Your Brain on the Web: See the Data

Cognitive Data: A snapshot of brain performance from the heights...This miniature chart (below)will lead you to a full size graph of 3 axes of data - age (year of birth) performance and frequency (who takes tests).

You can get a sense
of cognitive performance over time.It's amazing how much information can be captured in a sample of a little over 100 people. Now think of the data from 1 million people, or 10 million, or 100 million - impossible before the advent of the Internet, fast CPUs, and fast connections, with 100 million personally-relevant pages or data profiles.

Labels: , , ,

Stephen Hawking: "...Must....Colonize Planets...in other ...Solar Systems

Humans must colonize planets in other solar systems traveling there using "Star Trek"-style propulsion or face extinction, renowned British cosmologist Stephen Hawking said on Thursday.

Try the Stephen Hawking test (right here)

Referring to complex theories and the speed of light, Hawking, the wheel-chair bound Cambridge University physicist, told BBC radio that theoretical advances could revolutionize the velocity of space travel and make such colonies possible.

"Sooner or later disasters such as an asteroid collision or a nuclear war could wipe us all out," said Professor Hawking, who was crippled by a muscle disease at the age of 21 and who speaks through a computerized voice synthesizer.

"But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe," said Hawking, who was due to receive the world's oldest award for scientific achievement, the Copley medal, from Britain's Royal Society on Thursday.

Previous winners include Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin.

In order to survive, humanity would have to venture off to other hospitable planets orbiting another star, but conventional chemical fuel rockets that took man to the moon on the Apollo mission would take 50,000 years to travel there, he said.

Hawking, a 64-year-old father of three who rarely gives interviews and who wrote the best-selling "A Brief History of Time", suggested propulsion like that used by the fictional starship Enterprise "to boldly go where no man has gone before" could help solve the problem.

"Science fiction has developed the idea of warp drive, which takes you instantly to your destination," said.

"Unfortunately, this would violate the scientific law which says that nothing can travel faster than light."

However, by using "matter/antimatter annihilation", velocities just below the speed of light could be reached, making it possible to reach the next star in about six years.

"It wouldn't seem so long for those on board," he said.

The scientist revealed he also wanted to try out space travel himself, albeit by more conventional means.

"I am not afraid of death but I'm in no hurry to die. My next goal is to go into space," said Hawking.

And referring to the British entrepreneur and Virgin tycoon who has set up a travel agency to take private individuals on space flights from 2008, Hawking said: "Maybe Richard Branson will help me."

Labels: , , , , ,


Rebooting the Planet

from Wired, 12/06...

Repeat after me: We humans have screwed up our planet. Feels better, doesn't it? Now that we've accepted this reality, at least we don't have to argue about it anymore. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are at the highest they've been in at least 800,000 years. Greenland's ice sheet is melting fast. Some – probably a lot – of the current warming trend is because of us, and so are the consequent threats to ecosystems, food supplies, coastal cities, and all that other stuff from An Inconvenient Truth (editor's note: or the inspirational work for that, the Coming Global Superstorm). Sorry, earth 2.0 was not invented by Al Gore.
Of course, that means we're responsible for repairing the damage, but stopgaps like carbon sequestration just aren't going to cut it. Luckily, a growing number of scientists are thinking more aggressively, developing incredibly ambitious technical fixes to cool the planet. These efforts to remedy the accidental experiment of climate change with intentional, megascale experimentation are called geoengineering. Thus far, ideas include reflecting sunlight with gazillions of orbiting featherweight mirrors or by saturating the stratosphere with sulfur, or increasing the volume of microbes that eat CO2 by fertilizing the oceans with iron.

Harebrained? Well, maybe. But somebody has to save the world. Typically, sober environmentalists have looked askance at geoengineering. In fact, they mostly think it's nuts. All the ideas on the table reek of foolhardiness. We have only one Earth, and it is a system of unparalleled complexity (in other words, no one knows exactly how it works). What if we muck it up? "If you go down the path of geoengineering, it leads to taking ever-increasing environmental risk, and, eventually, you'll be unlucky," says Ken Caldeira, a climatologist at Stanford University.

What's more, many greens worry that just talking about geoengineering could deflect funding and focus from the task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. They'd rather we legislate higher fuel-efficiency standards and design better photovoltaics. Enviros are right about the urgency of kicking the fossil fuel habit – that's a no-brainer. The problem is inertia; the changes we have wrought in the atmosphere will play out over decades (or longer) whether we junk all the SUVs tomorrow or not.

That's why it makes sense to start thinking seriously about radical countermeasures. One of the biggest boosts to the idea of climate manipulation came last summer from Paul Crutzen, an emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. Writing in the journal Climate Change, Crutzen, who shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for work examining ozone depletion, described a plan to shoot massive quantities of sulfur into the stratosphere. In theory, the sulfur would reflect sunlight – just as particles blown into the air by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo did in 1991 – cooling Earth and buying enough time for civilization to shift into green gear. Crutzen's not crazy, and he's no renegade terraformer. "Until a few years ago, I would also have been against the idea," he recently told an Australian newspaper.

His journal article – and his clout – gave geoengineering an almost instant credibility boost. Soon other heavies, like Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, were also writing in favor of the concept. Their message: Geoengineering isn't, and shouldn't be, fringe science. "Given that the climate-change problem might be more serious than we previously thought," says Tom Wigley, a mathematical physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, "we should consider these radical solutions more seriously." Stanford's Caldeira is keeping an open mind – he's even helping to organize an international geoengineering meeting at NASA Ames Research Center.

