WBEZ | neuroscience http://www.wbez.org/tags/neuroscience Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Oliver Sacks was a boundless explorer of the human brain http://www.wbez.org/news/oliver-sacks-was-boundless-explorer-human-brain-112779 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/oliver-sacks-getty_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and best-selling author who explored the human brain one patient at a time, has died of cancer. He was 82.</p><p>Sacks was best known for his books&nbsp;The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat&nbsp;andAwakenings, which became a 1990 feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.</p><p>Sacks cared for, and wrote about, people with unusual brain disorders that left them catatonic &mdash; or haunted by Irish lullabies, or unable to recognize their own spouses. In a 2007 NPR interview, he said, &quot;While I&#39;ve always wanted to get people&#39;s stories, I also like to know what&#39;s going on in the brain, and how this wonderful two or three pounds of stuff in the head is able to underlie our imagination, underlie our soul, our individuality.&quot;</p><p>Sacks&#39; ability to combine science and storytelling eventually led to prestigious academic posts and best-selling books. But his career got off to a rocky start.</p><p>&quot;The first part of Oliver&#39;s life was a challenge,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://faces.med.nyu.edu/about-us/faculty/orrin-devinsky-md/">Orrin Devinsky</a>, a professor of neurology at New York University, where Sacks worked for many years. &quot;He tried to make it as a scientist and didn&#39;t do well.&quot;</p><p>Sacks was born in London. Both of his parents were doctors, and Sacks himself went to medical school at Oxford. But when results of the final anatomy exam were posted, Sacks saw he had scored near the bottom.</p><p>So he went to a local pub. After four or five hard ciders, Sacks headed back to school and asked to take an optional essay exam to compete for the university prize in anatomy. By that time, the exam had already started.</p><p>&quot;So Oliver literally staggered into this room with about 15 or 20 students busily writing into their blue books and asked the professor if he could take the essay exam,&quot; Devinsky says. &quot;And the professor looked at him kind of like: Are you sure you are in the right place?&quot;</p><p>He was. Even though Sacks arrived late and left early, his essay on brain structure and function won the university prize.</p><p>Writing would open doors for Sacks his entire life.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/programs/wesat/features/2001/sacks/011110.sacks.html">He told NPR in 2001</a>&nbsp;that even as a child, he wrote constantly in a journal.</p><p>&quot;Rendering into words is absolutely an instinct with me,&quot; he said. &quot;I used to be called &#39;Inky&#39; when I was a boy. I was always sort of covered with ink. I still sort of write my books by hand. I&#39;m not very fond of computers.&quot;</p><p>Sacks also didn&#39;t like cellphones and other devices that he saw as impediments to human interaction. &quot;Oliver was living in the late 19th century in many ways,&quot; Devinsky says. &quot;In all the good ways.&quot;</p><p>After medical school, Sacks left London for California. There, he completed a residency in neurology and lived a pretty wild life.</p><div id="res436043567" previewtitle="Sacks with his 250cc Norton motorcycle in 1956."><div data-crop-type="" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Sacks with his 250cc Norton motorcycle in 1956." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/08/30/oliver-motorcycle_custom-cb6ee15e97cbcb1c598b1621c1c2d0787c61cf50-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 339px; width: 500px;" title="Sacks with his 250cc Norton motorcycle in 1956. (Charles Cohen/Random House)" /></div><div><p>In his autobiography,&nbsp;On the Move, Sacks describes having casual sex with men at a YMCA in San Francisco, becoming a body builder at LA&#39;s Muscle Beach and using staggering amounts of recreational drugs.</p></div></div><p>Sacks also liked to risk death while riding his motorcycle through Topanga Canyon. &quot;He would go down the canyon with his eyes closed sometimes,&quot; Devinsky says. &quot;He would go through lights sometimes at rapid speed feeling he could make it and dodge all the cars.&quot;</p><p>In 1965, Sacks moved to New York City, where he focused on writing and medicine. He was known for spending an enormous amount of time with each patient and learning the intimate details of each person&#39;s story.</p><p>Devinsky says from time to time he would send one of his own patients to Sacks for a consultation. &quot;And then I would get this four-page, five-page, six-page note back with historical features of the person&#39;s life, insights into their neurological disorder, fitting pieces together that I&#39;d never even seen the pieces, let alone put them together,&quot; Devinsky says.