Neuroscience

Blow Your Mind: Musical Mind Control and Evolutionary Hangovers

There's nothing like a good infectious beat, especially if you're Carl Jung in Africa, fearful that an atmosphere thick with shamanistic African drumming will literally drive you insane. This little chapter from the famous psychiatrist's life also inspired this excellent Peter Gabriel track, "The Rhythm of the Heat." This is exactly some of the ground Julie and I tackle in this week's episodes of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast.

Living in the Shackles of Memory

Human memory is tricky, to say the least. It's an ever-changing cloud of imperfect recollections, distortions and outright fabrications. It's a tag cloud full of joys, torments and minutia. And while savants and mnemonists can sometimes exhibit startling displays of memory, there is no such thing as total recall. Following a 2005 study published in the journal Neurocase, however, the media had a field day with Jill Price, a California woman with an amazing capacity for personal memory. Give her a name and she can tell you exactly where and when she spoke to that person last and what the subject was. Throw out a date and she can link it to plane crashes, presidential elections and episodes of "Dallas."

Depressed in the West: Cultural Neuroscience Chimes In

Grasping: Buddhism has decried it as the source of all human suffering for millennia while the West built an entire culture around it. We want more money. We want more life. We live our self-centered lives with the demon of impermanence breathing down our neck. The idea that we might feel better if we forgot about ourselves for a little bit should seem like a no-brainer.

How does your brain learn to see?

Last fall I was blind, if only for an hour. I had gone to "Dialog in the Dark," a performance that gives you a brief but lasting glimpse of what life might be like without your eyes. It's so dark in the exhibition space that you can have your eyes wide open and not see your hand in front of your face. After the performance, I stepped into the light, and my brain started processing all that assaulting visual information lickety-split. Thanks, brain. Sometimes, though, your brain has to learn how to see. It's a weird thought, like learning how to breathe, but that's the deal for formerly blind people whose sight is restored. How does your gray matter accomplish this monumental task? A bunch of MIT neurophysicists have tried to figure it out. For their experiment, they found three participants ranging in age from 3 to 29 who had regained their sight.

Welcome to the Semantic Apocalypse

I find that much of what I read regarding neuroscience stirs the unsettling notion that the human experience itself is little more than an absurd dream, a strange byproduct of evolution. Canadian author R. Scott Bakker ruminates on these topics, weaving imagined worlds with philosophic discourse and neurological research. In his book "Neuropath," he refers to something he calls "the semantic apocalypse." This catastrophe occurs when science shines enough light on the human condition for reason to fail.