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, 26 February 2019
A Podcast on the Nature of the Human Mind

Some of you may be aware of the distinction, in Cartesian radical dualism, between the extended thing and the thinking thing, otherwise known as the body and the mind. A similar but perhaps more insidious distinction is made between the brain and the rest of the body. Likewise, the distinction between the individual and the rest of his or her environment is still taken as self-evident. In all three cases, tradition and “basic common sense” naturally lead us to think of the two terms in each dichotomy as clearly separate things. But in all three cases, according to today’s cognitive science, we are quite simply wrong.

In the June 2018 episode of the podcast Brain Science, Ginger Campbell talks with Alan Jasanoff about his book The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are. Jasanoff takes issue with what he describes as a certain “mystique of the brain”—our tendency to overemphasize the brain as a “subject”, as it it had its own life disconnected from the organism in which it is housed. Jasanoff reminds us that, on the contrary, the brain is part of this body that is subject to the biological imperative to stay alive, to postpone for as long as possible the victory of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics—in short, death.

As Jasanoff sees it, if some cells in our bodies have become specialized into neurons that can communicate rapidly by means of nerve impulses, the basic reason they have done so is to find the resources in the outside world that are necessary for the body’s survival. Because animals, unlike plants, cannot use photosynthesis to convert solar energy directly into their bodies’ structural components, they have instead developed nervous systems that let them perceive the world and move around in it to find food (and partners with whom to reproduce). The growth in brain size of vertebrates over the course of evolution, resulting in the human brain, is thus indissociable from this imperative to maintain our homeostasis—the biological equilibrium of our internal environment.

From this perspective, it clearly makes no sense to think of the brain apart from the body. Yet that is what we still do all too often, as if we were hypnotized by the beautiful colours of brain images showing which parts of the brain are activated at any given time.

From the Simple to the Complex | No comments


Thursday, 14 February 2019
A Summer School on Animal Sentience and Cognition

Without consciousness the mind-body problem would be much less interesting. With consciousness it seems hopeless.” – Thomas Nagel

What is it like to be a bat? is the somewhat disconcerting title of philosopher Thomas Nagel’s famous 1974 article on the ineffability of subjective consciousness. In reality, we humans will never know what it is like to use echolocation to navigate as we fly through the air, because, unlike bats, we simply don’t have the bodies or the nervous systems to do so. But the question of animals’ experience in general is nevertheless highly relevant, if only because our human species has the faculty of language and has developed a scientific method that lets us make observations and deductions about the mental states of other human beings and other animals. And because humans domesticate, exploit and exterminate thousands of other animal species, knowing what they may experience becomes an ethical imperative to guide the way we treat them. (more…)

The Emergence of Consciousness | No comments


Tuesday, 22 January 2019
Are Nationalist Sentiments Inversely Proportional to Cognitive Flexibility?

Many studies have shown how certain emotional characteristics can have higher-level cognitive effects. including an impact on people’s political choices. For example, studies have shown that being more sensitive to disgusting things is correlated with having a more conservative political or ethical outlook. Being afraid of nature or even of hearing someone read horror stories out loud is also likely to attract people to the conservative end of the political spectrum. More recently, the opposite phenomenon has even been demonstrated: making people feel invincible through a simple thought experiment can move them toward the more liberal, progressive end of this spectrum. (more…)

Emotions and the Brain | No comments


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. (more…)

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