Chapter 17. Learning and Memory

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list, to receive news updates. Learn more.


Links 1 - 20 of 1391

By MARTIN E. P. SELIGMAN and JOHN TIERNEY We are misnamed. We call ourselves Homo sapiens, the “wise man,” but that’s more of a boast than a description. What makes us wise? What sets us apart from other animals? Various answers have been proposed — language, tools, cooperation, culture, tasting bad to predators — but none is unique to humans. What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. Our singular foresight created civilization and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits, but it’s also the source of most depression and anxiety, whether we’re evaluating our own lives or worrying about the nation. Other animals have springtime rituals for educating the young, but only we subject them to “commencement” speeches grandly informing them that today is the first day of the rest of their lives. A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise. Looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered — rather belatedly, because for the past century most researchers have assumed that we’re prisoners of the past and the present. Behaviorists thought of animal learning as the ingraining of habit by repetition. Psychoanalysts believed that treating patients was a matter of unearthing and confronting the past. Even when cognitive psychology emerged, it focused on the past and present — on memory and perception. But it is increasingly clear that the mind is mainly drawn to the future, not driven by the past. Behavior, memory and perception can’t be understood without appreciating the central role of prospection. We learn not by storing static records but by continually retouching memories and imagining future possibilities. Our brain sees the world not by processing every pixel in a scene but by focusing on the unexpected. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23641 - Posted: 05.20.2017

Shelly Fan The first time I heard that shooting electrical currents across your brain can boost learning, I thought it was a joke. But evidence is mounting. According to a handful of studies, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), the poster child of brain stimulation, is a bona fide cognitive booster: By directly tinkering with the brain’s electrical field, some research has found that tDCS enhances creativity, bolsters spatial and math learning and even language aquisition – sometimes weeks after the initial zap. For those eager to give their own brains a boost, this is good news. Various communities have sprung up to share tips and tricks on how to test the technique on themselves, often using self-rigged stimulators powered by 9-volt batteries. Scientists and brain enthusiasts aren’t the only people interested. The military has also been eager to support projects involving brain stimulation with the hope that the technology could one day be used to help soldiers suffering from combat-induced memory loss. But here’s the catch: The end results are inconsistent at best. While some people swear by the positive effects anecdotally, others report nothing but a nasty scalp burn from the electrodes. In a meta-analysis covering over 20 studies, a team from Australia found no significant effects of tDCS on memory. Similar disparities pop up for other brain stimulation techniques. It’s not that brain stimulation isn’t doing anything – it just doesn’t seem to be doing something consistently across a diverse population. So what gives? © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23624 - Posted: 05.17.2017

By BENEDICT CAREY MONTREAL — The driving instructor wiped his brow with a handkerchief, and not just because of the heat. His student — a grown woman, squinting over the dashboard — was ramming the curb in an effort to parallel park. “We reached an agreement, right then and there: He let me pass the test, and I promised never to drive,” Brenda Milner said, smiling to herself at the decades-old memory. “You see, my spatial skills aren’t so good. That’s primarily a right-brain function.” Dr. Milner, a professor of psychology in the department of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University in Montreal, is best known for discovering the seat of memory in the brain, the foundational finding of cognitive neuroscience. But she also has a knack for picking up on subtle quirks of human behavior and linking them to brain function — in the same way she had her own, during the driving test. At 98, Dr. Milner is not letting up in a nearly 70-year career to clarify the function of many brain regions — frontal lobes, and temporal; vision centers and tactile; the left hemisphere and the right — usually by painstakingly testing people with brain lesions, often from surgery. Her prominence long ago transcended gender, and she is impatient with those who expect her to be a social activist. It’s science first with Dr. Milner, say close colleagues, in her lab and her life. Perched recently on a chair in her small office, resplendent in a black satin dress and gold floral pin and banked by moldering towers of old files, she volleyed questions rather than answering them. “People think because I’m 98 years old I must be emerita,” she said. “Well, not at all. I’m still nosy, you know, curious.” Dr. Milner continues working, because she sees no reason not to. Neither McGill nor the affiliated Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital has asked her to step aside. She has funding: In 2014 she won three prominent achievement awards, which came with money for research. She has a project: a continuing study to investigate how the healthy brain’s intellectual left hemisphere coordinates with its more aesthetic right one in thinking and memory. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23615 - Posted: 05.16.2017

