Sunday, June 8, 2008

Building Better (?) Brains

I've been interviewed by SETI Radio. That's right, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. They do a science program called Are We Alone. Despite its name, the show covers all kinds of earth-bound subjects, including neuroscience. This episode's on neuroplasticity, and will be available Tuesday.

The host Seth Shostak and I had fun. We talked about neural prosthetics, a very lively area of research. He had questions about a recent paper describing a monkey that operated a robot arm through neural signals transmitted through a brain implant. This technology might someday be useful for humans with damage to their spinal cord, arms, or legs.

One interesting point: one monkey started treating the robot arm like its own, to the point of licking it. This illustrates how the brain can be fooled into extending its body image beyond the actual body. It's a case of your brain telling you a white lie in order to keep things running smoothly. Brain lies are a major theme of our book. This is an excellent example.

The rest of the program is focused on "brain gyms," a recent fad. We are very skeptical. We have found that the claims about the effectiveness of these games are not well supported by scientific studies, especially considering that the effect of physical exercise on brain function is much larger. Read what we had to say about it here. Then go out and get some real exercise!

1 comment:

RobinH said...

Interesting, though not surprising. I remember noticing a couple of years after I learned how to drive how I had come to judge distances to the vehicle as an extension of my own personal space. I wonder if anyone has ever studied that?