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TEDxTalks


You Can Change Your Brain: Matthew Keener at TEDxGrandviewAve

A physician and brain imaging researcher, Dr. Keener is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the CEO and founder of Emodt healt...
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This photographic series embodies the act of capturing a single moment in time. The ability to freeze motion is something that is at the very core of photography and has the ability to change the way we view objects all together. These photographs capture the fleeting moment in which an ordinary object is seemingly transformed into something other worldly. These floating figures are simply a person in a sheet captured at the peak of a leap in the air and transformed in to hauntingly beautiful levitating forms. All images are captured on 4x5 color film.

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Aurich Lawson

One of the great untold stories in science is the process of science itself. I don't mean stories about what scientists have discovered and what that discovery tells us; we (and many others) cover those every day. I also don't mean stories about the pure joy of discovery and the excitement of finding out that everything you thought you understood was total bollocks. We cover that here at Ars occasionally, and there are plenty of books on it if you're hungry for more.

What's missing is the background for these stories of discovery. How do you take an idea from its very beginning as a casual musing through to an actual research program? What's involved in that process? How do you sort out good ideas from bad and choose what to pursue and what to abandon? That is the story that I want to tell.

Since this is the story of science-as-a-process rather than science-as-a-result, I will be using myself as an example. I am, as some of you may know, a tenure track faculty member at a research institute in the Netherlands. Being a researcher in the Netherlands is not that different from being a researcher anywhere else, so a lot of what I discuss will be familiar to scientists everywhere. Since I recently hopped on the tenure track, I have the next few years to prove that I am able to not only carry out research, but to start and manage entire research programs. And, as yet, I have no research program to manage.

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Crave You (Version 2) - Flight Facilities

This song is a fun little pill filled with dopamine and glitter that sneaks up on your brain until suddenly you’re dancing around the room all blissed out with a big dumb smile on your face.

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1. Ideas don’t come from watching television

2. Ideas sometimes come from listening to a lecture

3. Ideas often come while reading a book

4. Good ideas come from bad ideas, but only if there are enough of them

5. Ideas hate conference rooms, particularly conference rooms where there is a history of criticism, personal attacks or boredom

6. Ideas occur when dissimilar universes collide

7. Ideas often strive to meet expectations. If people expect them to appear, they do

8. Ideas fear experts, but they adore beginner’s mind. A little awareness is a good thing

9. Ideas come in spurts, until you get frightened. Willie Nelson wrote three of his biggest hits in one week

10. Ideas come from trouble

11. Ideas come from our ego, and they do their best when they’re generous and selfless

12. Ideas come from nature

13. Sometimes ideas come from fear (usually in movies) but often they come from confidence

14. Useful ideas come from being awake, alert enough to actually notice

15. Though sometimes ideas sneak in when we’re asleep and too numb to be afraid

16. Ideas come out of the corner of the eye, or in the shower, when we’re not trying

17. Mediocre ideas enjoy copying what happens to be working right this minute

18. Bigger ideas leapfrog the mediocre ones

19. Ideas don’t need a passport, and often cross borders (of all kinds) with impunity

20. An idea must come from somewhere, because if it merely stays where it is and doesn’t join us here, it’s hidden. And hidden ideas don’t ship, have no influence, no intersection with the market. They die, alone.

What an awesome list, much of which are about the best conditions for creativity. Occasionally some of the points are a ramble, but fun all the same. Enjoy!

Shamelessly stolen from Seth Godin’s blog.

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"Thanks for the memories, but I'd prefer a bite to eat."

UFL.edu

As the organ responsible for maintaining equilibrium in the body and the most energy-demanding of all the organs, the brain takes a lot of the body's energy allocation. So when food is in short supply, the brain is the organ that is fed first. But what happens when there isn’t enough food to fulfill the high-energy needs of the brain and survival is threatened?

The brain does not simply self-allocate available resources on the fly; instead it “trims the fat” by turning off entire processes that are too costly. Researchers from CNRS in Paris created a true case of do-or-die, starving flies to the point where they must choose between switching off costly memory formation or dying. When flies are starved, their brains will block the formation of aversive long-term memories, which depend on costly protein synthesis and require repetitive learning.