</p><p>In 1973, Sacks became a star with the publication of his book&nbsp;Awakenings. It&#39;s the story of a group of patients who contracted sleeping sickness and fell into a trancelike state.</p><div id="res436042011" previewtitle="Sacks in his apartment in the West Village of New York City in 2001."><div data-crop-type="" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Sacks in his apartment in the West Village of New York City in 2001." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/08/30/oliver-1_custom-1c6786deacfe2db46a84b743c981c863d07e6126-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 378px; width: 500px;" title="Sacks in his apartment in the West Village of New York City in 2001. (Erica Berger/Corbis)" /></div><div><p>The book inspired&nbsp;<a href="http://medhum.med.nyu.edu/view/12843">a play by Harold Pinter</a>&nbsp;and, in 1990, a feature film in which Sacks was played by the late Robin Williams. The two became good friends during the filming, and Williams talked about Sacks while promoting&nbsp;Awakenings&nbsp;on&nbsp;The Tonight Show:</p></div></div><p>&quot;He&#39;s an amazing man,&quot; Williams said. &quot;He&#39;s about 6 foot 4 inches. He&#39;s like a combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Albert Schweitzer. And he also looks like Santa Claus, &#39;cause he&#39;s got this big beard. ... And the amazing thing is, as big as he is and as strong as he is, he is this very gentle and compassionate man who is brilliant.&quot;</p><p>After&nbsp;Awakenings, Sacks would go on to write several best-selling books about people with unusual brains, including&nbsp;An Anthropologist on Mars,&nbsp;The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat&nbsp;and&nbsp;Musicophilia. He also wrote about his own odd brain, which was unable to recognize faces and had to adapt to losing vision on one side when a tumor appeared in his right eye.</p><p>Sacks talked about this cancer, a melanoma, in 2010 on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/">Fresh Air</a>. &quot;Although I&#39;m sorry this happened to me and is happening to me, I feel I might as well use it and investigate it and write about it and just speak of myself as I would speak about one of my patients.&quot;</p><p>In his autobiography, which came out this year, Sacks for the first time revealed many intimate details of his own life: his fraught relationship with his mother, his acid trips and his homosexuality.</p><p>In February, Sacks&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opinion/oliver-sacks-on-learning-he-has-terminal-cancer.html">wrote an op-ed</a>&nbsp;in&nbsp;The New York Times&nbsp;announcing that the cancer in his eye had spread to his liver. In the piece, he pledged to spend his remaining days deepening friendships, saying farewell to those he loved and writing.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&mdash;<em><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/08/30/436016985/oliver-sacks-was-a-boundless-explorer-of-the-human-brain?ft=nprml&amp;f=436016985" target="_blank">NPR Shots</a></em></p></p> Sun, 30 Aug 2015 10:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/oliver-sacks-was-boundless-explorer-human-brain-112779 Clever Apes #31: ¿Habla usted simio? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/clever-apes/2012-06/clever-apes-31-%C2%BFhabla-usted-simio-99831 <p><p style="text-align: center; "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/lang%20books.jpg" title="(flickr/Fiona Bradley)" /></p><p style="text-align: left; ">Exact statistics are hard to come by, but it is generally accepted that a majority of the world&rsquo;s population speaks more than one language. In the U.S., census data shows that about 20 percent of people speak a language other than English at home. That number has been steadily growing, but it doesn&#39;t account for all the people who learned a foreign language in school, or for some other purpose.</p><p>With that in mind, if we want to better understand how the brain works, how it processes sound and language, it might be a good idea to study the brains of bilingual people. In <a href="http://www.communication.northwestern.edu/departments/csd/research/bilingualism_psycholinguistics/">Northwestern&rsquo;s Bilingualism and Psycholinguistics Laboratory</a>, Dr. Viorica Marian is concerned with doing just that. The lab does research examining the differences of bilingual people in learning and memory from those with a single language.&nbsp;</p><p>In a paper recently published in <a href="http://www.pnas.org/">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, Dr. Marian&rsquo;s lab teamed up with the <a href="http://www.soc.northwestern.edu/brainvolts/">Auditory Neuroscience Lab</a> lead by Dr. Nina Kraus. Graduate student Jen Krizman lead research that uncovered an interesting difference in the way that a <a href="http://www.soc.northwestern.edu/brainvolts/slideshows/bilingualism/index.php">bilingual brain processes sound</a>.