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, 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. None of them smoked, drank much alcohol or had high blood pressure. The researchers compared this group of cyclists with two other groups of adults who were in good health but not physically active: one group about the same age as these cyclists, the other consisting of young adults, ages 20 to 36. The cyclists were found to have not only muscle vascularization comparable to that of the young adults, but also amazingly healthy thymus glands, producing as many immune cells as those of the younger group.

When you think of all the pathologies that are triggered or aggravated by a decline in the immune system with age (ranging from rheumatoid polyarthritis to cancer), you’ll agree with the quip by one of the study’s co-authors that if cycling were a pill, everybody wold buy it, and the drug company that produced it would make a fortune! But tough luck for Big Pharma: cycling is an activity that is free and accessible to everyone!

 

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


Wednesday, 10 October 2018
The Neuronal Traces of Our Conceptual Memories

Much has been written on the question of how our memories are physically represented in our brains. In this post, I discuss two answers that have been competing with each other, so to speak, for a number of years. In very general terms, according to one of these answers, our memories are distributed across vast populations of neurons, numbering in the millions (out of the roughly 16 billion neurons in the cortex as a whole). According to the other answer, these memories are instead recorded in much smaller, sparser populations of neurons, in particular in the hippocampus, which is a very old part of the cortex in evolutionary terms and is highly involved in memory.

In recent years, the latter, “sparse” conception of memory, in which at most a few thousand neurons are activated by any given memory, seems to be gaining the upper hand, or at least that is what I gather from two recent articles touting its merits. (more…)

Memory and the Brain | No comments