Your Brain On LSD

Originally posted by ramen-noodles-and-tears

For some people, they’re the recipe for one heck of a party. For others, they’re dangerous, one-way tickets to trouble that deserve their illegal status. But regardless of how people view them, and whether or not governments and policy makers like to admit it, psychoactive drugs are starting to show great promise as effective therapies for various mental health problems, and could well be a key to furthering our understanding of consciousness.

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Your Brain on Google

Whenever a new technology is introduced, there’s always a bit of anxiety about how it will effect us.

Back in 2007, Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA, wanted to know what the brain looks like when it searches for something online for the first time.

So he and Dr. Susan Brookheimer did a study: using an fMRI machine, they looked at the brain and how it functions when a person is using a search engine vs. reading a book.

They gathered 24 people —12 who had little experience with search engines and 12 who were quite web savvy. (It’s amazing that even in 2007, the researchers were able to find people who weren’t frequently using google). 

Here’s what they found:

The study found that Internet searching engaged a greater amount of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading — but only in those with prior Internet experience.

The brain isn’t necessarily more conscious or “better” when it’s searching online — but it is activating areas in the front of the brain that are associated with decision-making. This makes sense because when you’re searching online, you have to seek out and choose the relevant information. 

The minimal brain activation found in the “net naive” group may be because the Internet task was unfamiliar to them. They didn’t quite know the strategies needed to successfully engage in a Google search.

"With more time on the Internet, they may demonstrate the same brain activation patterns as the more experienced group,” Small said.

Small noted that pursuing activities that keep the mind engaged may help preserve brain health and cognitive ability. Traditionally, these include games such as crossword puzzles, but with the advent of technology, scientists are beginning to assess the influence of computer use — including the Internet.

Plastic Brain

By loose analogy with the epithet that an eyeball can’t see itself, human brains can’t seem to figure themselves out either. Consciousness, perception and cognition still mystify us as they mystified Ancient Greeks. Take learning, for instance. The brain has a remarkable ability to ‘rewire’, allowing us to do new things, whether it’s dancing, recovering from strokes, or even, to use our tongues for balancing, as Cheryl Schiltz did after an infection left her wobbly on her feet. While the origin of this so-called neuroplasticity is unclear, the latest news from laboratories is that it’s owed to the unique ability of the brain to ramp-up or down the production of myelin, according to need, allowing neurons to extend and reconnect. Myelin, a fatty white sheath covering neurons – shown here covering a single spiny neuron – protects and allows currents to pass without short-circuits, much like plastic sheathing on electric copper wires.

Written by Tristan Farrow

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Good talk on changing behavior, and our misconceptions about how it works.

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You’re told that you’re in your head too much, a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral. Or maybe there’s another word for such people: thinkers.