The shortsighted mistake here would be getting mired in the details of these wild plans. (Crutzen's scheme would mean we'd have to start loving smog – but imagine the psychedelic sunsets!) Yes, these ideas sound crazy. But we're in the earliest stages of what is potentially the single most crucial new science in history. Let's give the researchers a minute or two to get their PowerPoint slides in order and, more important, grab a slice of the admittedly modest budget for climate-change research. Just remember: Advocating the study of geoengineering does not mean campaigning for the deployment of every ludicrous notion that comes along.

Smart people finally convinced us that we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Let's do that. But because what has already been set in motion tends to stay in motion, we need a well-researched, measured plan to get us (or, more realistically, our grandchildren) out of this mess. The real worst-case scenario is some kind of Bruce Willis-movie scheme deployed at the eleventh hour, after the climate shift has already hit the fan.

– David Wolman



New right-brain game

New creative game...draw with the pencil, then ride along the line. How complex can your design get? find out

You might never have played a game like this?

Labels: , , ,


Read This Before You Sign up for that Space Flight!

--Even though astronauts have toured the universe for decades, scientists are just now beginning to understand how space's low gravity environment can affect the brain. New biological studies show that outer space, at least temporarily, impacts brain mechanisms involved in a variety of functions, including movement and navigation. The research may lead to the development of strategies that protect humans from the consequences of space travel as well as help those with related, earth-based ailments. In addition, the insights on the brain's ability to adapt to aspects of the space assault may help scientists find ways to initiate these adaptations in order to treat a variety of brain disorders.

If technology and science advance at a break-neck pace, recreational trips to outer space in this millennium are a good bet. But before you place a deposit on that moon-travel special, consider how the unusual change in environment, particularly the warp in gravity, could tinker with your brain.

On Earth, gravity's invisible downward force draws us toward the center of the planet and holds us on the surface. This pull, however, barely registers in space.

An increasing amount of biological evidence is now indicating that space's skimpy gravity impacts the brain in a variety of ways. The discoveries are leading to:

An understanding of the importance of gravity on biological systems.
New insight into the brain's ability to adapt to even the strangest situations.
Clues on ways to ward off side effects of space flight as well as some related Earth-based ailments.

For years, researchers have seen signs that space affects the brain. For example, space travelers often experience stints of disorientation and weird visual illusions. They may feel upside down when they are right side up. Travelers also face space motion sickness, marked by dizziness and nausea, and brief disturbances in balance and movement, which occur both in space and upon return to Earth.

In the past few years, scientists decided to take a closer look. A slew of new biological studies now are confirming and starting to explain how space flight influences the brain.

Several experiments have uncovered changes that appear to underlie the movement and balance-related disturbances observed in astronants. One study found that, following 24 hours of space flight, rats had alterations in the cell organization of the cerebellum brain area. This region is critical for learning movements, coordination and balance. As a next step, the researchers are trying to determine if the changes are permanent, even after return to Earth, or whether the reworking of cell communication networks is temporary. Based on those results scientists may be able to find ways to speed up useful cell network adaptations in astronauts, as well as to slow down or prevent destructive adaptations. They also may be able to readjust brains that malfunction from various disorders experienced on Earth.

Other biological studies indicate that space also alters the brain's movement system by changing muscle activity. Unlike Earth, muscles in space don't have to push against a gravity force to maintain upright posture. Research shows that upon re-entry to Earth's environment the alterations trigger shortened steps and tremors. Currently, scientists are developing robotic devices that will train the astronauts' movement systems to better adapt to space flight. These devices may also help people with other types of movement problems that also possibly arise from diminished muscle use.

Other new biological evidence of space's impact relates to astronauts' feelings of disorientation. One study indicates that cells, dubbed place cells, located in the hippocampus brain area are involved. It's thought that place cell activity aids navigation by providing a sort of mental map of the enviornment. Scientists found, however, that the cell activity goes out of whack in rats during the early days of space flight when they try to complete a three-dimensional maze. Further insights may help researchers find ways to prevent disorientation in astronauts and tackle hippocampus-related disorders on Earth.

Early biological findings also hint that space may influence the overall activity of cells throughout the brain. A preliminary analysis of mice embryos collected in space uncovered alterations in some essentials of cell function, such as basic metabolic processes and internal movements of the cell nucleus. Researchers hope to determine if the changes also occur in adults and if they affect overall abilities.

These and other insights are launching the understanding of the brain into a new orbit, so hold on to your seat.

Specific brain areas that undergo changes when exposed to space flight include the cerebellum and hippocampus, according to new studies. The cerebellum, tucked away in the back of the brain, is important for coordination and balance. Deep in the brain, the seahorse-shaped hippocampus is critical for certain memory functions including those for navigation.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last Cognitive Visitors

Quick,,,last 1o visitors:

Santa Fe, New Mexico, US
Los Angeles, California, US
Alameda, California, US
Stavanger, Rogaland, Norway
Garlasco, Lombardia, Italy
Moraga, California, US
Fremont, California, US
Oslo, Oslo, Norway
Chicago, Illinois, US
Valdez, Alaska, US
Savannah, Missouri, US
Portand, Oregon, US
Løkken, Sor-Trondelag, Norway

don't forget to take a test

Labels: , , , , , ,

No More Human than C-3PO

George the Robot is playing hide-and-seek with scientist Alan Schultz.

For a robot to actually find a place to hide, and then to hunt for its human playmate, is a new level of human interaction. The machine must take cues from people and behave accordingly.

This is the beginning of a real robot revolution: giving robots some humanity.

"Robots in the human environment, to me that's the final frontier," said Cynthia Breazeal, robotic life group director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The human environment is as complex as it gets; it pushes the envelope."

