Some say that great ideas come out of thin air. Neuroscientist David Eagleman posits that perhaps all great ideas are simply built upon old ideas, because thats what fuels the creative brain.
"All ideas have a genealogy," says David Eagleman. A writer, neuroscientist, and adjunct professor at Stanford University, he's definitely clued in to what makes ideas click. He posits that the brain craves something new so much that if you give someone the same thing over and over that after a certain amount of time you'll begin to see diminished returns in excitement. But sometimes "new" isn't necessarily new at all. He points out that although the iPhone is a revolutionary product it bears heavy similarity to an invention from IBM... from two decades ago. New ideas tend to be built upon similar ones, David Eagleman says, because "what we’re doing is building on the foundations of what has come before us." David's new book is The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World.
Everyone thinks they know how to make their brain more creative and have better ideas.
People think that their brain is like an iPhone — if they can just unlock it and press a few things in a certain order, then something is sure to happen. That's just not the case, as neuroscientist David Eagleman tells us. While some swear a cold shower helps them think better it's simply a matter of personal preference; what works for one might not work for anyone else. David has a great line: "You don’t have squirrels going to the moon or dogs inventing the internet or cows doing theater plays for one another or any of the gazillion things that we do." Quite frankly, what gets creatvity going the best is actually the most boring: a good diet and regular exercise... but where's the fun (and clickable headline) in that? David's new book is The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World.
Since hope appears to come from a physical place in the brain, scientists are hoping to figure out how it shields the rest of the brain from negativity. Really.
In a recent study, Chinese psychologists found out that hope protects the brain against anxiety and expanded our understanding of how that may be happening. Because hope is considered a stable personality trait, they reasoned, they might be able to figure out where in the brain they can find hope functioning. They were able not only to pinpoint where hope might potentially reside within the brain, but realized how hope may be shielding the brain from the effects of anxiety.
The scientists defined hope as an important topic in positive psychology, referring to an individual's “goal-oriented expectations" that include both agency (desire to achieve goals) and pathways (finding ways to achieve them).
The researchers used fMRI imaging on 231 high school students from Chengdu, China who were tested according to questionnaires using the DHS hope scale and the Stait-Trait Anxiety test.
The scientists analyzed the data using the fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuation (fALFF) approach. They found that the presence of the hope trait was related to lower fALFF values in the bilateral medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) area of the brain. That is the region involved in reward-related procession, the production of motivation, solving problems and goal-oriented behavior, according to the scientists.
The orbitofrontal cortex is located just above the orbits of the eyes and goes back several centimeters into the frontal base of the brain. The scientists discovered that the hope trait worked as a “mediator" between mOFC activity and anxiety.
"Overall, this study provides the first evidence for functional brain substrates underlying trait hope and reveals a potential mechanism that trait hope mediates the protective role of spontaneous brain activity against anxiety," write the researchers.
Orbitofrontal Cortex. Credit: Paul Wicks, Wikipedia
This is the first evidence that hope may have a physical presence in the brain, but the relationship between hope and anxiety has been established in a number of previous studies. A 2002 University of Kansas study, led by C.R. Snyder, looked at the role hope plays for students. The researchers found that students low in hope had greater anxiety, primarily from establishing goals that were too overwhelming and hard to achieve.
A 2011 study from Malaysian and Hong Kong scientists showed the link between having greater hope and reduced anxiety and depression in cancer patients. It was not clear, however, whether hope caused less anxiety or people with less anxiety were more hopeful.
Here you can check out the 2017 study that involved researchers from Sichuan University, Southwest University for Nationalities and Chengdu Mental Health Center in Chengdu, China.
Meditation is a lot more than just chilling out and reflecting. It can actually rewire your brain to become a better person.
If you've ever watched someone meditating it looks like they're just sitting there with their eyes closed. But what's going on in their head is extremely interesting: metta meditation (or 'loving-kindness' meditation if that's your thing) has been proven to actually make long-term practitioners certifiably better people. You might have to do it for 1,000 hours to see discernible effects in your brainwaves, but it's still fascinating news for those in the mediation field and indeed anyone interested in brain science. Daniel Goleman's new book is Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence.
French researchers recently roused a patient out of a vegetative state.