&nbsp;Researchers have known that bilinguals excel at tasks that test their attention and this recent <a href="http://www.soc.northwestern.edu/brainvolts/documents/Krizman_et_al_PNAS_2012.pdf">collaboration</a> has helped explain why. &nbsp;</p><p>If you are bilingual, you are always going to have both languages active when you are communicating. So you constantly have to inhibit one language as you engage the other one. Having this bilingual experience leads to advantages in ability to inhibit irrelevent information. Being able to pay better attention changes the way the brain responds to sound and how you are able to focus on the important features of a sound. Basically, the bilingual brain shapes itself into a more efficient sound processor...C&#39;est incroyable!</p><p>In this episode, we also talked with <a href="http://psychology.uchicago.edu/people/faculty/bkeysar.shtml">Dr. Boaz Keysar</a>. He studies language and decision making at the University of Chicago. In a <a href="http://psychology.uchicago.edu/people/faculty/ForeignLanguageEffect.pdf">recent paper</a>, he showed that when people think in their second language, they are less affected by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases">decision biases</a>. In a nutshell, he showed that people make different decisions based on the language they&#39;re using.</p><p>It is important to note that the subjects in his experiments were different from those in the Northwestern paper. In the Northwestern experiments, the subjects learned their second language early in life. Dr. Keysar&#39;s work dealt with people who learned a second language later.</p><p>This is important because Keysar&#39;s theory for why thinking in a second language lessens the effect of decision bias like &quot;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framing_effect_(psychology)">the framing effect</a>&quot; and &quot;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_aversion">loss aversion</a>&quot; has to do with the emotional distance a second language provides. A native tongue has a stronger connection to the emotional part of the brain than the second language does. &nbsp;Keysar suggests that thinking in a second language is more analytical because it is not as emotionally anchored. &nbsp;So be careful what language you think in...it could literally change your mind.</p><p>No matter what language you&#39;re thinking in, don&rsquo;t forget to subscribe to our&nbsp;<a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wbezs-clever-apes/id379051174">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p></p> Wed, 06 Jun 2012 06:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/clever-apes/2012-06/clever-apes-31-%C2%BFhabla-usted-simio-99831 Clever Apes #24: Gut feelings http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-17/clever-apes-24-gut-feelings-95602 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-17/Gut Feelings image.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="Scientists say the intestines are like a second brain. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/Gut Feelings image.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 409px;" title="Scientists say the intestines are like a second brain. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)"></p><p>In researching the human gut over the last few weeks, I’ve learned at least 10 things that have blown my mind. Here is one: Your intestines are your <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/23/health/23gut.html?pagewanted=all">second brain</a>.</p><p>The gut has its own nervous system – called the enteric nervous system – that is highly sophisticated and can basically think for itself. Columbia University neuroscientist Michael Gershon, who coined the phrase with his 1999 book <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Second-Brain-Groundbreaking-Understanding-Disorders/dp/0060930721">The Second Brain,</a></em> says the gut can function just fine in a decapitated person. <img alt="Rush's Ali Keshavarzian with his colon model. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/web kesh.jpg" style="width: 250px; height: 333px; float: left; margin: 10px;" title="Rush's Ali Keshavarzian with his colon model. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)">In fact, you can pull the gut out of someone, drop it in a nutrient bath in a lab, and it goes right on digesting.</p><p>In the last few years scientists have been discovering all kinds of surprising connections between the brain in your belly and the one in your head. Many neurological conditions also have gastro-intestinal components, though it’s never been clear why. The assumption has been that the brain disease causes the G-I problems, but scientists at <a href="http://www.rush.edu/rumc/page-1099611550726.html">Rush University Medical Center</a> are investigating a hypothesis that would turn that theory upside down.</p><p>It goes like this: Parkinson’s disease patients seem to have <a href="http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028032">unusually leaky intestines</a>, which let toxic materials, like pieces of gut bacteria, slip between the cells lining the intestines. It’s possible that this could inflame the nerves and cause a particular protein, called alpha synuclein, to fold up wrong. That in turn could trigger a chain reaction of misfolded proteins that travel up the nervous system, burning “like a slow fuse” up to the brain over the course of decades, eventually <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19686202">causing Parkinson’s disease</a>.