"Robots have to understand people as people," Breazeal said. "Right now, the average robot understands people like a chair: It's something to go around."

The places we will first see these robots that can connect with humans in a more "thoughtful" way are in the most human-oriented fields - those that require special care in dealing with the elderly, young and disabled.

As a machine, George is not a breakthrough. He's an off-the-shelf robot reprogrammed at the Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence, which Schultz directs.

When they play hide and seek, George doesn't hide very well, and it takes him longer to find Schultz than vice versa, but it's the fact that he does either that makes him special.

"We have only scratched the surface," said Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab director who won the Defence Department's Grand Challenge for a self-driving robot car through the desert last year. He predicted that 10 years from now robots will roam the health care system and that in our homes, multi-armed robots will be doing the cleaning. "There will be a lot of personalized devices," he says.

That's a big switch. The latest commercial home robots - the vacuuming iRobot Roomba, and its floor-cleaning cousins - are designed to work best when people leave the room. But the promise of robots for scientists is represented by Rosie, the vacuuming robot of "The Jetsons" cartoon series.

"If Rosie is going to be around and in your face, it would be good if the interaction is natural and easy," says Rod Brooks, director of MIT's artificial intelligence lab.

So after spending decades tinkering with wiring, some roboticists started studying humans, and the new field of human-robot interaction was born. Unlike the rest of robotics, many of its leaders are women. It has social scientists, language specialists, medical doctors and even ethicists who wonder if putting robots into places like nursing homes is the right thing to do.

That's a big change from 50 years ago, when the field of artificial intelligence was created at a forum at Dartmouth University. The experts focused on puzzles and chess and skipped over concepts such as perception, a sense of where you are, what's around you and how to interact.

"They all thought perception was easy - a two-year-old could do that - but smart people play chess," said Brooks, co-founder of iRobot Corp. "They all missed it and Hollywood missed it. The stuff a two-year-old could do, that's the hard stuff."

One preschooler-type skill, the ability to take someone else's perspective, "turned out to be a very important capability that we needed on our robots so that they could really work comfortably with humans," said Schultz.

Thus, Schultz hopes in the next year or so to have a robot that could, like an old-time movie detective working a case, tail a person walking through the naval research lab campus unseen.

Similarly, researchers are working on teaching language-reasoning - not just dumping a dictionary in the robot's database - gestures and eye contact so robots can understand the many ways people communicate. At NASA, astronauts are working with Schultz and a spacewalking-prototype called Robonaut to make machines understand when an astronaut points to something and says "there."

We as humans understand that, but getting robots to put those clues together is proving to be a big leap, he said. And then there are subtle clues that humans pick up without even knowing it, such as nods and eye contact.

Research scientist Candy Sidner at the Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab in Cambridge, Mass., found that people respond better to more animated robots - those that nod, move and point. So she developed Mel, a pointing, nodding penguin robot. You nod at Mel, Mel nods back.

"It's absolutely very compelling. People tell me, 'I like Mel because he's really kind of cute,' " Sidner said.

How should a robot look? There's debate on that. On one extreme are the stroke-therapy robots of MIT scientists Neville Hogan and Hermano Igo Krebs. Those look like exercise machines with video game screens. They guide the arms and legs of paralyzed stroke patients through physical therapy, and the patients don't even realize they are robots.

On the other end of the spectrum are David Hanson of Dallas and Osaka University's professor Hiroshi Ishiguro whose robots look creepily human. Ishiguro's robot Geminoid looks just like Ishiguro.

Such uncanny resemblances have led roboticists to coin the term "uncanny valley" syndrome. It suggests that people respond better to robots the closer they resemble humans - up to a point. If the resemblance is too good, people "are weirded out," Sidner said. At that point, acceptance plummets. That's why Sidner prefers her penguin robot.

Sherry Turkle at MIT worries about robots that seem too human.

"We're cheap dates," she says. "If an entity makes eye contact with you, if an entity reaches toward you in friendship, we believe there is somebody there . . . But that doesn't mean that there is. That just means that our Darwinian buttons are being pushed."

Turkle, who directs the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, fears people will be subconsciously tricked into giving robots more credit than they deserve. Her point is that when you are sick, hurt, or elderly, "you really do want a person," not a robot.

Unfortunately, there's a shortage of people working in nursing homes and caring for old people and the disabled, said Maja Mataric, director of the University of Southern California's Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems. The average stroke victim gets 39 minutes of active exercise a day when six hours a day is needed, she said, so robots can free up the few nurses for more nurturing activities.

Mataric adjusts her robots' personalities to fit the needs of stroke patients - nurturing buddy or goal-pushing coach.

And in the case of low-functioning autistic children, they actually seem to relate better to robots than humans, Mataric said. "You'll see a child smile that has never smiled before. No one knows why it happens."

The scientists trying to engineer robots to work with humans are learning more than they expected. They have a new appreciation for our own unique abilities.

Said Deb Roy, director of MIT's Cognitive Machines Group: "It's not until you try to build a machine that does the same task (that people do) . . . that you realize how incredibly hard it is."

Let Hal test your memory

Labels: , , , , ,


Neurotrophin-3 may be key to Alzheimer's

Key Chemical Impacts Memory, Learning, Retention

The chemical neurotrophin-3 appears to stimulate and encourage growth of interconnecting networks of nerves in the cerebral cortex, according to new research at UC-Irvine. When neurotrophin-3 is absent, growth and connections are less robust. This dichotomy may help to explain memory and cognitive decline seen in Alzheimer's patients - and point toward potential treatments. The research will be revealed in Neuroscience, December 1 issue.

