telling tales of doing the impossible

Posts tagged ‘brains’

Through the Eyes of the Blind

I went to college to become a science writer, but I had a bigger plan. I’d cover breakthroughs in neuroscience and nuclear physics by day and then I’d write killer science fiction by night.

I made my way through copy editing and ad writing classes while cramming in all the science and creative writing my schedule allowed. I did manage to get a fantastic well-rounded education and I left with more than a diplomma. I had a pretty decent roadmap for my life.

Then, well, life happened instead and it wasn’t even close.

However, I still have a great deal of respect for those scientists who communicate well, and those writers who love and understand science. Together they explain facts and theories about the amazing universe in which we live.

I host book tours on my other blogs and when I get a guest post that impresses me, I like to repost it here. In late March I featured author and neuroscientist Michael Tranter, PhD and his popular science book  A Million Things To Ask A Neuroscientist. I got to ask him a question and I wanted to know what he thought was the most amazing thing in his book.

Enjoy his answer.

How can you be blind but still see?

(The brain is amazing, that’s how!)

At the back of the brain we have the occipital lobe. This region receives images from our eyes and optic nerves and decides what we are seeing before sending that information to other parts of our brain to determine how to react. So, if we see an adorable fluffy dog, the light reflected from that dog travels to our retina at the back of our eye, along the optic nerve and to the occipital lobe, where it is processed. Other areas then interpret the meaning and decide what the emotional response should be, resulting in a very excited ‘Aww, a cute puppy – I like this, I feel happy!’

However, damage to the occipital lobe, for example, through trauma, a brain tumour or a stroke, can result in the images of the cute puppy arriving at the visual areas safely, but not being processed or transmitted to other areas of our brain, and hence, we become blind. This is a little different to instances where the eyes or optic nerve don’t function. This additional blindness is termed cortical blindness – essentially, blindness in the brain. You may be asking why I am talking about cute puppies and blindness. Well, because in some people with cortical blindness, even though they can’t see particular objects, their subconscious brain still perceives them. This means a person can interact with something even if they don’t actually see it. Let’s use another example. Say you want to walk across the room to the doorway, but there is a chair in your path. Under normal circumstances, you would see the chair and walk around it. A person with blindsight would also walk across the room and avoid the chair, yet they would not actively see that there is a chair in the room. They simply avoid it but do not fully understand why.

This strange phenomenon was first documented in the 1974 research by Lawrence Weiskrantz and has since been recorded in all manner of situations. A person may catch a ball in mid-air without ever seeing it, for example, but perhaps the most interesting study shows how it is possible to identify facial emotions and even mirror those same emotions in your own face, without ever being consciously aware of seeing any facial expressions.

Blindsight has been rigorously tested in many experimental settings, and as such, neuroscientists think they have an explanation. Firstly, the fact that some people with cortical blindness experience the phenomenon of blindsight may be because the superior colliculus – an area of the brain important in visual orientation – is preserved. Although we don’t yet fully appreciate the full function of the superior colliculus, we do know that this area receives information about what we see and converts it into signals that initiate an appropriate movement. To help explain this, imagine sitting down and watching a racing car drive past. Our eyes and head would instinctively follow the car as we track its movements. This is the responsibility of the superior colliculus, to instinctively monitor the environment and decide how to move our body.

The current hypothesis for blindsight states that as the brain senses damage to the occipital lobe, it starts to rewire itself to bypass the visual areas. The person may never entirely regain normal vision, but they may still be capable of living a normal life. Some neuroscientists suggest that this is a process by which the brain reverts back to a more basic form of vision, and one that is seen in animals who naturally lack the advanced visual areas of a human brain.

So, there you have it. That is how you can be blind, but your brain can still see, pretty amazing right?

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out A Million Things To Ask A Neuroscientist.

 

Better Covers: Does Your Brain Prefer Left to Right?

I love book covers! After ten years in the self-publishing industry, I realize I spend a lot of time thinking about my covers, analyzing them, and just plain staring at them.

I designed my own first one (and had so much fun doing it), but since then I have relied on professionals who can produce a better product. I was lucky to find Deranged Doctor Design a few years ago and they’re now working on their eleventh cover for me!

But it was cover number ten (shown here) that brought out something I was unaware of.  The final product, or at least what I thought was the final product, shows Olivine, a shy, artistic woman who takes up archery because of her unusually gifted eyesight.

I loved the olive color, and the sense of capturing her in motion, so I happily gave DDD the okay to call this one done with only a minor revision to her hair. (Don’t think that has ever happened before. I always see something I want to change.)

I second-guessed my decision, however, when I studied this cover next to the first three books in this series. The other women all look so strong, so sure of themselves, while my fourth sister — she hesitates. To me, she’s looking back over her shoulder like she’s not entirely sure if she should go on.

