Happy Holidays!

25 Dec

Washington Post Comics

22 Dec

While I still prefer physical books, I now read newspapers exclusively on the Kindle. This has many advantages, including no more gigantic recycling piles and not having to tramp out into monstrous drifts of  lake effect snow just to recover the paper.

However, one thing had been sadly lacking, the comics. I developed the habit of reading the comics everyday as a child and it was hard to give up. The New York Times, of course, never carried daily strips and the Kindle version of the Cleveland Plain Dealer was similarly devoid. Only the Washington Post carried a few strips.

But that has all changed, within the last month the Post has started to carry a much wider range of daily comics, including ones that I haven’t seen in years, like Mary Worth, Rex Morgan, MD, and The Phantom.

The quality of my life has substantially improved. And I now have another excuse to read the Comic Crumudgeon.

“Aging impairs slow wave-spindle coupling, leading to overnight forgetting”

20 Dec

This story was covered on NPR, but they did not provide a link to the original paper. Unfortunately only the summary is available on line:

The coupled interaction between slow-wave oscillations and sleep spindles during non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep has been proposed to support memory consolidation. However, little evidence in humans supports this theory. Moreover, whether such dynamic coupling is impaired as a consequence of brain aging in later life, contributing to cognitive and memory decline, is unknown. Combining electroencephalography (EEG), structural MRI, and sleep-dependent memory assessment, we addressed these questions in cognitively normal young and older adults. Directional cross-frequency coupling analyses demonstrated that the slow wave governs a precise temporal coordination of sleep spindles, the quality of which predicts overnight memory retention. Moreover, selective atrophy within the medial frontal cortex in older adults predicted a temporal dispersion of this slow wave-spindle coupling, impairing overnight memory consolidation and leading to forgetting. Prefrontal-dependent deficits in the spatiotemporal coordination of NREM sleep oscillations therefore represent one pathway explaining age-related memory decline.




Autonomic nervous system activity and memory consolidation during sleep

18 Dec

According to a paper published in PNAS, “ autonomic nervous system (ANS) plays a role in associative memory consolidation during sleep.” Here is the abstract:

Throughout history, psychologists and philosophers have proposed that good sleep benefits memory, yet current studies focusing on the relationship between traditionally reported sleep features (e.g., minutes in sleep stages) and changes in memory performance show contradictory findings. This discrepancy suggests that there are events occurring during sleep that have not yet been considered. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) shows strong variation across sleep stages. Also, increases in ANS activity during waking, as measured by heart rate variability (HRV), have been correlated with memory improvement. However, the role of ANS in sleep-dependent memory consolidation has never been examined. Here, we examined whether changes in cardiac ANS activity (HRV) during a daytime nap were related to performance on two memory conditions (Primed and Repeated) and a nonmemory control condition on the Remote Associates Test. In line with prior studies, we found sleep-dependent improvement in the Primed condition compared with the Quiet Wake control condition. Using regression analyses, we compared the proportion of variance in performance associated with traditionally reported sleep features (model 1) vs. sleep features and HRV during sleep (model 2). For both the Primed and Repeated conditions, model 2 (sleep + HRV) predicted performance significantly better (73% and 58% of variance explained, respectively) compared with model 1 (sleep only, 46% and 26% of variance explained, respectively). These findings present the first evidence, to our knowledge, that ANS activity may be one potential mechanism driving sleep-dependent plasticity.

When I read this it occurred to me that there is evidence that older people experience higher levels of autonomic nervous system dysfunction and that this might be related to age related memory problems.

Feats of memory

15 Dec

Ravi Shankar – Woodstock 1969

13 Dec

Still grading papers, so enjoy this video of the great Ravi Shankar:

Advice on learning vocabulary

11 Dec

From Fluent in Three Months:

Learning new words is dull as dishwater unless you get a bit of context, and the best advice I know is to get input that you can understand. I always teach new words in context through pointing them out in texts, repeating them with lots of examples or telling a little story. In fact, storytelling is the most useful way of finding new words and putting them to use straight away so that you will remember them.

There’s a really useful set of vocabulary acquisition and revision guidelines over at Omniglot, in which Simon recommends that intermediate and advanced learners should start working with parallel texts (books that are printed bilingually, with a language on each page or each side of a column). I do this a lot, it’s the literary equivalent of watching original films and shows with your own language subtitles.

Don’t turn your nose up at having the translation so nearby – it’s practical and helpful for understanding stories, and what’s interesting and fun will keep you going. Other great materials for early learners involve short stories and children’s literature, even picturebooks.

An argument for practicing at the yoga studio

8 Dec

I sympathize, my dog thinks yoga is play time.

Julian Jaynes reconsidered

8 Dec

[Because of some WordPress glitch (or possibly an error on my part) this post was appearing in the wrong place, so I am re-posting it here]

I, for one, do take Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind seriously. However, I believe that Jaynes was using the term “consciousness” idiosyncratically and this had led to massive misunderstanding. Of course ancient people were consciousness as are animals. But, I think what he really meant to say was “the modern volitional self.”

In any event here is a good article telling the story of Janyes and his famous book.

The great debate resolved

6 Dec

[Hat tip to BoingBoing]

By the way, Suzana Herculano-Houzel’s is the inventor of the most accurate method for counting neurons in a brain. 

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