Sunday, September 06, 2009

Simulated Brain in a Super Computer

Blue Brain Image from Switzerland

In the microscopic, yet-uncharted circuitry of the cortex, Henry Markram is perhaps the most ambitious -- and our most promising -- frontiersman. Backed by the extraordinary power of the IBM Blue Gene supercomputing architecture, which can perform hundreds of trillions of calculations per second, he's using complex models to precisely simulate the neocortical column (and its tens of millions of neural connections) in 3D. Source

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sir Ken Robinson on Education and Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson is a creativity expert.
He challenges the way we're educating our children, and champions a radical rethinking of our school systems to better cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. His latest book, The Element, looks at how we find our creative passion.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Art, Music, Emotions, Love and Human Evolution

University of California TV presents a talk by the three world-renowned researchers

1. Antonio Damasio: University of Southern California and Author of several popular books inluding

The Feeling of what Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness

2. Helen Fisher Rutger University and author of book

Why we love: the nature and chemistry of romantic love

3. Isabelle Peretz University of Montreal

The Handbook of Cognitive Neuropsychology: What Deficits Reveal about the ...

The Handbook of Cognitive Neuropsychology: What Deficits Reveal about the ...‎ - Page 519

Music Perception and Recognition Isabella Peretz All human societies have music.
As far as we know, they have always had. Unlike other widespread human.

These scientists share their insights and research work into the neural basis of art, creativity, emotions and music and the powerful roles they play in human evolution.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Psychologically Speaking What Does "Free Will" Really Mean

Dr. John Bargh is a Professor of Psychology at Yale University. His work is in the area of "Automaticity" where he investigate about our Automatic Behavior. His Laboratory at Yale:
The ACME (Automaticity in Cognition, Motivation, and Emotion) Lab at Yale focuses on nonconscious or automatic influences on psychological and behavioral processes. In one way or another, all of our studies address the issue of free will, and how much of it do we as individuals really have. We are interested in the extent to which all social psychological phenomena -- attitudes and evaluations, emotions, impressions, motivations, social behavior -- occur nonconsciously and automatically. Currently, our research is actively exploring how social goals such as to cooperate, achieve, become friends, and so on, are triggered and operate without the person's awareness. We also are looking at the potential sources of these nonconscious motivations in real life settings, for example, the significant others in our lives can be one major source. A related question is how these various sources of nonconscious influence interact with each other, and how much of our 'real life' experience is governed by them. We are also starting to look at emotional experience as a potential internal trigger of goals and future intentions. That all of these effects occur without the person's intention and awareness, yet have such strong effects on the person's decisions and behavior, has considerable implications for the nature and purpose of consciousness. By discovering those domains of social life in which conscious, deliberate processes are not necessary, we can shed more light on what consciousness is needed for -- that is, what its true purpose is. Source
He gave a talk discussing the issue of "Free Will" during a symposium at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Convention in Tampa, FL.

Our Behavior are not as free as we would like them to be.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

What is Unique about Human

Robert Sapolsky is currently a professor of Biological Sciences, and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University. He is also a big time primatlogist who studies Baboons in Africa.

In this lecture he talks about what is unique about human.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Left Brain vs. Right Brain

Click on the image for a bigger picture.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Does Money Affects Happiness

CBS MoneyWatch talks to Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker about the psychological toll of ups and down in economy including tips for creating a stress-free life style.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Using Visual Perception in Problem Solving

Visual Perception is one of the most used cognitive function. It helps us in moving around without running into other objects. It also helps us in finding our position and orientation in space. It is also instrumental in visual problem solving.

Dan Roem wrote a book "The Back of Napkin: Solving Problem and Selling Ideas" The book explains how images and pictures can be used to solve our complex problems and explaining ideas. Here is an example where he describes the difference in finding information between Google and Alltop information aggregator. "How You Find your Information Nuggets" According to him we do not need artistic talent to draw comlex pictures. Simple sketches as shown in this ewample will do the job of visual problem solving.

