The Flashbulb

July 31, 2014

Ever heard of flashbulb memories? They are highly descriptive and detailed “snapshots” of a certain event in the past that is significant to you for some reason, usually for an emotional reason. Flashbulb memories have been substantially researched, even though it has been proven that even these memories can be false. As we known, memory can often play tricks on us and is often unreliable, especially in eye-witness accounts. Flashbulb memories are interesting because they offer very vivid and often reliable information regarding a certain event (ex. JFK’s assassination, 9/11 etc..) because they hold an emotional significance. However, even flashbulb memories become less and less reliable over time. Certain aspects of the memory become unclear, are forgotten, or are even altered over time.

Neurological studies show that there is a connection between emotion and memory in the brain. Emotional arousal causes neurohormonal changes, which engages amygdala, which are involved in the storage and coding of memories. My experiment is an extension of Mark Mayford’s experiment using light in order to create false memories in a mouse’s brain. My creation, called the Flashbulb, works for human brains and allows us to use light in order to alter flashbulbs memories. This would essentially create a completely untrue but intensely vivid and descriptive memory in someone’s brain. After creating the memory, scientists could observe how much of the false memory the participant remembers over time. This would allow scientists to learn more about memory and why it is so unreliable.browntech

My artistic skills are lacking, however the general idea is to add genes into a human brain that are responsible for making memories, which are light-sensitive and can be manipulated. I think that this technology could definitely be invented in the near future. A very similar technique was invented for mice: scientists were able to manipulate a memory that already existed in a mouse’s brain and alter it. The mouse would then stay clear of certain places, for example, because they would have an unpleasant memory of it even though they had never entered that place before. This sort of experiment has never been done on humans, however. It would require some invasive procedures in order to implant the genes that make the proteins necessary for this procedure. However, other than this the technology is not terribly advanced. A great deal of research has been conducted in order to better understand memory, which is such an important aspect of our lives and yet is so unreliable.

Another interesting experiment that could be conducted using this technology is to implant a memory in someone who is suffering from anterograde amnesia, which is a disease that prohibits patients from transferring short term memory to long term memory. It would be interesting to implant a flashbulb memory into his brain and observe the brain to see what happens to that memory and how it gets lost or forgotten by the patient. There are so many disorders that revolve around memory, and I think that this technology would aid researchers and could help develop treatments or cures. Let’s see what happens!


Say Bye to Brain and Spinal Injuries

July 31, 2014

There are nearly 2 million traumatic brain injuries per year, 500,000 of which require hospital admission. 75,000-100,000 deaths are due to this in the United States alone. Similarly, there are approximately 6 million people living with paralysis, while 250,000 Americans have spinal cord injuries.

Brain and spinal injury is clearly a huge cause for suffering. We have not yet dug deeper into the human brain, so we have not been able to see it’s bigger picture yet. Due to this, it is extremely risky to treat many brain injuries using surgery. Similarly, many forms of spinal injury are also extremely hard to treat due to its fragility.

However, the whole dynamic of this is going to change with the creation of a technology designed for the detection and alleviation of brain and spinal injuries. This amazing piece of technology will allow for brain and spinal injuries to be a common issue, along the lines of a bruise or a paper cut. This device will be implanted onto the section of the spinal cord close to the brain, which will then be able to monitor both the spinal cord as well as the brain. There will be sensors on the device that send electric signals out and receive feedback; abnormal feedback will trigger the device. Its source of energy would be the heat generated by the body. There will be a thermoelectric generator on the device, which will allow the heat generated by the body to be converted into electric energy for the device to run on.

If somebody has just suffered from a trauma to the brain or spinal cord, this device will sense the trauma in the respective region and trigger the neurons to send out certain proteins and antibodies to accelerate the process of healing. Healing always takes time, and this device will create no exception. The human body will as it is now, except with a device to simply direct the body and the brain to produce the healing proteins and antibodies where necessary.

We are a long way off from such a incredible and useful piece of technology. It is going to require immense amounts of research to develop this, such as the mapping of the human brain to see what proteins are expressed in what part of the brain for what activity. It is essential to know the function of the proteins so that the right ones are released for the appropriate injuries in the appropriate parts of the brain. This information will be embedded into the device in somewhat of a encyclopedia format, where the corresponding injuries will trigger the respective proteins. As this research will be part of a progression, the next step will be the creation of a substance that acts as these healing proteins. The idea of this research would be to develop substances which will be more efficient for the process of healing for the human body as an aid to the device.

