Friday, September 25, 2009

Scientists See Numbers Inside Peoples Heads



From Yahoo News:

By carefully analyzing brain activity, scientists can tell what number a person has just seen, research now reveals.

They can similarly tell how many dots a person was presented with.

Past investigations had uncovered brain cells in monkeys that were linked with numbers. Although scientists had found brain regions linked with numerical tasks in humans - the frontal and parietal lobes, to be exact - until now patterns of brain activity linked with specific numbers had proven elusive.

Scientists had 10 volunteers watch either numerals or dots on a screen while a part of their brain known as the intraparietal cortex was scanned - it's a region of the parietal lobe especially linked with numbers. They next rigorously analyzed brain activity to decipher which patterns might be linked with the numbers the volunteers had observed.

When it came to small numbers of dots, the researchers found that brain activity patterns changed gradually in a way that reflected the ordered nature of the numbers. For example, one might be able to conclude that the pattern for six is between that for five and seven.

In the case of the numerals, the researchers could not detect this same gradual change. This suggests their methods simply might not be sensitive enough to detect this progression yet, or that these symbols are in fact coded as more precise, discrete entities in the brain.

"Activation patterns for numbers of dots seem to be stronger - are more easily discriminated - than those for digits, suggesting that maybe still more neurons encode specifically numbers of objects - the evolutionary older representation - than abstract symbolic numbers," said researcher Evelyn Eger at the University of Paris-Sud in Orsay, France.

Given that numbers "are in principle infinite, it is very unlikely that the brain can have, or we can detect, a signature for each number," Eger noted. "There is some hint in our data that smaller numbers have a clearer signature, which may be related to their frequency of occurrence in daily life, but further work would be needed to say something more definite about this and about how the brain deals with larger numbers."

The methods employed in this research could ultimately help unlock how the brain makes sophisticated calculations and how the brain changes as people learn math, the researchers said.

"We are only beginning to access the most basic building blocks that symbolic math probably relies on," Eger said. "We still have no clear idea of how these number representations interact and are combined in mathematical operations, but the fact that we can resolve them in humans gives hope that at some point we can come up with paradigms that let us address this."

The scientists detailed their findings online September 24 in the journal Current Biology.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Indian Lunar Mission Finds Water On The Moon

From the London Times:

Dreams of establishing a manned Moon base could become reality within two decades after India’s first lunar mission found evidence of large quantities of water on its surface.

Data from Chandrayaan-1 also suggests that water is still being formed on the Moon. Scientists said the breakthrough — to be announced by Nasa at a press conference today — would change the face of lunar exploration.

The discovery is a significant boost for India in its space race against China. Dr Mylswamy Annadurai, the mission’s project director at the Indian Space Research Organisation in Bangalore, said: “It’s very satisfying.”

The search for water was one of the mission’s main objectives, but it was a surprise nonetheless, scientists said.The unmanned craft was equipped with Nasa’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, designed specifically to search for water by picking up the electromagnetic radiation emitted by minerals. The M3 also made the unexpected discovery that water may still be forming on the surface of the Moon, according to scientists familiar with the mission.


There are two reasons I post this.

One, I think it's interesting, and two, I think it's a chance to promote the greatest unheralded Rock n' Roll band in history; the Bell Rays. After all, if there is water on the moon, there can also be Fire On The Moon:





More Bell Rays. Here they are on the Craig Ferguson Show.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Woman Who Could Not Forget

From Mental Floss:



memoryWhat if you finished reading this article and remembered every detail of it for the rest of your life? That’s the problem people with super-autobiographical memory face—and yes, it’s often referred to as a problem, not a gift. Their minds are like a computer hard drive that retains everything: dates, middle names, license plate numbers, even what they eat for lunch on a daily basis There are only four confirmed super memory cases, a disorder experts say is somewhat related to OCD, though no doubt there are plenty others who haven’t been identified yet.

So who are the four individuals who’ve all recently been the subject of a study at the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine.? Let’s meet them and find out…

1. Bob Petrella

bobA Los Angeles based producer for the Tennis Channel, Bob Petrella may remember every number in his cell phone, but it’s his ability to recall sporting events that’s most remarkable. Give him a date, like March 30, 1981, and he could tell you not only that it was the day Reagan was shot, but also that Indiana beat North Carolina for the NCAA championship that evening. Even more impressive: when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, his favorite team, you can show him a single freeze frame from most any game that he’s seen, and he can tell you not only the date of the game, but the final score.
According to a piece on ABC news, Patrella “remembers all but two of his birthdays since he turned 5. He recalls where he was and what he did with high school buddies. Grainy images of the 1970s are vividpictures in his head. ‘I remember all my ATM codes,’ he said. ‘I remember people’s numbers. [I] lost my cell phone Sept. 24, 2006. A lot of people, if they lost their cell phone, they would panic because they have all these numbers. I didn’t have any numbers in my cell phone because I know everybody’s numbers up here [in my head].’

2. Jill Price

jillProbably the best known of the four, Jill Price has described her ‘gift’ as “nonstop, uncontrollable and totally exhausting.” She was the first to be diagnosed with the condition, and recently published a memoir, The Woman Who Can’t Forget. Price remembers most details of nearly every day she’s been alive since she was 14 and compares her super memory to walking around with a video camera on her shoulder. “If you throw a date out at me, it’s as if I pulled a videotape out, put in a VCR and just watched the day,” she has said.
Like Bob Petrella, Price calls California home, though working as an assistant at a Jewish religious day-school, she’s about as far from Hollywood as you can get. And although people she meets at parties are impressed with her ability to remember everything from the date of the Lockerbie plane crash (December 21, 1988) to the last episode of Dallas, (May 3, 1991), in her memoir, she describes super memory as a nuisance, partly because she can’t seem to forget painful events, like when someone she was crushing on rejected her.

3. Brad Williams

bradFor every Jill Price, there’s a Brad Williams, a Wisconsin radio anchor who embraces his super memory and enjoys having it tested. Ask him what happened on November 7, 1991, and he’ll tell you that it was the day Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. But Williams does not stop there. “It was a Thursday,” he once said in an MSNBC piece. “There was a big snowstorm here the week before.”

Unlike Bob Petrella, Williams has a tough time with sports, but excels at pop-culture trivia. For instance, he could name you every Academy Award winner and even nailed all five questions in the category “1984 Movies” when he appeared on
Jeopardy!in 1990.
Although the folk at the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine don’t agree, Williams says he never saw his ability as anything out of the ordinary. “Growing up, I never really had reason to think I wasn’t like everyone else,” he has said. A feature-length doc on his life, titled Unforgettable, is presently in production.
If you’re interested in the subject, remember to check it out once it hits theaters.

4. Rick Baron

rickA Cleveland native, Rick Baron came out and announced his super ability directly to USA Today, after reading a piece the newspaper published on Jill Price. Unlike Price, Baron uses his super memory to win stuff. Although unemployed, he’s extremely resourceful and is constantly entering, and winning trivia contests. His list of rewards include restaurant gift cards, tickets to sporting events, even all expense paid vacations (Baron has won 14 of them). Baron claims to remember every detail of his life since the age of 11, and is usually pretty successful at remembering the day-to-day going all the way back to when he was seven.
According to the USA Today piece on Baron, his sister claims he shows signs of hardcore OCD. “He organizes and catalogs everything. He even keeps his bills in order of the city of the federal reserve bank where they were issued and also by how the sports teams in that city did.”