Category Archives: Inside the Brain

Crystal history

Spiegel Online has an excellent article that traces the history of methamphetamine from its early days as synthetic soldier fuel in Nazi Germany to its recent history as street crank. There is one curious bit though: Pervitin remained easy to obtain even after the war, on the black market or as a prescription drug from […]

Does brain stimulation make you better at maths?

The Headlines Brain stimulation promises “long-lasting” maths boost Mild electric shocks to brain may help students solve maths problems Electrical brain boost can make you better at maths What they actually did Researchers led by Roi Cohen Kadosh at the University of Oxford trained people on two kinds of maths skills, rote learning simple arithmetic […]

Science behind the billion dollar brain hype

If you want to hear me talk about what the US and Europe’s billion dollar brain projects are trying to achieve, I’m on the latest BBC All in the Mind discussing the science behind the quite considerable hype. I discuss these latest brain initiatives alongside presenter Claudia Hammond and distinguished neuroscientist Donald Stein – who […]

Amid the borderlands

I’ve got an article in The Observer on how some of the best evidence against the idea that psychiatric diagnoses like ‘schizophrenia’ describe discrete ‘diseases’ comes not from the critics of psychiatry, but from medical genetics. I found this a fascinating outcome because it puts both sides of the polarised ‘psychiatry divide’ in quite an […]

The postmortem portraits of Phineas Gage

A new artform has emerged – the post-mortem neuroportrait. Its finest subject, Phineas Gage. Gage was a worker extending the tracks of the great railways until he suffered the most spectacular injury. As he was setting a gunpowder charge in a rock with a large tamping iron, the powder was lit by an accidental spark. […]

Happiness rebuilt

I’ve written a piece for SpotOn NYC on the contrast between the effects of brain injury depicted in Oliver Sacks-type books and the typical effects in patients on neurology wards. These books are not inaccurate but neither do they represent the common outcomes of brain injury. Sometimes the reality is quite different from what people […]

What will the billion dollar brain projects do?

Two neuroscience projects have been earmarked for billion dollar funding by Europe and the US government but little has been said about what the projects will achieve. Here’s what we know. The European Commision has just awarded half a billion euros to the Human Brain Project – a development of Henry Markram’s Blue Brain project […]

Point me to a brain area

I’ve just found an incredibly use brain anatomy atlas that when you point at any part of an MRI scan it tells you which part of the brain you’re looking at in all three planes. It seems to be part of a very useful website called HeadNeckBrainSpine that is full of handy neuroanatomy tools, tutorials […]

Death of a booty chemical

I’ve got a piece in The Observer about why dopamine isn’t a ‘pleasure chemical’ but how this idea is likely to stay because it’s too useful for the media. It provides a simplified explanation for a whole range of behaviours and sexes-up science stories, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. If there were […]

Owner of Broca’s area identified

A patient who could only say the word ‘tan’ after suffering brain damage became one of the most important cases in the history of neuroscience. But the identity of the famously monosyllabic man has only just been revealed. Broca’s area was one of the first brain areas identified with a specific function after 19th Century […]

A brain of warring neurons

A fascinating talk from philosopher of mind Daniel Dennett where he refutes his earlier claims that neurons can be thought of like transistors in a computational machine that produces the mind. This section is particularly striking: The question is, what happens to your ideas about computational architecture when you think of individual neurons not as […]

The search for a genetic killer

The medical examiner for the Sandy Hook shooting has requested a genetic analysis of killer Adam Lanza. Following this, a powerful editorial in the science magazine Nature has condemned the move suggesting it is “misguided and could lead to dangerous stigmatization.” But the request to analyse the DNA of Lanza is just the latest in […]

More than just bumps

Phrenology was the practice of reading someone’s personality from the bumps on their head based on the idea that the shape of the brain affected the shape of the skull. Contemporary neuroscience lectures often have a part where the professor puts up an image of a phrenology head and says “although this was a rediculous […]

Fragments of identity

The Atlantic has a sublime article on identity, memory and amnesia – written as a reflection on meeting a friend who has lost much of his memory due to an advancing brain tumour. The author is neuropsychologist Daniel Levitin who is better known for his work on the cognitive science of music, but here he […]

Rita Levi-Montalcini has left the building

Nobel-prize winning neuroscientist Rita Levi-Montalcini has passed away at the age of 103, just a few months after publishing her last scientific study. She won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of nerve growth factor along with her colleague Stanley Cohen and continued worked well past the time when most people would have retired. Her […]

In other news: behind the video game scare

The research on the psychological impact of video games tells quite a different story from the stories we get from interest groups and the media. I look at what we know in an article for The Observer. Perhaps the two biggest concerns are that video games are ‘damaging the brain’ and that violent video games […]

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