Two Speakers Examine Mental Health

caveat logo.JPG.png

Flying University is a speakeasy-style lecture series featuring storytellers, experts, professors, and comedians shining a light on ideas, people, science, and moments in history that have been erased or overlooked. On Tuesday night, the series presented “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” an intimate look at the people and mechanisms behind mental health diagnoses.

The program was held in conjunction with Brain Awareness Week at Caveat in Manhattan.  Suzanne Garrison, a licensed therapist and art therapist, explained how she evaluates patients, one of whom was the host, Chinisha S. The therapist explained that she analyzes a patient to find the healthy, well-functioning part of that person. She then nurtures that part, which leads to a better understanding of their repressed feelings and motivations. Garrison compared the mind to an iceberg: the small part above water is the part of our consciousness, but the larger chunk under water is the part of our subconscious. But the latter is what drives the whole iceberg. Like the two parts of the iceberg, her goal is to make the unconscious conscious and to help clients better know their feelings and free themselves from feelings of shame or guilt. Continue reading

The Skinny on Epilepsy

Although a common brain disorder that affects almost four million people nationwide, many people know little about epilepsy. Stephanie Rogers, a doctoral candidate at New York University (NYU), attempted to demystify the disorder with a thorough overview of “The Science of Epilepsy: What Is It and How Can We Understand It?” at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute during Brain Awareness Week.

Rogers explained epilepsy with a metaphor: Imagine neurons in the brain are people in a public space. Some of the people (neurons in a certain network) are having a conversation and talking directly to one another while others are overheard by the other people (neurons) in the room. During a seizure, all the people become distracted and stop their normal conversation and, in unison, chant a certain message—like fans at a sports game. Seizures activity is neurons joining together in a chant in the brain, and epilepsy is a neurological disorder caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

Epilepsy_EEG

Continue reading

Brain’s Unconscious Loss Processing May Support Grief Resolution

Guest blog by Brenda Patoine

Animated GIF-source

A whole-brain representation of the neural signature associated with processing the loss of a loved one. Activation of this signature in the absence of a conscious thought of the loss correlated with less severe grieving. (GIF courtesy of Noam Schneck; adapted with permission from Biological Psychiatry: CNNI 2018 in press.)

What might grief look like in the brain? Is there a neural “fingerprint” associated with thoughts of a loved one, conscious or otherwise? Does the frequency with which that fingerprint shows up have anything to do with whether or not a bereaved person is able to move on from the death of a loved one and resume normal daily activities?

As psychiatry grapples with how to differentiate “normal” grief from bereavement-related depression and otherwise complicated or prolonged grief, one young scientist is tackling these questions from an altogether different angle, looking inside the brains of people recently bereaved due to suicide to identify grief-related patterns of neural activity and to track how those patterns might affect grief resolution.

Continue reading

Extraordinary Show on Consciousness Extended

bababrinkmanheaterberlin

Baba Brinkman with his wife Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

At $5 a ticket, theater lovers can experience the steal of the century at the SoHo Playhouse through mid-August. Baba Brinkman is starting a new run of his one-man, interactive show, “Rap Guide to Consciousness.” “We’ve had good crowds the last couple of days, and I’m excited to be doing the show again,” says Brinkman. “There’s also a new discount site that lets you book a ticket for $5 and then choose whether to pay more after you see it.”

The play fuses hip-hop, humor, and neuroscience together in a 70-minute multimedia presentation that attempts to explain difficult complex topics such as free will, artificial intelligence, the effects of psychedelic drugs, Bayesian probability, the presence or absence of thoughts in infants and animals, and much more. To hear about the origins of Brinkman’s first name Baba, his rapping influences and origins, and the time he and Lin Manuel Miranda were on the street together in Edinburgh Fringe handing out flyers, listen to my podcast with Brinkman.

– Bill Glovin

#WSF18: They’ve Got the Power

If you’re a science fiction lover who can’t get enough of Mr. Robot and Westworld and worry that robots might one day make us their slaves, the good news is that it’s not likely to happen anytime soon, but technology that falls into the wrong hands needs to be considered. That was the consensus of a discussion on artificial intelligence (AI) last Friday at the World Science Festival at New York University (NYU).

IMG_9959

Tim Urban and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider. Photo: World Science Festival/Greg Kessler

The spirited session was aptly named, “Teach Your Robots Well: Will Self-Taught Robots Be the End of Us?” Moderator Tim Urban, a writer on futuristic issues and co-founder of the Wait but Why website, began with: “This is the biggest topic you can take on; relevant to every person in the room.”

 

The panel of academics included Susan Schneider, director of the AI, Mind and Society (AIMS) Group at the University of Connecticut; Yann LeCun, an AI scientist and a professor at NYU, Peter Tse, a professor at Dartmouth University and author of The Neural Basis of Free Will; and Matt Tegmark, a professor at MIT and president of the Future Life Institute.

The panelists suggested—each in their own way—that AI isn’t as dangerous or potentially harmful as advertised. Tse made the point that Siri, Alexa, and Google are not yet on the same level as human intelligence. He drew a distinction between “artificial narrow intelligence” and “artificial general intelligence,” explaining that narrow AI would be like a robot learning how to fly a plane or drive a car, while general AI would include knowledge on how to do those tasks—but also mow the lawn, babysit children, cook dinner, and still learn new other skills.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: