brain

Experiments on people with memory chip started

After successful experiments on mice and monkeys, the University of Southern California UCLA is now experimenting on people with a chip that records memories.

Memory problems
Hundreds of millions of people suffer from memory problems. Also for people with a 'normal' memory, a hardware extension that makes remembering easier would be very welcome. Not to mention the options for storing memories in the cloud or in a flash memory. You could learn a new language or another subject in a fraction of a second. In short: quite important.

Memory access
DARPA, the US military's research institute (in itself reason to pay extra attention), is paying Theodore Berger, a PhD biomedical engineer at UCLA, to conduct groundbreaking research into the possibilities of reading and recording memories. In short: read and write access to our memory.

Hippocampus
This is extremely difficult at first glance. Our brains are radically different in structure from today's Neumann architecture-based computers. There is no processor in our brain, but around one hundred billion neurons, brain cells that are interconnected with dendrites (the input) and an axon (the output cable). Nevertheless, Berger seems to have succeeded, this after 35 years of diligent work. To do this, he cracked the code of the brain's 'microcontroller' that transfers short-term memories to long-term memory: the hippocampus. This is located deep under the cerebral cortex, against the limbic system.

The hippocampus, as drawn by the nineteenth-century biologist Golgi. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The hippocampus receives stimuli in the area CA3, which are processed in the hippocampus and sent via the area CA1 to the memory store: the cortex (cerebral cortex).

If you were able to crack the function of the hippocampus, you could remember things at will, with the limitations of the brain's (rather slow) biological hardware, of course.

Reminder stored on chip
Berger has now achieved the latter. For this he assumed that memories consist of series of electrical pulses. That's how neurons communicate with each other. He exposed rats to the familiar reward lever and monitored the neurons of their hippocampus. He stored the CA1 signals, the output, in a chip. The test animal was then given a drug that inhibits long-term memory storage. As a result, the rat no longer knew that pulling the lever was a reward. After the stored stimulus set was passed back to area CA1, the rat recovered the memory. For the first time in history, it has been possible to digitally store and retrieve a memory (in rats at least) [1]. It should be borne in mind that memories undergo further processing in the cortex and are sometimes only permanently stored as a long-term memory after years. The principle also works well for the medium-term memory.

Monkeys and humans
The next step the team took was to store images in animals with a more complex brain: monkeys. Images are processed in the prefrontal cortex in monkeys and therefore also in humans. Again, the relationship between CA3 input and CA1 output was measured. After some mathematical operations, the team succeeded in making a correct prediction of what the CA1 output would look like in 80% of the cases. In other words, their device can almost completely replace the hippocampus. As it turned out, the team managed to replace a disabled hippocampus and capture memories. Monkeys with memory disorders appeared to be cured by the implant [2].

Ethical aspects
The next step, in 2014, was taken in collaboration with twelve human volunteers. Given the dangers of brain surgery, the researchers chose epilepsy patients, who already have electrodes in the brain. Epilepsy is characterized by uncontrolled explosions of firing neurons. The disease affected their hippocampus in the group of volunteers. The same strategy was applied here too. The group makes no statements about the preliminary results, but there appears to be a positive result with regard to the formation of memories [3]. This would be very big news. Then we are on the right track in terms of treating diseases such as Alzheimer's and other memory disorders. There is also a downside to this technique. With this you can implant false memories. Fortunately, Berger seems to realize this very well [4] and therefore consciously opts for a prosthesis that only helps the patient to better store memories. Not to implant memories of your choice by someone else. In Berger's words, "I mean, that has a creep factor of about, on a scale from 1-10 it's about a 12." Enter Manchurian Candidate ed

