Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Encephalon #30

The 30th edition of Encephalon is up at Neurofuture (which is unfortunately also the last post post there). An excellent installment as usual. A couple of my fovorites:

- A critique of science reporting in the media from Pure Pedantry: a look at the reporting of a study on the links between exercise and cognition. Particularly, I agree with all the general points made in the last few paragraphs on the interpretation of facts.

- Somewhat related to this is a post at Brains on Purpose, which looks at the (possibly unintentional) warping of information when reviewed second or third hand by analogy to the telephone game (which I know as the possibly politically incorrect chinese whispers...). The solution to avoiding the problem? (quote from post...) " First, be careful about the conclusions we draw from studies. Second, related to the process of conflict resolution, remember the tricky telephone-game effect. "

- And finally, a critique at Mind Hacks of the behaviour detection officers proposed for use at US airports, based on work by Paul Ekman on subtleties of facial expression.

The next edition of Encephalon is due at Dr. Deb on the 10th of September.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Crows and Tools

The BBC News website has reported on another study involving the New Caledonian crows originating from a few small islands in the Pacific ocean (picture above from BBC news story). This species came to light with the famous experiments at Oxford University (by Kacelnik and associates) on Betty and Abel, which showed their ability not only to use tools, but also to fashion them from non-tool and non-naturally occurring materials. These abilities had previously only been observed in humans and some primates.

The present study looked at 'meta-tool use' by this species. Meta-tool use is the ability to use one tool on another to achieve the desired state/goal. Seven wild crows were used in the experiment, with the following setup: a crow was presented with a box in which there was food. It was also provided with a stick, which by itself was not long enough to get the food. Another box was also present, in which there was a longer stick. The solution to getting the food is then to use the short stick to get the long stick, and the long stick to get the food from the first box: meta-tool use. The results showed not only that the crows were able to to this, but that this performance was achieved in the first trial (in 6 out of 7 subjects) – see the paper abstract below. As suggested by the paper, this indicates that the crows abstracted from, or used in some other way, information that had been previously learned to a novel situation – an not merely through trial and error.

This being a domain traditionally the preserve of humans, if found to be verifiable/replicable (from my understanding, this is the only study conducted of its type), the results could have a wide variety of implications in a number of fields. As I understand it, the learning and abstraction capabilities of the higher primates are explained by the 'closeness' in brain structure between humans and these animals: that it is the human brain that is capable of these feats, and that primates have limited capabilities due to similarities. The brain of the bird, in this case New Caledonian crow, however I assume to bear very little similarity by comparison. In this case, it would not be the structure which is important (not necessarily anyway), but some other property. I'm hardly intimate with the details of the study (or indeed the neuroanatomy of these crows), but I view it as an interesting issue: I'm thinking here of Fuster's Network Memory theory, of which, while being a model of the human information processing system, the underlying principles I assume may be equally applied to any neurally-based nervous system, including that of the crow (the detailed accounts of the specific brain regions in the Network Memory theory, particularly the prefrontal cortex, would naturally not apply – but perhaps this functionality may be physically represented in some other, limited, way?). Of course, these last thoughts are pure speculation on my part – perhaps some of your comments could help me untangle my thoughts?...

A crucial stage in hominin evolution was the development of metatool use—the ability to use one tool on another [1] and [2]. Although the great apes can solve metatool tasks [3] and [4], monkeys have been less successful [5], [6] and [7]. Here we provide experimental evidence that New Caledonian crows can spontaneously solve a demanding metatool task in which a short tool is used to extract a longer tool that can then be used to obtain meat. Six out of the seven crows initially attempted to extract the long tool with the short tool. Four successfully obtained meat on the first trial. The experiments revealed that the crows did not solve the metatool task by trial-and-error learning during the task or through a previously learned rule. The sophisticated physical cognition shown appears to have been based on analogical reasoning. The ability to reason analogically may explain the exceptional tool-manufacturing skills of New Caledonian crows.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hemispheric Specialisation

Being a subject I am interested in but know little about, a little while ago I made some notes on hemispheric specialisation. It's by no means a comprehensive overview, but I think there are some intriguing points, so I post it here in the hope that it interests someone else.

