Week 6, How our brain controls us

This week it was interesting to read, how the brain can chemically self regulate its behavior and how easily these turn in to actions in the human body. On my own experience, some of these actions can happen so automatically that I even barely think about why I do them. Like for example, when I get a glass of water from the kitchen, I don’t think why I do it, I just feel like I should do it.

Falling in to this kind of “Autopilot” state can have bad consequences. For example it is possibly one of the main reasons of people being over weight. If there was no carvings for unhealthy foods (as foods with high energy concentration), people would probably be more wise about what and how much they eat.

So, what would be the way to try to regulate these kinds of carvings? If we know the process that causes them in the first place, could we also try to trick the brain to get free of them with some way? Or should we just need to learn to resist our carvings?

Posted by Eero Prittinen

Uncategorized - Leave a comment

Week 5

It was only a brief section in the chapter but one of the areas of neuroscience that I find most fascinating is the effects of hallucinogens. As the book states hallucinogens have been used for thousands of years in religious and non-religious rituals and despite the vast amount of knowledge we have accumulated in the field of neuroscience we still do not know exactly how they work.

There are a few questions I would have for neuroscienctists on this subject are:

How do you explain common hallucinations that are not common experiences? Meaning that there are some common hallucinations or hallucination themes when taking psychedelics that are not common shared experiences. Where do these hallucinations then originate? Is there a larger collective human consciousness? Are there deep imbedded unconscious structures common to all humans? Part of the reason we still have so many remaining questions on the subject is that studying psychedelics was largely outlawed in the early 1970’s. Luckily there has a been a resurgence in the subject which many are now calling the psychedelic renaissance. Hopefully we will finally begin to explore this subject with the scientific seriousness it deserves.

As a side note another interested antidote to this subject is that there is at least a plausible possibility that the story/myth of Santa Claus originated from Finnish Shamen who used to hallucinate using the Amanita muscaria mushroom (the big red and white one hence Santa Clause a big red and white figure). Here’s a link for the full theory.

Posted by Samuel Thompson

Uncategorized - Leave a comment

Week4: Sensory system, expanding outside our subjective experience of the world

This weeks subject was about how the taste, smell and the vision work. It was interesting to learn how the specialize sensory systems work in human body, as they essentially define, how we experience the world around us. This makes me think, what if the sensory systems would have developed to be totally different, and how would the world appear to us then? It is easy to find examples from nature, for example the infrared senses on some snakes, electrical senses of sharks, or magnetic senses on some birds. It has been explained, how these senses work, but how would having them would actually change the subject experience of the world?

For the brain the sensory input is just a bunch of electrochemical signals, which then are used to create the experience of the world around us. It also seems, that brain is fairly good at rewiring these signals to different processing cortexes, like when a blind person can “See” trough sound or touch interface. Then, what would happen if we somehow added another sense to our body? Would it somehow merge with the existing senses or become kind of unconscious feeling, or would nothing happen at all? And if we start at some point include these king of additional sensors to our body, will it start to change our brain to take more effectively advantage of the new senses?

Interesting talk about sensory substitution: https://youtu.be/4c1lqFXHvqI

Posted by Eero Prittinen

Uncategorized - Leave a comment

Week 3: Synaptic transmissions

Last weeks subject covered the firing of the neuron signal, but still left out one thing: where does the initial potential come from, that will trigger the voltage gated ion channels? Well, this weeks subject answered that and also gave a glimpse on how the neural computing builds up.

With electrical engineering background, understanding the electrical transmissions in neurons was quite simple, even though it was based on ions flowing rather than just plain electrons. What I was not so familiar with was the chemical transmission in synapses. It is interesting to think, that the brain is not only an electrical device, but also chemical states affect it. We know this from our everyday life (Caffeine makes you feel awake for example), but it is really interesting to actually start to discover what the actual effects of chemicals are on the brain, and even further, how could one with this knowledge optimize ones brain performance by consuming right kind of foods and substances. For example, what are the optimal foods to eat if you need to pull an all nighter, or does the Ballmer Peak really exist?

Posted by Eero Prittinen

Uncategorized - Leave a comment

Week 2: Neural Membrane at Rest and Action Potential

Although it’s only been two weeks I feel like we have already covered so much. One thing that has continually surprised me through this learning experience is just how much we know about the functions of the brain. The amount of detail of knowledge is truly mind blowing (pun intended). What I’m really curious to understand or find out is where does the road of knowledge end? What do we still not understand? As interesting as the topics have been so far I think that is where things will get truly interesting.

One question I had while reading through this week’s material was how does shock therapy work? It has become abundantly clear that electricity and charge differentials are a crucial component to the function and operation of the brain and nervous system. I am wondering how applying a large amount of electricity could have any benefits. I’m sure there is some reasoning behind it but from my perspective it’s hard to see how such a blunt application of electricity could have any therapeutic benefits.

 

Posted by Samuel Thompson

Uncategorized - Leave a comment

Week one: Beginning of the course

This is the start of our learning blog for the course: Structure and operation of the human brain. As both of us (Eero and Sam) are coming from non-bio backgrounds, this will be an interesting journey for both of us, learning all the cool stuff going on in the brain. Even though we may not be experts in brain functions after this course, we will hopefully have a better understanding of it, and hopefully we will be able to understand brain related scientific breakthroughs better than before.

I, Eero, have my background in electrical engineering with strong influence coming from product development. My interest in to the brain arose after reading an article about Elon Musk’s brain-machine interface startup, Neuralink. (Article: https://waitbutwhy.com/2017/04/neuralink.html . I highly suggest it to anybody who is interested in brain-machine interfaces.) Even further, when Neuralink published what they had been working on, it really struck me that the brain will open up as a whole new industrial and commercial platform for products and functions we now may only dream of. Thus, I think it is important for a future product developer to be able to at least understand the basics of brain structure and operations. It may not be that I become an expert in the field, but as long as I understand the basics and know what could be possible, it opens up a possibility  to me to be part of developing this cool future that awaits us.

Here is the stream of the Neuralink launch event for those who  are interested in the cutting edge development of brain related tech: https://youtu.be/r-vbh3t7WVI

Posted by Eero Prittinen

Learning diary - Leave a comment