Keep in mind that not all brain and spinal injuries will be so easily fixed in the beginning stages, as the device will not be as developed. However, the aim is to be able to sustain immense injuries, but come out of the process feeling healthy and stable. This device only affects the nervous system, so skeletal injuries are out of its control. However, ensuring security to the brain and spinal cord will resolve a major part of the problem, as these two structures are vital parts of the body.

photo(1)

Sources for statistics:

http://www.christopherreeve.org/site/c.mtKZKgMWKwG/b.5184189/k.5587/Paralysis_Facts__Figures.htm
http://www.sci-info-pages.com/facts.html
http://www.headinjuryctr-stl.org/statistics.html


Memory Maker

July 30, 2014

Memory Maker 2000™

Having trouble studying? Forget where you left your keys? Couldn’t remember the lesson from yesterday? Well, we’ve got a product for you!

The Memory Maker 2000™ will help you keep those synaptic connections you so love in just three easy steps! Insert the product (prerequisite needed – surgery), charge the batteries in the remote (batteries not included), and just press the on button! Forget the words “I forget” forever! The Memory Maker 2000™ is for you!

The Memory Maker 2000™ works on state-of-the-art technology that strengthens bonds between each and every synaptic connection in the brain. The ability to forget will be forgotten! After activating the Memory Maker 2000™ within your brain, you will gain full access to every single possible synapse, and none of those synapses will EVER disconnect. It’s simply amazing! The Memory Maker 2000™ enhances brain function like no other product out there. Say no to those Omega-3 Fatty acids that everyone tells you will be good for brain function. Those pesky infomercials will NEVER get you to buy memory enhancing supplements ever again! The average brain may lose information all the time, especially when you have a bad memory, but with the Memory Maker 2000™ those days are looooong gone!

This product may require some invasive procedures, but the price to pay is much lower than the ultimate gain. Just insert, and you are done!

Starting from just $9,999.99, the Memory Maker 2000™ will change your life forever, I guarantee it!

Warning: This product: may cause severe brain damage, is not FDA Approved, and could completely change your life forever, for the worse. 0 Day Limited Warranty Included. Ethical concerns do not apply, neither do coupons.

 

 

Ok, sorry about that guys, my inner Billie Mays had to come out.

But in all reality, this product could work in the very distant future. Extremely small scanners would have to be invented such that the entire brain could be scanned from within – with this technology at hand, the Memory Maker 2000™ could then release bonding agents that would keep synapses connected, essentially forever. New connections could always be formed with the remaining dendrites and axons, I am sure. When these new memories are made, the small device would again release the bonding agent (internal mechanisms could enable it to make enough of this bonding agent to last well into and after death). This cycle would allow for all memories and information to be stored forever and the human race to advance far past of what we are currently capable. Information centers would no longer be 1 Terabyte Personal Computers, but rather the 2.5 petabyte human mind. This product, or technology, could have extremely useful practical applications but would be beleaguered with a plethora of ethical concerns. Enhancing the human mind, or body, in any way has been frowned upon – genetically engineered corn is fine, but genetically engineered humans are not exactly a Sunday afternoon’s talk. Even PEDs are extremely tabooed and are not permitted in major sports. Creating a complete memory enhancer for the brain would obviously be tagged with a myriad of ethical concerns. However, disregarding ethics, this product could become very useful for anyone and everyone in the human race. We do not all have eidetic memories, but they could be very useful.

This could happen after 2100, considering the extreme technologies – not to mention the necessary prior research – required to build this object.

Memory Maker 2000


Erasing Memories

July 30, 2014

Our brain is constantly making new memories by rearranging synaptic connections between neurons. This is facilitated by the plastic nature of our brains. Brain plasticity decreases with age; that is why it is much easier to learn new skills and information as a child, than as an adult. When we remember things, action potentials are fired along the same neuronal pathways that were activated when we first formed the memory.

The technology I have designed is able to manipulate the synaptic connections between neurons so as to erase memories. This is inspired by the technology used in the movie The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In the movie, the characters visit a firm called Lacuna, Inc. which erases painful memories of an ended relationship. The mechanism is not explicitly explained, but the characters are asked to relive as many of their memories with their ex-partner as possible while under live brain imaging machines.

A technology like this would be extremely useful in combatting the effects of extremely traumatic events on victims (for example: soldiers, victims of kidnappings or abuse). It could also be used in matters of international security and espionage.

