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Archive for the ‘consciousness’ Category

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“There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and The BRAIN Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember.”

— Barack Obama

 

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Moth

Moth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Police release a swarm of robot-moths to sniff out a distant drug stash. Rescue robot-bees dodge through earthquake rubble to find survivors.

These may sound like science-fiction scenarios, but they are the visions of Japanese scientists who hope to understand and then rebuild the brains of insects and programme them for specific tasks.

Ryohei Kanzaki, a professor at Tokyo University‘s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, has studied insect brains for three decades and become a pioneer in the field of insect-machine hybrids.

His original and ultimate goal is to understand human brains and restore connections damaged by diseases and accidents — but to get there he has taken a very close look at insects’ “micro-brains”.

The human brain has about 100 billion , or nerve cells, that transmit signals and prompt the body to react to stimuli. Insects have far fewer, about 100,000 inside the two-millimetre-wide (0.08 inch) brain of a silkmoth.

But size isn’t everything, as Kanzaki points out.

Insects’ tiny brains can control complex aerobatics such as catching another bug while flying, proof that they are “an excellent bundle of software” finely honed by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, he said.

For example, male silkmoths can track down females from more than a kilometre (half a mile) away by sensing their odour, or pheromone.

Kanzaki hopes to artificially recreate insect brains.

“Supposing a brain is a jigsaw-puzzle picture, we would be able to reproduce the whole picture if we knew how each piece is shaped and where it should go,” he told AFP.

“It will be possible to recreate an insect brain with electronic circuits in the future. This would lead to controlling a real brain by modifying its circuits,” he said.

Kanzaki’s team has already made some progress on this front.

In an example of ‘rewriting’ insect brain circuits, Kanzaki’s team has succeeded in genetically modifying a male silkmoth so that it reacts to light instead of odour, or to the odour of a different kind of moth.

Such modifications could pave the way to creating a robo-bug which could in future sense illegal drugs several kilometres away, as well as landmines, people buried under rubble, or toxic gas, the professor said.

All this may appear very futuristic — but then so do the insect-robot hybrid machines the team has been working on since the 1990s.

In one experiment, a live male moth is strapped onto what looks like a battery-driven toy car, its back glued securely to the frame while its legs move across a free-spinning ball.

Researchers motivate the insect to turn left or right by using female odour.

The team found that the moth can steer the car and quickly adapt to changes in the way the vehicle operates — for example by introducing a steering bias to the left or right similar to the effect of a flat tyre.

In another, more advanced, test, the team severed a moth’s head and mounted it onto the front of a similar vehicle.

They then directed similar odour stimuli to the contraption which the insect’s still-functioning antennae and brain picked up.

Researchers recorded the motor commands issued by nerve cells in the brain, which were transmitted to steer the vehicle in real time.

The researchers also observed which neuron responds to which stimulus, making them visible using fluorescent markers and 3-D imaging.

The team has so far obtained data on 1,200 neurons, one of the world’s best collections on a single species.

Kanzaki said that animals, like humans, are proving to be highly adaptable to changing conditions and environments.

“Humans walk only at some five kilometres per hour but can drive a car that travels at 100 kilometres per hour. It’s amazing that we can accelerate, brake and avoid obstacles in what originally seem like impossible conditions,” he said.

“Our brain turns the car into an extension of our body,” he said, adding that “an insect brain may be able to drive a car like we can. I think they have the potential.

“It isn’t interesting to make a robo-worm that crawls as slowly as the real one. We want to design a machine which is far more powerful than the living body.”

(c) 2009 AFP

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Yep! Sit down and be calm, it’s good for you! 😉

Although research has found that long-term mindfulness meditation practice promotes executive functioning and the ability to sustain attention, the effects of brief mindfulness meditation training have not been fully explored. We examined whether brief meditation training affects cognition and mood when compared to an active control group. After four sessions of either meditation training or listening to a recorded book, participants with no prior meditation experience were assessed with measures of mood, verbal fluency, visual coding, and working memory. Both interventions were effective at improving mood but only brief meditation training reduced fatigue, anxiety, and increased mindfulness. Moreover, brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning. Our findings suggest that 4 days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.

Scientific Paper at Consciousness and CognitionVolume 19, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 597–605

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by Dr. Friedemann Schaub

An iceberg is a great analogy that describes the connection between the conscious and the subconscious mind– with a small, visible part above the surface and a huge part below. The conscious mind is responsible for our awareness in the waking state. Thinking analytically, creating logical order, wondering about cause and effect and asking “why” are all characteristics of the conscious mind. The conscious mind is the place of cognitive learning and understanding and uses the intellect to come up with logical solutions for problems. It makes choices based on facts and moves the body deliberately.

The subconscious or unconscious mind (terms which can be used interchangeably), is the part of our mind, which operates usually below the level of our normal consciousness. Like in the iceberg analogy, the subconscious mind is the vaster and more substantial part of our mind. Out of the 2 Million bits of information which approach us every second, the conscious mind can only register 7+/- bits, whereas the subconscious mind computes 140+/-. The subconscious mind is in charge of our emotions, which explains why we can feel a certain way without really knowing why – for example waking up grumpy one day and completely happy the next. The subconscious mind also stores memories from any events of our past. Just take a moment and think about the house you grew up in. Before you visited this place in your conscious mind, you had to access this information from its subconscious storage space. However, not all memory is accessible to us; one so called “prime directions” of the subconscious mind, is to seal off traumatic events, which we are not ready to deal with. In addition, our deepest core beliefs, values and imprints are “anchored” and programmed into our subconscious mind.

The subconscious mind is also responsible for all physiological functions of the body; we don’t regulate our heart rate, breathing, kidney function or digestion with our conscious mind. If we would, the collection of trillions of cells that comprise our body, would not work together as effectively and harmoniously as it usually does. And even “deliberate” movement, such as walking, requires the precise coordination of many different muscles, a challenge that we would not able to master consciously. Along those lines, have you ever noticed that you can’t really recall, how you drove yourself to work or how you were eating that sandwich, while watching TV. The subconscious mind takes control of all these automatic movements and patterns, without our conscious awareness. In fact, studies suggest that more than 75% of our daily activities are regulated by the subconscious mind.

Considering the vast responsibilities of the subconscious mind, its power and enormous  potential become very obvious. With the right leverage we can move mountains. Working directly with the subconscious mind provides this leverage, to effectively create profound and long-lasting changes on the mental, emotional and physical level.

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