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

Monday, 20 June 2022
Rediscovery of the traces of another hominin species from the same time as Lucy

The earliest traces of bipedalism are associated with Australopithecus afarensis, the species of the famous fossil Lucy. But if a study published recently in the journal Nature is accurate, scientists have just authenticated different traces of another bipedal species that lived at exactly the same time.

The human lineage separated from that of the chimpanzees—our closest cousins—at least 7 million years ago. The most notable trait of the Hominina (our lineage) is bipedalism. There is some indirect evidence that the oldest representatives of our lineage were able to walk upright for at least short distances. But the oldest direct evidence goes back some 3.66 million years. That is the age of the hardened volcanic ash at Laetoli site G, in Tanzania, where Mary Leakey and Richard L. Hay discovered, in 1978, the footprints of a hominin who had walked upright.

Two years earlier, in 1976, the pair had discovered another site nearby (Laetoli site A) that was especially rich in all kinds of animal prints: about 18,000 in all, of which five seemed to be those of an animal that had walked upright (left-hand photo above). But to many paleontologists, these wider prints and their spacing suggested an animal from the bear family instead. When the far more convincing prints were discovered at Laetoli site G in 1978 (right-hand photo above), people forgot all about those discovered at site A.

That is, until the team of Ellison J. McNutt re-examined them recently using more modern methods, such as 3D scanning (colour image below) and compared them carefully with similarly sized footprints of a species of bear that is alive today.

The study by McNutt and his team, published in December 2021 and entitled Footprint evidence of early hominin locomotor diversity at Laetoli, Tanzania leaves no doubt about their nature: these footprints do in fact seem to come from another species of hominin, different from the one whose prints were discovered in 1978. This means that there would have been at least two species of hominins that were alive at this same time and that may have had contact with each other, somewhat like Homo sapiens and Homo neandertalis were to do much later on.

There is general consensus that the advent of bipedalism in the course of the evolution of our lineage was one of the important factors that subsequently enabled the volume of the human brain to increase. If McNutt’s conclusions are correct, it seems that several species of hominids had this starting advantage at the same time.

Evolution and the Brain | Comments Closed

Monday, 25 April 2022
Our brain: neither hardware nor software, but “liveware”!

This week I’d like to tell you about a book by David Eagleman, entitled Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain. This book discusses several subjects related to brain plasticity, which is one of Eagleman’s research areas. In this book, one of Eagleman’s main ideas, which he attempts to conceptualize with the term “livewired”, is that the human brain is a machine that spends its time reconfiguring itself. In contrast, computers are “hardwired” with predefined electronic circuits that run software—computer programs that use this computer hardware to perform mathematical calculations and logic operations. The human mind or human thought has often been erroneously compared to a software program that needs the “hardware” of the human brain to manifest itself. This is a very poor metaphor for many reasons, of which the one cited by Eagleman is not the least. (more…)

From the Simple to the Complex | Comments Closed

Monday, 4 April 2022
How to avoid our natural tendency to divide the world between “us” and “them”

This week, I’d like to talk about two articles on the work of Robert Sapolsky, a primatologist and neurobiologist who published the superb book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst in 2017. In that book, Sapolsky stylishly and eloquently examined the many factors that have influenced our behaviours from the time of our primate ancestors through to the modern societies of today. He focused especially on our identity behaviours—the ones that make us divide the world into “us” and “them” and that so many politicians now exploit to try to capture our votes. (more…)

From Thought to Language | Comments Closed

Tuesday, 15 March 2022
Exercising in childhood appears to have positive effects throughout life

In the northern hemisphere, spring and summer are finally approaching, and I advise everyone who lives here to take advantage of the increased opportunities to get out in nature for their exercise. Because if there’s one thing that’s been very well established scientifically, it’s that physical exercise has positive effects on all of our bodily functions, including the cognitive ones. I’ve posted about this topic here for example in 2017, so today I’ll keep up the tradition and tell you about a recent study by Toru Ishihara and his team at Kobe University in Japan, about how childhood exercise can maintain and promote cognitive function in later life. (more…)

Body Movement and the Brain | Comments Closed

Monday, 28 February 2022
Mindfulness meditation at school improves sustained attention and cognitive control

Many young people have trouble in focussing on tasks to complete them successfully. Scientists have shown that the mere presence of your cell phone within easy reach can affect your cognitive abilities, which may be part of the reason for attention problems among today’s youth. But the human brain, and especially the young human brain, is highly plastic. And a study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping in September 2020 seems to have proved it once again, by showing that 8 weeks of training in mindfulness meditation improves sustained attention and cognitive control among Grade 6 students. (more…)

The Emergence of Consciousness | Comments Closed

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