But that doesn't mean all long-term memories are shut down. Appetitive long-term memories, which can be formed after a single training, are enhanced during a food shortage.

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Nerval's Lobster writes "Wolfram Alpha has upgraded its Personal Analytics for Facebook module, giving users the ability to dissect their own social-networking data in new ways. Wolfram Alpha's creators first launched its Facebook data-mining module in August 2012. Users could leverage the platform's computational abilities to analyze and visualize their weekly distribution of Facebook posts, types of posts (photos, links, status updates), weekly app activity, frequency of particular words in posts, and more. This latest update isn't radical, but it does offer some interesting new features, including added color coding for 'interesting' friend properties, including relationship status, age, sex, and so on; users can also slice their network data by metrics such as location and age." Wolfram users could also use some of that new site-specific searching power to come up with some unsavory results.

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I just got done reading Ray Kurzweil's How to Create a Mind, his latest on how machines will soon (2030ish) pass the Turing test, and then basically become like robots envisaged in the 60's, with distinct personalities, acting as faithful butlers to our various needs.

And then, today over on The Edge, Bruce Sterling is saying that's all a pipe dream, computers are still pretty dumb.  As someone who works with computer algorithms all day, I too am rather unimpressed by a computer's intelligence.

He also notes that IBM's Watson won a Jeapardy! contest by reading all of Wikipedia, a feat clearly beyond any human mind. Further, as Kurzweil notes, many humans are pretty simple, and so it's not inconceivable a computer can replicate your average human, if only average is pretty predictable. Sirri is already funnier than perhaps 10% of humans.

But I doubt they will ever approximate a human, because human's have what machines can't have, which is emotions, and emotions are necessary for prioritizing, and a good prioritization is the essence of wisdom.  One can be a genius, but if you are focused solely on one thing you are autistic, and such people aren't called idiot-savants for nothing.

Just as objectivity is not the result of objective scientist, but an emergent result of the scientific community, consciousness may not be the result of a thoughtful individual, but a byproduct of a striving individual enmeshed in a community of other minds, each wishing to understand the other minds better so that they can rise above them. I see how you could program this drive into a computer, a deep parameter that gives points for how many times others call their app, perhaps.

Kurzwiel notes that among species of vole rats, those that have monogamous bonds have oxytocin and vasopressin receptors, and those that opt for one-night stands do not. Hard wired emotions dictate behavior.  But it's one thing to program a desire for company, an aversion to loneliness, another to desire a truly independent will.

Proto humans presumably had the consciousness of dogs, so something in our striving created consciousness incidentally. Schopenhauer said "we don't want a thing because we have found reasons for it, we find reasons for it because we want it." The intellect may at times to lead the will, but only as a guide leads the master. He saw the will to power, and fear of death, as being the essence of humanity.  Nietzsche noted similarly that "Happiness is the feeling that power increases."  I suppose one could try to put this into a program as a deep preference, but I'm not sure how, in that, what power to a computer could be analogous to power wielded by humans?

Kierkegaard thought the crux of human consciousness was anxiety, worrying about doing the right thing.  That is, consciousness is not merely having perceptions and thoughts, even self-referential thoughts, but doubt, anxiety about one's priorities and how well one is mastering them. We all have multiple priorities--self preservation, sensual pleasure, social status, meaning--and the higher we go the more doubtful we are about them. Having no doubt, like having no worries, isn't bliss, it's the end of consciousness.  That's what always bothers me about people who suggest we search for flow, because like good music or wine, it's nice occasionally like any other sensual pleasure, but only occasionally in the context of a life of perceived earned success.

Consider the Angler Fish. The smaller male is born with a huge olfactory system, and once he has developed some gonads, smells around for a gigantic female. When he finds her, he bites into her skin and releases an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level. He is then fed by, and has his waste removed by, the female's blood supply, as the male is basically turned into a parasite. However, he is a welcomed parasite, because the female needs his sperm. What happens to a welcomed parasite? Other than his gonads, his organs simply disappear, because all that remains is all that is needed. No eyes, no jaw, no brain. He has achieved his purpose, and could just chill in some Confucian calm, but instead just dissolves his brain entirely.

