Two Speakers Examine Mental Health

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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

Top 5 Dana Stories of 2018? From the Archives

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From the 2012 Cerebrum essay, “The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual.” Photo: Getty Images

At www.dana.org, we have a deep archive of great stories about the brain and the people who study it, and thanks to the internet, none of it is further than a quick search away. When I checked the list of top stories from last year, I was pleased to see that you-all seem to like to read long stories—nearly all the top-read stories are in the longest format we post. But I was surprised that many of the stories are “classic” (i.e. way more than a few years old). This year we’ll be trying to figure out how to make our more-current stories on the same topics just as popular, but for now here are a few suggestions.

Here are the stories folks found most popular on www.dana.org last year.

1. Wounds That Time Won’t Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse (Cerebrum, 2000)

Developmental neuropsychiatrist Martin H. Teicher describes how scientists are discovering startling connections between abuse of all kinds and both permanent debilitating changes in the brain and psychiatric problems ranging from panic attacks to post-traumatic stress. In these surprising physical consequences of psychological trauma, Teicher sees not only a wake-up call for our society but hope for new treatments. Continue reading

Bringing Consciousness to the Stage

An ongoing challenge in brain research is trying to understand how neuro-activity creates consciousness or the awareness of one’s self.  For example, we don’t understand how the brain creates colors and or why individuals process smell differently. Your favorite color is blue; mine is green. You hate even a sniff of gasoline, but I enjoy it. These are the hard problems of neuroscience and philosophy that we haven’t made a great deal of progress on.

Enter Baba Brinkman, a performance artist who has taken on explaining what makes our brains tick using words and images. His one-man, somewhat interactive show, “Rap Guide to Consciousness,” at the SoHo Playhouse through the middle of May, fuses hip-hop, humor, and neuroscience together in a 90-minute multi-media presentation that attempts to explain 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.

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Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, gains insight into her husband’s brain. He created Rap Guide to Consciousness, now playing at the SoHo Playhouse in Manhattan.

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World Science Festival: Computational Creativity

Interest in artificial intelligence (AI) seems like it’s at an all-time high, with people both wary and intrigued about how machine learning systems will change, and hopefully improve, our lives. Past discussions we’ve covered have delved into the ethical sphere: Can autonomous robots that (currently) lack consciousness and emotions serve us well as future healthcare aides and soldiers? Can robots be moral? But last week’s World Science Festival in New York City looked at a different side of AI, with a panel discussion on “Computational Creativity: The Art of Ingenuity.”

Focused on the creation of art, music, and culinary arts, the panel was tasked with answering such questions as: Can a robot truly imagine an original masterpiece or just replicate known styles? Is computational creativity a collaborator or a competitor?

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Artificial Intelligence, Avatars, and the Future

Most people first heard the word “avatar” from James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the top grossing films of all time. Some consider avatars an extension of the self that can save the world in the context of virtual reality or a video game. In Hinduism, avatars are considered incarnations of deities or immortals. The Hindu god Vishnu, for example, has many avatars, including the Buddha.

Helping to sort out the avatar conundrum and the fascinating field of artificial intelligence was a Brainwave series program at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC last Wednesday night. The program—“A.I. and Avatar: The New Explorers,”— began with a head-spinning question: “Can machines and other avatars expand the human experience—and perhaps even take our minds to the stars?”

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