By SHIVANI VORA Forget that he’s 87. Eric R. Kandel, who specializes in the biology of memory and is a professor in the neuroscience and psychiatry departments at Columbia University, works more than he ever has before, he said. Dr. Kandel, who won a Nobel Prize in 2000, continues to write books and is co-director of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia and a senior investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md. He lives with his wife of 60 years, Denise Kandel, 84, an epidemiology professor at Columbia, in Harlem. AN EXTRA HOUR Denise and I usually get up at 6:30, but on Sundays we’re out of bed between 7:30 and 8, so instead of sleeping eight hours, we sleep nine. I wake refreshed and ready to go. CREATURES OF HABIT We eat breakfast first thing and have had the same meal for the last five years: a half a grapefruit each, a cup of coffee and oatmeal. We eat at our kitchen table while we read The New York Times. We compete for the National section, but I also like the Book Review. JOG THE MEMORY I’ve been an exerciser my whole life. I think that activity is good for your memory, your body and your mental state. Plus, it’s fun. During the week I swim, and on Saturdays I play tennis, but on Sundays I work out at home. I start with shoulder stretches on the floor, do 15 push-ups and then walk for 15 minutes on our treadmill. Then, our trainer, Chris, comes over and takes us through an hourlong routine of weight lifting and more stretching. THE JOY OF SEPARATE BATHROOMS Right after Chris leaves, we get dressed for the day. Denise and I each have our own bathrooms, which means two things: I don’t have to deal with her nudging me to put away my toiletries I leave on the counter. Also, we can shower and get ready at the same time. LIGHT LUNCH It may be a banana and a yogurt or a vegetable soup. New York has so many great restaurants, but we like eating at home. Denise is a great cook, we have a nice collection of wine that we like to drink, and we have more control over what we eat. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23582 - Posted: 05.06.2017

Laura Beil Scientists have shown why fruit flies don’t get lost. Their brains contain cells that act like a compass, marking the direction of flight. It may seem like a small matter, but all animals — even Siri-dependent humans — have some kind of internal navigation system. It’s so vital to survival that it is probably linked to many brain functions, including thought, memory and mood. “Everyone can recall a moment of panic when they took a wrong turn and lost their sense of direction,” says Sung Soo Kim of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Va. “This sense is central to our lives.” But it’s a complex system that is still not well understood. Human nerve cells involved in the process are spread throughout the brain. In fruit flies, the circuitry is much more straightforward. Two years ago, Janelia researchers reported that the flies appear to have a group of about 50 cells connected in a sort of ring in the center of their brains that serve as an internal compass. But the scientists could only theorize how the system worked. In a series of experiments published online May 4 in Science, Kim and his Janelia colleagues describe how nerve cell activity in the circle changes when the insects fly. The scientists tethered Drosophila melanogaster flies to tiny metal rods that kept them from wriggling under a microscope. Each fly was then surrounded with virtual reality cues — like a passing landscape — that made it think it was moving. As a fly flapped its wings, the scientists recorded which nerve cells, or neurons, were active, and when. The experiments clusters of about four to five neurons would fire on the side of the ring corresponding to the direction of flight: one part of the ring for forward, another next to it for left, and so on. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Animal Migration
Link ID: 23578 - Posted: 05.05.2017

