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Suzana Herculano-Houzel: What is so special about the human brain?
The human brain is puzzling — it is curiously large given the size of our bodies, uses a tremendous amount of energy for its weight and has a bizarrely dense cerebral cortex. But: why? Neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel puts on her detective’s cap and leads us through this mystery. By making “brain soup,” she arrives at a startling conclusion.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel shrunk the human brain by 14 billion neurons — by developing a new way to count them.
WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO HER?
How many neurons make a human brain? For years, the answer has been (give or take) 100 billion. But neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel decided to count them herself. Her research approach involved dissolving four human brains (donated to science) into a homogeneous mixture — in her lab at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences in Rio de Janeiro, they call it “brain soup.” She then took a sample of the mix, counted the number of cell nuclei belonging to neurons, and scaled that up. Result: the human brain has about 86 billion neurons, 14 billion fewer than assumed — but intriguingly, far more than other animals, relative to brain size.
She suggests that it was the invention of cooking by our ancestors — which makes food yield much more metabolic energy — that allowed humans to develop the largest primate brain. She’s now working on elephant and whale brains to test her hypothesis.
Rethinking the brain: Richard Faull
Richard Faull is professor and director of the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland. Raised in a small Taranaki farming community, Richard discovered his passion for the human brain as a young medical student and has spent his life pursuing exciting, innovative and groundbreaking research in this field at the University of Auckland. Richard’s work has been widely recognised internationally and through appointments as Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Officer of the NZ Order of Merit, and receiving of many awards including New Zealand’s highest scientific award, the Royal Society Rutherford Medal.
Why Does My Brain Sleep?
We spend one third of our lives asleep, yet doctors and scientists still have no complete understanding as to why. It is one of the last great scientific mysteries. This talk will describe new discoveries suggesting that, far from being a time when the brain is dormant, sleep is a highly active process critical for a constellation of different functions. These include the importance of sleep for learning, memory and brain plasticity. Furthermore, a role for sleep in intelligently synthesizing new memories together will be examined, the result of which is next-day creative insights. Finally, a new role for sleep in regulating emotional brain networks will be discussed, optimally preparing us for next day social and psychological challenges.
Matthew Walker earned his PhD in neurophysiology from the Medical Research Council in London, UK, and subsequently became an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School in 2004. He is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of California Berkeley. He is the recipient of funding awards from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. In 2006 he became a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. His research examines the impact of sleep on human brain function in healthy and disease populations.
How to manually change a memory: Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu
Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu shoot laser beams into the brains of living mice to activate and manipulate their memories. In a funny and — perhaps — unnerving talk from TEDxBoston, they explain the fundamental principles behind their experiments and broach the big questions that future advancements in this line of research may force us to answer.
When we close our eyes and think back to our childhood, to our first kiss, or to this morning’s breakfast, our brains perform the remarkable task of mental time travel and thereby enrich our lives with memories. How does neural machinery give rise to something as seemingly ephemeral as memory? Recently, Hollywood inspired our imaginations by proposing that memories could be artificially triggered (think Total Recall), erased (think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), or even implanted (think Inception). Now, neuroscience has plucked these ideas from the tree of science fiction and grounded them in experimental reality. The catch: our subjects are the movie stars of the laboratory setting–rodents. This talk will introduce how revolutionary techniques from our lab have made it possible to isolate and manipulate specific memories at the level of single brain cells with just flickers of light, as well as the societal ramifications of doing so.