That hemispheric specialization exists to some extent is widely accepted: there are two theories regarding the reasons why this emerged [1]. First is the theory that over the course of evolution, nervous system sizes increased. This led to the need for more efficient use of the intracranial space, which led to the folding of the cerebral cortex, and, it is hypothesized, hemispheric specialization. Second is the theory that with increases in brain sizes came increased distances over which neural signals had to travel, leading to an increased amount of time required for transmission. As there is no evidence for the increase in speed of transmission, the net logical step is the shortening of the distances involved. This is proposed to be the driving force behind hemispheric specialization: the need for reduction in distance of transmission. In apparent support for this view is the observation that larger brains have, proportionally speaking, a smaller corpus callosum, resulting in fewer trans-hemispheric connections and thus increased specialization.

With regard to the nature of the hemispheric specialization itself, there seem to be two competing views: material-specific and process-specific specialization. The material-specific view is that each cerebral cortex hemisphere is specialized for a particular type of information [2]. For example, a study by Kelley et al on the dorsal frontal cortex found left sided activation for word encoding (verbal), right sided activation for face encoding (non-verbal), and bilateral activation for object encoding (both verbal and non-verbal) [3]. Similar results found for the medial temporal lobe. This was replicated by [4], who found that interference with the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex caused disruption to the encoding of patterned stimuli (hence non-verbal). A possible explanation for this type of specialization comes from Josse and Tzourio-Mazoyer [1]. It is asserted that the left auditory cortex is specialized for temporal (i.e. time based) analysis, whilst the right auditory cortex is specialized for spectral (i.e. frequency based) analysis, which it is argued could explain the specialization of the left hemisphere for language, where the temporal content of speech is more important, and the specialization of the right hemisphere for music, where the spectral nature of the auditory information is more important.

This last point, concerning the specialization of the right hemisphere for music, has been contested by [4] for example, who emphasized the bilateral nature of activations due to various musical semantic and episodic tasks. More importantly here however, is their overall finding that there is generally a functional specialization of the left hemisphere for semantic memory tasks, and of the right hemisphere for episodic memory tasks. These findings were consistent with the HERA model of frontal cortex lateralization developed by Tulving et al in 1994 [5]. This model is a process-specific specialization view with the same views as those expressed by [4] with regard to hemispheric specialization.

As I said, a very brief overview. Hopefully, people who know more can fill in some of the gaps by leaving some comments. Thanks!

[1] Josse, G.; Tzourio-Mazoyer, N. (2004), Hemispheric specialization for language, Brain Research Reviews, 44, pp1-12
[2] Glosser, G. et al (1998), Differential lateralization of memory discrimination and response bias in temporal lobe epilepsy patients, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 4, pp502-511 (Abstract)
[3] Kelley, W.M. et al (1998), Hemispheric specialization in human dorsal frontal cortex and medial temporal lobe for verbal and nonverbal memory encoding, Neuron, 20, pp927-936
[4] Epstein, C. et al (2002), Asymmetries of prefrontal cortex in human episodic memory: effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation on learning abstract patterns, Neuroscience Letters, 30, pp5-8
[5] Tulving, E. et al (1994), Hemispheric encoding/retrieval asymmetry in episodic memory: positron emission tomography findings, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 91, pp2016-2020

Monday, August 13, 2007

Encephalon #29

Welcome to the 29th edition of Encephalon, the (loosely) neuroscience based blog carnival, featuring some of the best blogging in this area from the past two weeks. As per usual, there are a wide range of subjects in this issue; from caffeine to steroids, and from cosmetics to infidelity...


Since the past has led to where we are today, we'll start with a history lesson from Neurophilosophy on the rise and fall of the lobotomy. In this post, we are guided through the development of the lobotomy procedure into a widespread and somewhat popular treatment for a wide range of psychiatric disorders, to its ultimate demise due to misuse and the rise of drugs. The picture (taken from the post at Neurophilosophy) gives an idea as to the sometimes graphic detail that is given.

Cognitive enhancement

From the removal of large parts of the brain, we move to how we can enhance it without scalpel or capsule. First off we have SharpBrains who review an interview with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg on cognitive enhancement and brain exercise. After an introduction to the history of neuropsychology, it moves on to discuss lifelong learning and the impact it can have on cognitive ability. In particular, challenging oneself with novel tasks is deemed to be vital, as the process of learning the piano for example has a good effect whether you are eighteen or eighty. Secondly, FitBuff looks at the 'Mozart effect' (picture taken from post), which supposedly increases cognitive ability and learning through listening to music in the baroque style. After looking at possible reasons why this effect could work, the conclusion is essentially that the effect is largely over-hyped, but that the effect of relaxation upon hearing the music should not be discounted.

