Nervous system may be more distributed than we thought

Your nervous system might be more sophisticated than we thought. Classically, nerves send signals to the brain for processing. The brain does all the heavy lifting of figuring out what was observed.

That may not be the case. Researchers at Umeå University in Sweden have found that the nerves in skin do some preprocessing of the signals before they send them to the brain.

Our work has shown that two types of first-order tactile neurons that supply the sensitive skin at our fingertips not only signal information about when and how intensely an object is touched, but also information about the touched object’s shape

In particular, they found that the neurons in the skin perform the same type of calculations that the cerebral cortex does.

Deep brain stimulation may one day help restore memories

DARPA is working on brain implants that can help restore memories. This work is aimed at helping soldiers, but it may also work for Alzheimer’s patients. We can already use deep brain stimulation to help reduce tremors in Parkinson’s patients, and help patients with epilepsy. This may help restore more normal brain function in people. But, there are ethical considerations. Changing the way the brain works is changing the very heart of our identity. How much about the person’s personality would be changed?

New neurons may hurt old memories

The brain can make new neurons throughout your life. For a long time it was accepted that you’re born with all the neurons you’ll ever have, but that’s not true. New neurons form mostly in the hippocampusolfactory bulb, subventricular zone, and possibly in the cerebral cortex.

But all is not rosy with getting new brain cells. It turns out that new neurons in the hippocampus, the main part of the brain associated with memory, disrupt older memories. While the new neurons make it easier to learn new things, they make it harder to remember older things already known.

The Neuroscientist who discovered he was a Psychopath

This article at the Smithsonian talks about a scientist discovering that he’s a psychopath. While there is no formal definition of psychopath, the DSM does define Antisocial Personality Disorder as

The essential feature of antisocial personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood. This pattern has also been referred to as psychopathy, sociopathy, or dyssocial personality disorder.

Most people commonly use psychopath to mean that the person is antisocial, has no empathy or remorse, and has low control of him/her self.

So this researcher, James Fallon, was looking at brain scans of serial killers. And schizophrenics, and normal people, and people in an Alzheimer’s study. He and his family were part of the Alzheimer’s study. When he got down to the bottom of the stack, he got to one that matched psychopath’s brains, and he also knew it was one of his family members in the Alzheimer’s study. He didn’t know who it was because he only had the numbers (it was a blind study).

Well, he shouldn’t have broken the blind, but really, what would you do in his position? He found out that the psychopath in his family was himself. Now what would you do? He decided that since he hadn’t acted psychotic and broken any laws, he would tell people. Not only tell people, but he wrote a book: The Psychopath Inside.

While he has genes that are associated with violent behavior, he hasn’t acted on it. He attributes this to a good, loving, childhood. It appears that genetic determinism can be overcome. Which means genetic determinism is wrong.

There’s more, and it’s quite interesting.