Wednesday, July 07, 2010

FENS conference days 2 & 3

Day 2 of the conference ended with an interesting symposium on
neuroethics organized by Colin Blakemore. Neuroethics is a relatively
new field that incorporates the implications of neuroscience for our
view of the self, for social policy, the ethics of conducting
neuroscience itself, and implications of neuroscience for the public
discourse. Judy Illes started out with discussing how important it is
for neuroscientists to communicate their work to the public. Barbara
Sahakian gave an example of how her fundings on cognitive enhancers
for Alzheimers' patients were increasingly being used on college
campuses and other populations. What are the ethical issues invoked by
these things? Dr. Magistretti had an interesting talk in which he
proposed that a problem with such cognitive enhancement would be that
it tends to make people value quantity (intelligence test scores) over
quality of life. And we have no idea how these drugs affect our
creativity, for example.

The next day, Stanislas Dehaene gave a fascinating talk about how our
brain implements reading. He argued that our alphabets have developed
from shapes that our brains find easy to discriminate. He also talked
about how children early in life read and write in mirror-reverse, but
then they have to unlearn that, because reading and writing is
organized such that words with letters in the opposite direction have
a different meaning. The visual word form area therefore does not show
responses to mirror reverses, whereas closeby IT areas do show
responses to mirror reversed stimuli. Pascal Fries talked about large
scale neuronal assemblies in the monkey, and how attention modulated
periodic activity in the fast gamma band and slower beta band. These
bands showed activity flowing in different directions between
different brain areas. It is very exciting how they are really to
start mapping out the networks in the brain.
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