Dr. Robert Horn is a visiting scholar at Stanford university. He work in the area of Visual Language and wrote a book "Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century" His web page at Stanford University illustrates his approach of Information Modeling using Visual Language. An optimum combination of pictures and words can create a very strong communiaction script. It can even help in developing visual information slides that can communicate across culture and disciplines.

In the video below Information Designer Tom Wujec talks about three areas of brain that are used in word, image and emotion processing. He gives an approach of using visual perception for solving problems using three steps:

1. Creating images that helps us in visualizing problems
2. By allowing interaction with the images
3. By making the results of all the first two steps persistence

He shows an example on how people at Autodesk use this for their internal tasks.

We spend a big part of our time in watching video screens that is constantly refreshed through a computer. With increased computing power and increased video screen resolution and size it will become possible to use icons and imagery to communicate ideas, concepts and collaboration for problem solving among teams. This will allow us to tackle some of the complex problems that seems unsolvable at this time. It will also reduce the over emphasis on the written words we currently have, reducing the burden on verbal part of the brain brain.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How Chaos Drives the Brain

Brain neuron constantly fire in response to the internal and external stimulus. Most of the time Brain is stable but there are times when it operates as a chaotic system. The video shows the animation of the brain's behavior

Neuroscientists have long suspected as much. Only recently, however, have they come up with proof that brains work this way. Now they are trying to work out why. Some believe that near-chaotic states may be crucial to memory, and could explain why some people are smarter than others.

In technical terms, systems on the edge of chaos are said to be in a state of "self-organised criticality". These systems are right on the boundary between stable, orderly behaviour - such as a swinging pendulum - and the unpredictable world of chaos, as exemplified by turbulence.

The complete article is here.

Twitter in The Classroom

Changing Mathematics Education

Mathematician and magician Arthur Benjamin talks about changing the Mathematics education by reducing the emphasis on the Calculus curriculum and covering more Statistics to make mathematics curriculum more interesting.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Philip Zimbardo on Time and Temptation

Philip Zimbardo bio
A past president of the American Psychological Association and a professor emeritus at Stanford, Zimbardo retired in 2008 from lecturing, after 50 years of teaching his legendary introductory course in psychology. In addition to his work on evil and heroism, Zimbardo recently published "The Time Paradox", exploring different cultural and personal perspectives on time.
He talks about the two modes of time perspective. The first perspective is about "Here and Now" that is I want everything now. Not much thinking goes on about future consequences of the choices made in present. The second perspective is all about delayed gratification. Some one constantly working for future goals and postponing the gratification indefinitely. He thinks that both perspective are not ideal choices. An optimum approach between the two time perspective will lead to a balanced healthy life choices.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What Makes Us Happy

Humans have been searching for happiness since they became human.

The US "Declaration of Independence" document mostly authored by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 explicitly mentions it in the following famous phrase:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It makes pursuit of happiness a "Natural and Legal" right of every US citizen raising an interesting question "What is Happiness?" It is sort of assumed that we intuitively know what it is. Is it the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure? or "The calm contentedness of a sage?" or a "Hearty laugh at a joke?". It seems that the word "Happiness" may in fact have several meanings and it may refer to many mental states depending upon the context in which it is being used.

Harvard University has a long running study to learn the "Secrets of Good Life". The study is running for seventy years starting in 1937 and follows lives of its participants from the time they studied at Harvard till recent times. It is one of the longest running longitudinal studies.

The Harvard Psychiatrist George Vaillant is managing the work on this research for the last forty years. In the video from Atlantic magazine below he describes the findings of his work:

It is interesting to note from his comments that there is no single recipe that everybody can follow to attain happiness.

The complete article "What Makes Us Happy" from Atlantic magazine here, is worth reading. It is quite humbling in many ways describing how lives of people twist and turn as move through different stages of their lives.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Daniel Kahneman on Behavioral Economics

Dr. Daniel Kahneman is a professor of Psychology at Princeton University. He is one of the few psychologhists who received nobel prize for economics. He questioned the assumption of rationality behind the human decision making process. He also showed that human decisions are not rational.

He is the speaker at the Georgetown University at the graduation ceremony.

We are also seeing that the efficient market theory for stock market prediction is also being questioned recently. The new thinking is that the markets are not efficient.

Steve Pinker with Richard Dawkins On Charles Darwin

Richard Dawkins interviews Steve Pinker for "The Genius of Charles Darwin". Steve Pinker bio

Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Until 2003, he taught in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The New Republic, and is the author of seven books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, Words and Rules, The Blank Slate, and most recently, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.

The interview was done for the Channel 4 UK TV program which won British Broadcasting Awards' "Best Documentary Series" of 2008.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Loving Lions

Lions are known for their ferociousness and killing. They also have a soft affectionate side where they remember their human rescuers. On meeting them they show extreme love and affection towards them.

Lion rescued in Columbia kisses rescuer (via Rehan)

London Lion Reunion in Africa

Monday, May 11, 2009

Watch Seth Godin on Tribes

Seth Godin talks about Tribes and how to be instrumental in bringing about change in the future.


Monday, May 04, 2009

Obedience: Phil Zimbardo on Colbert Report

Dr. Zimbardo is a professor at Stanford. He wrote a book titled "Lucifer Effect" that goes into obedience behavior, when it is appropriate and under what conditions it becomes a moral hazard.

He discusses his book here with Stephen Colbert in this video

His expriments are similar to the experiments conducted by Yale Psychologist Stanely Milgram in which he studied the willingness of the subjects to obey the authority figures.

An excerpt from an article by Stanely Milgram
The Perils of Obedience

Obedience is as basic an element in the structure of social life as one can point to. Some system of authority is a requirement of all communal living, and it is only the person dwelling in isolation who is not forced to respond, with defiance or submission, to the commands of others. For many people, obedience is a deeply ingrained behavior tendency, indeed a potent impulse overriding training in ethics, sympathy, and moral conduct.

The dilemma inherent in submission to authority is ancient, as old as the story of Abraham, and the question of whether one should obey when commands conflict with conscience has been argued by Plato, dramatized in Antigone, and treated to philosophic analysis in almost every historical epoch. Conservative philosophers argue that the very fabric of society is threatened by disobedience, while humanists stress the primacy of the individual conscience.

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous import, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation. Source

Michael Merzenich: Exploring the re-wiring of the brain

Michael Merzanich studies brain's ability to reconfigure itself also known as Brain Plasticity. He also studies how to use this ability of the brain to help it grow for useful purposes.

His bio
One of the foremost researchers of neuroplasticity, Michael Merzenich's work has shown that the brain retains its ability to alter itself well into adulthood -- suggesting that brains with injuries or disease might be able to recover function, even later in life. He has also explored the way the senses are mapped in regions of the brain and the way sensations teach the brain to recognize new patterns.

Merzenich wants to bring the powerful plasticity of the brain into practical use through technologies and methods that harness it to improve learning. He founded Scientific Learning Corporation, which markets and distributes educational software for children based on models of brain plasticity. He is co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Posit Science, which creates "brain training" software also based on his research.

Merzenich is professor emeritus of neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco.
and his talk

The discovery of Brain Plasticity displaces the old thinking that brain connections get set early in life in life. Once set they can not be altered and in the old age we experience weakening of these connections.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Innovation as Learning Process

This video describes four style of learners and how they all contribute to the innovation process.

Innovation as a Learning Process from Roger H. Shealy on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brain Economic and Moral Choices

Reconstruction of Australopithecus afarensisImage via Wikipedia

The brains is the central organ where most of our decisions are made. It has been a mysterious organ because we could not look inside the brain to observe how we actually make decisions.

There were many old models those divided the decision making mainly into two separate processes. The rational goal oriented decision making process and the irrational emotion based decision making process sometimes referred to as "Animal Spirits". All the attempts that are made to civilize humans were to suppress the irrational decision making and promote rational decision making. The modernity was based upon the ascension of the rational decision making to the highest pedestal while our instinctual urges were considered bad and relegated to the bottom of the pyramid of the needs.

This two part division provided a satisfactory explanation for our behavior in the past. It also provided guidelines for developing suitable methods to train kids to become rational functioning adults. However, the recent advances in non invasive brain scanning techniques such as FMRI allow us to probe inside the brain while it is trying to make decisions. The technique still lacks fine spatial and temporal resolution but it is getting better with time and it provides a glimpse of inside working of human brain.

