An Evening at the Rubin Museum: Attached to Touch

When I think of grated mountain yam (also known as “tororo”), my mind goes back eight years to when I first tried it in Japan. My great-aunt sent a large cardboard box from the countryside filled with potatoes, carrots, beans, a sack of rice wrapped in cloth, and mountain yams—all harvested that morning. My grandmother grated the tororo over a bowl until it was filled with the slimy, white paste, which we ate over rice. It was refreshing and bizarre—and so delicious that I became obsessed.

If you were to ask Tom Colicchio (renowned chef and celebrated judge on Bravo TV’s Top Chef) what he thinks of grated mountain yam, he would picture the same bowl of slimy paste and cringe with disgust. In fact, that’s exactly what he did on Wednesday evening when Dr. David J. Linden asked if there was a specific texture in food that he couldn’t stand. Unfortunately, Colicchio did not elaborate on his memory of mountain yam; though it must have been pretty bad judging by the way he shuddered. We make associations with certain smells, textures, and tastes the first time we experience them, and these associations greatly affect the way we respond when we encounter them again, Dr. Linden said.

As the first event of the Rubin Museum’s eighth annual Brainwave series, the Top Chef and Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist paired up to discuss the importance of the basic five senses –including hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting—in the kitchen. They also discussed how genetics play a major role in the foods we favor or disdain, and why human evolution has changed the way our bodies react to certain flavors.

Tom Colicchio (left) speaking with David J. Linden (right). Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art.

Tom Colicchio (left) speaking with David J. Linden (right). Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art.

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It’s National #DrugFacts Week!

National Drug Facts Week - Shatter the Myths!

This week is National Drug Facts Week, “a national health observance for teens to promote local events that use NIDA science to shatter the myths about drugs.” Be sure to check out the dedicated website to find events in your area, take the National Dug IQ Challenge, and find out how different drugs affect the brain and body.

There’s also a Chat Day on Friday, January 30, which is “an annual live online chat held between high school students and NIDA scientists… Students from around the country ask the questions they most want the answers to about drugs and drug abuse, including drug effects, how to help friends or family that are abusing drugs, and what causes addiction.” Transcripts for previous years’ chats are available online.

And speaking of awareness, our own Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is coming up fast! March 16-22 find events around the world dedicated to the brain, and help us celebrate 20 years of brain awareness outreach.

Dana Newsletter: October

Below is the content that appeared in the latest Dana email newsletter. You can sign up to receive this (and other Dana email alerts and/or print publications) by going here.

With a Little Help from Our Friends: How the Brain Processes Empathy

by Peggy Mason, Ph.D.

Why are certain individuals born with a brain that is wired to help others? What daily habits or life experiences reinforce compassion but also selfishness, narcissism, and psychopathy? A better understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings for how the brain processes empathy could lead to more social cohesion and less antisocial harm in society. From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas.

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Lucy and the 10 Percent Brain Myth

lucy-scarlett-johansson-poster

It’s unfair to have Morgan Freeman, with his smooth, deep voice, say it. In the trailer for the upcoming film Lucy, the actor who has played both the President and God addresses an auditorium of students and says, “It is estimated most human beings only use 10 percent of their brain’s capacity…Imagine if we could access 100 percent.” It’s hard not to believe Morgan Freeman. But in this case, he’s wrong.

The idea that we only use 10 percent of our brains is a myth. “The crazy thing about this belief is that despite being totally false, it is so well-known,” says Sam Wang, Ph.D., a Princeton neuroscientist and author of Welcome to Your Brain. So how did it start?

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Your Brain in 2050: Closing the Gap Between Sci-Fi and Reality

wsf panel

Panel from left to right: Michael Maharbiz, Sheila Nireberg, John Donoghue, Gary Marcus, Robert Krulwich

I am a huge fan of the sci-fi genre. I have read Cat’s Cradle, Ender’s Game, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and seen movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix more times than I care to say. I am drawn to these fantastical visions of the future because I love predicting what our world and our species may look like in 50 or 100 years. As I discovered last night at a World Science Festival panel discussion, “Cells to Silicon: Your Brain in 2050,” science fiction’s vision of our future is often closer to reality than we may realize.

The discussion, moderated by radio and TV journalist Robert Krulwich, included neuroscientists John P. Donoghue and Sheila Nirenberg as well as research psychologist Gary Marcus and electrical engineer and computer scientist Michael M. Maharbiz. Each of these experts is helping to close the gap between science fiction and reality.

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