Richard Robertson, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, and other researchers from UCI's School of Medicine found that cholinergic nerve fibers grow toward sources of neurotrophin-3 during early development. In experiments with mice, without neurotrophin-3 to direct growth, the developing cholinergic nerve fibers appeared to not recognize their normal target cells in the brain. Because of this, the axon nerve fibers aided by these circuits grew irregularly and missed their specific target neural cells.

This finding, according to Robertson, has significant implications for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Cholinergic neuronal circuits play a key role in the proper information processing by the cerebral cortex and other areas of the brain. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that determines intelligence, personality, and planning and organization, and these actions are compromised by neurodegenerative diseases.

"Studies on the brains of Alzheimer's patients have shown a marked decline in these cholinergic circuits. Our work demonstrates that neurotrophin-3 is essential to maintain the connections to cerebral cortex neurons," Robertson said. "This study shows that a neurotrophin-3 therapy may be able to induce nerve fibers to regrow in the cerebral cortex, which would be beneficial to people with Alzheimer's."

Post to:

Furl, Netscape,

Labels: , , , ,


Miniature Golf in Space

Russian cosmonaut tees off in space. Now there is a miniature golf facility at the International Space Station...
"I can see it as a little dot moving away from us," Tyurin said, after hitting his shot with a six-iron.

But just how far did that baby go?

Like in any golf story, it depends on who you talk to.

That drive went a billion miles — or will by the time it eventually comes down in a couple years — said Nataliya Hearn, the president of Element 21 Golf Company. The Toronto firm is paying the cash-starved Russian space agency an undisclosed amount for the golf stunt to promote its new golf club that includes a space-program-derived metal.

Labels: ,

Read about Cognitive Labs in Yahoo! News

This article from PC World pertains to Microsoft, but we get a little mention at the end.

Labels: , , ,


BACE gene leads to insight on Alzheimer's

Canadian scientists have found a specific gene which they believe may hold the key to the degenerative brain disorder Alzheimer's disease.

Lead researcher Weihong Song, a professor of psychiatry who holds a Canada Research Chair in Alzheimer's disease at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, says the results of their study with mice found that lower oxygen levels (hypoxia) increased the activity of a specific gene.

The gene called BACE 1, encodes a protein that converts the precursor amyloid molecule to the more dangerous beta-amyloid form.

Professor Song says if blood to the brain is less oxygenated it may mean a build-up of the protein plaques that are so closely tied to Alzheimer's disease

In mice, hypoxia was found to increase amyloid plaque formation and memory loss.

The fact that lowered brain-oxygen levels, caused by reduced blood flow, increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease has been observed by other scientists along with greater propensity for stroke. It would seem that exercise would be the most effective preventative.

The study is published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Labels: , , , ,


Your Mind Gets in the Way of Multi-tasking

It's true. Most people cannot draw a circle with one hand and a square with the other at the same time.

(Try it with a sheet of paper)

The secret may be to use the sense of touch, rather than concentration.

"Most normal people cannot simultaneously draw a circle with one hand and a square with the other," says David Rosenbaum, distinguished professor of psychology and director of Penn State's Laboratory For Cognition and Action. "It is a fundamental limitation that the nervous system seems to impose on the hands for reasons that are not fully understood."

Rosenbaum thinks the key to the problem lies in the higher neural centers responsible for concentration on multiple tasks. "When you perform one task, you conceptualize it as one," he explains, “but when you have two tasks to do at the same time that you can’t think of as one, it gets complicated because the mind has to shift attention back and forth from one task to the other."

To test this idea, Rosenbaum and his Penn State colleagues, Amanda Dawson, a recent Ph.D. recipient, and John Challis, associate professor of kinesiology, set up an experiment in which participants could track moving objects with light touch and without having to concentrate on the tracking.

Volunteer participants who kept their eyes closed during the experiment tried to keep their hands in contact with two moving disks. The participants could independently trace the paths of the disks, even when the disks moved in ways that are normally very hard for people to produce on their own. For example, they could trace a square and a circle at the same time, which is normally impossible.

The disks were driven by moving magnets on the other size of an opaque pane of glass. "If the person exerted little more than a feather touch on the disks, the magnets decoupled and the experiment came to a stop. So the participants’ hands were not simply being dragged along by the magnetic force on the disks," explains Rosenbaum, whose findings appear in the November/December issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Researchers say the test provides the strongest evidence yet that the reason most persons are unable to voluntarily multi-task with their two hands is that their mind gets in the way.

"We created a situation where each hand simply reacts to the motion of the object being felt, so in effect we bypassed the high-level cognitive system. The excellent performance displayed by our participants took no training whatsoever," added Rosenbaum. "Using haptics, we managed to get into the motor system through the backdoor."

Researchers say the findings could benefit people with coordination problems, and that haptic tracking might help such persons learn to better control their irregular hand movements.

Grants from the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Mental Health supported this work.

The Penn State Laboratory For Cognition and Action

Post to:

Furl, Netscape,

Labels: , , , , ,


Some reflections on the start-up

Much ink has been spilled over the subject of start-up chemistry, (or alchemy). Luck, timing, wisdom, persistence. Of all these virtues, persistence is probably the most important.

It is usually encapsulated in the observation of Thomas A. Edison that "Invention is 2% inspiration, 98% perspiration." But that is facile. A little more obscure, one could quote the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" which was released in 1976 before many, or most were born. A cult film, you can get it through netflix or blockbuster.

