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Take that Descartes! “How the body shapes the mind”

Rupert P Cole5 September 2012

Here in Aberdeen, the British Science Festival kicked off with a fascinating series of talks on recent research into the way bodily experiences affect even our most abstract mental facilities and knowledge.

UCL’s own Gabriella Vigliocco, professor of psychology, organised the panel. Professor Vigliocco and three fellow professors in the field tackled the mind-body problem – one of the most notorious headaches of Western philosophy.

Mind over grey matter?
Stefano F. Cappa, professor of neurology at Milan’s San Raffaele Scientific Institute, gave the first of the talks. Professor Cappa introduced us to the key questions and experiments in cognitive neuroscience.

If we take for granted that the brain has something to do with the mind, then what is its relation? Alluding to Alan Turing’s computer analogy, Cappa asked is the brain “hardware”; the mind “software,” like a program? If so, how does the brain compute, or problem solve?

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Untangling the teenage brain

Clare S Ryan15 September 2011

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is a cognitive neuroscientist who researches something many of us find mysterious – the teenage brain. She believes that our adolescent years are a period of great change in terms of brain activity and being able to untangle what is going on could have wide-ranging implications for education. I went along to her lecture at the British Science Festival to find out more.

An adult brainA newborn baby has nearly the same number of brain cells as an adult, an astounding 100 billion. The difference, as you might already know, are the connections between the nerve cells, or neurons, which change massively over the course of a person’s life.

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Astrobiology – the hunt for alien life

news editor15 September 2011

Dr Lewis Dartnell (UCL Space & Climate Physics) is, in his own words, “paid to hunt for aliens”. Lucy Harper from the Society for Applied Microbiology went to his fascinating talk at the British Science Festival entitled, ‘Astrobiology – the hunt for alien life’.

ExoMars

ExoMars rover - phase B1 concept © ESA

We humans, and the billions of species we share the planet with, are protected from harmful radiation by the Earth’s magnetic field and a thick atmosphere.

But on other planets, such as Mars, radiation levels are much higher and these “Martian death rays” are damaging to life as we know it.

Dr Dartnell is trying to find out how long organisms can survive when exposed to this level of radiation.

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Medical detectives of the National Gallery

Clare S Ryan14 September 2011

For Professor Michael Baum (UCL Research Department of General Surgery), the National Gallery is not just an extraordinary art museum, it’s a medical school. In his lecture at the British Science Festival, he treated the audience to a virtual version of the “ward rounds” of the National Gallery that he takes his medical students on to teach them the art of diagnosis.

A Satyr Mourning over a Nymph

Piero di Cosimo, A Satyr mourning over a Nymph, about 1495 (©) The National Gallery, London

Professor Baum believes that classical paintings can reveal a great deal about anatomy, the history of medicine, pathology and even uncover murders.

With a bit of artistic and medical sleuthing, Professor Baum and his students have published many papers describing medical diagnoses, ranging from syphilis to Paget’s disease, which give new perspectives on paintings that have been around for hundreds of years. (more…)