</p><p>It’s still pretty speculative, but gut leakiness has now been linked with a <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995297/">bunch of other neurological diseases</a>. In general, the gut and the trillions of bacteria that live there are turning up as strong candidates to account for correlations that have eluded explanation. <img alt="Drs. Stuart Johnson and Dale Gerding fight C. diff. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/web johnson.jpg" style="width: 250px; height: 333px; float: right; margin: 10px;" title="Drs. Stuart Johnson and Dale Gerding are trying to defeat C. diff. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)">For example, scientists have long suspected that <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC468678/">weight gain increases one's risk of breast cancer</a>, but the reason why has been mysterious. Stay tuned for more on why gut bacteria could be the missing link: We’ll post an interview in a couple of days.</p><p>Meanwhile, elsewhere in today’s episode we have a cautionary tale about what happens when we fail to respect the needs of our inner bug civilization. Antibiotics, in addition to killing infectious bacteria, also take a toll on our healthy gut biota, leaving room for an aggressive bug called <a href="http://www.shea-online.org/assets/files/position_papers/Cldiff95.PDF">Clostridium difficile</a>. It causes an absolutely miserable, sometimes lethal, hospital-acquired infection that is reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S. It’s bad enough that some have turned to a particularly stomach-turning therapy: <a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=swapping-germs">fecal transplants</a>. Researchers at Loyola University Medical Center and the Hines VA in Maywood, Ill. are trying to save you from having to even think about that. We visit them and find out how.</p><p>Believe me, I could go on … but I’ll spare you for now. As always, subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/web forsyth.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 450px;" title="Chris Forsyth studies the gut's role in Parkinson's disease. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)"></p></p> Tue, 17 Jan 2012 21:41:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-17/clever-apes-24-gut-feelings-95602 Clever Apes #23: First memories http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-12-13/clever-apes-23-first-memories-94877 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-13/Gabe trike for web.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="Each time we recall a childhood memory, we're rewriting it. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitze" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-13/Gabe trike for web SMALL.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 442px; float: left; margin: 10px;" title="Each time we recall a childhood memory, we're rewriting it. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)">I’m sitting at a picnic table in our screened-in porch. It’s my third birthday party, and I’m opening presents. I unwrap a Tonka truck, and drop to the floor to start playing with it.</p><p>That’s been my earliest memory ever since I can, well, remember. But as the years wore on, something weird started happening. I started to feel less attached to the person in that memory. Now, I feel like I’m seeing the memory through someone else’s eyes, watching myself push that truck on the green astroturf carpet. I’m not even sure it’s a real memory anymore.</p><p>This has been on my mind because my own son recently had his third birthday. It got me wondering what his first memory will be, and more broadly, what is the nature of early memories? How reliable might they be, and how important to the construction of our identities?</p><p>On the latest installment of Clever Apes, we dig into what science has to say about early memory. Young kids actually have lots of memories that don’t make it into long-term storage. The phenomenon, called <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-child-in-time/201012/the-shifting-boundary-childhood-amnesia">“childhood amnesia,” </a>is not very well understood. But it seems to have something to do with the lens through which we see the world, and how it changes from early childhood (say, age three) to the more verbal period starting around age five or six. It’s tough to bridge that divide, and that may explain why I’m having a hard time connecting with my three-year old self.</p><p>And there’s another reason: memories are made from networks of neurons in our brains. That wiring gets used for lots of things, and so with each new memory, the networks change a little. When we remember something, we effectively rewrite it. That means that in some sense, each time we reflect on a memory, we’re putting a little more distance between ourselves and the actual event. Recent research suggests we’re even doing this in our sleep.