The Tale of Sir Launcelot.
One day, lad, all this will be yours!
What, the curtains?
No. Not the curtains, lad. All that you can see, stretched out over the hills and valleys of this land! This'll be your kingdom, lad.
But Mother--
Father, lad. Father.
B-- b-- but Father, I don't want any of that.
Listen, lad. I built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So, I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp, but the fourth one... stayed up! And that's what you're gonna get, lad: the strongest castle in these islands.
But I don't want any of that. I'd rather--

That's the spirit that leads eventually to success. You fail in myriad ways, large and small, and then succeed sometimes. And that's how it works.


Widgets and Tools for your Brain

On this page
you can find tiny code samples which you can copy and paste into your site or forum-giving friends quick access to the games you like. You can even turn people onto a game feed which will tell you when a new game is ready - just like you get news alerts and podcasts. Let's make life simpler. You also will help others exercise from the neck up...

Labels: , , , , , ,


In French, HAL 9000 was CARL 9000

Hold on to your freedom fries. En Francais, HAL from the film 2001, was actually known as CARL, for Cerveau Analytique de Recherche et de Liaison ("Analytic Research and Communication Brain"). Head down to external links on Wikipedia's entry for HAL and at the bottom, you'll be able to exercise your brain and and listen to the voice of Hal. FUN. There is lots of good information here, including notes on the making of the film. Would be fun to see a remastered version in a theater sometime, to get a sense of what that was like.

Labels: , , , , , ,

New Clues in the DaVinci Code

Just in time for the DVD-buying season, Tom Hanks and his academic mullet are back to offer new brainteasers and clues in a hot-off-the-press DVD.

Better get 'em while their hot.

Labels: , , , ,

Learning More About Social Behavior and the Brain from Wasps

go to big picture

Cognitive behavior and social networks seem to have been altered as larger, more complex insect societies (insect 2.0), such as ants, evolved from smaller, simpler ones (insect 1.0).

Researchers headed by Sean O'Donnell, a University of Washington associate professor of psychology, found that a key region in the brains of a primitively social paper wasp is better developed in dominant females than in subordinate ones.

"This finding, the first of its kind, contrasts with most of the prior work on social insect brain development. Earlier studies, including one of ours, were done on highly social species with large colony sizes. Among these species, age plays an important role in task performance and workers that leave the nest to forage generally have better-developed brains," he said.

"We found the opposite pattern with a primitively social wasp. Here, the stay-at-home dominant females had better brain development. In this species, direct dominance interactions among the females dictate task performance. Dominance and social interactions were more important than foraging tasks in explaining brain development."

In the new study, O'Donnell and colleagues from the University of Texas studied the brain development of the primitively social wasp Mischocyttarus mastigophorus in the tropical cloud forest near Monteverde, Costa Rica. These wasps live in colonies ranging in size from a handful to several dozen individuals where the division of labor is governed by aggression. The researchers examined an area of the insects' brain called the mushroom bodies. There is one mushroom body on top of each hemisphere of the wasp brain and these structures have a vague resemblance to the cerebrum in human and other vertebrates. The researchers were particularly interested in the calyx, a part of the mushroom body where neural connections are made.

The researchers collected and marked individuals including the queens from seven wasp nests, and observed their behavior. Later these individuals were recaptured and their brains were examined. Data showed that calyces were larger among the queens and the stay-at-home females. This is the opposite of what a number of researchers have found among highly social species with large colonies sizes. Several years ago, O'Donnell and his UT collaborators found that among Polybia aequatorialis, a highly social wasp that also lives in the same region of Costa Rica, there is more individual work specialization and individuals take on a sequence of jobs as they age. In such highly social species, workers that leave the nest to forage generally have better-developed brains.

"It seems pretty clear that primitively social colonies were the ancestral condition and that highly social colonies developed and evolved from them, said O'Donnell. He added that what is intriguing is that the pattern of brain development found in Polybia, a highly social group of wasps, is the same as in honey bees, another highly social insect.

"This shows that what job you do puts pressure on brain development in the highly social species," he said. "In contrasts, status seems to be the major brain demand in the primitively social species. This research suggests that task behavior and brain development has changed in a fundamental way between primitively social and the larger more complex social insect colonies."

The work is important because O'Donnell said social insects are a great model for understanding the design of brains and the relationship between brain design and social complexity. "And it has implications for human society because the evolution of our own society may affect brain development. Social behavior places pretty heavy demands on the human brain."


Neanderthal DNA decoded; Next the Brain

Scientists in the SF Bay Area have succeeded in analyzing DNA of the homo Neandertalis (Neanderthal). The remains of bones from Europe were airlifted to a lab in Walnut Creek, run by the U.S. Dept of Energy. The scientists conducting the investigation suspect that the tiny differences between homo sapiens and neandertalis, which account for no more than 1/2 of 1% of the genome, was enough to provide the characteristic differentiation between the 2 species, such as the prominent brow ridge of the neandertal and the more slender sapiens. While there is no evidence that there was any intermingling of the species, both species co-habitated until approximately 30,000 years ago.

Background links: article in wikipedia
mitochondrial DNA of the sapiens and neandertalis

Another contribution of man's altered DNA was enhanced cognitive ability, which seems to appear suddenly in the archaeological record.

read more>>

Labels: , , , , ,


CogLabs world: who has been testing and enhancing their brain? Now you know

CogLabs world
, a full-size version of the mini-map on the home page, is now live - where have people been taking tests and exercising their minds?

Now you know, globally. We answer that question with the world's first visualization of real-time cognitive performance across the world.

Keep in mind, this is just a few hundred plots - using all the data results in an endless loop and takes all the processing power of the CPU, so you see a subset of the data. The possibilities in the future are limitless. It's a wonderful time for visual display/Tufte fanatics.

