Category Archives: Neuroscience

On shared memories

WHAT were the greatest human catastrophes of the 20th century? When asked this question, most people answer the Second World War, followed by the First World War. The former killed around 50 million people, the latter 17 million. But there was another catastrophe that dwarfed both of these, that is rarely mentioned. The influenza pandemic of 1918-1920, better known as the Spanish flu, killed at least 50 million people worldwide, and perhaps as many as 100 million…

This article first appeared in the BPS Research Digest on 22 January 2016. To continue reading, click here.

The USS Arizona burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 1941. Image: Wikipedia
The USS Arizona burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 1941. Image: Wikipedia

Roots of brutality

ns_logoWHY would an apparently normal young adult drop out of college and turn up some time later in a video performing a cold-blooded execution in the name of jihad? It’s a conundrum we have been forced to ponder ever since a group calling itself ISIS declared war on infidels. But 70 years ago we were asking something similar of guards in Nazi concentration camps – and, sadly, there have been plenty of opportunities to ponder the matter in between…

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 14 November 2015. To continue reading, click here.

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Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

 

 

 

A Faustian bargain

economist-logoHUNTINGTON’S disease is awful. It slowly robs its victims of mobility, wits and emotions. And there is no cure. The idea that it might be the obverse of something good sounds, to say the least, counter-intuitive. Yet that is the contention of a small band of neuroscientists who have been studying it. They suggest the underlying cause of Huntington’s, a strange form of genetic mutation called a triplet-repeat expansion, might also be one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the human brain. Huntington’s, these people suspect, may be a price humanity pays for being clever…

This article first appeared in The Economist on 7 March 2015. To continue reading, click here.

Once upon a time…

ns_logoWHAT is “now”? It is an idea that physics treats as a mere illusion, yet it is something we are all familiar with. We tend to think of it as this current instant, a moment with no duration. But if now were timeless, we wouldn’t experience a succession of nows as time passing. Neither would we be able to perceive things like motion. We couldn’t operate in the world if the present had no duration. So how long is it…?

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 10 January 2015. To continue reading, click here.

Consciousness out there

FOLLOW this link to the first of a series of articles I’ve written about FEEL, a new project being run by experimental psychologist Kevin O’Regan in Paris, to explore the possibility that consciousness is not locked inside our brains, but emerges when we interact with the world. The implications are exciting and sometimes disturbing – for example, that babies are born without consciousness and acquire it gradually, in piecemeal fashion, as they move and receive sensory feedback, and gradually learn more sophisticated ways of manipulating the world.

 

Courtesy of Jacqueline Fagard
Courtesy of Jacqueline Fagard