Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tiny Apocalypses

Three minor revelations I had today while attending the Presidential Symposium on Neuroscience at the U.

The first came at the end of the day, while touring through the posters being presented by grad students and techs. That was that even though I often tell people who ask what I plan to study in grad school that I'm undecided since everything's just so interesting, that's clearly sort of a lie since out of all the posters people were presenting today, I only really cared about a half dozen or so. And those all related to reward, drug addiction, or plasticity. So pretty clearly I've worked out at least a bit of a niche for myself.

The second was noting a common theme through many of the talks. One thing I should get out of the way now is that many of the presentations today (and tomorrow) are by big names--or big findings--in the field. We saw Masakazu Konishi presenting on the seminal work in sound localization in barn owls and the jamming avoiding response in Eigenmannia; a presentation by Eve Marder, the president-elect of the Society for Neuroscience; and James Hudspeth presenting on the role of the hair bundle in sound amplification. Tomorrow we'll get to see--off the top of my head--Wolfram Schultz and Eric Nestler, amongst many others. So because of that, it was interesting to see how they approached their research and would go about solving problems.

A common theme was that many of the presenters were able to sum up the idea of their work at the beginning of the talk in the form of a question, either about the big picture or just about the area they're looking at. A few of them follow (paraphrased):

David Anderson, from "Molecular Genetic Analysis of Neural Circuits for Innate Behaviors in Flies and Mice":

How are circuits that detect aversive stimuli wired to generate avoidance behaviors?

Is the negative valence associated with aversive stimuli hardwired or is it malleable?

Eve Marder, from "Variability, Compensation, and Homeostasis in Neuronal Networks":

How tightly tuned do the paramaters that govern synaptic strength and intrinsic properties need to be for "good enough" network behavior?

Masakazu Konishi, from "From Instinct to Brain":

Are there single cells responding to the location of a sound source?

There were more, but I forgot to right them down.

Finally, while Masakazu Konishi was talking about barn owls it occurred to me that part of what made his experiments work was his conscious focus on a model animal that exemplified the behavior he was interested in studying. Although this is an obvious enough aspect of experimental design, it's one that I at least often sort of lose in the shuffle. While randomly pondering the idea of a good model animal for reward and addiction (nothing really came to mind), I realized that the limbic system is A: the system which seems to be responsible for addictive behaviors and B: a phylogenetically old system, to the extent that (as I understand it) it's generally found in reptiles. As far as I can tell, no one's ever examined reptiles for addictive behaviors and precious little has been done on examining reward in general in reptiles. This makes me suspect that there is a fallacy in my logic, but it seems worth examining in more detail to figure out what it is.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Because I Hear Christmas is the Most Dangerous Time of Year

Isn't it odd how there are always rumors of new terrorist attacks whenever a moslem holiday is about to roll around? I mean, thank God we don't have to deal with this every Thursday evening, or I might go insane.

Although I do understand that many on the right that there's no better way to refrain from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, angry and sarcastic retorts, and gossip than nuking the Great Satan. Unless someone's on the verge of admitting that the al Qaeda in specific--and the Arab and Muslim worlds in general--might have reasons to be pissed off at America other than fanatic fundamentalism?

I didn't think so.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Things I Knew in Fourth Grade

From the front page of Yahoo: How much is too much?

Find out what salt is actually made of and why it may be bad for you.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Answering the question no one dared to ask, "Why doesn't it work over email?"--it does!

Rupert Sheldrake--trying to further cement his reputation as the man most capable of balancing respectability with public prounciations of crazy stuff--apparently announced to the British Association for the Advancement of Science today that he has demonstrated the existence of "telephone telepathy". Now, I'm not sure I buy it, and it's certainly crazy, but it sounds pretty cool.

For published results, the best I can find is this 2005 paper from Perceptual & Motor Skills--"TESTING FOR TELEPATHY IN CONNECTION WITH E-MAILS"--republished in full here. I know nothing about the journal, and honestly don't have the slightest clue how to look up its impact factor (I suck, I know), so what you see is what you get.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Neurophile Enters the Political Fray

For a long time, your author--the Neurophile--had assumed that insofar as some part of his brain--whichever piece of neuroanatomy is responsible for hoping the Democrats take the Senate (probably the extended amygdala)--cared about the Virginia Senatorial race, he was willing to vaguely offer his support--albeit primarily in the form of good-feeling-warmness-waves--to Jim Webb, if only because he isn't a racist son of a bitch, unlike his opponent George Allen.

(Links not provided--people completely out of touch with the world of American politics will just have to use Google or ask nicely for a brief list).

He held this stance even knowing of his history as a Reagan appointee, longtime Republican, and hater-of-Vietnam-War-haters.

However, it has been brought to his attention by Mr. Webb's wikipedia entry that he played a key role in the writing of Rules of Engagement; one of the worst, tritest, most confusing, poorly assembled and nonsensical films that the Neurophile has had the unique displeasure of viewing. In the theater, no less. As a result, I am forced to rescind our tacit unconscious endorsement of Jim Webb. Lacking a candidate I can viably pretend to support (I mean, you could go third party but why throw your vote away?), I will instead suggest that the honorable state of Virginia respectfully secede from the Union before embarking on the large-scale construction project of digging Panama-Canal-like furrows into the ground and heading out for the high seas. Preferable while taking the utmost care to prevent the wholesale destruction of DC and Maryland. Well... at least Maryland.

Friday Random 10 - 1 September 2006

1. Pigface - Divebomber
2. Amon Tobin - Deo
3. Charlie Parker - Take Five
4. Ministry - Rio Grande Blood
5. Charlie Parker & Miles Davis - A Night in Tunisia
6. Anjali - Space Lust (In the Space Dust)
7. Morphine - Gone For Good
8. Danger Doom - Old School (feat. Talib Kweli)
9. Zeromancer - Plasmatic
10. Empirion - Quark

Straight Dope

Shut up, Mitt.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2008 Republican presidential hopeful, said on Thursday his administration's new restrictions on stem cell research are aimed at heading off an "Orwellian" future.

Academics Blog Top Sites