The observable examined

Archive for October 2012

face recognition in the brain

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One of my heroes in the field of neuroscience is Wilder Penfield. He pioneered the use of electrical stimulation of the brain, prior to surgery for treating epilepsy. The goal was to identify brain functions in the areas surrounding the locus of epilepsy and spare as much tissue as possible, if critical functions had been identified. The most remarkable part of this exercise was that the patient was fully conscious (although under a local anesthetic) and could verbally report sensations and perceptions experienced by the electrical stimulation of the probes. This technique contributed enormously to deriving functional maps of the human brain.

Penfield’s legacy is alive and well.  A couple of days ago, ScienceNow website reported on a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.  By using techniques similar to Penfield’s, scientists at Stanford Univ, were able to determine the precise locus of face recognition in humans. Huffington Post has also included a really remarkable video of the patient’s experience as he is being stimulated by electrical current.  You must watch it!

That our three pound universe is a constructed reality, is on ample display in the video. Soul theorists, go figure!

What lay people may not appreciate, in this story and the video, is that our ability to recognize faces is confined to a small piece of our cerebral cortex. Destroying this piece of brain tissue only knocks out face recognition. One can still recognize objects (in the video, the perception of the scientist’s suit and tie is not distorted.) In fact, back in graduate school, I had the privilege of meeting a person, who due to an accident in early childhood, lost the ability to recognize faces, even his own! His non-face object perception was intact. He used salient features like a mustache, glasses, or other unique feature to remember and identify people he met.

This study and the video gave me the cognitive high for the day.


Written by asterix98

October 25, 2012 at 6:24 am

lighter side of life

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I heard of Tig Notaro, a couple of weeks ago, on KQED 88.1 FM.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer, in late July, this year. She, by now famously, went on stage (the next day) to perform a stand up routine at Largo in Los Angeles. It is really funny (and an amazing attitude to tragedy). Check out the excerpt here

Tig Notaro on this American Life

Also, I liked this cartoon that appeared in today’s San Jose Mercury News

Written by asterix98

October 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Posted in humor, life choice

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