Brain growth and memory formation

Now, improving cognitive ability non-invasively is of course to be desired, but at some point, a physical intervention is necessary. More specifically, an understanding of the structural and chemical factors in the development of the brain is important. From this perspective, we have GrrlScientists' entry on the influence of steroids on brain growth. It reviews a study on the development of song-control brain regions in song birds – in particular to test the prevailing view that this seasonal growth is dependent on hearing other song birds sing. However, through some manipulation, it was found that this is not the case: rather it is the production of steroids which drove the brain region growth, not environmental stimuli. The consequences for humans are interesting. Instead of stroke patients speech rehabilitation involving listening to tapes, perhaps it would be more effective to use growth stimulating hormones in the effected brain regions? Following on in a similar theme, The Neurocritic brings us a two-parter which reviews papers challenging the view that protein synthesis is necessary for memory formation. In the first part (Everything is wrong) it is suggested that rather than inhibiting the creation of proteins, drugs such as anisomycin actually cause massive fluctuations in neurotransmitter levels, which is proposed as the real cause of the observed memory impairment. In the second part (Anisomycin is strong), the mechanisms causing this are more closely examined, and the evidence against the prevailing view is reviewed.

Looking towards old age

As the baby-boomers are due to retire at the end of the decade, SharpBrains brings us a look at the consequences, emphasising the role for continuing training in allowing those who wish to continue working through retirement to actually do so. Somewhat related to this, GrrlScientist reviews a paper in Neurology on the effect of coffee in elderly women (picture taken from post). The results were very interesting: it found that for women aged 65 and over, drinking three or more cups of coffee (or the equivalent caffeine intake in tea for example) a day aided in preventing some age-related memory declines. Furthermore, this effect was more pronounced the older the women were. Unfortunately, there was no observed effect in men. Finally in this section, since Alzheimer's is a disease affecting the elderly, we have a post from Brain Blogger on the possible presence of an Alzheimer related gene. Coming in three types, each type of this particular gene is responsible for the development of three thicknesses of the entorhinal cortex – and a thinning of this cortex is linked to the onset of Alzheimer's in later life.

Next we have three related posts from Natural Rationality on altruism, morality and generosity, each looking at a number of papers and providing a discussion of the major views and research methodologies involved in each. Firstly, the post on altruism. Starting with an apt quote from Friends, this excellent overview goes on to describe the seeming incompatibility between altruism and an individuals 'genetic fitness' and how this is not actually the case. The differing altruism theories in humans and other animals are discussed, before a suggestion is made that actually, there should be no such divide made. Secondly is a post on morality and the brain, in which papers are reviewed in support of the two competing views: is morality emotion- or reason-based? The conclusion is that the issue has yet to be resolved, but that cognitive science has the tools to enable an empirical examination of the problem. Finally, we have a review of a paper presented at the economic science association conference which found that subjects in a game-playing scenario who were given oxytocin exhibited greater generosity tendencies. The suggestion is made that generosity is based on empathy, and that oxytocin 'boosts' empathy.

Beauty and relationships

For the beauty part: from The Neurocritic we have a post reviewing a recent study in Nature Medicine which announces the discovery of the use of non-toxic injections which allow the targeted reduction of fat deposits. Conducted in mice, the work described the stress related neural pathways supposedly responsible for excessive weight gain when stressed, and how the introduction of blockers in the areas prevented this increase in fat due to stress. The researchers were hopeful of the applications of his research to cosmetics and the control of metabolic syndrome. For the relationship part: building on previous research which has shown that women alter their sexual preferences based on where they are in their menstrual cycle, The Primate Diaries reports on a study which has shown that this information can be determined simply by looking into the womans eyes. Pupil dilation in response to looking at pictures of desirable men (including the womans partner and favorite film star for example) gave an indication of their sexual preferences at that particular time. The authors of the paper use a "dad versus cad" theory to explain this change in behaviour.

And that's it...

