The brain’s Claustrum helps to Regain Its Lost Functions

nero
Picture from : FB Hashem  Al-Ghalili

Scientists from George Washington University published an amazing study arguing that they had found the “on-off switch” to the human brain, a veritable key to consciousness. The researchers found that when they stimulated a particular portion of the brain of a woman with epilepsy, she reliably slipped into a storing, near-catatonic state. When they removed the stimulation, she “awoke” and had no memory of the lapse in time. Called the “claustrum,” this area of the brain is poorly understood — but since the consciousness study, it has unsurprisingly attracted attention from brain researchers.

One study published this month in the journal Consciousness and Cognition may have constrained the realm of possibility for claustrum function, by conducting a study using combat veterans with deep traumatic brain injuries affecting the claustrum. What they found suggests that the prior results showing that stimulation of the claustrum can forcibly sever the brain from the conscious mind may have been due to the peculiarities of that patient, an epileptic who had undergone brain surgery in the past. In their combat veterans, who have a variety of other brain-related injuries in addition to their claustrum damage, the results were quite different.

They found that patients with claustrum lesions have an increased duration, but not frequency, of losing consciousness — showing that the claustrum may be related to regaining, but not ending, the state of active consciousness. That’s important, since the claustrum has been implicated in the maintenance of certain forms of coma and certain forms of dissociation.

The claustrum receives information from all over the cerebral cortex.

The claustrum (technically the claustra, since there’s one per hemisphere) sits near the center of the brain and seems to have a large-scale coordinating function. It receives signals from virtually every portion of the neocortex, looking architecturally not all that unlike the corpus collosum, of A Scanner Darkly fame. In both cases, destruction can lead to truly odd and unsettling psychological effects — could stimulating one little patch of your brain really forcibly disengage the brain’s engine from its drive shaft, leaving a person coasting in an involuntary neutral gear?

As mentioned, the newest research seems to say that, thankfully, the claustrum might not offer that kind of off switch. Patients with permanently damaged brains can sometimes adapt to get lost function out of some other brain structure, however, so it’s possible that people will claustrum lesions (as opposed to reversible electrical stimulation) show different effects.

However, things are more complicated than that. There’s some evidence that the hallucinogenic drug known as salvia may work partially by affecting the claustrum — specifically, inhibition of the kappa-opioid receptors that are so common on its surface. Due to the impossibility of feeding college kids salvia in an ethics-approved study, the academic literature on this is based largely on the self-submitted trip-out reports on sites like Erowid.

If the claustrum does play some large-scale coordinating role in the brain, that could explain why salvia can cause the brain to interpret visual information in such bizarre ways — the parts of the brain that are good at visual tasks aren’t being properly engaged to actually do them. And it might also explain why it’s possible for someone with a damaged or inhibited claustum to receive visual information through the optic nerve, but not consciously see that visual information with the higher brain and snap back to reality.

There may be a whole textbook about it, but the claustrum is still poorly understood.

Francis Crick (of Watson and Crick fame) spent much of his career pushing for continued study of the claustrum, which he believed was the seat of consciousness. We now know that’s not true — people can be quite conscious with their claustrum partially or entirely destroyed. But it may be to be one of the crucial elements in taking the many powerful but limited portions of the brain, and letting them complement each other’s abilities. It’s been called the conductor of the brain’s orchestra.
As scientists begin to understand these systems-level structures in the brain, our understanding of concepts like attention, memory, and perception could change dramatically. And with them, concepts like intention, self-awareness, and self.

 

Source: Extreme Tech

 

 

Ten (10) Things that Happen to Our Mind when Reading

mind and reading pix

Any book lover can let you know: diving into a great novel is an immersive experience that can make your brain wake up with imagery and feelings and even turn on your senses. It sounds sentimental, however there’s genuine, hard proof that supports these things happening to your brain when you read books. In reading, we can really physically change our brain structure, become more empathetic, and even trick our brains into thinking we’ve encountered what we’ve only read in novels.