</p><p>It’s enough to give a fellow a dose of existential distress. But there’s an upside too: A Chicago researcher has demonstrated <a href="http://www.luc.edu/childrensmemory/elaborative_conversation.shtml">ways that parents can reinforce and help solidify a child’s memories. </a>If you listen to the show, you can hear me trying this out on my son, Ezra. I bribed him with M&amp;Ms to get him to sit still.</p><p>Watch this space in the next day or so for a collection of first memories from our colleagues here at WBEZ. You can also get it via <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>. We’re on <a href="http://twitter.com/cleverapes">Twitter </a>and <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>, too.</p></p> Tue, 13 Dec 2011 23:11:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-12-13/clever-apes-23-first-memories-94877 Scientists demonstrate empathy in rats http://www.wbez.org/story/scientists-demonstrate-empathy-rats-94696 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-December/2011-12-07/bartal1HR.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago researchers say it’s time to take another look at the noble rat. <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6061/1427">They’ve demonstrated</a> what they call the first clear example in rodents of empathy, a quality previously only observed in primates.</p><p>Scientists have known that rodents show a primitive kind of empathy called “emotional contagion,” meaning a rat near another rat in distress will also feel distress. But the University of Chicago team designed an experiment to see if a rat would actually go out of its way to help a comrade.</p><p>They placed two rats in a cage. One roamed free while the other was trapped in a transparent stall in the center of the cage. The stall could only be opened by the other rat. Once he figured it out, the free rat would quickly move to liberate his cagemate.</p><p>“The trapped rat is now liberated and he runs around the arena,” said neurobiology professor Peggy Mason. “And the free rat runs after him. And jumps on him. And licks him. And it looks like a celebration.”</p><p>The scientists, beginning with graduate student Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, then refined the experiment to be sure it really was empathy they were observing. They rigged the setup so that the liberator would not be able to play with his newly freed cagemate, to see if the action was motivated by wanting the reward of social interaction. But the behavior didn’t change even when there was no reward. They also tested whether the free rat would open the stall if it was empty, or if it contained a toy rat. He did not.</p><p>Finally, they put in a second stall, containing a handful of chocolate chips. To the scientists’ shock, the free rat would still release the trapped rat first before going for the chocolate -- about half the time.</p><p>“That was spectacularly clear, and what it tells us is that liberating a trapped cagemate is on a par with chocolate. And these are rats that like chocolate,” Mason said.</p><p>Even more staggering is that the free rat left some chocolate for his cagemate, rather than gobbling up all of it as they do when there’s no companion to think of.</p><p>Washington State University neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6061/1358.summary">wrote an analysis</a> accompanying the research article, which appears in the journal Science. Panksepp said in an email that this experiment is the clearest-yet demonstration of behavior of this kind, but that further research is needed to untangle the motivation, be it empathy or "social stimulus enrichment."</p><p>The University of Chicago's Peggy Mason believes she's controlled for that possibility, and says she's certain that empathy is what's on display in the rat cage. She says the results suggest empathy goes back much farther in our evolutionary history than previously thought, and is therefore a deep and fundamental part of our very animal nature.</p><p>“What it basically tells us is that if we obey our biological inheritance, we’ll help each other,” Mason said. “To not help another person takes a conscious suppression of a natural biological tendency.”</p><p><object classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000" codebase="http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=9,0,47,0" height="270" id="flashObj" width="480"><param name="movie" value="http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&amp;isUI=1"><param name="bgcolor" value="#FFFFFF"><param name="flashVars" value="@videoPlayer=1310843557001&amp;playerID=1217716884001&amp;playerKey=AQ~~,AAAAp3Tjq0E~,iTywAQf1ctD7bjeOK3Q_u_yu5gvGIZDP&amp;domain=embed&amp;dynamicStreaming=true"><param name="base" value="http://admin.brightcove.com"><param name="seamlesstabbing" value="false"><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"><param name="swLiveConnect" value="true"><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always"><embed allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always" base="http://admin.brightcove.com" bgcolor="#FFFFFF" flashvars="@videoPlayer=1310843557001&amp;playerID=1217716884001&amp;playerKey=AQ~~,AAAAp3Tjq0E~,iTywAQf1ctD7bjeOK3Q_u_yu5gvGIZDP&amp;domain=embed&amp;dynamicStreaming=true" height="270" name="flashObj" pluginspage="http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/index.