Labels: , , ,

New high water mark for visits and traffic

Cognitive Labs' hits new high water/Nilometer mark for monthly traffic and visitors (12:59 PM, PST) (November 14th) and we have two weeks to go this month. The previous high was September of this year. Thanks for the inundation- still following the sigmoid curve, basically.

Labels: , , ,

a link from surfing the apocalypse

Take a test at surfing the apocalypse...I can expect the waves will be pretty big, maybe one final long ride.

Labels: , ,

a link from surfing the apocalypse

Take a test at surfing the apocalypse...I can expect the waves will be pretty big, maybe one final long ride.

Labels: , ,

Shatner Fields Real-time game show questions

William Shatner is fielding real-time questions about being a game show host at Yahoo360. After Mr. Sulu scans the questions with the ship's scanners, he will answer.


Early Human Gene Protects Against Malnutrition, but Causes Alzheimer's?

The APOEe4 gene, the form of the APOE gene that can dramatically increase your chances of getting Alzheimer's Disease, is an old gene as far as humans go, appearing over 200,000 years ago. The variations APOEe2 and e3 appeared more recently. It has been speculated that APOEe4, sometimes called the 'scarcity' gene, played a key role in humanity's survival. If you were marooned on a desert island in your youth, you would want to have the APOEe4 gene.

more info: national geographic genome study
more info: APOEe4 - a thrifty gene

The problem is that APOEe4 seems to be associated, in modern-industrial age humans, with Alzheimer's Disease. That's why if you have the APOEe4 gene, you would be better off with a pre-industrial lifestyle without sedentarism.

Developing a Genetic On/Off Switch

Now, University of Virginia scientists are quantifying the modern benefits of APOEe4, in some populations, which help to support the observations made above.

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and Federal University of Ceará in Brazil have joined forces to study if the gene believed to contribute to Alzheimer's protects children from the developmental stresses of early childhood diarrhea.

"In earlier studies, we found that shantytown children in Northeast Brazil who suffer from early childhood diarrhea and malnutrition suffered from lasting physical and cognitive consequences. However, some children who have the same diarrhea and malnutrition are protected from the developmental problems if they have the "Alzheimer's gene" (APOE4)," says Dr. Richard Guerrant, founder and director of the Center for Global Health at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. "Basically, we believe this gene protects the children early in life by helping them survive severe malnutrition, but the same gene potentially contributes to a multitude of problems later in life."

Guerrant and colleagues at Federal University of Ceará recently received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institute of Child and Human Development to study the striking link. Guerrant and Dr. Aldo A. M. Lima, professor and director of the Clinical Research Unit & Institute of Biomedicine at Federal University of Ceará have a 25-year collaboration addressing children's health and development issues. Dr. Lima and Dr. Reinaldo Oriá are working as the principal investigators in Brazil.

Severe diarrhea and its accompanying malnutrition kill more than 3 million people worldwide each year and developmentally impair many millions more children who survive repeated bouts of diarrhea, while Alzheimer's afflicts more than 20 million people worldwide each year.

"This might have important implications for Brazil and other developing countries, where diabetes and cardiovascular disease are also becoming critical issues in public health," says Oriá, an associate professor at Federal University of Ceará and a former research fellow at the University of Virginia. Oria says the primary goal of the study will be to develop interventional therapies based on critical nutrients which children need for their cognitive and physical development.

In studies in mice at UVa, these researchers have shown that those mice who do not have the APOE4 gene suffer far worse malnutrition when they are weaned early. Oria says they are looking to see if arginine, an amino acid, can help lessen the devastating consequences of severe diarrhea and malnutrition.

In addition, Guerrant says the research will also shed further light on situations where negative genetic traits are found to have beneficial effects that likely help to explain their presence in human evolution. An example of this phenomenon, called a balanced polymorphism, is sickle cell anemia, a genetic disease in which a double "dose" of the sickle cell gene causes red blood cells to form odd shapes and results in pain and anemia. A single "dose" of the same gene, however, makes a person resistant to malaria, a deadly tropical disease.

Oria adds that if the APOE4 gene indeed proves to be a balanced polymorphism, this could greatly help us understand and reduce the long-term impact of diarrhea and malnutrition. He says the genetic imprint early in life due to the "switch-on" of genes to sustain body mass, may have lasting consequences later in life. This genetic "switch" could elucidate ways to "turn-on" the protection when they are most vulnerable and then "turn-off" the genetic switch which helped them in their youth, but will cause them more problems as they age.

"We are very excited about this ongoing research with the promise of hope and better health it offers to millions of children silently suffering the devastating consequences of diarrhea and malnutrition worldwide," Guerrant says.

Global Brain Map

Global Cognitive Map is here: you can see (courtesy of Asynchronous data) where the people are located who are taking tests. This is a a tiny fraction of test-takers...we are creating a tiny version for the home page and a fuller version inside the site (bigger, as well) for people who want to explore without slowing down the home page excessively. (read more about genes and the brain)

other same day links: google map update - now you will be able to recreate history
and here's another on the National Geographic's effort...

Labels: , , , ,


wired reviews bookmarking sites

Wired reviews bookmarking sites where you can share your links, discover new sites, and more...

Tour the World and Exercise Your Brain

Now you can take a virtual visit of your street, and find your house, on the cognitivelabs.com home page. Just click on where you want to investigate, and go. I already located Pikes Peak in Colorado - you can just make out individual pine trees on the slopes. (thanks to the google AJAX api)

Next, I am going to look at the pyramids of Giza. Exercise your brain and take a virtual world tour at the same time...bon voyage! I'm looking in to adding a page for the moon and mars as well. It's all controllable with a little bit of javascript.

new game site linked: 123 spill

Here is an interesting game site from Norway.