How to look inside the brain – Carl Schoonover
There have been remarkable advances in understanding the brain, but how do you actually study the neurons inside it? Using gorgeous imagery, neuroscientist and TED Fellow Carl Schoonover shows the tools that let us see inside our brains.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is involved in working memory and self-regulatory and goal-directed behaviors and displays remarkable structural and functional plasticity over the life course. Neural circuitry, molecular profiles, and neurochemistry can be changed by experiences, which influence behavior as well as neuroendocrine and autonomic function. Such effects have a particular impact during infancy and in adolescence. Behavioral stress affects both the structure and function of PFC, though such effects are not necessarily permanent, as young animals show remarkable neuronal resilience if the stress is discontinued. During aging, neurons within the PFC become less resilient to stress. There are also sex differences in the PFC response to stressors. While such stress and sex hormone-related alterations occur in regions mediating the highest levels of cognitive function and self-regulatory control, the fact that they are not necessarily permanent has implications for future behavior-based therapies that harness neural plasticity for recovery.
Mindful Medicine: Charles Paccione
Charles is a premedical student at Sarah Lawrence College interested in contemplative neuroscience and Buddhist psychology. Having contributed to nationally recognized laboratories in his field, he has investigated the ways in which traditional meditative practices can modulate our emotions, psychology, cognitive functioning, and behavior. For the last few years he have been developing meditation programs for cancer patients suffering from hypopnea, dysthymia, insomnia, and pain of the chest and stomach. Personal interests include eastern philosophical and clinical studies, and performing on the violin in the Manhattan area.
The practice of meditation can be considered as one of the most effective tools to cultivate a healing dialogue when diagnosed with cancer. Within the last ten years, studies of contemplative neuroscience and the phenomenon of neuroplasticity have shown us that the neural circuitry of the brain can become modulated and shaped by human experience and the environment. This provides the biological stage for a specific mental training strategy, such as meditation, to induce functional changes in the brain that can endure and transform our emotions and behaviors. In order to understand how meditation is a transformative practice for the mind, and this transformation of mind can possibly change the face of medicine today, we must consider the differences between what it means to heal and what it means to cure. Charles will make this case through a careful rethinking of clinical practice and sharing important experiences from his own work with patients.
Back to Humanity – Andy Habermacher
Andy Habermacher is one of Europe’s leading experts on Neuroleadership — applying brain science to leadership contexts. Understanding the brain can highlight some surpassingly simple and meaningful insights into human behaviour. Andy will show that the evolution of the brain and growth of the brain in humans can point us to what is really important in life and where we can find our deepest wishes and desires. Ironically the brain’s core functioning and evolution can also draw society down the wrong path and may end up going against the needs of humanity — can we get back to humanity?
Consciousness & the Brain: John Searle
John Searle one of the world’s great philosophers of mind and language, has spent fifty years stimulating thinking around the world. What he says about consciousness as a biological phenomenon will challenge you! Cogitation, Consciousness & The Brain.
David Anderson: Your brain is more than a bag of chemicals
Modern psychiatric drugs treat the chemistry of the whole brain, but neurobiologist David Anderson believes in a more nuanced view of how the brain functions. He illuminates new research that could lead to targeted psychiatric medications — that work better and avoid side effects. How’s he doing it? For a start, by making a bunch of fruit flies angry. (Filmed at TEDxCaltech.)
WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO HIM?
How is emotional behavior encoded in the brain? And what parts of the brain are affected by depression, ADHD and anxiety? This is what neurobiologist David Anderson researches in his lab at the California Institute for Technology by studying the brains of lab mice and fruit flies. By looking at how neural circuits give rise to emotions, Anderson hopes to advance a more nuanced view of psychiatric disorders — that they aren’t the result of a simple “chemical imbalance,” but of a chemical imbalance at a specific site that has a specific emotional consequences. By researching these cause-and-effect relationships, Anderson hopes to pave the way for the development of new treatments for psychiatric disorders that are far more targeted and have far fewer side effects.
“You are at a picnic and a wasp is circling. You swat it away, but it buzzes back again and again, more persistent each time. The wasp seems angry. Or is it? Can insects be ‘angry’? David J. Anderson believes that what we perceive as insect anger may share a foundation with human frustration or aggression. “ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Dr. David Rock on Science Behind Leadership
It’s all in the brain. Dr. David Rock from NeuroLeadership Institute talks about why it’s important to understand how we think to improve our working culture.