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash" seamlesstabbing="false" src="http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&amp;isUI=1" swliveconnect="true" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480"></object></p></p> Wed, 07 Dec 2011 19:55:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/scientists-demonstrate-empathy-rats-94696 Clever Apes #17: Deep listening http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-08-23/clever-apes-17-deep-listening-90945 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-August/2011-08-23/P1020871.JPG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-24/cleverapes.jpg" title="Don White captures surround sound in downtown Chicago by mimicking human ears. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" width="500" height="375"></p><p>We may not think of it this way, but <a href="http://perception.inrialpes.fr/%7EHoraud/POP/TutorialsFEB06/SueHarding.pdf">we hear in 3-D</a>. Good thing, too. It’s how we know what direction to turn when we hear footsteps or where to look for our kid in a crowded playground. But this depth of field is almost impossible to capture on tape. That’s where we come in.</p><p>On this episode of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/cleverapes">Clever Apes</a>, we experience the mind-bending world of <a href="http://www.binaural.com/binfaq.html">binaural recording. </a>It’s an episode best enjoyed with headphones – preferably good quality over-the-ear headphones (though earbuds will work OK). The surround sound effect we demonstrate is lost when you listen through speakers.</p><p><strong><span style="font-size: 8px;">Listen to the episode here: </span></strong></p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483658-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever_Apes_17_Hearing_the_third_dimension.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>And for this episode, we’re also offering a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/story/extras/2011-August/2011-08-23/Clever_Apes_17_HQ_Hearing_the_third_dimension.mp3">higher-quality mp3 for download</a>.</p><p>The magic of binaural recording gets back to why we have two ears in the first place. When you hear a sound, the sound waves hit each ear at slightly different times, with minute differences in intensity and wave phase. Specific populations of neurons in the brainstem are finely tuned to each of these variables. They can also interpret the disruptions in the sound waves caused by your head and your ear flaps. All this data gets <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21447375">plugged into the superior olivary complex</a>, where the brain computes the sound’s source and location.</p><p>You can replicate this effect by imitating the orientation of the human ears with special mics. Often this is done with something called a <a href="http://www.madooma.com/shop/neumann/NEUMANN_KU81_i_Vintage_Kunstkopf_Kondensator_Stereo_Mikrofon_KU-81_2137_2138_e.html">kunstkopf (German for “art head"</a>), which is simply a dummy head with mics tucked into the ears. They look <a href="http://ring.cdandlp.com/oemie/photo_grande/113880581.jpg">awesome and creepy</a>. For our purposes, two human subjects – Bob Schulein and Don White – volunteered their own heads for this duty. The results sound unlike any other audio you’re likely to hear. It may be the best facsimile of what it’s like to experience live sound – it is a record of what the ears actually hear.</p><p>Bob Schulein is the founder of <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pi1dKjwFdhU">ImmersAV Technology</a>. He produces HD video and binaural audio of musical acts, and was kind enough to demonstrate for us in the Jim and Kay Mabie Performance Studio here at WBEZ. Here is a sample of a performance by the <a href="http://binaural-audio.binauralbeatsbrainwaves.org/the-michael-arnopol-trio-canjam-2010/">Michael Anropol Trio</a>, featuring Arnopol on bass, John Moulder on guitar and Erik Montzka on drums.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/28061978?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=ff0000" width="601" frameborder="0" height="338"></iframe></p><p>There are lots of fun binaural recordings available online, including the popular <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDTlvagjJA">virtual barbershop</a>. Also check out <a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/ImmersAV">ImmersAV’s offerings here</a>.