Why does the brain remember dreams?

Some people recall a dream every morning, whereas others rarely recall one. A team led by Perrine Ruby, an Inserm Research Fellow at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center (Inserm/CNRS/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1), has studied the brain activity of these two types of dreamers in order to understand the differences between them. In a study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the researchers show that the temporo-parietal junction, an information-processing hub in the brain, is more active in high dream recallers. Increased activity in this brain region might facilitate attention orienting toward external stimuli and promote intrasleep wakefulness, thereby facilitating the encoding of dreams in memory.

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”Do I have an intimidating face? Not many men come up to me and give me one-liners.” — Natalie Dormer for GQ Magazine (x)

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There isn’t a sharp line dividing humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. All the time, we find animals doing things that, in our arrogance, we thought was just human.

Happy 80th birthday, Jane Goodall!  (via sciencenetlinks)

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Time-lapse of river changing course over 28 years.


Positive, negative thinkers’ brains revealed

The ability to stay positive when times get tough – and, conversely, of being negative – may be hardwired in the brain, finds new research led by a Michigan State University psychologist.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, is the first to provide biological evidence validating the idea that there are, in fact, positive and negative people in the world.

“It’s the first time we’ve been able to find a brain marker that really distinguishes negative thinkers from positive thinkers,” said Jason Moser, lead investigator and assistant professor of psychology.

For the study, 71 female participants were shown graphic images and asked to put a positive spin on them while their brain activity was recorded. Participants were shown a masked man holding a knife to a woman’s throat, for example, and told one potential outcome was the woman breaking free and escaping.

The participants were surveyed beforehand to establish who tended to think positively and who thought negatively or worried. Sure enough, the brain reading of the positive thinkers was much less active than that of the worriers during the experiment.

“The worriers actually showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions,” Moser said. “This suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively.”

The study focused on women because they are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety related problems and previously reported sex differences in brain structure and function could have obscured the results.

Moser said the findings have implications in the way negative thinkers approach difficult situations.

“You can’t just tell your friend to think positively or to not worry – that’s probably not going to help them,” he said. “So you need to take another tack and perhaps ask them to think about the problem in a different way, to use different strategies.”

Negative thinkers could also practice thinking positively, although Moser suspects it would take a lot of time and effort to even start to make a difference.


Van der Waals helps geckoes scale walls

Face it, it would be totally cool if we could clamber up surfaces as easily as geckoes do. We could scale skyscrapers, never fear when climbing ladders, and could completely eliminate that tacky dramatic moment in movies where the hero dangles precariously over the street a hundred storeys below. Of course, their sweaty fingers would never slip if they had some kind of adhesion mechanism—they could just climb right back up.

So how do geckoes manage it?

Well, unlike humans, geckoes have millions of microscopic hairs on the bottom of their feet, called setae. The tips of each of these setae are split into 100-1000 spatulae, which are so small that they’re narrower than the wavelength of visible light—less than 300 nano metres.

Clearly, some kind of intermolecular force between the gecko’s feet and a surface is responsible for adhesion, but it wasn’t until research in 2002 that we fully understood what was going in—for a while, scientists were throwing around theories like suction and chemical bonding.

Turns out, geckoes take advantage of the Van der Waals force.

Named after a nineteenth century Dutch physicist, Van der Waals forces are weak electrodynamic forces that act over tiny distances, yet bond almost any material. They’re created by fluctuations in charge distributions between molecules.

These weak forces can be strengthened as more and more of one surface touches the other—like, say if you had billions of spatulae coating your feet. These tiny hairs increase surface density, so on contact with the wall the gecko experiences a strong adhesive force

Essentially, this force means we can improve adhesion simply by increasing surface density, like subdividing a surface into countless small protrusions. It means that geometry—not chemistry—is the driving mechanism. A single setae can lift an ant; a million could lift a 20 kg child; and if geckoes used every setae simultaneously, they could support 130 kg.

These forces open up to a lot of applications in adhesives. Engineers at Berkeley and Stanford have developed biologically inspired synthetic adhesives that adhere like gecko pads, which have even been used on robotic climbers.

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Beauty privilege is very real. None of us are imagining it, and if we aren’t born genetic lottery winners, our only option is to compensate with style, grace, and charm. Of course, none of that shit comes cheap. That’s kind of the whole point. It’s all meant to be aspirational and exclusionary. We’re supposed to feel depressed by our skin, agitated by our bodies, and anxious about our invisibility. That’s the insidious subtlety of social control.

The worst part is that we know in our rational minds that it’s all bullshit, and yet we’re still plagued with self-loathing when we can’t live up to unattainable beauty standards. No matter how much self-acceptance we achieve, we can still look in the mirror and instantly catalog all the things about ourselves that we don’t think measure up. It’s maddening. It makes us feel like hypocrites even though it’s not our hypocrisy.


Clifden Castle, Ireland

The castle was built by John D’Arcy (1785-1839) in a Gothic Revival style in the early 19th century. John was a man of drive, energy and determination. He founded Clifden in 1812 and built his castle around the same time. He was married twice and had fourteen children in all, leaving one to assume that this was a very full and noisy family home.

Following John’s death in 1839, the castle and town passed to his son and heir, Hyacinth. Like so many landlords in the West of Ireland, Hyacinth became bankrupt as a result of debts incurred during the Great Famine and in 1850 the town and castle went on sale.The new owners, the Eyre family from Bath in England, purchased the town and castle for £21,245. The Eyre’s lived at the castle until the 1920s when the lands were eventually purchased by the government and divided out among the tenants. Sadly, the castle had no outright owner and, in time, was stripped bare of its slates and timbers and eventually fell to ruin.

One of the interesting features of this property is the standing stones. D’Arcy had these stones erected to imitate other standing stones around Ireland. It isn’t unknown why he did this, but the stones have been surveyed and it has been determined that they are not as ancient as D’Arcy would have us believe.

The ruins are located west of the town of Clifden in the Connemara region of County Galway, Ireland.

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The bottom line is that saying there are differences in male and female brains is just not true. There is pretty compelling evidence that any differences are tiny and are the result of environment not biology,” said Prof Rippon. “You can’t pick up a brain and say ‘that’s a girls brain, or that’s a boys brain’ in the same way you can with the skeleton. They look the same.” Prof Rippon points to earlier studies that showed the brains of London black cab drivers physically changed after they had acquired The Knowledge – an encyclopaedic recall of the capital’s streets. She believes differences in male and female brains are due to similar cultural stimuli. A women’s brain may therefore become ‘wired’ for multi-tasking simply because society expects that of her and so she uses that part of her brain more often. The brain adapts in the same way as a muscle gets larger with extra use. “What often isn’t picked up on is how plastic and permeable the brain is. It is changing throughout out lifetime. The world is full of stereotypical attitudes and unconscious bias. It is full of the drip, drip, drip of the gendered environment.

Nicholas Roerich. Old Russia, Rostov the Great. Entrance to the Kremlin. 1903. Oil on panel. 41 x 32. The State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow, Russia

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Sometimes you meet someone, and it’s so clear that the two of you, on some level belong together. As lovers, or as friends, or as family, or as something entirely different. You just work, whether you understand one another or you’re in love or you’re partners in crime. You meet these people throughout your life, out of nowhere, under the strangest circumstances, and they help you feel alive. I don’t know if that makes me believe in coincidence, or fate, or sheer blind luck, but it definitely makes me believe in something.

Unknown (via fatseux)

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