Long assumed to be a mere “relay,” an often-overlooked egg-like structure in the middle of the brain also turns out to play a pivotal role in tuning-up thinking circuity. A trio of studies in mice funded by the National Institutes of Health are revealing that the thalamus sustains the ability to distinguish categories and hold thoughts in mind. By manipulating activity of thalamus neurons, scientists were able to control an animal’s ability to remember how to find a reward. In the future, the thalamus might even become a target for interventions to reduce cognitive deficits in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, researchers say. “If the brain works like an orchestra, our results suggest the thalamus may be its conductor,” explained Michael Halassa, M.D., Ph.D. (link is external), of New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center, a BRAINS Award grantee of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and also a grantee of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). “It helps ensembles play in-sync by boosting their functional connectivity.” Three independent teams of investigators led by Halassa, Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., formerly of Columbia University, New York City, now NIMH director, in collaboration with Christoph Kellendonk, Ph.D. (link is external) of Columbia, and Karel Svoboda, PhD (link is external), at Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus, Ashburn, Virginia, in collaboration with Charles Gerfen, Ph.D., of the NIMH Intramural Research Program, report on the newfound role for the thalamus online May 3, 2017 in the journals Nature and Nature Neuroscience.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23571 - Posted: 05.04.2017

By Brian Handwerk When you go to a movie or a concert with your friend, oftentimes it seems that you shared a similar experience. Your brains, you say, are on the same wavelength. Now, neurological science gives that phrase some new backing. Using new portable headsets that monitor brain activity, researchers have found that the brainwaves of people who are engaged in the same class really do “sync up.” Thanks to studies performed in laboratory settings, we had an inkling that this might be the case. A growing body of brain-scanning research is beginning to reveal how human brains display synchronicity—likely a key factor that makes many of our cooperative behaviors possible, from performance art to team sport. “If you pay more attention, you're more in sync,” explains Suzanne Dikker, a cognitive neuroscientist at both New York University and Utrecht University in the Netherlands and a co-author on the new study. “Now we've gone out there and confirmed that this is true in a real world setting,” she says. That remarkable feat was made possible thanks to portable electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets, which researchers used to monitor students' brain activity during an entire semester of biology classes at a New York high school. Each week, 12 high school seniors and their teacher attended class wearing the headsets, for a total of 11 classes overall. The more engaged those students were with their teacher and classmates, it turned out, the more their brainwave patterns were in sync with one another.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23551 - Posted: 04.29.2017

Dean Burnett Every now and then, you see news reports of people with incredible memories, able to recall every single thing from their life at a moment’s notice. Initially, it may sound like an incredibly useful ability. No more searching for your car keys that you had in your hand minutes ago, no more desperately stalling for time as you flounder to remember the name of the casual acquaintance who’s just said hello to you, no more taking notes at all. Why would you need to? It’s no wonder it pops up often in pop culture. Indeed, there are many people who can demonstrate incredible memory prowess, having trained their memories to be as efficient and thorough as possible via useful and approved techniques, in order to compete in memory sports, which are an actual thing. Clearly, for some people at least, there is potential to greatly boost the brain’s ability to store and recall information to well above average levels. Ben Carson even claimed to be able to induce this with a simple bit of surgery (which is utterly wrong) What’s far more rare are reports of people who do this without even trying, without having to learn and train with an endless series of mnemonics and so on. Like one of Marvel’s mutants discovering a hitherto unexpected super power, some people seem to be born with seemingly-infallible memories. There are a number of terms that are used to describe such abilities. Photographic memory, eidetic memory, Hyperthymesia, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, perfect recall, there are a number of labels to choose from when discussing formidable memory prowess.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23549 - Posted: 04.28.2017

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Diabetes may be bad for the brain, especially if you are overweight. Researchers studied 50 overweight and 50 normal weight people in the early stages of Type 2 diabetes. All had been given a diagnosis within the previous five years. They compared both groups with 50 healthy control subjects. The scientists performed M.R.I. examinations of their brains and psychological tests of memory, reaction time and planning. Those with diabetes scored worse than the healthy controls on tests of memory and reaction times. M.R.I. scans revealed significant differences in brain areas related to memory, planning and the visual processing of information. Compared with the controls, those with Type 2 diabetes had more severe thinning of the cortex and more white matter abnormalities. Overweight people with diabetes had more brain deterioration than diabetic people of normal weight. Are these changes reversible? Probably not, according to a co-author, Dr. Donald C. Simonson of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “When structural changes are seen on an M.R.I. scan, the processes leading up to them have probably been going on for years,” he said. “On the positive side, patients who maintain good control of their diabetes do seem to have a slower rate of deterioration.” The findings were published in Diabetologia. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Obesity
Link ID: 23546 - Posted: 04.28.2017

By Sam Wong Six years ago, a chimpanzee had the bright idea to use moss to soak up water, then drink from it, and seven others soon learned the trick. Three years later, researchers returned to the site to see if the practice had persisted to become part of the local chimp culture. They now report that the technique has continued to spread, and it’s mostly been learned by relatives of the original moss-spongers. This adds to earlier evidence that family ties are the most important routes for culture to spread in animals. After the first report of chimps using moss as a sponge in Budongo Forest, Uganda, researchers rarely saw the behaviour again, and wondered whether chimps still knew how to do it. So they set up an experiment, providing moss and leaves at the clay pit where the chimps had demonstrated the technique before. Then they watched to see whether chimpanzees would use leaves – a more common behaviour – or moss to soak up the mineral-rich water from the pit. The eight original moss-spongers all used moss again during the experiment, and so did another 15 chimps, showing the practice had become more widespread. The researchers wondered what factors influenced which individuals adopted it: were they connected socially, or through families, for instance? © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 23543 - Posted: 04.27.2017

By Thomas MacMillan “Time” is the most common noun in the English language, Dean Buonomano tells us on the first page of his new book, Your Brain Is a Time Machine: The Neuroscience and Physics of Time. But our despite fixation with time, and its obvious centrality in our lives, we still struggle to fully understand it. From a psychology perspective, for instance, time seems to flow by, sometimes slowly — like when we’re stuck in line at the DMV — and sometimes quickly — like when we’re lost in an engrossing novel. But from a physics perspective, time may be simply another dimension in the universe, like length, height, or width. Buonomano, a professor of neuroscience at UCLA, lays out the latest, best theories about how we understand time, illuminating a fundamental aspect of being human. The human brain, he writes, is a time machine that allows us to mentally travel backward and forward, to plan for the future and agonizingly regret that past like no other animal. And, he argues, our brains are time machines like clocks are time machines: constantly tracking the passage of time, whether it’s circadian rhythms that tell us when to go to sleep, or microsecond calculations that allow us to the hear the difference between “They gave her cat-food” and “They gave her cat food.” In an interview with Science of Us, Buonomano spoke about planning for the future as a basic human activity, the limits of be-here-now mindfulness, and the inherent incompatibility between physicists’ and neuroscientists’ understanding of the nature of time. I finished reading your book late last night and went to bed sort of planning our interview today, and then woke up at about 3:30 a.m. ready to do the interview, with my head full of insistent thoughts about questions that I should ask you. So was that my brain being a — maybe malfunctioning — time machine? I think this is consistent with the notion that the brain is an organ that’s future-oriented. As far as survival goes, the evolutionary value of the brain is to act in the present to ensure survival in the future, whether survival is figuring out a good place to get food, or doing an interview, I suppose. ! © Invalid Date, New York Media LLC