</p><p>Meanwhile, there’s still time to enter the contest to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-08-09/win-clever-apes-lab-coat-90261">win a Clever Apes lab coat</a>! Submit a science question for us to answer or suggest a name for our little purple ape friend. You can leave a comment here, enter on <a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/CleverApes">Twitter </a>of <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>, or call our hotline at 312-893-2935. While you’re at it, don’t forget to subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-24/cleverapes2.jpg" title="Bob Schulein of ImmersAV Technology shows off his in-ear microphone. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" width="500" height="667"></p></p> Wed, 24 Aug 2011 02:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-08-23/clever-apes-17-deep-listening-90945 Musical training sharpens aging ears and brains http://www.wbez.org/story/musical-training-sharpens-aging-ears-and-brains-86406 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-May/2011-05-12/Senior Singer_Getty_Matt Cardy.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>As people age, it gets harder to pick out a sound, such as someone talking in a noisy environment.</p><p>It’s common complaint of older adults, and it can lead to social isolation and depression.&nbsp;</p><p>But researchers at Northwestern University’s <a href="http://www.soc.northwestern.edu/brainvolts/">Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory</a> have found something that seems to keep those skills sharp: musical training.</p><p>The team studied about 40 older adults, and found that lifelong musicians did much better at picking out a signal from background noise, remembering what they just heard and quickly processing sound.</p><p>“It’s huge. It’s not a subtle effect,” said <a href="http://www.soc.northwestern.edu/brainvolts/documents/Kraus_HJ2011.pdf">Prof. Nina Kraus</a>, head of the lab.&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/story/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-12/Gabe%27s%20Story.jpg" style="width: 280px; height: 195px; margin: 7px; float: right;" title="">She said it may be that learning a piece of music conditions the auditory system – from the brain to the ear and back – to distinguish and retain sound components.</p><p>“A musician needs to holds that information in their mind while they resolve the physical complications of playing,” Kraus said. “So you get a lot of practice.”</p><p>Researchers don’t know yet how much musical training is needed to get the benefit – all the musicians in the study group had picked it up by age nine.</p><p>The study builds on research with children, which <a href="http://www.soc.northwestern.edu/brainvolts/documents/Music2704_07.pdf">found a similar benefit</a> in developing brains.</p><p>The findings are out in the journal, <a href="http://www.plosone.org/home.action">PLoS One</a>.&nbsp;<br> &nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 12 May 2011 10:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/musical-training-sharpens-aging-ears-and-brains-86406 Chicago scientists grow neurons from stem cells http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-scientists-grow-neurons-stem-cells <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//Neuron.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Scientists at Northwestern University say they&rsquo;ve figured out how to grow a kind of brain cell that&rsquo;s lost in Alzheimer&rsquo;s Disease. The cells make circuits critical for forming new memories, and they&rsquo;re among the first to die in Alzheimer&rsquo;s.&nbsp;Researchers at Northwestern Medicine coaxed human embryonic stem cells to grow into those neurons. They also developed an alternate strategy, where they got skin cells to mimic stem cells, which they were then able to grow into the neurons.&nbsp;</p><p>John Kessler, Chairman of Neurology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said the breakthrough could accelerate research into therapies.</p><p>&ldquo;Because we have the human neurons right in front of us in a tissue culture dish, we can screen literally thousands &ndash; actually, tens of thousands -- of drugs at a time, to find one that may work in the disease,&rdquo; Kessler said.</p><p>Down the line, scientists hope to be able to transplant the new cells into Alzheimer&rsquo;s patients whose own neurons have died.&nbsp;The findings are published in the journal Stem Cells.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 04 Mar 2011 12:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-scientists-grow-neurons-stem-cells Cave art and acid trips: The math they didn't teach you in school http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-03-02/cave-art-and-acid-trips-math-they-didnt-teach-you-school-83266 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//CaveLSD.png" alt="" /><p><p><img width="520" height="250" title="Cave art, left, and LSD visions, right, both reflect our brain's architecture. " class="caption" alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-March/2011-03-02/CaveLSD.png" /></p><p><a href="http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/raw-science/geometric-visual-hallucinations">Hallucinations</a> have led everyone from shamans to acid gurus to believe they were getting a glimpse into the <a href="http://chestofbooks.com/new-age/paranormal/Spirit-World/The-Sense-Organs-Perceive-Telepathically.html">spirit world</a>. Jack Cowan says they may actually be getting <a href="http://www.nerdshit.com/2003/12/10/secrets-of-an-acid-head/">a peek into their own brains</a>. Cowan is the mathematician and neuroscientist featured in the latest episode of Clever Apes, talking about how the patterns in those hallucinations actually reflect the structure and behavior of networks in our heads.