What Will It Take to Solve the Brain?

In my last post I wrote about attending a workshop where we debated whether it will ever be possible to “solve the brain”. I suggest you read that post before diving into this one. In this post I’ll summarize our discussions about what tools are needed in order to solve the brain and whether collecting more data is all it will take. To recap, our … Continue reading

Why It’s Tough to Teach an Old Brain New Tricks

Ever wondered why you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? It’s the same reason why you can’t pick up a new language nearly as fast as your kid, or why your grandparents suck at typing. (Sorry Grandma.) It’s also the reason why sports stars or piano virtuosos are usually folks who have been practicing since they were barely out of the womb. Young brains … Continue reading

How Dopamine Helps You Predict the Future

All of us can predict the future. No, we’re not psychic. But we can all learn. At its core, learning is predicting the future based on the past. When something good or bad unexpectedly happens, you learn what events or cues predict that outcome. Your brain is full of predictive associations. For example, I predict that eating a Godiva truffle will lead to several moments … Continue reading

Brain Bits, 6/21/15

Welcome to Brain Bits, where I highlight important or interesting recent news in the world of neuroscience. This week: sexist comments that went viral, happy thoughts make mice less depressed, why broken DNA can be a good thing, and more!   Well, we might as well start with the story that no one could stop talking about for the last two weeks: Nobel Prize winner Tim … Continue reading

How Our Brains Learn

Today I’m going to address one of the most fundamental questions in neuroscience: how do our brains learn? People often compare the brain to a computer: both are able to process and store tons of information. But computers (generally) don’t learn. Your computer doesn’t mature over time or change its programming based on what worked and what didn’t. That’s why its same annoying habits or bugs will … Continue reading

Brain Bits, 4/25/15

Welcome to Brain Bits, where I highlight important or interesting recent news in the world of neuroscience. This week: more oxytocin hype, rethinking how our brain controls movement, engineering for neuroscientists, and Newt Gingrich takes a stand on funding science…?!   Just as I finished writing last week’s post about how the hormone oxytocin isn’t really a “love drug”, another oxytocin paper hit the news and triggered a whole new … Continue reading

Brain Bits, 4/11/15

Welcome to Brain Bits, where I highlight important or interesting recent news in the world of neuroscience. This week: implanting a compass into the brain, creating an encyclopedia of neurons, discovering how our brains learn so many different things, and more!   A new paper in Current Biology demonstrated that blind rats can navigate just as well as sighted rats using a neuroprosthetic compass connected to their … Continue reading

Does Your Brain Make New Cells?

When I tell people that I’m a neuroscientist, one of the most common questions they ask me is: “Can the brain make new cells?” This is a pretty reasonable question, especially since many of us have heard that we lose thousands of brain cells per day. That’s mostly a myth, by the way. Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s do kill brain cells, called neurons, but normal … Continue reading

Brain Bits, 3/28/15

Welcome to Brain Bits, where I highlight important or interesting recent news in the world of neuroscience. In store for today: wireless brain stimulation, implanting false memories during sleep, and a new technology for mutating an entire species (seriously!).   A new Science paper demonstrates how a recently developed DNA engineering technique called CRISPR can be used to generate self-propagating mutations. Mutated genes usually spread slowly throughout a species because … Continue reading

Why We Smell Like Bugs: A Case Study of How Evolution Sculpts the Brain

In a recent post I explained why it’s awesome to study the brains of invertebrates, like fruit flies or worms. I bet by now you’re convinced that doing experiments in these tiny creatures can teach us lots of things about the fly or worm brain. But what most people care about is the human brain.1 Can invertebrates really teach us anything about what’s going on … Continue reading