Keyword: Attention; Consciousness
Link ID: 23537 - Posted: 04.26.2017

By BENEDICT CAREY Well-timed pulses from electrodes implanted in the brain can enhance memory in some people, scientists reported on Thursday, in the most rigorous demonstration to date of how a pacemaker-like approach might help reduce symptoms of dementia, head injuries and other conditions. The report is the result of decades of work decoding brain signals, helped along in recent years by large Department of Defense grants intended to develop novel treatments for people with traumatic brain injuries, a signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The research, led by a team at the University of Pennsylvania, is published in the journal Current Biology. Previous attempts to stimulate human memory with implanted electrodes had produced mixed results: Some experiments seemed to sharpen memory, but others muddled it. The new paper resolves this confusion by demonstrating that the timing of the stimulation is crucial. Zapping memory areas when they are functioning poorly improves the brain’s encoding of new information. But doing so when those areas are operating well — as they do for stretches of the day in most everyone, including those with deficits — impairs the process. “We all have good days and bad days, times when we’re foggy, or when we’re sharp,” said Michael Kahana, who with Youssef Ezzyat led the research team. “We found that jostling the system when it’s in a low-functioning state can jump it to a high-functioning one.” Researchers cautioned that implantation is a delicate procedure and that the reported improvements may not apply broadly. The study was of epilepsy patients; scientists still have much work to do to determine whether this approach has the same potential in people with other conditions, and if so how best to apply it. But in establishing the importance of timing, the field seems to have turned a corner, experts said. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Epilepsy
Link ID: 23520 - Posted: 04.21.2017

By Dina Fine Maron A bizarre medical mystery can be added to the list of growing concerns about opioid use in the U.S. Since 2012 more than a dozen illicit drug users have shown up in hospitals across eastern Massachusetts with inexplicable amnesia. In some cases the patients’ memory difficulties had persisted for more than a year. Yet this bewildering condition does not appear to be the result of a simple case of tainted goods: The drug users do not appear to have used the same batch of drugs—or even the same type of substance. To get some answers, the state’s public health officials are rolling out a new requirement that clinicians who come across any patients (not just opioid users) with these types of memory deficits—along with damage to the hippocampus—must report the cases to the state. On April 3 state public health officials received the legal green light from the Massachusetts public health commissioner to make this a required, reportable condition. This technical change, which will last for one year, authorizes public health workers to collect this information and reassures clinicians that they can—and must—share case reports. In the next couple of days workers will notify emergency room personnel as well as addiction counselors and neurology specialists about the new designation via e-mail. The new reporting requirement, state officials hope, will help epidemiologists learn how widespread the issue of potential opioid-linked amnesia may be and whether patients have specific factors in common. The change was first reported by BuzzFeed News. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23513 - Posted: 04.20.2017

By LISA SANDERS, M.D. “I feel very pain,” the 62-year-old mumbled incoherently as he sat in a wheelchair. He had said almost nothing since arriving at the office of Dr. Joel Geerling, a neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. A year ago, he was fine, explained the patient’s sister. He was married, working as an auto mechanic, happy, normal. Then, six or seven months ago, he became forgetful. Little things at first — he couldn’t think of the right word, remember people’s names. But then big things — like forgetting who he was talking to on the phone or how to drive to places he had known for decades. That was fall 2014. By that Christmas, walking became difficult. He fell frequently. He had trouble feeding himself. He slept most of the day and night. Over the course of this illness, he lost almost everything. He was fired from his job; his wife left him. He didn’t even have his car anymore: His daughter took the keys after an accident. He had always been friendly and talkative, but now he was withdrawn and nearly wordless. In a few months, the man went from being completely independent to requiring round-the-clock care. This daughter tried to take care of him, but recently she had to hire someone; she couldn’t miss any more college classes. The patient first saw his regular doctor, but she couldn’t figure out what was wrong and sent him to a neurologist. When the specialist was stumped, she sent the patient to Geerling, a neurologist who focused on dementia and other cognitive diseases. In the exam room, the patient slumped in the wheelchair and held his head tipped back so that he was looking straight at the doctor above him, giving him a childlike appearance. When Geerling examined him, he found out why. The patient could not make his eyes move up. When he tried to walk, his feet remained on the ground — as if there were a magnet holding them down — giving him an odd, shuffling, gliding gait. He was unable to count down from 10 and didn’t know where he lived. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23509 - Posted: 04.19.2017

