Neuroscience has hit the big time. Every day, popular newspapers, websites and blogs offer up a heady stew of brain-related self-help (neuro-snake oil?) and gee wiz science reporting (neuro-wow?). Some scientists and journalists — perhaps caught up in the neuro-fervor — throw caution to the wind, promising imminent brain-based answers to the kinds of questions that probably predate civilization itself: What is the nature of mind? Why do we feel the way we do? Does each person have a fundamental essence? How can we avoid pain and suffering, and discover joy, creativity, and interpersonal harmony?
I really like the Yanny versus Laurel meme, which exploded yesterday. It helps illustrate some key points about human perception:
- In some situations people can differ wildly in their experience of low-level perception.
- Active top-down expectations (and other, weirder processes) have a strong effect on low-level perception.
So basically, it’s an auditory version of #ThatDress.
My research is on cognitive-emotional interaction, so I suppose I am qualified to answer this question. 🙂
But my answer cannot be the answer, since there is actually no consensus among scientists concerning the definition of emotions.
[Illustration of grief from Charles Darwin’s book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.]
Not really. But it’s a good question because we learn a lot when we try to answer it.
First, we have to clarify what the words ‘excitatory’ and ‘inhibitory’ mean.
- Excitation is the process by which a neuron’s membrane potential (or voltage) increases. If excitation is sufficient, a neuron will produce an action potential.
- Inhibition is the process by y which a neuron’s membrane potential (or voltage) decreases. If a neuron is already firing, then if it receives enough inhibition, it will stop firing.
So the statement “If some neurons are excitatory meaning they will fire and some inhibitory meaning they won’t” is not quite right. All neurons, whether excitatory or inhibitory, can fire, but only if they receive adequate excitation. If an inhibitory neuron fires, it can reduce the voltage of other neurons, whether they are excitatory or inhibitory. Excitation is the accelerator for all neurons. Inhibition is the brake for all neurons.
Dopamine is not the feel good molecule or the basis of pleasure. The idea that any molecule considered in isolation could be the basis of a subjective experience is basically nonsense.
For people who can’t really reason through this idea, there is plenty of experimental evidence showing the complexity of each and every “celebrity” neurochemical — dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and so on.
I was asked this question on Quora.
We don’t really know. But as one of my professors once said half-jokingly, “the brain is a bag of tricks”. There is no reason to assume that all brain regions use the same coding scheme.
Here are some basic concepts that guide how neuroscientists think about information in the brain:
I was asked this question on Quora:
Neuroplasticity is the umbrella term for all of the brain’s mechanisms for learning and memory.
Since the average layperson already knows about learning and memory, I’m not sure whether there are any interesting implications.
Unless of course you are surprised that the brain is involved in learning and memory. Then the implications are vast. 🙂
I was asked the following question on Quora.
Short answer: No.
Modern science has shown that every thing is an arrangement of atoms: neurons, apples, tables, rockets, asteroids, aardvarks… they are all made up of atoms.
The question now is this: is a memory a thing?