A computer needs pretty explicit goals because otherwise the state space of things it will do blows up, and one can end up figuratively calculating the 10^54th digit of pi--difficult to be sure, and not totally useless, but still pretty useless.  Without anxiety one could easily end up in an intellectual cul-de-sac and not care.  I don't see how a computer program with multiple goals would feel anxiety, because they don't have finite lives, so they can work continuously, forever, making it nonproblematic that one didn't achieve some goal by the time one's eggs ran out.  Our anxiety makes us satisfice, or find novel connections that do not what we originally wanted but do what's very useful nonetheless, and in the process helped increase our sense of meaning and status (often, by helping others).

Anxiety is what makes us worry we are at best maximizes an inferior local maximum, and so need to start over, and this helps us figure things out with minimal direction.  A program that does only what you tell it to do is pretty stupid compared to even stupid humans, any don't think for a second neural nets or hierarchical hidden markov models (HHMMs) can figure stuff out that isn't extremely well defined (like figuring out captchas, where Kurzweil thinks HHMMs show us something analogous to human thought).

Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche were all creative, deep thinkers about the essence of humanity, and they were all very lonely and depressed. When young they thought they were above simple romantic pair bonds, but all seemed to have deep regrets later, and I think this caused them to apply themselves more resolutely to abstract ideas (also, alas, women really like confidence in men, which leads to all sorts of interesting issues, including that their doubt hindered their ability to later find partners, and that perhaps women aren't fully conscious (beware troll!)). Humans have trade-offs, and we are always worrying if we are making the right ones, because no matter how smart you are, you can screw up a key decision and pay for it the rest of your life. We need fear, pride, shame, lust, greed and envy, in moderation, and I think you can probably get those into a computer.  But anxiety, doubt, I don't think can be programmed because logically a computer is always doing the very best it can in that's its only discretion is purely random, and so it perceives only risk and not uncertainty (per Keynes/Knight/Minsky), and thus, no doubt. 

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Pyramidal neurons have a distinctive shape and set of connections.

Gao lab, Drexel

The cerebral cortex—the gray matter that forms the outer layers of the mammalian cerebrum and cerebellum—is divided into six different layers based on the presence of specialized neurons, and we've known that since the early 1900s. Denis Jabaudon is interested in using the tools of modern biology to understand the genetic mechanisms that establish and maintain those layers. Over the past few years, his lab has published papers implicating various genes in the generation of specific neuronal subtypes.

Now they have gone a step further. They have developed a new electrochemical method to transfer genes into specific types of neurons—they call it iontoporation. Using it, they have transformed one type of neuron in a mature brain into a different type entirely. (Imagine a lightning bolt and crash of thunder here to indicate how momentous and scary this is.) Just kidding—it’s not actually scary. Instead, it tells us something about the ability of a mature brain to adapt to being rewired.

Although Jabaudon and others have made some headway in working out how the different neurons arise, they still don’t know how plastic they are—if they can change fates after they started differentiating down one particular path. In the context of brain injury, it would be useful to know if certain neural circuits could be reprogrammed and repaired by having the neurons that are already present change fates to adapt to the damage. But this has been challenging to determine, because changing the fate of specific neurons in the latter stages of differentiation has been technically difficult.

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Are You Blooming?: Tasha Broomhall at TEDxPerth

As an accredited Mental Health First Aid Trainer, Tasha Broomhall has been providing mental health and wellbeing training programs throughout Australia for more than 11 years. With a wealth of experience in psychology, disability, employment, psycho-social rehabilitation and aged care services, Tasha has guest lectured at both Murdoch and Curtin Universities and at national industry conferences. Tasha has a keen interest in reducing the stigma about mental illness and increasing mental health literacy in our communities and workplaces. She has developed programs to assist people to take responsibility for their own mental health and wellbeing and to act proactively in supporting the mental health of those around them. ------------------ TEDxPerth 2012 took place on Saturday 8 December 2012 at the Octagon Theatre at the University of Western Australia. Over 500 people attended in person and listeners all over the country enjoyed the day by tuning in to the live broadcast on digital radio. AboutTEDx, x = independently organised event In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organised events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organised events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organised TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual <b>...</b>
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