Aloha and welcome to the 23rd installment of Encephalon, a blog carnival devoted to the study of the nervous system and the understanding of thought, emotion, and behavior. I received a lovely diversity of posts, and I've made a mildly successful attempt at categorizing them to help guide you in your explorations. Enjoy!
Approaches to understanding the mind
Chris at Developing Intelligence has an intriguing argument against rigorous reductionism, which dictates that the mysteries of human thought can be explained by understanding the most reduced biological mechanisms. Exploring the unique human capacity for symbol use, he stresses the importance of an integrative reconstructionist approach that uses computational analyses to understand neural networks.
The Neurocritic discusses Joaquin Fuster’s model of cognitive organization, which involves extensive, overlapping networks as opposed to functionally independent “modules.” Paul at Memoirs of a Postgrad also discusses Fuster’s work, examining the hierarchy of the neural loops that coordinate behaviors with stimuli (the “perception-action cycle.”)
Bora of A Blog Around the Clock does a great analysis of experiments that examine Drosophila chronobiology. I've always been somewhat disturbed by the ruthlessly standardized and reduced paradigms used to study fruit fly behavior; Bora reports on novel experimental conditions that attempt a more natural setting.
Johan at the Phineas Gage Fan Club writes about a powerful new way to study sleep, one of the great mysteries of evolutionary biology and neuroscience. To explore its purpose, the researchers develop a method to induce deep sleep in humans (somewhat) at will.
Memoirs of a Postgrad also links the understanding of the mind with the creation of artificial intelligence. He has a fantastic discussion of the concept of embodiment, and looks at its theoretical and methodological implications for AI.
The Thinking Meat Project reports on a symposium focused on the evolution of the human brain, touching on paleoneurology, human paleontology, archaeology, primatology, and cognitive science.
And what discussion of evolution would be complete without bringing up the mammalian eye? One of the most puzzling features of the retina is that it is “inverted,” meaning light beams must pass through a forest of neural fibers before reaching the photoreceptors, presumably leading to unavoidable light scatter and degradation. The Neurophilosopher discusses a fascinating, unexpected solution to this enigma.
Neurontic reviews Carved in Sand, a book that gives a first-person account of the progressive memory loss faced by older adults. The book's author presents a thorough analysis of a variety of interventions, but maybe she just needs to run harder: Neurozone discusses the positive effects of high-impact running on cognitive function.
Addressing the changes that occur on the opposite end of life, Dave at Cognitive Daily looks at how the ability to track multiple objects improves with age, discussing the possible influences of learning and attention.
Of course, losing one's mind needn't wait until the end of life. Vaughan of Mind Hacks writes about recent research exploring the relationship between cannabis and psychosis, including reports from the 2nd International Cannabis and Mental Health Conference in London. The Neurophilosopher has a couple rather chilling posts, drawing attention to the neglected neurological health of our troops. In one post, he describes the consequences of reckless destruction of nerve gas-containing weapons. In the second, he looks at traumatic brain injury, including that resulting from shockwaves.
The Neurocritic has two posts reporting on “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Prospective Thought,” a symposium of the 2007 meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in New York. He discusses neural mechanisms involved in envisioning the future, and reviews Randy Buckner’s intriguing hypothesis that default brain activity contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Language and behavior
Neurozone discusses embodied meaning in language, exploring how mirror neurons may mediate an interaction between language and motor systems.
PsyBlog has two posts on non-verbal communication, speculating on the origins, meaning, and purposes of gesture and the influence of culture on facial expressions. Vaughan from Mind Hacks takes an interesting look at one of the most popular nonverbal behaviors, writing on the possible neuroendocrinological link between sex and trust.
That's it for now! Thanks to everyone who contributed. The twenty-fourth edition of Encephalon will be hosted by Johan of The Phineas Gage Fan Club on June 4. Happy Monday!