Support the brainy games we feature

You can visit the 'typing game' on Digg here


type for your life

just about everybody has linked to the shoot/type game, including an MSNBC producer who monitors the blogosphere with a sharp eye.


time to take a brainspeed test?

If you haven't checked your brainspeed in a while, now you can do it again


cognitive mash-ups

Brain Mash-up:Cognitive Sciences Note

There are numerous excellent ways to deploy mash-ups in the field of the cognitive sciences. Performance data can be mixed with other factors to form something truly interesting. For example, mapping functions utilizing the APIs and development frameworks. Looking forward to sharing this with you in the future...

Word Shoot: Type to Defeat Your Enemies

Here's an 'action' brain game. Type fast to save yourself and eliminate your enemies PLAY Let us know if you like it.


Robot thinks humans are like bacon: Wired

A new robot, which probably has not heard of the uncanny valley theory, thinks that human flesh is bacon or prosciutto.

Make your own Test page

Make your own test page. If you could make your own page of games and tests, (all you can eat, breakfast buffet style-take it easy on the Fruit Loops and Cap'n Crunch) kind of like customizing your own playlist, and then invite friends to play, how would that sound?

It would be great to know.


Scientist Digs into the human brain

Chrissy Littledale of the Pensacola News Journal covered a talk by Dr. Stephen Grossberg that starts out as follows....

Dr. Stephen Grossberg said while the common claim that humans only use 10 percent of their brains is false, the brain can be wasted. "There is a possibility of atrophy if the brain is not used," the Boston University professor said Wednesday night at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in downtown Pensacola. "But even when we are 'wasting' them, they are still very busy."Grossberg spoke about the advances made in cognitive and neural systems research in the last 50 years.His lecture, titled "The Brain's Cognitive Dynamics: The link between brain learning, attention and consciousness," was delivered to a crowd of more than 200."Our mind learns and develops quickly," he said. "This balancing of the brain systems influences health."

read more>>

Topix Net Raises $15 Million from Newspapers..."Thanks for the Cool Test".

Here's a comment on Topix Net, the "Mother of all Forums"

"thanks for the great test...."

-your welcome

Tim Berners Lee Bullish...

Internet hero (A great inspiration to me back in the gophernet days) Tim Berners Lee on the practice of media to quote out of context, e.g., "spin" to create a sensationalistic story.... He is very bullish on the future of the Internet, not so worried about the risks of 'blogging' after all.


Best Brain Games for Your Brain

Here are a few of them:

Brain enhancing free memory test: brain enhancing free memory test

the reaction time test the reaction time test

brain starting point brain starting point

PC World: Steve Bass' Tips and Tricks

Steve Bass' tips and tricks at PC World (a regular column over there) picks up this fun cognitivelabs.com game. This one got stumbledupon by many people as well, previously.


California to Lead the Way in Alzheimer's Fight?

The can-do spirit influences people in California to take chances and maybe with a little luck and hard work, change the world. In yesterday's op-ed, the LA Times states that efforts to combat the disease had undergone a kind of "Californication" ever since former president Ronald Reagan's struggle with the disease came to the national forefont. With research into stem cells, potential dietary solutions, and also the leading technological approaches to mental fitness and cognitive entertainment also based here, the future, if we have anything to say about it, will be bright. Dr. Wes Ashford of Stanford, an advisor and colleague in Cognitive Labs, is quoted in the piece.

Mental Acuity: Keeping Your Brain Active and Exercising

Brain: Exercising the brain and body, combining walking with the cognitive labs tests, can be an excellent way to develop mental acuity and preserve your memory. In coming years, the workforce will change dramatically as today's baby boomers advance in age. It is possible that retirement will be a thing of the past, and that knowledge workers will need to stay knowledgeable and 'plugged in' well-into the future.


Electric Current in the Brain Boosts Memory

Could this be true? According to German researchers on Sunday this is the case. Individuals who practiced memory exercises immediately prior to sleep, then had a mild electric current introduced into the frontal cortex via electrodes, had superior recall when compared to a control group. The difference was a boost of 8%.

Nikola Tesla once credited his experiments with electric current for impacting his brain and stimulating his creative impulses.

more on the bee genome

Here is a follow-up on the bee genome.

The honeybee is the third insect to be sequenced, following the fruit fly and anopheles mosquito.

The honeybee has 10,000 to 15,000 genes arrayed on 16 chromosomes, compared with humans' estimated 24,000 genes and 24 chromosomes (22 regular ones and two sex chromosomes). Comparisons with the fruit fly and mosquito genomes suggest that bees evolved more slowly than either of those other insects. Curiously, some bee genes -- notably the ones responsible for internal "clocks" and circadian rhythms -- are more similar to mammals' genes than flies'.

But the most interesting insights so far come from discoveries of what parts of the bee's genome have been enriched, ignored or discarded by the evolutionary force of natural selection.

Compared with other insects, honeybees have only one-third as many genes involved in recognizing and killing their microbial enemies. This is a surprise for an organism that spends 95 percent of its life in a crowded, moist 94-degree indoor environment hospitable to bacteria and parasites.

But bees are extremely hygienic and prevention-minded. When a developing larva dies, it is removed from its cell in the honeycomb immediately and the carcass is flown a distance from the hive before it is discarded. Nurse bees secrete antimicrobial substances into the food they provide the larvae. Honey, the principal source of food over the winter, does not support microbial growth because of its high-sugar, low-water makeup. Overall, it appears that compared with those of other insects, a bee's genome is less concerned with protecting the individual from disease and more concerned with protecting a larger organism -- the entire colony.

