Tag Archives: neurology

Curiosity Recap (Jul 20, 2014)

Outside of the blog, new episode of the released today – a very special episode. I !
Also, this past week I released my Ebook , a collection of written pieces (all ).

– Some thoughts and insights from a fellow polymath friend of mine
– Meet our friend, the precuneus
– Mindmapping and to-do list software is explored
– A humorous video with depictions

– Better understanding leads to better acceptance and support
– For the visual learners, curious about the concepts
– Some history and food for thought
– Sir Ken Robinson’s latest TED Talk, video and transcript
– After a sometimes frustrating week long stint of researching computer programming information and 翻墙 resources, I do a bit of a quick run down. Not sure when I’ll be writing part 2 but this is a quick primer
– These words are similar and somewhat related, but not the same things
– Don’t worry, this post features no puns beyond the title, just a really cool picture and some commentary
– As the name suggests, I linked to the original article because all the tips were captioned images
– A bit of computer history, where we’re at now, and where the future might take us
– French company finds a way to sell “ugly” (but still perfectly good) fruit and vegetables
– I highlight two in particular, but this is good life advice
 – Understanding and acceptance, they are beautiful things
(amazing athlete!) – American Ninja Warrior contestant Kacy Catanzaro does what no woman before her has done, and blows away everyone in the crowd (and the commentators) in the process
– Celebs who endorse them mean well, but have not done their research
– Can you guess?
Now you can!
– I found a written piece that provides insight into where we are probably going off the tracks as a society
– Did you know just how much they can do? And they don’t even have any bones!

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Director : Jeff Nichols.
Writer : Jeff Nichols.
Producer : Nancy Buirski, Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, Sarah Green, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub.
Release : November 4, 2016
Country : United Kingdom, United States of America.
Production Company : Big Beach Films, Raindog Films.
Language : English.
Runtime : 123 min.
Genre : Drama, Romance.

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ASMR: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (aka nice feels)

Thanks again to the Probably Science Podcast, I’ve been turned onto a couple more cool things. The first is ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It is another neurological condition in line with Misophonia and Synaesthesia.

From Wikipedia:

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a neologism for a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli. The nature and classification of the ASMR phenomenon is controversial.

One of the hosts on the podcast said he believed he had experienced it, but one of the other hosts was pretty skeptical. I think there are sounds, sights, smells and other things that make us all feel really good in a “love at first sight” kind of way, but the distinction is the pleasurable tingling sensation that accompanies this.

Here’s more from a Time.com article:

People experience ASMR in different ways, which makes describing it especially difficult. For me, whispering, one-on-one attention or someone lightly grazing my hair, neck or back provokes a physical reaction that is almost violent in its quest for pleasure. For others, the feeling is less distinct: some may be simply lulled into a comfortable state of relaxation without experiencing any physical reaction at all.

Hundreds of people create ASMR videos and upload them to YouTube for the purpose of helping people relax. The community, which originated on YouTube with one popular video of a woman whispering, has grown tremendously since its inception in 2009, and now boasts almost 2 million videos. The Reddit forum dedicated to ASMR has over 55,000 subscribers and the Facebook page has almost 11,000 likes. A simple search for “ASMR” on YouTube yields thousands of thumbnails of primarily young, attractive women dragging makeup brushes across their hands or pursing their lips and blowing into the camera.

The acts required to trigger an ASMR are admittedly intimate. The sensation is compared to an orgasm because it can feel similar, just centered at the top of the body instead of the bottom, so you’d be forgiven for confusing ASMRs for something sexual. But perhaps that’s another reason they are so difficult to decipher, especially if you don’t experience them yourself: ASMRs are intimate but not sexual, feel-good but not orgasmic, private but not secret.

“The less intense state that a lot of people get into is sort of a buzzing in the head. It literally feels like their brain is being pushed down, so it’s getting heavy and at the same time buzzing is happening in the back of your head,” said Maria, who runs a popular YouTube account called Gentle Whispering where she posts videos of herself performing a series of ASMR triggers, such as whispering and role playing characters like doctors and teachers meant to guide watchers into the euphoric state of ASMR.

The active community that has formed around the phenomenon largely consists of video creators who themselves experience ASMR and want to help contribute content to the canon to help other people reach the same relaxed state.

Professor Tom Stafford, an expert in psychology and cognitive sciences from the University of Sheffield, was quoted in The Independent, saying:

It might well be a real thing, but it’s inherently difficult to research. The inner experience is the point of a lot of psychological investigation, but when you’ve got something like this that you can’t see or feel, and it doesn’t happen for everyone, it falls into a blind spot. It’s like synaesthesia – for years it was a myth, then in the 1990s people came up with a reliable way of measuring it.

Very interesting, and if they can ever definitively prove that it’s real, I’ll be happy to read about that.

Synaesthesia – Can you see time? Can you hear with your eyes?

Have you ever heard of something and then immediately wished you had it, or could at least experience it? This has actually happened to me before (with Aspergers’ Syndrome), but not quite for the same reason. In that case, it helped explain things I was already experiencing. In the case of Synaesthesia, it just sounds cool to me. And I will tell you why.