By Simon Makin When the now-famous neurological patient Henry Molaison had his brain’s hippocampus surgically sectioned to treat seizures in 1953, science’s understanding of memory inadvertently received perhaps its biggest boost ever. Molaison lost the ability to form new memories of events, and his recollection of anything that had happened during the preceding year was severely impaired. Other types of memory such as learning physical skills were unaffected, suggesting the hippocampus specifically handles the recall of events—known as “episodic” memories. Further research on other patients with hippocampal damage confirmed recent memories are more impaired than distant ones. It appears the hippocampus provides temporary storage for new information whereas other areas may handle long-term memory. Events that we are later able to remember appear to be channeled for more permanent storage in the cortex (the outer layers of the brain responsible for higher functions such as planning and problem-solving). In the cortex these memories form gradually, becoming integrated with related information to build lasting knowledge about ourselves and the world. Episodic memories that are intended for long-term storage accumulate to form the “autobiographical” memory that is so essential for our sense of identity. Neuroscientists know a lot about how short-term memories are formed in the brain but the processes underlying long-term storage are still not well understood. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23485 - Posted: 04.13.2017

Ed Yong 12:00 PM ET Science Octopuses have three hearts, parrot-like beaks, venomous bites, and eight semi-autonomous arms that can taste the world. They squirt ink, contort through the tiniest of spaces, and melt into the world by changing both color and texture. They are incredibly intelligent, capable of wielding tools, solving problems, and sabotaging equipment. As Sy Montgomery once wrote, “no sci-fi alien is so startlingly strange” as an octopus. But their disarming otherness doesn’t end with their bodies. Their genes are also really weird. A team of scientists led by Joshua Rosenthal at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Eli Eisenberg at Tel Aviv University have shown that octopuses and their relatives—the cephalopods—practice a type of genetic alteration called RNA editing that’s very rare in the rest of the animal kingdom. They use it to fine-tune the information encoded by their genes without altering the genes themselves. And they do so extensively, to a far greater degree than any other animal group. “They presented this work at a recent conference, and it was a big surprise to everyone,” says Kazuka Nishikura from the Wistar Institute. “I study RNA editing in mice and humans, where it’s very restricted. The situation is very different here. I wonder if it has to do with their extremely developed brains.” It certainly seems that way. Rosenthal and Eisenberg found that RNA editing is especially rife in the neurons of cephalopods. They use it to re-code genes that are important for their nervous systems—the genes that, as Rosenthal says, “make a nerve cell a nerve cell.” And only the intelligent coleoid cephalopods—octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish—do so. The relatively dumber nautiluses do not. “Humans don’t have this. Monkeys don’t. Nothing has this except the coleoids,” says Rosenthal.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23463 - Posted: 04.07.2017

By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, What really happens when we make and store memories has been unravelled in a discovery that surprised even the scientists who made it. The US and Japanese team found that the brain "doubles up" by simultaneously making two memories of events. One is for the here-and-now and the other for a lifetime, they found. It had been thought that all memories start as a short-term memory and are then slowly converted into a long-term one. Experts said the findings were surprising, but also beautiful and convincing. 'Significant advance' Two parts of the brain are heavily involved in remembering our personal experiences. The hippocampus is the place for short-term memories while the cortex is home to long-term memories. This idea became famous after the case of Henry Molaison in the 1950s. His hippocampus was damaged during epilepsy surgery and he was no longer able to make new memories, but his ones from before the operation were still there. So the prevailing idea was that memories are formed in the hippocampus and then moved to the cortex where they are "banked". The team at the Riken-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics have done something mind-bogglingly advanced to show this is not the case. The experiments had to be performed on mice, but are thought to apply to human brains too. They involved watching specific memories form as a cluster of connected brain cells in reaction to a shock. Researchers then used light beamed into the brain to control the activity of individual neurons - they could literally switch memories on or off. The results, published in the journal Science, showed that memories were formed simultaneously in the hippocampus and the cortex. Prof Susumu Tonegawa, the director of the research centre, said: "This was surprising." He told the BBC News website: "This is contrary to the popular hypothesis that has been held for decades. Copyright © 2017