The neurons inside the brain are interconnected and we do not find a clear cut distinction between two types of decision making. In fact both of them are involved in all types of decision making. This invalidates the "Rational Actor" model of humans used in Economic theory. Human are not purely rational decision making computers.

We now have new disciplines like Neuro-economics and Behavioral Finance. These disciplines have shown that our decisions differ sometimes considerably from a pure rational actor. All decision are value based decisions including the decisions involving money and morality.

Here is a fascinating video that shows some of the experiments in the field of Neuro-economics showing human decision making and a neuroscience based explanation

We can not find a moral center within the brain making moral decisions. Also, we can not find 'Homo Economus nuclei " within the brain making rational informed decisions on money matters purely out of self interest. This conclusion is fairly obvious to common people but the religious authorities and the big name economists so far are not willing to accept these findings in Neuro-economics despite the mounting evidence supporting the idea that brain is an organic unit and it acts as a single unit to perform calculations leading to making decisions.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Evolution of Religions

Cover of "Collapse: How Societies Choose ...Cover via Amazon

Faith and Religion are still dominant factors in people's lives and in organizing human societies. It is difficult to discuss faith and religion without strong emotional reactions from its adherents. People have faced discrimination and have lost their lives if they happened to belong to wrong faith depending upon the majority view.

Despite all this scholars have studied religion, its evolution including the believers. The scholarly opinions are all over map because it is difficult to study religion as an objective phenomenon because of the subjective faith of the scholars.

Here is a talk by Dr. Jared Diamonds. His bio
Jared Diamond, professor of geography at UCLA, received the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 1998 for Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. In 1999, he received the National Medal of Science. His most recent book is Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004).He studies religion from evolutionary perspective.
He believes that religions evolved along the changes in the human societies.
Professor Diamond argues that religion has encompassed at least four independent components that have arisen or disappeared at different stages of development of human societies over the last 10,000 years.

The video

The talk is long but raises some very interesting points. Especially the religion providing justification for killing other humnas.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

How Bacteria Communicate

Diagram of the location of introns and exons w...Image via Wikipedia

Bonnie Bassler, a microbiologist at Princeton, who discovered how bacteria communicate with each other describes how they use chemical molecules and enzymes to communicate. More details of her work from here
The research in my laboratory focuses on the molecular mechanisms that bacteria use for intercellular communication. Our goal is to understand how bacteria detect multiple environmental cues, and how the integration and processing of this information results in the precise regulation of gene expression.

The bacterial communication phenomenon that we study is called quorum sensing, which is a process that allows bacteria to communicate using secreted chemical signaling molecules called autoinducers. This process enables a population of bacteria to collectively regulate gene expression and, therefore, behavior.

In quorum sensing, bacteria assess their population density by detecting the concentration of a particular autoinducer, which is correlated with cell density. This “census-taking” enables the group to express specific genes only at particular population densities. Quorum sensing is widespread; it occurs in numerous Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. In general, processes controlled by quorum sensing are ones that are unproductive when undertaken by an individual bacterium but become effective when undertaken by the group. For example, quorum sensing controls bioluminescence, secretion of virulence factors, sporulation, and conjugation. Thus, quorum sensing is a mechanism that allows bacteria to function as multi-cellular organisms.

She found that bacteria can effectively use chemicals to communicate and socialize. In her TED talk video she explains her research work in more understandable terms.

She is also attempting to develop effective strategies to fight diseases that have become antibiotic resistant by studying the underlying mechanisms of Bacterial communication.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hugs with Lions

A South African trainer playing with his lions. I never imagined lions are such playful creatures.

This is courageous and skilled work.

Also, Riana Van Nieuwenhuizen, a sanctuary worker in South Africa shares her home with four cheetahs, five lions and two tigers. The cats are allowed to roam freely throughout the house. Here she is lying in bed with some of them:

Another picture showing these cats in her kitchen:

Please click on the images for bigger complete sharper pictures of the scene. The entire article with more pictures and detail is here.


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