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, 19 May 2020
Neural correlates of mathematical beauty


This week I’d like to tell you about a study published in 2014, entitled “The experience of mathematical beauty and its neural correlates”.

We know that mathematicians have long talked about experiencing genuine aesthetic pleasure at the sight of certain mathematical formulas. We also know from several brain-imaging studies that activation of field A1 of the medial orbito-frontal cortex (mOFC) is one of the most common neuronal correlates of the more conventional, sense-based experience of beauty (for example, in someone’s face, or in a landscape, or in a piece of music). Hence the authors of this study (neuroscientist Semir Zeki and his colleagues) decided to investigate whether the aesthetic pleasure that mathematicians derive from such a seemingly abstract source as a mathematical formula activates this same area in their brains. And the answer seems to be yes. …

To answer this question, Zeki and his team asked 15 mathematicians to study 60 different mathematical formulas and rate them on a scale from –5 (ugly) to +5 (beautiful) according to how beautiful they experienced them to be. Two weeks later, these mathematicians were brought into the lab and asked to rate these same equations again while undergoing brain scans by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The formulas rated among the most beautiful often included Leonhard Euler’s identity, the Pythagorean identity, and the Cauchy-Riemann equations. Euler’s identity (top image above) links 5 fundamental mathematical constants with 3 different arithmetic operations and is considered so beautiful that some have compared it with Hamlet’s soliloquy. At the other end of the spectrum, many of the mathematicians rated Riemann’s functional equation and Srinivasa Ramanujan’s infinite series (bottom image) as among the ugliest. Even to me, a non-mathematician, there’s something fundamentally repulsive about the latter.

Zeki and his team found not only that the mathematicians’ ratings were consistent between the first trial and the second, but also that the formulas that they rated most beautiful did indeed activate field A1 of their medial orbito-frontal cortex (which is also one of the many brain areas activated in the mystical experience of meditation. Thus we see that human beings can experience aesthetic emotions in response not only to things like paintings or music, but also to things that are supposedly cold and abstract, such as mathematical formulas.

Pleasure and Pain | No comments


Tuesday, 21 April 2020
The rubber-hand illusion

The sense that you have a body and can distinguish what’s part of it from what’s not is with you all the time. It’s so familiar that it’s hard to imagine not having it. Yet several experiments, such as the rubber-hand-illusion experiment described in this post, show that this sense is actually a complex construct that your brain assembles from the myriad pieces of sensory information that it receives constantly. (more…)

The Emergence of Consciousness | No comments


Wednesday, 8 April 2020
Spectacular advances in two-photon microscopy and two-photon calcium imaging

What if I told you that scientists had just succeeded in recording the simultaneous activity of 12 000 neurons in the cortex of a mouse as it moved freely around its cage, and that they had done so at the cellular level, down to a frequency of 17 Hertz? Would you say something like, “So what?” or “Who cares?” or “Why don’t you tell me in language I can understand?” In this post, I’m going to try to meet that last challenge. (more…)

From the Simple to the Complex | No comments


Tuesday, 17 March 2020
A Chair Doesn’t Have To Be Electric To Be Dangerous

Moving is good for your brain. We all know this instinctively, because of the way we just feel better after walking, dancing, playing soccer or engaging in other physical activity. But too often, we forget, because we have too much work to do, too many e-mails to answer, too many TV series to stream and so on. As a result, all too many of us end up spend all too many hours sitting every day. Scientists who study this issue use the term “sedentariness” to describe this pattern in which people remain seated and expend very little energy for long periods. And the scientists’ studies have shown that there is a meaningful distinction between how sedentary someone is and how much physical activity they engage in every day or week. (more…)

Body Movement and the Brain | No comments


Friday, 28 February 2020
The multiple levels of organization of living things: more central than ever to cognitive science

This week I want to talk about a concept that is fundamental to an understanding not only of the human brain but also of the entire human adventure in general: the various levels of organization of living systems. This concept is central to the most influential current studies in theoretical biology, if one is to judge from the article “Answering Schrödinger’s question: A free-energy formulation”, by Maxwell Ramstead of McGill University’s Department of Psychiatry and his colleagues Paul Badcock and Karl Friston, published in March 2018 in the journal Physics of Life Reviews. While I will not delve here into the details of the free-energy principle that is central to all these studies, I will describe this article as the first attempt to explain the dynamics of cognitive systems at every scale on which they occur. In other words, these three authors attempt to consider every behaviour of living beings as the product of “nested systems of systems”. (more…)

From the Simple to the Complex, Memory and the Brain | No comments


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