We used to think of death as a moment. We reel when a beloved person meets a tragic end, be it in real life or our favorite show. The reality is, death is often a long, drawn out process that has to do with treatment, hospitals, and in the end, hospice care. Of course, it can strike suddenly too and without warning. But medical science has progressed to the point where we aren’t thinking of death so much as a moment anymore, but a process.
So does that mean we can slow it down or even pause it? According to Dr. Sam Parnia, in his book Erasing Death, new techniques are being used which can reinvigorate the body and the brain. He also believes that death could someday be reversible.
Dr. Parnia has done studies on sustained resuscitation. He says some patients can be brought back merely with CPR, hours after their heart stopped beating, without any permanent damage to the brain. He’s also studied near-death and out-of-body experiences to see if these hold any medical secrets, which could be used to tell us something about the condition. Could a near death experience signify resuscitation of the brain, Dr. Parnia wonders?
“We've never had an objective method to go beyond the threshold of death and study what happens both biologically and from a mental and cognitive perspective,” he told NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air. “Therefore everything that we deal with is basically hearsay and people's own beliefs."
In his experiments, he found that cooling the body a few degrees Celsius can actually slow the rate of cell death, particularly of neurons in the brain. He isn’t alone. In fact, a number of different medical professionals are leaning toward longevity medicine.
Dr. Parnia believes that a near death experience might signify resuscitation of the brain. Getty Images.
Biologist Mark Roth, at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is working with animal subjects, putting them into suspended animation. The idea is that a patient who is in medical crisis could be put into a suspended state like hibernation, until he or she could be stabilized and in this way, get past it.
Though we tend to expire when the oxygen level is low, many animals go into a suspended state in extremely low oxygen environments. In the lab, one must enter into such an environment quickly. Roth is currently working with nematodes—a kind of roundworm—and expects to eventually work up to humans.
A vegetative state is another aspect of what we consider the gray zone between life and death. Medically, this is when sufficient damage to the brain has occurred, where the person isn’t aware of and can’t respond to their surroundings. They may breathe, have a heartbeat, move their eyes, even show reflexes, but they can’t respond to stimuli or interact with the world. Their brain stem is operating normally, but other parts of the brain may be damaged or inoperable. Most patients who enter such a state never leave it.
Now a curious case is shaking up how we consider this condition. A 35-year-old man “woke up” after being in a vegetative state for 15 years. In this study, recently published in the journal Current Biology, French researchers found a way to restore some consciousness to a patient, a feat considered impossible previously. It was thought that patients in this state for a year or longer couldn’t be revived.
Brain scans of a patient roused from a vegetative state through vargal nerve stimulation. Current Biology.
Angela Sirigu was the lead researcher. She and colleagues, at the of the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod, in Lyon, accomplished this by stimulating the vagus nerve, one of the longest running in the body. It goes from the brain stem all the way to the gut and connects to most of the major organs along the way.
Unlike in the movies, where a patient miraculously shoots out of bed after years of being bedridden and unresponsive, Sirigu and colleagues say this was a gradual process. Researchers ran different tests to gauge his awareness.
The man’s eyes widened when someone approached him suddenly, seeing the person as a threat. He was able to stay awake for longer periods when someone read him a book. He could also follow objects with his eyes or turn his head when asked to. This and brain imaging evidence suggests their technique is reaping results.
Vagal nerve stimulation is already being used to treat depression, epilepsy, and other disorders. It activates the noradrenergic pathway, which initiates alertness and can even trigger the fight-or-flight response. Researchers admit little is known about how or why this has helped rouse the patient out of a vegetative state.
Yet, this study may change how medical professionals care for those who have entered such states. Sirigu said, “The sooner we can stimulate it (the vagus nerve), the sooner we can interfere with the body functions and restore some kind of physiological equilibrium.”
This is more of a proof-of-concept study. A larger sample is sorely needed. Sirigu says she and colleagues are putting together a larger, follow-up presently. This is just the beginning.
What’s more, press sensationalism aside, the patient was brought from a vegetative to a minimally conscious state, which isn’t exactly a full recovery. Even if these results can be repeated with other such cases, more studies will be needed to uncover exactly how the technique reaps results.
We’re still a long way away from the day when medical science is able to take the next step and fully restore a patient. But that day is likely to come.
To learn more about the gray areas between life and death, click here: