Elephants That Paint, Birds That Make MusicDo Animals Have an Aesthetic Sense?
Art in its myriad forms has long been seen as a uniquely human gift, evidence of our advanced cognitive abilities and consciousness. In contrast, scientists have understood all animal behavior as having survival value alone. But a magpie singing to itself embellishes its song with trills, overtones, and a unique closing phrase, and animals as diverse as elephants, chimpanzees, and seals appear to enjoy painting. Two Australian scientists—Lesley J. Rogers, D. Phil., D.Sc., professor of neuroscience and founder of the Research Centre for Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour at the University of New England, Australia, and Gisela Kaplan, Ph.D., also a professor at the Research Centre—write that, in the face of growing evidence for animals’ complex cognitive abilities, we should not be too hasty in deciding whether what is art to us might also be art to them.
Toward a New Treatment for Traumatic Memories
Whether the result of violence, war, or disaster, the intrusive memories that haunt people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cannot always be healed through psychotherapy or current medications. Now research on the biological basis of memory offers the hope of new drug treatments that may be able to lessen the disabling fear associated with traumatic memories and perhaps even fundamentally alter them. Neuroscientists Jacek Debiec, M.D., Ph.D., and Margaret Altemus, M.D., argue that this possibility raises profound ethical and philosophical questions that must be examined even as researchers work to relieve the suffering of PTSD.
Bringing the Brain of the Child with Autism Back on Track
What if we could identify some common process that goes awry in the developing brain of a child and leads to errors in wiring that cause the devastating symptoms of autism? What if, understanding that malfunction, we could intervene with drugs and behavioral therapies that don’t just mask symptoms but actually bring the child’s brain development back on course? Wayne State University professor of pediatrics and radiology Diane C. Chugani, Ph.D., describes new insights achieved through molecular neuroimaging that may —repeat, may—change how we understand and treat autism.
The Intuitive MagicianWhy Belief in the Supernatural Persists
The brains of even young babies not only organize sensory information but supply what is missing, determine cause and effect, and use the information to generate theories about how the world operates. Such natural intuitive reasoning persists when we become adults, says British cognitive neuroscientist Bruce Hood, Ph.D., and may underlie the tendency of even the most rational of us to believe in supernatural phenomena. At its distorted extreme, such reasoning can cause the paranoid delusions of schizophrenia. But sensing connections where others do not can be a hallmark of creativity and even scientiﬁc discovery.
Knowing SinMaking Sure Good Science Doesn’t Go Bad
Like all tools, scientiﬁc advances may be used for good or for ill. As our knowledge about the human brain increases, we will certainly use that knowledge to relieve human suffering in profound and wonderful ways. But the vast promise of the science should not blind us to the possibilities of its misuse.
Are We in the Dark About Sleepwalking’s Dangers?
When most people sleep, the brain causes both the conscious mind and the body to rest, and, during the dreaming stages of sleep, a loss of muscle tone prevents movement. In sleepwalkers, however, this process goes awry. Sleepwalking in children is usually only a safe subject of funny family stories, but adult somnambulism is a serious—even dangerous—sleep disorder. Neuroscientist Shelly Gunn, M.D., Ph.D., and her sleepwalking son, W. Stewart Gunn, explore the science of somnambulism and, because sleepwalking cannot yet be entirely prevented, suggest how we must protect both night wanderers and those who might be harmed by their unconscious actions.