This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

17Sep/10

A rare glimpse of the past

I know this website has turned out to largely be about science and the brain and all that cool stuff, so I thought I'd change things up a bit with a fascinating video that I found on YouTube.

Now that I'm living in the Bay Area, I thought it would be proper to pay homage to the great city that made it what it is.  Here's a video of San Francisco's F-Train, circa 1905.  Of importance here is that this was just before the big earthquake destroyed a good portion of the city.

And what could possibly make this better?  The song - La Femme D'argent - is by Air...one of my favorite groups of all time!

So, for your viewing pleasure - a beautiful, interesting, and awesome perspective on life in one of America's greatest cities.

31Jul/10

Notes in the Brain

One of the topics that I've been interested in for a long time is creativity and where it is represented in the brain.  Unfortunately, most research tends to focus on other aspects of cognition, since it's often tough to relate the study of creativity to a tangible benefit to society (or at least that's what most would have you think), but a recent article interviewed one researcher that is challenging that belief.

Charles Limb is a doctor-researcher at John Hopkins University.  He is also a saxophonist, pianist, and bassist.  This unique combination of talents has left him with a burning interest in the nature of creativity and spontaneity, two qualities that are inherent to any musical piece.

When he isn't performing cochlear implants, Dr. Limb has an fMRI lab that uses brain imaging to examine what exactly goes on in our brain when we conjure up musical expression from the deep recesses of our unconscious.

His most recent (and most promising) study involved placing six musicians in the fMRI machine with a specially-constructed plastic keyboard.  They were asked to play a typical 12-bar blues, then were told to start improvising on their own.  The fMRI recorded their brain activity while they did so, allowing the researchers to compare brain activity between playing music and improvising music.

What they found was an increase in activation of the medial prefrontal cortex - an area that is often associated with movement planning and decision making , coupled with a decrease in the lateral prefrontal cortex - an area that has been associated with inhibition and self-regulation.

While such a finding is preliminary at best, it does suggest that there are some very real, very fundamental differences between creation and recall from memory.  It is really difficult to determine what exactly is going on as these musical processes are carried out in the brain, but future studies with more subjects and more sophisticated recording techniques should shed light as to what exactly is going on in the brain.

Importantly, Dr. Limb emphasized that creativity is inherent to human beings, and an essential part of our society.  While he is a medical scientist, required to spend half of his time helping patients, perhaps this research will serve as a stimulus to the rest of the scientific community out there.  The nature of creativity is an elusive and complex phenomenon, and it will surely require an equally elegant and creative approach in order to be understood.

via Urbanite Magazine