What is Synaesthesia?

Synaesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.[1][2][3][4] People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.

Difficulties have been recognized in coming up with an adequate definition of synesthesia:[5][6] many different phenomena have been included in the term synesthesia (“union of senses”), and in many cases it seems to be an inaccurate one. A more accurate term may be ideasthesia.

In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme → color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored.[7][8] In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map (clockwise or counterclockwise).

I was just reading an article called “Can you see time?” on BBC News, about a form of the condition that involves seeing time, and I found the first explanation of it that really “clicked” for me:

Dr Simner studies synaesthesia – a condition caused by an unusually high number of connections between two areas of the brain’s sensory cortex, making two senses inseparable.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty cool. I mean, I’m sure there are ways in which this isn’t ideal, but it seems to add a bit more interestingness to life experiences in general. The first time I ever heard about this condition, it was in terms of a musician being able to see colour when he heard musical notes. Each individual note corresponded to a specific colour (ie C was blue, D was red, etc). This allowed the musician in question to compose a symphony based on colour. THAT is something I would really like to experience!

Further:

In the case of time-space synaesthesia, a very visual experience can be triggered by thinking about time.

“I thought everyone thought like I did, says Holly Branigan, also a scientist at Edinburgh University, and someone with time-space synaesthesia. “I found out when I attended a talk in the department that Julia was giving. She said that some synaesthetes can see time. And I thought, ‘Oh my god, that means I’ve got synaesthesia’.”

So what exactly does she see?

“For me it’s a bit like a running track,” she says. “The track is organised around the academic year. The short ends are the summer and Christmas holidays – the summer holiday is slightly longer. “It’s as if I’m in the centre and I’m turning around slowly as the year goes by. If I think ahead to the future, my perspective will shift.”

There are at least 54 different variants of synaesthesia and Dr Simner thinks this might be one of the most common ones.

And the plot gets even thicker and more interesting:

Dr Simner explains: “There is one called ordinal-linguistic personification. So letters or numbers trigger, not colour, but the impression of a personality or gender.

Another variant recently come to light is called mirror touch synaesthesia. This causes people to experience sensations of touch when they see other people being touched.

“So if I sat in front of you and scratched my nose, you would feel a scratch on your nose,” explains Dr Simner. Psychologists have linked this to a greater sense of empathy.

Synaesthetes often report that they actually enjoy things that match their own experiences.

“So if you have a red A, and I show you a picture of the letter A in red, you really like it,” explains Dr Simner. “But if I show you a green A, you hate it. I’ve had to change the colours of fonts on my power point slides in the past when giving presentations to synaesthetes.”

See, that’s probably one of the not so great examples. I do have an unusually strong dislike of certain colours (red, yellow), and have always tended to like things a lot more when they are blue, purple or green (my favourite colours). This isn’t Synaesthesia, but I guess I’m just trying to relate a bit.

Here’s another downside:

Some types of synaesthesia interfere with everyday living. As one synaesthete told me recently, if someone says a word that tastes of roast beef whilst you’re eating your strawberries, it can ruin a tasty treat.

And here’s a little hard science for you:

“If you want to define synaesthesia in a purely neurological sense, it’s just the predisposition to have extra pathways between areas of the brain,” says Dr Simner. “And we can see those connections.”

With FMRI scans (functional magnetic resonance imaging), researchers can watch activity in the brain – for example, seeing colour- and language-processing areas “light up” at the same time in a grapheme-colour synaesthete’s brain.

And with a newer imaging technique, called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), Dr Simner says you can “almost count the extra pathways”. “This tracks the movement of water molecules in the brain,” she explains.

“We’re still inferring the pathways from the image, but it’s pretty clear. Where there are lots of pathways the water molecules, which normally move randomly, stop moving quite as much.”

Temple Grandin’s latest book about Autism talked about fMRI scans and neurological imaging as well in terms of helping to diagnose Autism in the future, so this sounds pretty cool to me. I kind of want to become a Neuro scientist now, because you get to literally examine and unlock the key functionality of the brain to understand how it works and why we are the way we are.

Have you ever heard of people who have “Eidetic Memory” (aka Photographic Memory)? Basically they can recall anything they’ve experienced with remarkable precision. Synaesthesia might help explain some of the instances of that:

And one particular case study caused Dr Simner to wonder whether time-space synaesthesia might be an advantageous thing to have. She and her team became interested in a type of savant with a condition known as hyperthymestic syndrome.

“This is a savant whose amazing ability lies in their ability to recalling dates and events in time,” she explains. Researchers in the US wrote an article about their patient – a woman who displayed the condition.

“This person can tell you exactly what they were doing on any particular day of any year of their life,” says Dr Simner. “She can tell you which of her shoelaces she tied up first in 1974 on a Tuesday afternoon, what clothes she was wearing when she first ate a hamburger.”

The article also talks about how when given memory tests about their own lives, Synaesthetes recalled at least twice as many facts as non-synaesthetes.

