corvids and primates have very rich, complex social lives, in which the ability to decipher other individuals’ future behaviours (and hence their states of mind) is of great importance. Ravens, for example, form groups of many individuals that stay together for several years before pairing off and establishing breeding territories. Also, being scavengers, they have been subject to strong evolutionary pressures to find ways of managing their rare finds of dead animals effectively, such as by hiding them more quickly if they feel that other birds are watching, as was shown in a study published in 2016.

In other words, we already had numerous theories that cited social interactions to explain the rapid development of human intelligence during hominization. Now we have some indications that the same evolutionary pressures arising from life in organized groups may have fostered corvids’ surprising cognitive capacities. All of this reduces the so-called specificity of human intelligence just a bit further. But there is still a big difference between a crow’s brain, with about 2 billion neurons, and a human brain, with about 86 billion.

From Thought to Language | No comments


Tuesday, 23 January 2018
The Mere Presence of Your Smartphone Reduces Your Cognitive Capacity

An article entitled “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity”, published by Adrian Ward and his colleagues in April 2017, suggests that smartphone owners’ cognitive capacities may be reduced by the mere fact of knowing that their devices are close at hand.

Ward’s study included nearly 800 subjects, all of whom were smartphone users. They were asked to perform a series of tests that required a high degree of concentration in order to achieve good results. In the first experiment, the subjects were divided into three groups. The subjects in the first group placed their phones on the table in front of them, face down; those in the second group kept their phones in their pockets or handbags; and those in the third group left their phones in another room. The subjects who had left their phones in another room achieved significantly better test results than those who had their phones in front of them on the table, and slightly better results than those who had their phones in their pockets or bags. (more…)

From Thought to Language | No comments


Tuesday, 9 January 2018
The Baseball Batter’s Predictive Brain

For some years now, cognitive scientists have increasingly come to regard the human brain as a machine for making predictions. In other words, these scientists think that our brains spend most of their time trying to figure out what is going to happen next so that they can take action accordingly. The great adaptive value of such a process is immediately obvious.

The theoretical framework underlying this view of things is extensive and fairly new, although it has roots in 18th-century philosophy. Some authors even describe it as a paradigm shift, the same term that has been applied in turn to the cognitivist, connectionist and embodied dynamic approaches over the past half-century. (more…)

Body Movement and the Brain | No comments


Tuesday, 19 December 2017
Blog posts in French in December 2017 – Part II (English posts return in January 2018)

As I wrote two weeks ago, Al Daigen, who has translated all the of content for The Brain from Top to Bottom from French into English and who continues to translate selected posts from this website’s blog, will be taking a well earned vacation in December 2017. Since my English is not up to his high standards, I’m not going to try to replace him. But to make sure you don’t have to go too long without hearing from me, I want to let those of you who can read French know about 8 posts based on the lectures that I gave this fall at the “Université du troisième âge (UTA)” and that I think you will enjoy. (more…)

From the Simple to the Complex | No comments


Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Blog posts in French in December 2017 (English posts return in January 2018)

Al Daigen, who has translated all the of content for The Brain from Top to Bottom from French into English and who continues to translate selected posts from this website’s blog, will be taking a well earned vacation in December 2017. Since my English is not up to his high standards, I’m not going to try to replace him. But to make sure you don’t have to go too long without hearing from me, I want to let those of you who can read French know about 14 posts based on 14 lectures on embodied cognition that I gave last fall at the Université du Québec à Montréal and that I think you will enjoy. Unfortunately, the rest of you will either have to wait until Al’s translations of recent posts begin appearing here again on January 8, 2018, or try your luck with Google Translate, which has improved a fair bit in recent years, thanks to “deep learning” technology.

Body Movement and the Brain | No comments