Month: November 2008

Inspiring Neurotechnology At Home

As a deeply interested individual in brain science and neurotechnology myself, this particular report has instantly inspired my own future plans for new directions in amateur research and citizen science at my own home.

Tim Marzullo, a recent PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, has been working on a project to develop a very low-cost amateur neurological recording device. Along with his friend, Greg Gage, they are nearing success on a prototype, and even presented their work at the recent Society of Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C.

With a home-made micro-manipulator, a classic bandpass filter with amplifier, and a willing bug, they will soon be recording neuronal action potentials in their own garage for under $100.

“Bringing Neuroscience to the Garage – The Interview” :: MarzulloHead Queries :: November 29, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Preparing for Consciousness

In preparation for Andrew’s birth, I am re-reading the wonderful overview book by Alwyn Scott, Stairway to the Mind. He does not present a particular new or definitive theory (or, more appropriately an hypothesis) on the nature of consciousness, but gives a fabulous overview of current ideas and philosophies (up to “modern day” as of 1995).

This book is strongly recommended by Neuron News for anyone interested in obtaining a nice feel for the broad and wild fields covering the study of consciousness, and we are currently featuring it in our recommended books list. Sadly, Prof. Scott passed away last year at the age of 75 after dealing with lung cancer.

What is consciousness? What is the nature of the mind? A few initial, interesting, yet informal overviews may be found on Wikipedia under ConsciousnessSelf-awarness, and evenPhilosophy of Mind. But, the issue of consciousness from a scientific perspective is still so vague and so complicated… it is almost like we do not yet have the mathematical language to describe the seemingly miraculous phenomenon that we feel emanating from our heads.

As a vague beginning on outlining an approach to understanding the human mind, Prof. Scott emphasizes that consciousness is potentially the result of a hierarchy of a broad range of physical phenomena all interacting with one another in complex ways. So, borrowing his outline from the book, we present an interesting–although mostly intuitive–structure for considering the path through which consciousness might emerge during human existence:

An Experiment in Consciousness

In only a few days (or less), my wife and I will have our second child, a son named Andrew. I have a deep interest in the human brain as well as the underlying functions that give rise to what we consider human consciousness… a natural phenomenon that remains completely out of the range of current scientific explanation.


I hold the hypothesis that human beings actually develop consciousness well after delivery into this world, and that there is a transition into this higher functioning state. Starting with the birth of Andrew, I will work on a journal of observations to record his development in an attempt to identify this transitional process. Although these observations will be entirely subjective and experiential, I do anticipate that we might find just a glimpse into the development of this one infant human brain and how it interacts with and evolves in our world.

Follow along with the journal in Neuron News from Dynamic Patterns under the Topical Category “Raising Consciousness,” and let me know what you think as well as provide me with any guidance or suggestions you might have during my observational experiment.

An Experiment to Discover the Transition to Consiousness

Within a week, my wonderful wife, Michelle, will deliver our second child. Our little boy, Andrew, will be a lump of cells working in amazing synchrony to survive in a wild and scary universe. All of the actions are the result of a profoundly self-organized system that can successfully respond to its environment and maintain its internal cycles and processes in order to allow it to continue to develop and evolve as a living creature.

However, it is my understanding and hypothesis that the neuron network composing his infant brain is not yet entirely developed into what we would consider a fully-functioning conscious system. My son will certainly be a human being, and will have already been one for quite some time while growing in Mommy’s tummy, but there is still something missing… that “something” behind his eyes that allows him to be self-aware and fully able to make decisions to guide his body’s behavior, no matter how remedial the decisions might still be.

Our first child, Elizabeth Noelle, is nearly three years old now, and she, too–like all of us conscious beings–began as this glob of organized, interacting cells. And I noticed one day with her that something changed… it wasn’t entirely clear… but, it seemed to me that one day when I looked into her eyes there was something more. Something was working at a higher level inside her head… my cute little human being that I helped create had developed into something more… a self-aware, conscious human being.

Unfortunately, my observations were mostly an afterthought and not documented in any way other than personal reflections. So, with our second child I intend to conduct a more thorough observational experiment and create a more scientific record here on Neuron News of his development from a human being into a conscious human being. Although I anticipate this transition to be quite fluid and difficult to pinpoint, I hope that something might be taken from the considerations that could provide at least a slight glimmer of understanding into the nature of the consciousness of my son.

Each of my observations will be recorded here under the Topical Category “Raising Consciousness.” I am also very much interested in your responses, ideas, and feedback… and even observational guidance as we begin what I expect to be an exciting and interesting journey into what is the fundamental nature of human consciousness.

The Sky is Falling with some Tools

Recently, one of our brave Endeavour astronauts inadvertently let a tool bag slip through her fingers (it wasn’t properly attached initially and so caught her unexpectedly). The bag was assumed to be lost to NASA, but it has been recently sighted by amateur astronomers as a reasonably bright satellite.

Only a pair of binoculars are required to view the tool back, and it is currently being tracked online at Enter your zip code to see when you can spot the tools in space!

“Skywatchers spot ‘lost’ space tool kit” :: :: November 25, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Non-invasive Direct Electrical Recording of the Brain

The terminology “non-invasive” and “direct recording” have never been a happy couple in neurotechnology because it is so tough to literally touch the brain–a goopy ball of mostly water–with electrodes without inflicting potentially debilitating and paralyzing damage to the host.

Until recently…

Researchers from the Wadsworth Center have developed a unique thin-film electrode membrane that cleverly “sticks and grabs” to the squishy surface of the brain instead of exerting enough force to penetrate. The technology can be immediately used to improve current techniques of electrocorticography (ECoG), which is used by brain surgeons to map out functional areas in the brain to avoid during surgery. The ECoG information provides much more detailed spacial maps for the corresponding electroencephalography (EEG) recordings taken purely non-invasively through the skull.

By studying the electrical activity for specific motion, auditory responses, or visual responses during these open-brain recording sessions, the researchers hope to learn more about the language of the brain in an attempt to develop future implantable electrode devices to control integrated prosthetic systems.

There is still a long way to go with this approach, however. Even though the ECoG method is taken directly at the surface of the brain, this still represents a significant averaging of neural activity. It is yet to be determined if this level of measurement is specific enough to represent exact functional responses between the brain and the body (or external prosthetic device). But, it is certainly an important technological leap that can lead to new information on understanding brain function and how to directly communicate with our networked neurons.

“Less-Invasive Brain Interfaces” :: Technology Review by MIT :: November 21, 2008 :: [READ]


Last updated April 5, 2020