So, are you a Synaesthete? Well, apparently everyone has a little bit of it intrinsically:

But they are also testing synaesthetic tendencies in the general population. They have already established that most people associate texture and shape with shades of colour. And most people have an intrinsic sense of the shade of different pitches of sound.

Through the research team’s website, you can take part in a series of tests to find out if you are in fact a synaesthete.

Unfortunately I can’t seem to find the link to the website in question (it doesn’t appear to be linked in the article unless I missed it), but I did find this site – http://www.synesthesiatest.org

I still want to experience this for myself!

Autism – Myths, Misconceptions, the Science, the Upside and the Future

*In searching YouTube for revelant video clips for the resources section at the end of this post, it is painfully obvious to me why Autism has such a bad rap in the general populace, because for the most part you only hear about really severe, low-functioning cases, which are the ones that often strongly resemble mental retardation. This is part of why it is SO crucial to understand the condition better, and why I feel this is one of the most important posts on this site. [Update: I recently found a post that makes a good case for not thinking in terms of high or low functioning, you can read that here]

Very recently I finished reading “The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum” by Dr. Temple Grandin, a famous Autistic person who has revolutionized the animal care industry, thanks in part to her Autism.

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read, both in the range of information and topics it covers, but also in that it spoke to me personally and potentially gave me answers for some of my own experiences. I think anyone who is on the spectrum or suspects they are, should absolutely read it. This blog entry is going to be LONG (and largely a recap of the book), but I really hope you will take the time to read the whole thing and I will strongly recommend you buy and read the book yourself as there is so much information I can’t cover here.

Chapters in the book include:
1. The Meanings of Autism (history)
2. Lighting Up the Autistic Brain (brain scans/neurology)
3. Sequencing the Autistic Brain (looking for genetic links and causes)
4. Hiding and Seeking (sensory)
5. Looking Past the Labels (focus on the symptoms, not the label)
6. Knowing Your Own Strengths
7. Rethinking in Pictures (corrections from her prior book)
8. From the Margins to the Mainstream (moving forward into the future of living with Autism)
Appendix – “Autism Quotient” self-test.

I know I had heard about Autism in passing while growing up, but I never knew anything about it (or at least I would have fallen in the “Autism=rain man” camp). In 2010, I stumbled upon a thing called Asperger’s Syndrome, and the more I read about it, the more I related and identified and felt like “this explains so many things about me”. Funny enough, I brought it up to a friend at the time, I asked her “have you ever heard of a thing called Asperger’s Syndrome?” and without missing a beat she replied “yes and I bet you have it”. I had literally only just stumbled onto it, and she had been observing me and had identified that I was like her partner in many ways (her partner at the time was an “Aspie” as well) so it was no surprise to her.

I continued to read, research and ponder the subject, getting a range of responses from friends and family (as I would quote them descriptions of it or things I read) from “I don’t think so” to “yeah that makes a lot of sense”. It was really frustrating because I really felt like the shoe fit, but our society largely holds a negative attitude towards people self-diagnosing, which I can understand in some cases. But I wasn’t seeking any kind of advantage or special treatment, I just wanted to know if this was the answer I thought it was. Finally, in 2012 I was able to get referred to a psychologist who assessed me and determined that I had “very mild” Aspergers and was “clearly high functioning”. The first thing I did when I got out of that meeting was text one of my friends (who also suspects she is on spectrum) and said “I’m officially a statistic!”. Because I try not to take myself too seriously.

Funny enough, from that point to very recently, I didn’t promote it much. There’s a lot of stigma and bad information out there, and even since being formally diagnosed, some people still don’t believe me, largely because I’ve refined my social skills to such a high point from what they used to be. But being really good at acting “normal” doesn’t mean you are normal, just that you’re a good actor. Even though there are proven advantages (some might even call them super powers in a way), I’ve been largely advised against mentioning it in job interviews as a strength. I’ve mostly kept it under my hat and only told certain people.

Now that I’ve read this book, I don’t feel the need to do that anymore, because I have a MUCH better understanding of what it is, what it means, and how to work with it. The correct science of understanding it is in its infancy, but the future looks very bright.

So this post will be largely a recap of the book, but I will also talk about my personal experiences. I may also update this post in the future if I realize I’ve forgotten to mention anything or include any resources. So, let’s learn! Continue reading

California Dreaming and Mind Reading

I just woke up from a dream. In this dream I happened to be playing Grand Theft Auto V, and it was a very immersive dream. I was zooming around in a race through suburbs and tight city streets, crashing into some things as well as deftly dodging other things. I don’t actually own that game, nor have I played it, but I watched a friend of mine play it just for a couple of minutes yesterday. Yet, just from having watched the game for a few minutes, my brain managed to get enough of a blueprint/mental snapshot to construct a vivid, believable dream from.

I think what fascinates me the most is our brains’ ability to conjure up totally realistic worlds that are so accurate and believable that we don’t realize we are dreaming until we wake up. This all comes from our subconscious! Continue reading