There are two ways in which this technology could work: one ideal, and one more realistic.

The ideal technology would work very similarly to the one in the movie. A patient would be able to relive the memories they wish to erase under the monitoring of a 3D brain imaging technology. This technology would have to be a great deal more powerful and more accurate than fMRI. It would have to be able to construct and magnify the pathway of neurons that are being activated by this memory at a cellular level. In this way, scientists could see the specific synaptic connections with which the memory is associated. I imagine the images produced by such a machine looking similar to the 3D modelling of Dr. Jeff Lichtman’s circuits. With the identification of the neuronal network, scientists could then surgically manipulate the synaptic connections in question, effectively erasing the memory. The physical tools required of this would have to be microscopic in size (nanobots anyone?) and be handled by a robot, as humans would not have the precision to carry out such a delicate task. In this way, specific memories could be targeted and erased. The main obstacle I can see in such a procedure, is how the scientists would determine how to ‘re-wire’ the synaptic connections.

The more realistic version of the technology appears in Philip K Dick’s short story Paycheck. In the story, the protagonist carries out a classified job for a certain amount of time, and then has all his memories of that time erased. This is different from the ‘ideal’ version of the technology in that specific memories are not targeted, but rather the patient’s memories are restored to that of an earlier time period. The patient would have a 3D brain scan done at the beginning of the time period, this too at a scale that shows the individual synaptic connections. After the time period is up, the scientists would use the same surgical tools mentioned above to restore the synaptic connections to those that were originally recorded. This overcomes the obstacle addressed in the ‘ideal’ technology.

Realistically speaking, technology like this is a long ways away. We have yet to model the mammalian brain at a cellular level, though the technology in Dr. Licthman’s lab is on its way to doing so. A supremely faster, non-invasive version of such modelling is what would be needed for the procedure I’ve outlined to take place. Though neuroscience is fast developing, I don’t expect such technology to have been developed in my lifetime.

The surgical tools, on the other hand, have precedents all over the medical world (though not on such a small scale). With the state of innovation in biomedical engineering, I could expect such a technology to be developed in the next few decades.


Checker Shadow Illusion

July 29, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 10.23.26 PM

 

In this optical illusion, we see what appears to be a checkerboard of two different shades of gray. We also perceive a shadow coming from the cylinder. In reality, the two different shades of gray, as seen in square A and square B, are in fact the same shade. This can be proven by printing out the illusion, cutting out the two shades, and putting them side-by-side. It will then be seen that they are in fact the same shade of gray.

 

According to Edward Adelson, who created this Checker Shadow Illusion, because there is a shadow created by the cylinder, the visual system has to determine where the shadows are and how to compensate for them. Local contrast is something that the visual system uses to determine what effect the shadow has on the image. “In this figure, the shadow looks like a shadow, both because it is fuzzy and because the shadow casting object is visible.” So really this is not a failure of the visual system to demonstrate, it is actually the success of the visual system doing what it was meant to do.

 

This optical illusion really shows how the visual system is really able to work out and process things in a very meaningful way. The visual system, in this case, was able to break down the information given from the illusion and put it back together in a way that the eye and brain would be able to perceive it.


The Müller-Lyer Illusion

July 29, 2014

In the Müller-Lyer Illusion, three lines are shown with arrows pointing inwards or outwards at both ends of the line. When we look at these arrows (in the top picture) and try to figure out their lengths, the line in the middle seems to be longest, followed by the third line, and the first line is the smallest. However, this is not true. All of the shafts of the lines are actually the same exact size, as the bottom picture shows.

This is a popular illusion that has been the subject of various theories and psychological experiments. However, there does seem to be a neurological basis to this illusion. This illusion occurs because our brain is used to perceiving depth in the 3D world. When the brain must switch to a 2D view of this image, it perceives the image as 3D. This makes the brain think that the shafts of the lines are different sizes, as the size constancy mechanism does not function the same for 2D images as it does for 3D images. Another simpler explanation is that since the lengths of the lines including the fins of the arrows is different, the brain automatically thinks the lengths of the shafts are different.

This optical illusion teaches us that the visual system can be easily tricked, and it does not perceive 2D and 3D images the same way.

Interestingly, it has been shown that the perception of this illusion varies between cultures and age groups.


Einstein or Monroe?