Well, she is shy, I thought. Maybe this captures that part of her and I should be glad. But honestly, I wasn’t. I know Olivine is strong inside, like her other sisters, and I wanted my readers (and my potential readers) to know that too.

Then a weird thing happened. I was trying to crop the cover image in PowerPoint to just get her face, to put it into a promotional idea I had. You know how if you grab the side of a small image in PowerPoint to move it, sometimes instead you end up pulling one edge all the way over the other and reversing the image? It’s annoying. Well, I did that, and the reversed image surprised me. Here was Olivine, reversed and looking more sure of herself!

Yet, it was the same picture. How could that be?

I puzzled over this for a while before it occurred to me that I’ve spent a lot of my life reading (and writing) and my words always go left to right. In our alphabet, left is backward. Right is forward. So looking left is looking over my shoulder, gazing at the past. Looking right is boldly looking ahead.

Flip the image of a woman looking to her left and suddenly she appears more ready to face the future. It’s amazing.

Yes, the nice folks at DDD were happy to flip the cover image for me, and today I got a draft of the result.

Look at her. Now she’s perfect.

And, I’ve learned something that should help me evaluate cover designs going forward.  For just as our bodies respond differently to chemical compounds that are mirror images of each other, I believe our brains respond differently to mirror images as well.

This means I can ascribe attributes to a character on a cover by paying attention to which way her gaze is directed.

Cool, huh?

(Note: this was reposted from my blog for the ‘Seven Troublesome Sisters” series. Check out Seven Troublesome Sisters to learn more about these books.)

Pay Attention

Not sure why I keep getting hit with heart attack ads but it is a little creepy

The idea of time and attention as a new form of currency rings true. Note the way online ads compete for your attention. The whole thing with Face Book has made us all painfully aware that we are the product being sold by companies on the cutting edge of technology. Just today, I had to click my consent to new terms for Yahoo. Basically the terms said I understand they will use all content I provide in any way they please. 

Why do they want this data? It is not that I am inherently interesting to Yahoo, Google or Apple. They want to use the data to place specific content where I see it. They want to sell my attention to their advertisers.  My attention is worth money, it turns out, if I have demonstrated an interest in the advertiser’s product.
Read more at Pay Attention.

This Is Not a Garden: Thoughts on Ecology and Immigration

…. we’re not plants. We lack the gift of the plant kingdom, to obtain all we need from the sun and the soil. In return for having to devour other life to stay alive, we get mobility. With that comes the chance to rapidly alter our locations and to shape our environment.

We’ve got these terrific brains that get us in all sorts of trouble, but also allow us to improve our landscape and increase our resources. We can think our way into trouble, but we can also think our way out of it.

 

Read more at This Is Not a Garden: Thoughts on Ecology and Immigration.

The Trouble with Telepathy

magicYes, it may not be the classic telepathy of fiction, but we are talking about direct brain to brain communication here, aided by modern technology. The article goes on to address possible real life uses including already successful work on adapting a brain-to-machine interface to help paralyzed patients walk by using their brain signals to control prosthetic devices. This is cool, and it is really happening.

Read this update on achieving telepathy through technology at The trouble with telepathy.

Too much!

say and learnI drew this up this in my head the other night when I couldn’t fall asleep. This is my brain on overload.

So you can see that I had this post in mind before I read Danae Wulfe’s brilliant post Too Many Books but she gets full credit for getting me to sit down today and write this. I am bursting out like the weeds on my front lawn. I am filled with ideas to write about. Blogs, short stories, and wonderful new twists for the book I am working on now all pop in and out of my head. Are they all that great? I’m sure they are not, but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t found the time to write down half of them. The point is that I have SO MUCH to say I can’t contain myself. It must be the spring air.

Read the whole post at Too much! on my x0 blog.

If you want to be happy move to a cold country?

raising ecstacy 1It is hard to believe. Whatever happened to the idea that the ultimate in happiness was lounging on a tropical beach, umbrella drink in hand, while island music wafted by on a soft ocean breeze? Wait, that was the ideal vacation. What about the ideal life?

Read the entire post at on my y1 blog at If you want to be happy move to a cold country?

The Women of 2015: Beauty matters but so does so much more

Candice-SwanepoelWe do like beautiful women. As a society, we buy products from them, watch movies staring them, and we lavish attention upon them. But I’m a glass half-full kind of lady, and I see some positive trends in all the various recently released lists of top women from 2015.

Read the full post on my c3 blog at The Women of 2015: Beauty matters but so does so much more.

How happy is your brain?

While it sounds great to say that taking this medication is “fixing chemical imbalances in the brain,” the problem is that no one gets to do experiments on a live human brain. Thankfully. And dead human brains don’t send chemical messages and can’t be depressed. Neither really can animals, at least those generally accepted for grisly lab experiments. So no one actually knows whether depressed people have less serotonin in their brains.

Read more at How happy is your brain?

From Wired.com

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