Can you spot the difference between the two pictures in the video above? Most of the packed audience at the “The Neuroscience of Illusion” event at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan couldn’t. What if we told you to look for something the men couldn’t leave without? Even with that clue, many attendees were still stumped. One women continued to struggle even when told to look for the man without a hat. If you’re like her and still confused, the engine of the plane is only present in one picture!
What makes it so hard to see what’s right in front of us? The audience’s response to the video illustrates that our field of vision, called the “attention spotlight,” is very narrow, said Apollo Robbins, speaker at the event. Called “The Gentleman Thief,” Robbins is a master pickpocket and illusionist who is said to have picked the pockets of more than 250,000 men and women. When we are focused on something intently, we may miss other important details. Pickpockets manipulate this shortcoming to divert attention and steal, he said.
“Every generation has been trying to figure out how to use brain-related technology to improve security,” from caffeine to computer enhancement, bioethicist Jonathan Moreno, Ph.D., said at the Capitol Hill briefing “Neurotechnology and the Military” last week. Moreno and neuroscientist Leigh Hochberg, M.D., Ph.D., had teamed up to give a similar presentation at a luncheon six years ago, and on Friday the two brought us up to date.
Thanks to a half-century of federally funded basic research, researchers have developed a chip carrying 144 electrodes that can be inserted into people’s skulls (over the motor cortex) and send impulses to computers to drive a cursor or a mechanical object, said Hochberg, the director of the Center for Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Brown University and Harvard Medical School.
Each year, the Society for Neuroscience recognizes outstanding neuroscientists who have strongly added to public education and awareness about the field. The Dana Foundation sponsors these awards. This year’s award was presented to Paula Croxson, D.Phil., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, during the society’s annual meeting, in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.
Q: How did you get into doing events like “Pint of Science” gatherings?
Dr. Croxson: I started by taking part in Mount Sinai’s outreach program, MINDS, and through that was introduced to others who were taking part in the Dana Foundation’s Brain Awareness Week efforts in New York (BraiNY). My first event was when I told a story for the science storytelling show The Story Collider. I found myself on stage telling a true, personal story about my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease and how my own research into memory disorders helped me understand what she went through. It was incredible. I hadn’t imagined what an impact my story would have on other people, and I hadn’t realized how much more connected it would make me feel to the impact my work could have on the world. It changed my life.
On Saturday, the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) kicked off its annual meeting with 30,000 people registered to attend the five-day program at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington, DC. The meeting provides one of the world’s largest forums for neuroscientists to debut research and to network with colleagues from around the world.
The Brain Awareness Week (BAW) reception was one of the first events, and it welcomed a diverse group of organizations to showcase their efforts in promoting the annual campaign to the public. President of SfN and member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, Eric Nestler welcomed attendees and encouraged them to keep creating compelling content and engaging in BAW with hopes of making it a year-round effort.