That's all for this issue of Encephalon, I hope it's been a decent one. Next host is due to be Neurofuture on the 27th of August. Entries can be made through the usual channels: the online form here, or send to encephalon{dot}host{at}gmail{dot}com. Until then!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Upcoming Encephalon #29

Following on from issue 28 at Bohemian Scientist, on Monday the 13th of August (next Monday), the 29th edition of the blog carnival Encephalon will be hosted here. Founded on the field of Neuroscience, it encompasses many fields, including AI, philosophy (of the mind-brain variety), psychology and cognitive science. If you wish to submit up to three blog posts to this issues, submissions can either be sent to encephalon{dot}host{at}gmail{dot}com, or can be submitted through the blog carnival subission form, here. I look forward to receiving them, and hope that issue 29 meets the high standards we have come to expect from Encephalon.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Emotion understanding from the perspective of autonomous robots research

The following bullet points are the outline of a paper review I gave at the Neuro-IT summer school which I was recently fortunate enough to have attended. It was given in a workshop led by Tom Ziemke on whether robots need emotions. This review paper was one of three covered during the workshop. Written by Lola Canamero, currently at the University of Hertfordshire, it essentially looks at how emotion research in robotics can aid in the understanding of emotions, whilst also aiding in the development of more 'intelligent' robots, by reviewing work that has occured in the field. Hope it's of interest, reference at end as usual.

• The contribution of emotion modelling in autonomous robots to emotion research
– The Questions that need answering (‘Bottlenecks’)
– Current/past approaches
– Interdisciplinary issues
– Challenges and goals for the future

• Advantages of affective features in robots:
– human-robot interaction
– improved performance and adaptation in the ‘real world’
• How are these features related to emotions in biology?
• Focus on physical robots - not simulation
• The contributions that modelled emotions can make to emotion research:
– Human perception of emotions
– ‘Virtual Laboratories’
– Understand by building (the synthetic approach)
– The value of simplification (although the risk of oversimplification must be kept in mind)
• Contribution to emotion research in general, not just to human emotion research

Interdisciplinary action and Aims
• The necessity of long-term interdisciplinary efforts to achieve “principled emotion-based architectures”
• Two additional aims:
– finding solutions to problems arising in autonomous robots research
– production of tools to test emotion theories and gain insight

• Regarding models:
– scope and limitations of emotion theories?
– is a general definition of emotion required?
• Regarding mechanisms:
– plausible underlying emotion mechanisms?
– How can the different postulated mechanisms be reconciled and integrated?
• Applications:
– what emotions can be implemented in autonomous and interactive robots?
– are different models suitable for different tasks?
• Assessment:
– how can emotional states/processes be quantified?
– does observed behaviour aid understanding?

Current and past approaches
• Adaptation to environment - two time scales for autonomous robots:
– Emotion in Action selection
• behaviour control
• emergent emotions
– Learning, and,
– Memory
Emotion in Action Selection
• Behavioural control:
– emotions grounded in an internal value system: at the heart of autonomous behaviour (survival)
– motivations may be used to drive behaviour selection
• Emergent emotions:
– emotions in the eye of the beholder
– emergent from interaction with environment and dependant on morphology (Braitenberg)
Emotion and Learning
• Typically follows association or reinforcement learning models
– typically uses external reward signals
– how to make these signals ‘meaningful’?
• A more biologically plausible approach: an internal ‘value system’
– the learning of responses to reward and punishment as indicated by the value system
Emotion and Memory
• Memory management: must be both timely and accurate
• Using emotion:
– ‘mood congruent recall’ in humans
– the priming of memories relevant to the current emotional state

Interdisciplinary Issues
• Many parallels between autonomous robot emotion research, and emotion theories:
– Mechanisms underlying involvement of emotions in cognition and action
– Emotion elicitors
– Emotions as cognitive modes
– Emotions, value systems and motivation
Emotions in cognition and action
• How does emotion influence cognition and behaviour?
• ‘Circuit Models’:
– postulate set of neural mechanisms - promising for study of specific neural circuits, but difficulty in integrating at a global scale
• ‘Adaptational Models’:
– emotions as dynamic patterns of neuromodulations - can’t make contributions to human neural process examination, but allows study of the ‘global picture’
Emotion Elicitors
• What mechanisms are in place to allow influences to cause emotions?
– Establishing causal relations and possible implementation approaches a problem
– similar problem with Appraisal theories
• Gap between level of abstraction and implementation details too large
• Neuroscience feedback required concerning ‘valence’
Emotions as Cognitive modes
• The view that emotions have a global and and synchronised influence on the relation with the world
• Issues in implementing this view:
– The aspect and mechanism of emotion required
– How to account for cultural and individual differences?
– How to model relation between cognitive modes and action tendencies?
Emotions, value systems and motivation
• The role emotion plays in the production of action in autonomous robots:
– emotions allow more varied and flexible behaviour (related to goals)
– emotions as second-order control systems
– motivation factors and value systems
• Many different architectural implementations
• A quantitative assessment of utility of emotions?

Challenges and goals for the future
• The authors identified research directions, or challenges to be overcome:
– the grounding problem of artificial emotions
– dissolving the ‘mind-body’ problem
– linking emotion and intelligence
– how to measure progress?
Grounding emotions
• The drawbacks of a priori design of emotion constructs/mechanisms:
– over-attribution (over-design)
– lack of grounding (no ‘meaning’ for the robot)
• The emergent approach is promising
– counters over-attribution
• Computational models incorporating developmental and/or evolutionary perspectives:
– helps overcome the grounding problem
Dissolving the mind-body problem
• Investigating the links between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ levels of cognition and action, and the influence of emotion
– “Symbolic AI” and “Embodied AI”
– The need for overlap between the two
• Problems that need to be addressed:
– role that emotion plays in synchronisation
– mechanisms for bridging the gap between internal and external aspects of emotion
– the integration of multiple levels of emotion generation
Linking emotion and intelligence
• Emotions are now considered pervasive in cognition and action, and an essential element of intelligence
– should not become an unquestioned assumption
• The modelling and study of individual cognitive and emotional systems necessary but not sufficient to understanding both:
– they are deeply intertwined, and should also be studied as such - in parallel
Measuring Progress
• What are the contributions of emotions, and how can this be quantified?
• “An obvious way of doing this is by running control expt’s in which the robot performs the same task ‘with’ and ‘without’ emotions and comparing the results.”
• Quantitative evaluations necessary in addition to qualitative ones

• The dual potential:
– The use of these robotic models as tools and ‘virtual laboratories’
– A modelling approach that “fosters conceptual clarification”
• The field is in its infancy; but progress is evident
• Necessity for interdisciplinary effort for understanding emotions in general

Reference: "Emotion understanding from the perspective of autonomous robots research", Lola CaƱamero, Neural Networks 18 (2005) 445-455

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

New Blog: Issues in the philosophy of mind and cogsci

A few days ago I came across a recently started blog called "Issues in the Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science". Written by a final year Philosophy and Cognitive Science student, Jack Josephy (see here for some other articles he's written), at the University of Sussex, it currently only has a few posts, but each looks at some of the philosophical issues involved in each of the post topics. So far, there are posts on intelligence, the nature/nurture debate, and machine consciousness. I particularly like the central emphasis he places on embodiment, something which I place great importance on.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Life, Consciousness, and Brain Evolution

The February issue of Discover Magazine (07/03/07) carries an interview with Gerald Edelman, Nobel prize winner (for work on the structure of antibodies), and founder/director of the Neurosciences Institute. In this interview, conducted by Susan Kruglinski, he discusses his views on consciousness and the work he, and collaborators, are conducting with robots to shed more light on its mysteries. In doing so, the concept of life and the evolution of the brain is also briefly discussed.

From the outset of the interview, Edelman states his belief that consciousess can be created in artificial systems. He does, however, make a distinction between living conscious artefacts and non-living conscious artefacts. He takes 'living' to be "the process of copying DNA, self-replication, under natural selection". Anything with these properties is a living system - all else is not. Consciousness created in an artificial system would then be fundamentally different from our own (human) consciousness - although he does say that he would personally treat is as though it were alive: accord it the same basic respect ("...I'd feel bad about unplugging it.").

When it comes to giving a definition of what consciousness is, Edelman starts by turning to proprties described by the psychologist and philosopher William James: (1) its the thing you lose when you fall into a deep dreamless sleep, which you regain when you wake up, (2) it's continuous and changing, and (3) it's modulated or modified by attention, and so not exhaustive. From this, Edelman describes two states of consciousness. The first is primary consciousness. This supposedly arose with the evolution of a neuronal structure which allowed an interaction between perceptual categorisation and memory. In this way an internal scene could be created which could be linked to past scenes (i.e. memory). Built on this is secondary consciousness - resulting from the development of another neural structure (or structures, which is apparent in humans, and to a certain extent in chimps), which enabled conceptual systems to be connected: enabling the development of semantics and "true language", resulting in higher-order consciousness. A more simplified view of this consciousness is that it requires the inernalistion of stimuli, the remembering of them, and the interactions of these processes (not only perception and memory, but also things such as emotion). From this theory of consciousness, Edelman says that its further understanding would allow a clearer picture of how knowledge is acquired, which has importance in many diffenent respects.