  1. We make photos in our minds, even without being prompted:
    Reading books and different materials with clear imagery is not only fun, it additionally allows us to create worlds in our own minds. But did you realize that this happens regardless of the fact that you don’t mean it to? Researchers have observed that visual imagery is simply automatic. Participants were able to identify photos of objects faster if they’d just read a sentence that described the object visually, recommending that when we read a sentence, we naturally raise pictures of objects in our minds.
  2. Spoken word can put your brain to work:
    Critics are quick to dismiss audiobooks as a sub-par reading experience, but research has shown that the act of listening to a story can light up your brain. When we’re told a story, not only are language processing parts of our brain activated, experiential parts of our brain come alive, too. Hear about food? Your sensory cortex lights up, while motion activates the motor cortex. And while you may think that this is limited only to audiobooks or reading, experts insist that our brains are exposed to narratives all day long. In fact, researcher Jeremy Hsu shares, “Personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations.” So go ahead, listen to your coworker’s long and drawn out story about their vacation, tune in to talk radio, or listen to an audio book in the car: it’s good exercise for your brain.
  3. Reading about experiences is almost the same as living it:
    Have your ever felt so connected to a story that it’s as if you experienced it in real life? There’s a good reason why: your brain actually believes that you have experienced it. When we read, the brain does not make a real distinction between reading about an experience and actually living it. Whether reading or experiencing it, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Novels are able to enter into our thoughts and feelings. While you can certainly hop into a VR game at the mall and have a great time, it seems that reading is the original virtual reality experience, at least for your brain.
  4. Different styles of reading create different patterns in the brain:
    Any kind of reading provides stimulation for your brain, but different types of reading give different experiences with varying benefits. Stanford University researchers have found that close literary reading in particular gives your brain a workout in multiple complex cognitive functions, while pleasure reading increases blood flow to different areas of the brain. They concluded that reading a novel closely for literary study and thinking about its value is an effective brain exercise, more effective than simple pleasure reading alone.
  5. Want to really give your brain a workout?
    Pick up a foreign language novel. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden tested students from the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy, where intensive language learning is the norm, and medicine and cognitive science students at Umea University. Both groups underwent brain scans just prior to and right after a three-month period of intensive study. Amazingly, the language students experienced brain growth in both the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex, with different levels of brain growth according to the amount of effort and learning students experienced in that period of time.
  6. Your brain adapts to reading e-books in seven days:
    If you’re used to reading paper books, picking up an e-reader can feel very awkward at first. But experts insist that your brain can adopt the new technology quickly, no matter your age or how long you’ve been reading on paper. In fact, the human brain adapts to new technology, including e-reading, within seven days.
  7. E-books lack in spatial navigability:
    Although your brain can adapt to e-books quickly, that doesn’t mean they offer the same benefits as a paperback. Specifically, they lack what’s called “spatial navigability,” physical cues like the heft of pages left to read that give us a sense of location. Evolution has shaped our minds to rely on location cues to find our way around, and without them, we can be left feeling a little lost. Some e-books offer little in the way of spatial landmarks, giving a sense of an infinite page. However, with page numbers, percentage read, and other physical cues, e-books can come close to the same physical experience as a paper book.
  8. Story structure encourages our brains to think in sequence, expanding our attention spans:
    Stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and that’s a good thing for your brain. With this structure, our brains are encouraged to think in sequence, linking cause and effect. The more you read, the more your brain is able to adapt to this line of thinking. Neuroscientists encourage parents to take this knowledge and use it for children, reading to kids as much as possible. In doing so, you’ll be instilling story structure in young minds while the brain has more plasticity, and the capacity to expand their attention span.
  9. Reading changes your brain structure (in a good way):
    Not everyone is a natural reader. Poor readers may not truly understand the joy of literature, but they can be trained to become better readers. And in this training, their brains actually change. In a six-month daily reading program from Carnegie Mellon, scientists discovered that the volume of white matter in the language area of the brain actually increased. Further, they showed that brain structure can be improved with this training, making it more important than ever to adopt a healthy love of reading.
  10. Deep reading makes us more empathetic:
    It feels great to lose yourself in a book, and doing so can even physically change your brain. As we let go of the emotional and mental chatter found in the real world, we enjoy deep reading that allows us to feel what the characters in a story feel. And this in turn makes us more empathetic to people in real life, becoming more aware and alert to the lives of others.

    Source: infoedu.com