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How neurotech will transform the way we work

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Over at Backchannel, I wrote about how brain tech could transform how we work in the future, from displays that react to our mental state to offices that respond to our brainwaves.

Stanford and University of California neuroscientist Melina Uncapher is currently leading a pilot study with a large technology company to use mobile EEG tracking to study how the office environment — from lighting to natural views to noise levels — impacts the brain, cognition, productivity, and wellness of workers. Prepping a room for a big brainstorm? Maybe it’s time to change the light color.

“If you want to encourage abstract thinking and creative ideas, do you pump in more oxygen or less?” says Uncapher, a fellow at Institute for the Future. “Do you raise the ceiling height? Do you make sure you have a view of the natural environment, simulated or real? And if you want people to be more heads-down, is it better for them to be in a room with a lower ceiling?”

The goal, she explains, would be to develop a “quantified environment” that you could precisely tune to different types of working modes.

"Our Highest Selves?" (Backchannel)


(Illustration by Anna Vignet)

California woman killed by brain-eating amoeba

A 21-year-old California woman died from an amoeba that settles in the brain and destroys its tissue. The disease she contracted is called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). It is rare, with only zero to eight cases reported a year, says Inyo Public Health officer Dr. Richard Johnson. But it is almost 100 percent fatal.

Humans are infected by the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, when swimming or diving in fresh, warm water. The amoeba then migrates through the nose and skull, where it reaches the brain and begins to destroy brain tissue.

"I advise people to be cautious when using untreated hot springs in the Sierras," Dr. Johnson said, "The best way to do that is to keep your head above water."

Image: "Focal hemorrhage and necrosis in frontal cortex due to Naegleria fowleri." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A breakthrough mind-reading experiment turned thoughts into text

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No, it's not science fiction. For the first time ever, scientists in Albany, NY were able to use a "brain-to-text" interface to read thoughts and translate them into text. But it wasn't as simple as one might imagine. In fact, the experiment made me a bit squeamish. To use the "device," researchers placed seven patients in a controlled environment to perform a bit of surgery.

The patients' skulls were split open and electrode sheets were attached directly to their brains. They were also asked to read aloud from various texts (the Gettysburg Address, JFK's inaugural address, Charmed fan fiction, and a children's story) to get a baseline of what their brains were doing while they were speaking.

Finally, the "brainwave recognition device" was able to translate the patients' thoughts onto paper, although the translations were rough and limited. Until this device can read minds without cracking someone's head open, I think I'll keep my thoughts to myself.

For more details see the full story on Vice.

Could you possibly transfer your consciousness to another body?

From Ben Kingsley to brain stimulation, dream recorders to optogenetics...

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Genetic links between creativity, schizophrenia, and autism

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How is creativity related to schizophrenia and autism? Psychology professor Scott Barry Kaufman looks at a scientific paper suggesting that "creativity and psychosis share genetic roots" in the context of his own research on how different forms of creativity might relate to the schizophrenia spectrum and the autism spectrum.

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What I learned from Lumosity: fluid intelligence doesn't matter

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One of the controversies surrounding brain training sites has been the creators' claims that they build fluid intelligence.

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Beautiful brain images take over Times Square

Brain City, this beautiful film by Noah Hutton made from neuroimagery collected at leading brain science labs, will screen in New York City just before midnight on Times Square's massive electronic billboards every night this month.

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Audio illusion: understanding gibberish

WHYY's The Pulse radio show visited The Franklin Institute's new exhibition "Your Brain" where chief bioscientist Jayatri Das demonstrated an incredible audio illusion.

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fMRI mind-reading of faces

13958862212582 1 Yale University researchers used brain scans to "read" and reconstruct the faces that individuals were picturing in their minds' eye. The scientists ran fMRI scans on six people as they looked at 300 different faces. Those scans enabled the creation of a database of facial features tied to specific brain response patterns. Then the subjects were shown faces they hadn't seen before. Based on the new fMRI data, a computer was able to generate good approximations of the face the subject was viewing.

“It is a form of mind reading,” said Marvin Chun, Yale professor of psychology, cognitive science and neurobiology who led the study.

The research will be published in the science journal NeuroImage, and an uncorrected proof is available here (only the abstract is free).

More in this Yale press release and Los Angeles Times article.

Previously:

Brain scans reveal our mind movies?

Open source brain-computer interface for makers

Joel Murphy (co-creator of the nifty PulseSensor, an Arduino sensor that detects pulse) teamed up with Conor Russomanno to create the OpenBCI, a Bluetooth-enabled, Arduino-compatible, 8-channel EEG platform that gives you access to high-quality, raw EEG data. What can you do with it? Biofeedback, DIY sleep research, creating art, controlling systems, and more.

They've got a Kickstarter going to fund it.

A good night's sleep is like a deep clean for your brain

One reason sleep is so important: It's the time when your brain "cleans house", collecting and disposing of the waste products that build up in your head during the day.

Being ambidextrous could give you a cognitive advantage

In a review of scientific research on the subject of handedness and intelligence, researchers found that neither lefties nor righties came out ahead. Instead, the people with the biggest boost in cognitive performance were the folks who weren't heavily wedded to a single hand. The more ambidextrous subjects were, the better they performed on tests of cognitive skills.

Researcher controls colleague’s motions in 1st human brain-to-brain interface

"[Video Link] University of Washington researchers have performed what they believe is the first noninvasive human-to-human brain interface, with one researcher able to send a brain signal via the Internet to control the hand motions of a fellow researcher." (Thanks, Jake Dunaganan!)

Gut microbes may control your brain

At The Verge, Carrie Arnold writes about a scientist who thinks that our intestinal bacteria could have an influence on mental health. It's not proven, but it's not a totally crazy idea, either, and there's some good evidence supporting the connection. The catch: Even if what's happening in your gut affects what is happening in your head, there might not be much we can do change the mental health outcomes.

See your own brain waves in this trippy optical illusion

If you look at this wheel out of your peripheral vision, you should see it flicker or strobe a bit. (To me, it almost looks like a fast pulsating motion, coming from the center of the wheel.) And that's neat. Optical illusions are usually pretty neat.

But, as the blogger Neuroskeptic writes, there's some reason to think that what you're seeing might be something even more awesome than just your brain being misled. A study published this month in The Journal of Neuroscience suggests that the flickering is actually a visual representation of the rhythmic alpha waves that are constantly pulsating through your brain.

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Your right brain is not creative

Creativity is actually more than one thing, it happens in many different parts of your brain, and it is DEFINITELY NOT confined to the brain's right hemisphere. At Beautiful Minds, Scott Barry Kaufman talks about the complex processes that get glossed over in our pop-sci understanding of creative thinking. It's a good companion to the story I wrote here last week about why the idea of "fear" is also more complex than we give it credit for.

Memories, mistakes, and scientific evidence in the courtroom

Moheb Costandi has written two amazing profiles on psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, a researcher who has challenged the way we rely on memory in the courtroom and fought against attempts to legitimize "recovered" memories. Hugely controversial — she's received death threats from people who blame her for setting criminals free — Loftus' story isn't purely about science vs. emotion. In fact, Costandi writes, in her efforts make our concept of memory more evidence based, Loftus might be glossing over the rare and the weird-but-real.