</p><p>We&rsquo;ll get to <a href="http://psychedelic-information-theory.com/Uncoiling-the-spiral-Maths-and-hallucinations">the science</a> in a moment, but it&rsquo;s worth considering how entwined these hallucinations may be into the human experience. As Cowan mentions, some anthropologists believe that much of cave art is hallucinatory, as demonstrated in <a href="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/story/extras/2011-March/2011-03-02/Hallucinations.pdf">this presentation Cowan put together</a>. I&rsquo;ll leave it to the reader to decide whether these images are conclusive evidence that the cave art is drawn from hallucinatory patterns (seems to me that some are more convincing than others). Anthropologist<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Cave-Consciousness-Origins-Art/dp/0500284652"> David Lewis Williams thought so</a>, and even argued that hallucinations must then be a major source of humanity&rsquo;s <a href="http://vividlife.me/ultimate/4294/what-causes-eye-floaters/">spiritual and religious development</a>. So in that sense, they do give insight into the spirit world &ndash; if only to suggest that the spirit world originates in the cells of our sensory cortices.</p><p>It&rsquo;s worth noting, also, that hallucinations aren&rsquo;t confined to the visual world. We can experience <a href="http://www.coping-with-epilepsy.com/forums/f23/audio-hallucinations-2679/">audio hallucinations</a> (which may of course be wrapped up in psychedelic music &hellip; see Jim DeRogatis&rsquo;s <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=U7cQmRsLgN8C&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;dq=derogatis+psychedelic&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=XhQcAqhj7S&amp;sig=-xcJmxJRjQhGoDoD8kcSGeYULc0&amp;hl=en&amp;ei=75NuTc-PEcLSgQfBk9BB&amp;sa=X&amp;oi=book_result&amp;ct=result&amp;resnum=2&amp;ved=0CCIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">fine history here</a>), <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/phantosmia/AN01684">olfactory hallucinations</a> &ndash; even <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC491362/">tactile hallucinations</a>.</p><p>As for those visual patterns: they certainly seem to recur in plenty of places. To see them, eat some magic mushrooms or go have <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104397005">a near-death experience</a>. Of course, you could also just pay half-attention as you're drifting off to sleep. Or simply press on your eyeballs a little. Totally your call. But the key, Cowan says, is that the brain produces these patterns as it&rsquo;s passing through a state of instability &ndash; whether it&rsquo;s semi-sleep or a neurochemical imbalance brought on by drugs.</p><p>Basically, as excitation ripples through our neural networks, it makes actual patterns in there &ndash; often stripes or a regular series of blobs &ndash; of firing or resting neurons. Then, because of the way our visual network is designed, those patterns appear to our eyes as <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_constant">spirals, funnels and tunnels, honeycombs or cobwebs</a>. In fact, those four patterns seem to be pretty much it: Our brain architecture is capable of producing only <a href="http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/089976602317250861">variations on those four themes</a>.</p><p>But Cowan points out that the excitations that cause the hallucinations don't stop in the brain&rsquo;s sensory areas &ndash; they propagate deeper into areas connected with emotions, memory and self-image. That, added to the fact that they are associated with passing from one state into another (sober to tripping, awake to asleep, alive to dead), may contribute to the profundity we often ascribe to them. And perhaps there is something profound there after all: the idea that the same pattern-making mechanisms are at work in our minds as in clouds, or sands worked by the tides. That is pretty deep, man.</p><p>And kids, say no to drugs.</p><p>Subscribe to our <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wbezs-clever-apes/id379051174">podcast</a>, follow us on <a href="http://twitter.com/cleverapes">Twitter </a>and find us on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 02 Mar 2011 20:09:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-03-02/cave-art-and-acid-trips-math-they-didnt-teach-you-school-83266