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23460 - Posted: 04.07.2017

By Matt Reynolds Google’s latest take on machine translation could make it easier for people to communicate with those speaking a different language, by translating speech directly into text in a language they understand. Machine translation of speech normally works by first converting it into text, then translating that into text in another language. But any error in speech recognition will lead to an error in transcription and a mistake in the translation. Researchers at Google Brain, the tech giant’s deep learning research arm, have turned to neural networks to cut out the middle step. By skipping transcription, the approach could potentially allow for more accurate and quicker translations. The team trained its system on hundreds of hours of Spanish audio with corresponding English text. In each case, it used several layers of neural networks – computer systems loosely modelled on the human brain – to match sections of the spoken Spanish with the written translation. To do this, it analysed the waveform of the Spanish audio to learn which parts seemed to correspond with which chunks of written English. When it was then asked to translate, each neural layer used this knowledge to manipulate the audio waveform until it was turned into the corresponding section of written English. “It learns to find patterns of correspondence between the waveforms in the source language and the written text,” says Dzmitry Bahdanau at the University of Montreal in Canada, who wasn’t involved with the work. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Language; Robotics
Link ID: 23450 - Posted: 04.05.2017

By CHRISTOPHER MELE You were sure you left the keys right there on the counter, and now they are nowhere to be found. Where could they be? Misplacing objects is an everyday occurrence, but finding them can be like going on a treasure hunt without a map. Here are some recommendations from experts to help you recover what is lost. (Consider printing this out and putting it someplace you can easily find it.) Stay calm and search on One of the biggest mistakes people make is becoming panicked or angry, which leads to frantic, unfocused searching, said Michael Solomon, who wrote the book “How to Find Lost Objects.” One of the axioms of his book is: “There are no missing objects. Only unsystematic searchers.” Look for the item where it’s supposed to be. Sometimes objects undergo “domestic drift” in which they were left wherever they were last used, Mr. Solomon said. “Objects are apt to wander,” he wrote in his book. “I have found, though, that they tend to travel no more than 18 inches from their original location.” Be disciplined in your search A common trap is forgetting where you have already searched, Corbin A. Cunningham, a Ph.D. student at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, said in an email. “Go from one room to another, and only move on if you think you have searched everywhere in that room,” he wrote. Once you have thoroughly searched an area and ruled it out, don’t waste time returning to it. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23440 - Posted: 04.03.2017

Elle Hunt Inches above the seafloor of Sydney’s Cabbage Tree Bay, with the proximity made possible by several millimetres of neoprene and a scuba diving tank, I’m just about eyeball to eyeball with this creature: an Australian giant cuttlefish. Even allowing for the magnifying effects of the mask snug across my nose, it must be about 60cm (two feet) long, and the peculiarities that abound in the cephalopod family, that includes octopuses and squid, are the more striking writ so large. ADVERTISING Its body – shaped around an internal surfboard-like shell, tailing off into a fistful of tentacles – has the shifting colour of velvet in light, and its W-shaped pupils lend it a stern expression. I don’t think I’m imagining some recognition on its part. The question is, of what? It was an encounter like this one – “at exactly the same place, actually, to the foot” – that first prompted Peter Godfrey-Smith to think about these most other of minds. An Australian academic philosopher, he’d recently been appointed a professor at Harvard. While snorkelling on a visit home to Sydney in about 2007, he came across a giant cuttlefish. The experience had a profound effect on him, establishing an unlikely framework for his own study of philosophy, first at Harvard and then the City University of New York. The cuttlefish hadn’t been afraid – it had seemed as curious about him as he was about it. But to imagine cephalopods’ experience of the world as some iteration of our own may sell them short, given the many millions of years of separation between us – nearly twice as many as with humans and any other vertebrate (mammal, bird or fish)

Keyword: Evolution; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23429 - Posted: 03.30.2017