July 29, 2014

This optical illusion works with a number of different faces, but the most common version is seen with the faces of Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein. A hybrid image is constructed by combining two images. For instance, looking at the picture from a short distance, one can see a sharp image of Einstein, with only a hint of blurry distortion hinting at the presence of an overlaid image. Viewed from a distance in which the fine detail blurs, the unmistakable face of Monroe emerges.

A hybrid image is perceived one of two ways, all depending on distance. Optical illusions such as these function by combining low spatial frequencies of one picture with the high spatial frequencies of another picture. The concept of binocular rivalry illustrates this optical illusion. Rivalry greatly suppresses activity in the ventral pathway and attenuates visual adaptation to form and motion. Inhibitory and excitatory circuits considered within a hybrid model might account for the paradoxical properties of binocular rivalry.

 


The Tower – Optical Illusion

July 29, 2014

This is a work of art created by graphic designer and painter István Orosz. He has produced many other illusionary images like this one.Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 7.01.41 PM In this image, the observer sees a cylinder that does not appear to have to same orientation from every angle. The brain cannot transform this 2D image into a 3D model, so we are not able to follow the cylinder with our eyes for a full rotation without it seeming like the visible face of the wall switches the way it is curving. To add to the confusion, you are almost forced to look at the wall a specific way based on the way the people are positioned in the openings, and the different ways that the people are sitting also do not sit in a position that would make it seem like a true cylinder.

This happens due to the constraints of the brain to produce 3D mental representation based on a 2D image we look at. The brain assigns a depth to every point of the 2D image. Looking at only a small section of the image, that small section is consistent with spatial perspective even though each section suggests a certain orientation or direction of continuation of the cylinder. But, when you try to look at the image as a whole, a spatial paradox results. This indicates that our visual system is limited in constructing 3D models or pictorial representations.


Edge Enhancement and Lateral Inhibition

July 28, 2014

I chose to research the edge enhancement phenomenon. This is where colors are perceived differently based on there relativity to other colors that are lighter or darker. The more light that hits the photoreceptors, the stronger the stimulus. This stimulus is perceived by the brain. Since photoreceptors inhibit the stimulation of their neighboring photoreceptors, the stronger the stimulus in one photoreceptor, the more it inhibits the neighboring photoreceptor. This is called lateral inhibition. If all neighboring cells receive the same stimulus, there will be equal perception of the signal within the brain.
Edge enhancement occurs when receptors that receive stronger stimuli inhibit their neighbors more strongly. It also occurs when receptors that receive weaker stimuli do not inhibit their neighbors as strongly. When a neuron is inhibited more than its neighbors, it results in the perception of a darker color. When a neuron is inhibited less, it results in the perception of a lighter color. This gives an enhanced contrast between light and dark colors/images side-by-side.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 5.04.53 PM

In this photo, lateral inhibition is occurring in the retina. The white areas next to each other cause inhibition of photoreceptors in between. This gives the illusion of slightly darker squares in the middle. These are the grey spots in each corner.


Galileo’s optical illusion

July 28, 2014

Galilleo illusion

In this illusion, the white coloured square against the black background, appears to be larger than the black coloured square on the white background. In actual fact, they are the same size. Our response to light makes it difficult to see that these squares occupy exactly the same area. The Italian astronomer Galileo first made a similar observation when looking at the planets. He found that Venus looked far larger than Jupiter (since it was the brighter of the two planets). Despite this, at second glance, looking through a telescope it is obvious that Jupiter is clearly the largest of the two planets.

This illusion can be explained by light sensitive neurons. A recent study showed that when the electrical signals between neurons were recorded using electrodes,  the neurons sensitive to light object gave a disproportionately greater response than those neurons sensitive to dark things. The heightened activity of these light sensitive neurons explains why our attention is shifted to the right, and why the white square appears much larger. Scientists working on this research believe that these light sensitive cells are within the eye itself, rather than in the brain. These cells are responsible for changing our perception of the image we are viewing. Research into this area has also sparked interest in problems with vision, which could potentially be explained by the imbalance in activity of these neurons.

 With regard to our visual system, this optical illusion tells us that under different conditions, things can be perceived much differently. It also tells us that sometimes our eyes and our brain are not always in complete agreement! What is interesting about this illusion is that the observed effect can  be essential for survival (particularly for predators in the wild).

 Sources:
http://www.livescience.com/43243-galileo-optical-illusion-explained-by-neuroscience.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/optical-illusion-galileo-video_n_4773613.html

http://www.techtimes.com/articles/3376/20140213/galileo-planetary-illusion-mystery-finally-solved-by-neuroscientists.htm