Bees also have fewer genes encoding the proteins that make up their exoskeleton. The researchers speculated that is because they spend their larval stage and much of their early adulthood inside the hive, protected from ultraviolet light and temperature stresses.

But what is lost in the immune system and the skin is gained in the bee equivalent of the nose.

A. mellifera has 170 genes for "odorant receptors," of which 157 are in a gene family so far found only in honeybees. This is far more smelling apparatus than either fruit flies (with 62 receptor genes) or mosquitoes (with 79) possess. It probably reflects the extreme importance of smell in helping bees find flowers and communicate with one another, including with their queen, through pheromones.

There is no genomic smoking gun that explains the species' most remarkable behavior -- the ability of bees to tell one another the location of food sources outside the hive through a ritualized "dance" that uses the sun's position as a point of reference. There is no cluster of brain genes possessed only by bees.

"It's not what you have in your genome but how you use it" that must explain that capacity to learn and communicate, said Jay D. Evans, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. That is also probably the reason chimpanzees and human beings are so different in cognitive ability despite having 97 percent identical genes, he added.


testdrive: google mobile client

I downloaded the new Google mobile mail client today (Java) as a cognitive exercise and am rather impressed. I rarely, if ever, refer to gadgets here but everything about the experience was intuitive and easy - a definite 2 thumbs up.

For example, if you launch your mobile browser and head to Google, there is an obvious link above the search box imploring you to get Google mail.

I clicked on it and downloaded it (about 120k) and was quickly registered using my existing gmail account info. All of the my inbox mails were immediately visible.
Clicking on the newest mail from the Google API group, it was displayed quickly within a nice, round-cornered blue colored frame of about 2 pixels in width.
Handset specific, probably, but a very nice rendering on a rather small screen.
Yahoo mail within the browser, by contrast is impossible since it always attempts to load the content of the inbox (17,000 + read and saved messages in my case). The Google client eliminated this problem....

read more in the Google blog

red pill /blue pill

red pill/blue pill update:

We're still at work on this ap, and we'll let you know when it's out of the oven, but it's pretty intriguing so far.

The reddit/digg game goes to the home page for a day (footer)


Cool Down you Body to Live Longer

New research shows that cooling the body leads to longer life.

Researchers have found that lowering the body temperature of mice by just 0.5°C extends their lifespan by around 15%. In the future, people might be able to take a drug to achieve a similar effect on body temperature and enjoy a longer life, they say.

The only previously proven method of significantly increasing the lifespan of an animal (and speculated as effective in humans)has been through a restricted calorie diet.

Bruno Conti at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, US, and colleagues designed genetically engineered mice with a specific brain-cell defect in a region called the lateral hypothalamus. The defect forces brain cells into "overdrive", causing the region to heat up and become warmer than in a normal mouse...

digg reddit brain game

reddit and digg are web sites where people post stuff that's interesting and then vote it up or down. it seems more interesting than old fashioned TV.

reddit was acquired this week by the publishers of Wired as we are wont to do, we made this phenomenon into a brain-enhancing game that full-throttles your frontal cortex.


Ancient Virus Lives

Scientists resurrect ancient virus that impacted human genome...millions of years ago.


Caloric Restriction may Prevent Alzheimer's

A new suggests that certain dietary regimens might slow or even reverse symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, is the first to show that restricting caloric intake, and specifically carbohydrates, may prevent Alzheimer's disease by triggering activity in the brain associated with longevity.

"Both clinical and epidemiological evidence suggests that modification of lifestyle factors such as nutrition may prove crucial to Alzheimer's disease management," said Giulio Maria Pasinetti, at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "This research, however, is the first to show a connection between nutrition and Alzheimer's disease neuropathy by defining mechanistic pathways in the brain and scrutinizing biochemical functions. We hope these findings further unlock the mystery of Alzheimer's."

Alzheimer's disease is a rapidly growing public health concern with potentially devastating effects. An estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease and the number of Americans with Alzheimer's has more than doubled since 1980. Presently, there are no known cures or effective preventive strategies. While genetic factors are relevant in early-onset cases, they appear to play less of a role in late-onset-sporadic Alzheimer's disease cases, the most common form of Alzheimer's disease.

People with Alzheimer's disease exhibit elevated levels of beta-amyloid peptides that cause plaque buildup in the brain. Beta-amyloid peptides activate SIRT1, a member of a broad family of proteins known as sirtuins which influence a variety of functions including metabolism and aging.

Pasinetti and colleagues used an experimental mouse model to demonstrate that beta-amyloid peptides in the brain can be reduced by subjecting the mice to dietary caloric restriction, primarily based on low carbohydrate food. Conversely, a high caloric intake based on saturated fat was shown to increase levels of beta-amyloid peptides.

This study is the first to suggest that caloric restriction through promotion of SIRT1 (a molecule associated with brain longevity) may initiate a cascade of events like the activation of alpha-secretase which can prevent Alzheimer's disease amyloid neuropathology.

Since alpha-secretase is known also to inhibit the generation of beta-amyloid peptides in the Alzheimer's disease affected brain, the study demonstrates a mechanism by which dietary caloric restriction might benefit Alzheimer's disease. The study also finds that a high caloric intake based on saturated fat promotes Alzheimer's disease type beta-amyloidosis, while caloric restriction based on reduced carbohydrate intake seems predisposed to prevent it.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?