It is based on this view of consciousness that he describes the Neuroscience Institute's approach to understanding consciousness. They construct what are described as Brain Based Devices (BBD's), which are essentially robots with simulated nervous systems. This artificial nervous system is modelled on that of a vertebrate or mammalian brain - although of course the number of neurons and synaptic connections in the simulated are many orders of magnitude smaller than in their natural counterparts. Nonetheless, one of their BBD's, called Darwin VII, is capable of undergoing conditioning: learning to associate objects in its environment with 'good' or 'bad' taste (where these 'tastes' have been defined a priori as fundamental properties of the environment). An important point regarding this experimentation is that it was conducted using real physical robots in the 'real world' (albeit simplified for the purpose of the task, it wasn't a simulation environment). Edeleman points out that a big problem with simulated environments is the difficulty of replicating reality, or in his words: " can't trace a complete picture of the environment." As demonstrated by the conditioning experiment, these BBD's are capable of learning: an example given in the interview of a segway-football match between a BBD-segway, and one programmed using 'traditional' AI techniques. Five matches were played, and the BBD-based device won each time. Edelman puts this down to the learning capabilities, and behavioural flexibility, from the fact that it learned all actions, rather than merely implement a set of algorithms (as a 'traditional AI' system does).

The BBD's being controlled by artificial nervous systems leads to questions regarding specifics of implementation. Instead of individually simulating the million or so neurons that make up the simulated nervous system, it is actually groups of around 100 neurons being simulated together, with the mean firing rate for this sub-populaion being taken (mean firing-rate models). This average firing rate is a reflection of synaptic change. According to Edelman, this sort of response is not just biologically plausible, it is identical: "The responses are exactly like those of [biological] neurons" (square brackets added).

The final part of the interview looks at other work going on at the institute. Currently, work is progressing on Darwin 12, the latest incarnation of the BBD's. This version is new as it intends to look at how embodiment affects the development of learning in the artificial nervous system, and its general functionality. It has both wheels and legs, and nearly 100 sensors in each of its legs. Mention is also made of other work concerning rhythm and melody as intrinsic human capabilities, more so than any other animal, and how this may have led to the development of language. This aspect of work seems to be only loosely brushed-over, so I do likewise.
I think that this interview, albeit reasonably short, covered a number of very interesting concepts on a wide range of subjects. However, I feel that it doesn't entirely succeed in bringing all of these elements together. An interesting read nonetheless.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Encephalon #28

The 28th edition of Encephalon is now up at Bohemian Scientist. This issue covers a wide range of subjects as usual; from biology and neuroscience, to psychology and neuroscience, and reviews of books and lives. The articles I most enjoyed from this edition are the following:

- From the Neurocritic comes a review of a study which looked to see if there were differences between the neural activities of children looking at angry faces, and whether it differed between those who were ajudged more or less susceptible to peer pressure. The post has more of the details from the paper, but just to summarise the conclusions: children better able to resist peer pressure showed better executive control functions.

- From the Thinking Meat Project, we have a review of two books described as being "informative and worth reading". Both are concerned with various aspects of neuroplasticity (find the references to these books in the post) - a subject I find fascinating. In the first book (by Doidge), presents a case study of patient which displayed dramatic examples of neuroplasticity as a lead into discussing the neuroscience issues. The second book (by Begley) prsents an ordered discussion of neuroplasticity from animals, to children, and through into adults. I like the review, and have the books to my ever-growing to-read pile (which I already can't keep up with).

- Finally, from The Third Culture comes a post entitled "Art, Context and the Brain" - a look at neuroaesthetics. This field aims to look at the neural processes underlying human behaviour in order to aid in aesthetic design and the understanding of art. After reviewing the problems with this approach (and this approach in general too, such as neuroethics and neuroeconomics), it goes on to give some examples of where this approach may be justified - the 'neural correlates of gambling' study. It even looks at the Ramachandran ethology example, which I personally like on a conceptual level at least, as a means of demonstrating the importance of context. If I might quote a part of the conclusion: "As the fields making up applied neuroscience explode in every direction, it is crucial that we keep two things in mind. First, we must not overstate what the findings can actually say, ... Second, and more central here, is that we must always be cognizant of the effect of context on any life experience." A good read.

All round a good issue of Encephalon. Finally, I'm pleased to announce that the next issue of Encephalon will be hosted here, at Memoirs of a Postgrad, on Monday th 13th of August. Submissions can be made through the usual channels. The more the merrier!