Category Archives: Brain

For all your cerebral needs…

The 4 Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death: TED Talk by Stephen Cave

August 12th, 2014 | Brain

Stephen Cave - 4 stories about death

Presented above is a TED Talk by Stephen Cave discussing the 4 principal stories we tell ourselves about death:

  1. Elixir
  2. Resurrection
  3. Soul
  4. Legacy

I enjoyed the part of the video when Mr. Cave relates these ancient ideas to our modern times:

  1. Elixir –> Stem Cells
  2. Resurrection –> Chryonics
  3. Soul –> Religion
  4. Legacy –> Parenthood

It seems that everyone I’ve met employs one of these strategies to cope with their own mortality…

Who here remembers when they first realized they were going to die? Well, I personally don’t, but developmental biologists seem to believe we acquired this trait around the age of 4 or 5 (according to research conducted by Jacqui Wooley at The University of Texas).

Since this early age, I’ve probably gone through each of these 4 stories to try to understand death… What comes next? What happens to our consciousness when we die? What does “nothingness”  feel like? In time, I’ve realized that these questions don’t make much sense. As Dr. Cave points out, “being swallowed by the void is not something that any of us will ever live to experience.” In other words, when we die, that is all. Our sense of self and everything we’ve come to know will vanish. But, it’s nothing to fear! Fear itself will also vanish into this void.

So what does that leave us with? What is the purpose of life? I’m afraid I can’t answer that for you. I’m still looking for the answer. My advice would be to enjoy life to the fullest. Create memories of which you’re proud. Leave the world a better place. And if you want to employ one of the 4 stories from above to help you cope with your mortality, I say that is perfectly fine. It’s been happening since the dawn of humanity and I see no reason why it should stop anytime soon.

If this topic is of interest, you might want to check out Stephen Cave’s book about immortality found here.

immortality stephen cave


p.s. I think Dr. Cave may have been incorrect when he assumed this was an entirely human trait. Some animals probably do have a sense of their own mortality. Elephants, primates, dolphins have been shown to have self-awareness and a level of consciousness, so it’s not a stretch to think they would understand the idea of death. Anyway, I’m getting off point. I suppose a takeaway from this TED talk is that most humans don’t even seem to truly understand their own mortality.

80,000 Neurons Firing in the Brain of a Zebrafish

July 29th, 2014 | Brain

Labeled_Zebrafish_80000_neuronsA team led by Drs. Jeremy Freeman and Misha Ahrens recently recorded the activity of approximately 80,000 neurons firing in the brain of a zebrafish larvae. The technique they implemented is called light-sheet microscopy. Briefly, the scientists genetically engineer zebrafish neurons to emit a fluorescent signal just after the neuron fires. Laser beams are the shot through the fish so that the activated neurons will glow and an overhead microscope records the whole thing. Of course, this technique only works because the zebrafish are entirely transparent, so don’t expect to have your brain scanned in this manner any time soon.

“At the beginning of the movie, the fish is resting and the forebrain region on the far-right is flashing away. That may represent whatever the fish is thinking about when it’s just hanging out.

Scientists then created the illusion that the fish was drifting backwards by sliding bars in front of its eyes. Its intent to swim to catch up was measured with electrodes on its muscles. When the bars start sliding, a few neurons sitting just behind the eyes light up followed by a huge cascade of activity, including massive pulses initiating swimming.”

“There must be fundamental principles about how large populations of neurons represent information and guide behavior,” says neuroscientist Jeremy Freeman of Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia. “In this system, where we record from the whole brain, we might start to understand what those rules are.”

We know that the processing of sensory input and the generation of behavior involves large networks of neurons, and Dr. Freeman believes that observing networks with this sort of technology will enable us to gain deeper insight to how the brain functions.

It is important to note that the temporal resolution is fast enough to identify which neurons are involved in a given behavior but too slow to count how many times they fire. Thus, there is no way that this technique could ever decipher the neural computations that take place at the millisecond timescale in the human brain.

I think we’ll probably need nanobots to ever fully decode the brain…

Find the full article here… if you have a subscription :/


[via Wired]

Paper Stuff by Bartek Elsner

July 3rd, 2014 | Brain, Robot

Paper Heart

Paper Heart 2

The Paper InternetPaper Fireplace 1Paper Fireplace 2Paper Gun ChainsawPaper Chainsaw

Paper Bomb


Paper Boombox

Bartek Elsner is an art director from Berlin, Germany. He’s made some really pretty impressive sculptures using only cardboard paper and glue.

It’s always inspiring to see someone create interesting works of art with minimal materials. You don’t need marble to create your masterpiece!

You can find more of his work on Behance and his website.


The Legendary Photos of Irving Penn

June 16th, 2014 | Brain

Irving Penn - Gorilla Skull


Irving Penn - Tribes

Tribes 2

Irving Penn - Hand

Irving Penn - Small Trades

Today is the birthday of the American portrait photographer, Irving Penn. He would have been 97 years old, but unfortunately, the legend passed away back in 2009. Penn photographed a range of topics, but was mostly known for his still life and portrait work. When discussing his predilection for animal skulls, he described them as “an exquisite edifice of living machine. Hard chambers of bone to guard soft organs, protected conduits and channels.”

Penn mainly used minimalist backdrops, preferring the focus to lie on his subjects. In one series titled, “Small Trades,” he featured workers in uniform with their tools of the trade (seen above). The photo style was achieved by using high speed roll film, to get a particularly grainy effect.

Irving Penn was surely a master at his craft. Take some time to visit some more of his work at The Getty Museum.


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