Sources
1. Berger TW, Hampson RE, Song D, Goonawardena A, Marmarelis VZ, Deadwyler SA. A cortical neural prosthesis for restoring and enhancing memory. Journal of Neural Engineering. 2011; 8 (4): 046017. doi: 10.1088 / 1741-2560 / 8/4/046017.
2. Hampson RE, Gerhardt GA, Marmarelis V, Song D, Opris I, Santos L, Berger TW, Deadwyler SA., Facilitation and restoration of cognitive function in primate prefrontal cortex by a neuroprosthesis that utilizes minicolumn-specific neural firing. J Neural Eng. 2012 Oct; 9 (5): 056012. Epub 2012 Sep 13.
3. Brain implant could help people with memory loss, Alzheimer News, 2015
4. Theodore Berger lecture at Global Future 2045 Congress, 2015

Four rat brains make up Gestalt brain

In science fiction, brains that are linked together and form a super brain are called a Gestalt brain. Exactly that has now been achieved with rat brains. Could that also be possible with human brains?

Our brain, a huge neural network
Our brain, like the brain of rats, octopuses and other animals with a central nervous system, forms a neural network. Nerve cells, more precisely: neurons, form short processes, dendrites, and long processes, axons. The dendrites receive and process electrical impulses (we think by matching vibration patterns), the axons transport and release the stimuli. Usually thousands of dendrites from other neurons are attached to an axon, which causes them to be tapped. There is no physical limit to this network. In theory, you could build a huge brain (known in science fiction stories as an avatar brain), although it will be more difficult to match the neurons. That is already difficult for humans. That is why there are so many mental illnesses in humans.

Rat computer of four brains
A group of researchers have done just that [1]. They linked the brains of four rats, at least: brain implants that were mounted in the cerebral cortex of the rat brains. The “happy” rats were divided into two pairs, which could only see each other. Subsequently, this “computer” was given commands to categorize things, recognize images, store and display tactile impressions, and even predict the weather. The four coupled rat brains were found to score clearly better in all these assignments than an individual rat. Then think about half better.

Can we build a Gestalt brain by linking brains together? It worked in rats. Source: lanakiv.wordpress.com

Giant "rat-puter"
The researchers naturally want to expand and improve their Gestalt brain. They think that the organic computer can be very useful in solving all kinds of problems that are difficult for a classic computer. So it turned out only 25,000 rat neurons in a Petri dish remarkably effective at piloting a jet fighter.

Could this also be possible in humans?
Human brains are noticeably larger than rats and also have more efficient gray matter, but basically the way the nerve cells of humans and rats work is pretty much the same. This technique could therefore also be used in humans. I wonder whether we should want that. We already have good organic computers: people. To be honest, I don't feel like becoming redundant, or for others to become redundant. I think it is much more interesting to build a brain interface between classical computers and the human brain. Then you could outsource tasks involving computers, such as complicated calculations and logic, to the computer, leaving the creative part and controlling all these thought processes to our human brain. Then people can also benefit from Moore's Law and people will remain central to the economy in the future.

Source
1. Pais-Vieira, M. et al. Building an organic computing device with multiple interconnected brains. Sci. Rep. 5, 11869; doi: 10.1038 / srep11869 (2015)

The survival of your identity

Our brains are notorious for being the subject of some of the trickiest philosophical questions. Here we address the issue of identity.

What is your identity?

Your identity or 'I' feeling is the experience that you are in your head and not in the head of someone else. You consciously experience what is happening in your head, but you do not have direct access to what is happening in someone else's mind. It's a subjective experience.

We feel like we are the same person as yesterday or last year. In reality we change greatly. The molecules that make up us are constantly being replaced, but more importantly, the structures and patterns in our brains are also constantly changing.

We forget a lot, learn new things, our environment changes. A person can change dramatically in ten or twenty years, all the way from childhood to adulthood. If you have been keeping a diary for a long time, it is interesting to read back what you did and thought years ago.

Continuity

Yet you still consider yourself that same person. It seems like there is a continuity in your identity. Even when you wake up from sleep, coma or sedation, you still feel like the same person, despite the fact that your consciousness has been interrupted.

Others also continue to see you as the same person, but for different reasons. For example, because you hardly change in the short term. But also people who have not seen you for a long time will still consider you the same person. Even if they can no longer recognize you by your appearance or behavior, they will identify based on your name, background, or shared memories.

A contemporary scan with MRI. Can we upload our identity from our brain? (Wikimedia commons)

Make a copy

Let's do some thought experiments. Suppose teleportation would be possible. The structure of your brain is scanned at very high resolution, much better than is currently possible. This information is used elsewhere to make an identical version of you. Meanwhile, the original (you!) Is being destroyed, so apparently you've been teleported.

Would that new version of you still feel like the same person as you? Probably yes, because all memories, personal characteristics, and skills are the same. And others will look at it that way, they see no difference. Can we then say that your 'I' lives on without problems in the copy? This is a bit more complicated.

Which copy has your identity?

Suppose you don't make one copy, but make two or even a lot. Then your 'I' would be in each of those copies. If you asked them, every copy would find that they have the same identity as the original person. But that seems impossible unless your identity can split up. How can you have the experience of being in multiple heads at the same time? In the one yes and the other does not make sense either. Then the consequence is that your 'I' is probably not in any copy.

Another point of view is if the original is kept while a copy is being made. Your identity would certainly still be in the original, if the scanning technology doesn't change you. It does not seem likely that the 'I' would also go to the copy.

The conclusion seems to be that each copy that is made has a completely different identity from the original person, even though they are identical at the time the copy is made.

Upload your brain and identity

Is your identity inextricably linked to your brain?

Another thought experiment is to move all the information in your brain very graduallyupload'to a computer. We assume that our mind is substrate independent, so it does not matter whether it is located in biological brains or, for example, in silicon chips. You replace brain cell after brain cell with computer hardware and software that simulate the precise structure and function of the brain. If you do this procedure gradually you will not notice it and your 'I' will continue to exist during each intermediate stage. The end result is that your brain is uploaded into a computer.

It looks like your `I 'is neatly located in the computer. If you now start making copies of your `silicon brain '(a lot easier than with the biological brain), you will run into the same problems again. Does it make sense to have a copy your brain as a backup for when you suffer brain damage or die? Probably the result would be a different person.

Could the 'I' be a great illusion?

If the 'I' is a completely subjective experience, can it be an illusion? Is the whole concept nonsensical?

The consequence of this is that you should have no problem with being killed yourself, provided that an exact copy of you is made elsewhere at the same time. After all, you move net on your own. However, your urge to survive would want to prevent your original from being destroyed at all costs.

But still. Living beings simply have a strong urge to survive. This is a logical product of evolution; species without that trait would quickly become extinct. Could it be that this urge is the only reason you would not agree to the above procedure, where you are destroyed while an exact copy is made?

I personally believe that a certain degree of spatial continuity is essential for the preservation of your identity. You can move it to another medium, but gradually. You cannot consider an exact copy that is made separately as yourself.

How do you feel about this?

Video: Development of the brain of a fetus

For the first time in history, researchers have been able to monitor the development of a human baby from day to day in an MRI scanner. Follow the development of the brain in this short video.

This provided valuable insights. For the first time, researchers can now track how the human brain develops during pregnancy, greatly increasing the likelihood that the cause of congenital brain diseases will be found and remedied.

Brain-like chip imitates human brain

All our modern computers are based on a concept from half a century ago. Chip designers have now developed a new chip that works radically differently, based on the architecture of a human brain. The chip appears to have much more computing capacity than a traditional chip of comparable size. Is this the secret to the remarkable efficiency of the human brain?

In principle, all neurons can communicate with each other in this chip. The chip already beat conventional computers of a similar size in many areas.

How do computers work?
All digital computers on the market today operate on the same principle. They consist of a processor, a working memory and a clock. At each calculation step, the processor loads a 'word', consisting of a sequence of ones and zeros, from a stack (stack) in the working memory and performs an operation on it. The result is placed back in the working memory. This design turned out to be very successful - almost every computer works with it - but it has a number of major drawbacks. This way, all operations run through the processor. This processor is heavily overloaded and uses a lot of energy. We are now constantly running up against the limitations of the existing computer architecture.

Human brain
Our brain can process information just like a computer. However, our brain works radically different from a computer. For example, our brain consists of billions of computational units - neurons, a type of nerve cells - that are interconnected by a detailed web of cross-connections. Each neuron processes information as well as stores information. Neurons may be slow to communicate with each other, but because there are so many of them, and each neuron works at the same time, our brain weighing less than three pounds can still perform better in many ways than a modern supercomputer. No wonder computer scientists are now trying to recreate this structure in hardware.

Neuronic chip
Karlheinz Meier from the university in the German city of Heidelberg and a number of colleagues have now developed a chip, Spikey, which knows four hundred 'neurons'. A neuron in our brain works with a voltage across the cell wall. The artificial neurons in this chip consist of capacitors, electronic parts that store charge. When the charge in the capacitor exceeds a certain limit, this charge starts to flow - a "pulse". That's how our neurons work too. Indeed, behavior has been found in this chip that is also known for clumps of brain tissue in the laboratory. Even more interesting is that this circuit can learn by itself. This at the expense of a certain unpredictability. At the moment, work is being done on circuits with hundreds of thousands of neurons, eventually followed by sufficiently small neurons, stacked, to simulate the visual cortex of a rat. Ultimately a human brain on a chip?

Source
Thomas Pfeil et al., Six networks on a universal neuromorphic computing substrate, ArXiv (2012)

The origin of our body

In this three-part documentary series from the BBC “Origins of Us”, Alice Roberts takes us on a journey to the story of our own body. It shows what this can tell us about the conditions to which our ancestors were exposed and had to adapt by looking at characteristics of our present body. She looks for explanations for physical characteristics such as why humans barely have fur and why babies in humans are born prematurely when compared to other primates.

Part 1: Bones, this part examines man's evolutionary journey through our skeleton.

 

Part 2: Guts, this shows how our guts adapted to the diet of our ancestors, their food supply has brought about a lot of evolutionary changes. For example, humans are able to digest starch much better than other types of great apes. Food also seems to have had a major influence on the development of pairing in humans.

 

Part 3: Brains, this last part examines the showpiece of humanity in the evolutionary struggle for survival, our brains. What made our brains grow so big, and does it have disadvantages in addition to advantages? And what has been the role of cooking on our brain size?

 

An interesting question may be how our current environment influences our physical evolution today. Is it the people who are most sensitive to RSI that are most strongly selected against today? What will the average person look like in 2 million years? Speculation is welcome :-)

Electric current makes an expert

It takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. A device has now been developed that drastically shortens this period. Get ready for some shocking news.

The Iron Ten Thousand Hours Rule
It takes about ten thousand hours to reach the top of a particular field. This applies to completely different subjects, varying from piano virtuoso to physicist or top athlete. This emerged from research by the Danish-American psychologist Anders Ericssen. During these ten thousand hours, the neurons in the practitioner's brain are restructured. This requires the necessary practice and concentration, which is achieved in a playful way with flow.

With electrical impulses we can train faster and learn things. The future?

Flow: effortless productivity
There are times when the work almost seems to go by itself and without even realizing it a lot is out of your hands. The Hungarian-American Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called this Zen-like state of consciousness flow. When you are in flow, your brain works without a hitch. You dissolve in the performance of your task, so that your brain works at maximum capacity. If workers were in constant flow all day, labor productivity would be tens of percent higher. No wonder, then, that much research is being done into the nature of flow and ways of attaining this state of consciousness. When practitioners of a particular discipline flow, they will quickly become experts. If someone rarely gets into flow, he will soon give up. Flow is not very popular among scientists. The term is permeated with mystical and meditative connotations. It was not until the late 1970s that the then young Csikszentmihalyi clearly defined the state and made it possible to conduct empirical research on it - which he did. Interviews with talents in various fields (from chess grandmasters to top mathematicians and ballet dancers) made it clear to him that flow has four distinctive qualities.

  1. An intense, focused absorption that makes sense of time disappear.
  2. Autotelicity: what you do is reward in itself.
  3. The task you perform is neither too simple nor hopelessly difficult.
  4. The work seems to go without saying.

Flow and brain waves
Csikszentmihalyi discovered with the primitive electroencephalogrammeters at the time that the frontal lobes, just behind the forehead, were less active during flow. The best chess players were found to have the least activity in this part of the brain. The reason: self-critical thoughts, the result of the action of the frontal lobes, hinder flow. Later studies, among others on golfers, see The International Journal of Sport and Society, vol 1, p 87, confirmed these findings and revealed that the moment flow occurs, there is a sudden spike in alpha waves. This type of brain wave, with a frequency of around seven hertz, also occurs during REM (dream) sleep. In addition, people breathed more slowly in flow and their heart rate dropped - also a sign of relaxation. Several other studies have found similar effects in other sports.

Conversely, learning to generate alpha waves (which can be done with neurofeedback: someone tries to influence the brainwave pattern visible to himself by thinking differently) also multiplied the success in sports. It took them less than half the time of the control group to learn to shoot accurately. (The International Journal of Sport and Society, vol 1, p 87). Neurofeedback alone is far from easy. Learning to generate alpha waves is also not easy. Fortunately, certain machines seem to be able to achieve the same effect.

Device generates flow
A simple device, which basically amounts to a 9-volt battery with two electrodes, achieves this effect. The positive electrode is connected to the temple and the negative electrode to the left arm. This is not harmless. If one of the electrodes is removed in the meantime, the subject may become blind for a few seconds.

This technique is known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and is now used by the US military to train snipers even faster. A current of 2 milliamps flows through the electrodes through the part of the brain that recognizes objects. The mild electric shock depolarizes the neural membranes in the region, making the cells more sensitive to signals. Weisend, the research leader, thinks like many fellow neurologists that this stimulates the formation of new neural pathways the moment someone practices a skill. Thanks to this technique, snipers can now recognize enemies by a factor of 2.3 faster and therefore shoot them (Experimental Brain Research, vol 213, p 9). Inexplicably, these long-term changes are preceded by a flow-like sensation caused by the electrical current. Time seems to pass very quickly for people experimenting with tDCS. Their movements become more automatic. They themselves experience calm, focused concentration - and a great leap in performance. Why is not clear. Some think it has to do with the current turning off the frontal lobes - the effect of flow. However, not everyone is equally enthusiastic. After all, we don't know why the effect occurs. Unwanted changes may occur in other parts of the brain. Also, the flow effect only occurs when the electrodes are placed in certain places.

Experiment yourself
Machines that supply transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) cost around six thousand euros each. The makers usually only sell them to researchers. Nevertheless, enthusiastic tDCS hobbyists are not deterred by this. On online forums plenty of vivid descriptions of home-made experiments, including nasty descriptions of blunders that in one case left someone temporarily blind. The reason people take these risks is probably the increasing pressure to perform. With the advancement of computers and artificial intelligence, humans are increasingly the weakest link. More and more people are therefore turning to these types of resources.

Source:
New Scientist

Special food supplement slows down brain aging

Professor David Rollo and a group of researchers from the Canadian McMaster University have found a 'golden bullet' with which they can stop the aging of the brain. Good news, at least if you're a transgenic mouse.

Also relevant for people
Yet this could also be very interesting for people. Partly because similar ingredients prevent the brains of Alzheimer's patients from shrinking in a study published at the same time.

Dietary supplement leaves older mice brains young
In the latest scientific paper, the group describes a new dietary supplement that fully preserves the ability to learn new things in older mice. Not only important, but even remarkable, says Rollo.

Composition of the dietary supplement
The food supplement contains around thirty ingredients. Unfortunately, we have not yet managed to get to the primary source (we have to deal with press releases and this summary [4]), but the following ingredients were mentioned in the sources I consulted: 

provitamin A (beta-carotene)
vitamin B1 (thiamine)
vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
vitamin D (cholecalciferol)
vitamin E (tocopherol)
Ginseng (Panax ginseng extract)
Green tea (unfermented Camellia sinensis, extract)
Cod liver oil
a number of unspecified acids and minerals.

Update: good news, the full list can be found here.

This dietary supplement is specially designed to counteract five aging mechanisms.

Supplement tested on elderly mice
The mixture was tested by Rollo's group on 20-31 months old aged mice. One group received the supplement, a control group did not. The control group was hardly able to learn new things, the group with the supplement scored just as well as young mice.

Eating lots of vegetables is an absolute must to keep your brains up to scratch, it turns out.

Brain mass 10% greater; more active mitochondria
The behavioral tests focused on an area of the brain affected by Alzheimer's disease. Analysis of the animals' brains showed that their brain mass was ten percent larger than that of the control group. The mitochondria, the 'energy centers' of cells, also turned out to be much more active in the control group.

Rollo remains cautious, because this is a first experiment, but believes it is quite possible that the supplement also has similar effects in humans. Of course, humans live much longer than mice, which means that these kinds of tests take a lot more time.

Scavenging free radicals and keeping mitochondria alive
The new nutritional supplement fulfills two functions that are very important according to anti-aging research: the scavenging of free radicals (incomplete molecules that are chemically very aggressive and thus cause much damage to DNA and enzymes, among others) and the maintenance of the energy function of mitochondria. The combination of ingredients proves to be much more effective than individual vitamins, pills and anti-aging products in protecting the brain from aging.

Solution for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's?
Although the human trials have yet to begin, Rollo is hopeful that the dietary supplement will one day slow down or even stop brain diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and the like. This would then provide an affordable, natural form of medication for the elderly. (1)

Supported by research on humans
Another article, this time from our American colleagues at Science Daily (2), who fortunately have the decency to always cite scientific sources, reports a similar study, but in humans.
Eighty-year-old elderly people who consumed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B complex, C, D, and E scored significantly better on thinking tests than people who did not eat such a diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins make you smarter; unhealthy snacks dumber
Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D are especially common in oily sea fish. The various B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, folic acid, B12) and the anti-oxidants C and E (C acts as an antioxidant in a water-rich environment, E as an antioxidant in greasy environments such as cell membranes) are found in vegetables, fruits and (vitamin E) in nuts.

Trans fats turned out to have the opposite effect. In people with a high percentage of trans fats in their diet (from processed foods and margarine), brain function was found to have deteriorated.

Blood tests show an accurate link
What is special about this study is that blood tests were used to check exactly how high the blood levels of these substances were. People don't always know exactly how much of which foods they ate. Blood tests provide a more reliable picture. Indeed, there appeared to be a large statistical correlation between the measured values and the effects on the brain: 17% of the total variation. Known factors such as blood pressure, education and age were also responsible for 46% of the variation. The biomarkers explained 37% of the variation in brain size. (3)

Sources
1. Silver bullet supplement could slow brain aging - McMaster University News (2012)
2. Alzheimer's: diet patterns may keep brain from shrinking - Science Daily (2012)
3. GL Bowman et al., Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging, Neurology (2011)
4. Vadim Aksenov et al., A complex dietary supplement augments spatial learning, brain mass, and mitochondrial electron transport chain activity in aging mice, AGE (2011) (paywall)

New trend: Mental doping

More and more people are turning to psychoactive drugs to achieve success. Which drugs are the most effective, and the most important question: do we want this?

Doping in sports: dangerous but effective

Adderall increases concentration, but has dangerous side effects.

Professional athletes have limited resources to improve their performance. Only a limited amount of muscle tissue can be cultivated with natural means. Physique and physical disposition provide the rest. An athlete can only become one of the best in the world through a combination of very hard training and a suitable physique. The differences between them are also getting smaller. The Tour de France, for example, is usually settled with a winner's margin of a few minutes or less. Please note: this is a course of more than three and a half thousand kilometers.

No wonder, then, that athletes are reaching for the last resort to become number 1: chemicals. Certain chemicals can give athletes extra energy, push them beyond a limit that the body cannot actually handle or give the body an incentive to grow extra muscle mass. Doping is therefore an ineradicable problem. Even draconian controls do not help, because athletes are well aware of the latest tricks to mask doping. Athletes like to risk their health or even their lives, as long as they manage to get that coveted gold.

Brain doping
But let's not forget that other rat race in which the rest of the working population competes: the labor market. Workers, especially in higher, knowledge-intensive professions, compete just as hard with each other as athletes. Here people do not compete with their body, but with their brain. Being smarter has clear advantages: if you are studying or conducting a job interview, for example. It is therefore not really surprising that more and more people are using so-called smart drugs to boost their mental capacities. Coffee is, of course, a harmless example, but cognition-enhancing drugs are on the rise.

Which brain doping is commonly used?

  • Modafinil.
    Modafinil is usually prescribed as a remedy for extreme drowsiness. The substance stimulates the production of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. This has the effect that the user of modafinil can concentrate better, has better working memory and is more alert for a few hours. For that reason, the stuff is very popular among British students. Possible side effects aggression, insomnia and restlessness. According to the US FDA: TEN, DRESS syndrome and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome
  • Methylphenidate.
    This stuff, better known by its brand name Ritalin, has a similar effect to modafinil, but achieves this by blocking the breakdown of norepinephrine and dopamine. It is widely prescribed to ADHD children (the fashion term for hyperactive children) and also promotes concentration.
  • Adderall.
    Adderall is a brand name for a mixture of several amphetamine salts. Adderall also works by blocking the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine. Adderall has all the drawbacks associated with amphetamine. Blood pressure is increased, which increases the risk of strokes, heart attacks and sudden death.

Experimenting yourself is - see the unpleasant side effects - something that you have to think very carefully about. These drugs can only be obtained with a prescription or through an illegal internet pharmacy. Internet pharmacies usually sell junk, often even life-threatening. Only the Internet pharmacy NetPharm seems to supply reliable products. However, they do not deliver the above drugs.

Modafinil is a little used drug that improves working memory and concentration. It will temporarily make you 'smarter' if you take the side effects for granted

'Smart drugs are beneficial'
Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University in the UK thinks the drugs are beneficial on balance. He is about to start a study in Germany on the effects of a number of mind-enhancing drugs, including two hormones: ghrelin, which strengthens the feeling of hunger, and oxytocin, the 'cuddle hormone'. He thinks this can improve the moral content of students. But whether these kinds of experiments are so morally justified?

Swallow or choke?
There is a good chance that much more powerful means of strengthening the mind will be discovered in the future. The consequences will be profound. Will companies require their employees to take a pill that increases their IQ by 20 points at work? This could allow someone with an MBO thinking level to work temporarily as an academic or an academic as a genius. With all the associated disadvantages - just try setting up something at Mensa. Or is a blood test done before exams and job interviews to check whether the applicant has not used doping? We better think about it in time.

'Thinking' DNA soup now a fact

A brain made up of soup? Not exactly an obvious combination. Yet researchers at Caltech have managed to do just that. They have taken a big step forward in the creation of artificial intelligence. In a test tube. The researchers have created an artificial neural network consisting of a circuit of molecules reacting with each other. The network can replenish memories based on incomplete patterns, just as our brain can.

Soup becomes brain
The Caltech researchers wondered whether the functions of the brain, an extremely complex organ made up of a hundred billion neurons, could be taken over by a soup of molecules moving through each other. So, instead of the exchange of signals by neurons, nothing more than molecules that move through each other. The answer to this question, the team shows, is yes.

The neural network consisted of 112 different DNA chains. The chemical mixture plays a well-known memory game in the experiment, in which it has to try to identify an unknown test subject (a scientist from the team). The researchers “trained” the soup to get to know four scientists. Each scientist was represented by a specific, unique set of answers to four yes-no questions, such as whether the scientist was British.

Pattern recognition

Neurons can also consist of DNA instead of cells. You do have to have a lot of patience ...

After thinking about a particular colleague, a human player gives an incomplete set of answers (for example: the scientist is not British, is blonde and likes to surf). The player then throws DNA chains into the network that correspond to these answers. The network 'looks' for the right scientist (for example, a blonde American physicist who loves surfing). The network was also able to determine that there is insufficient information to identify one of the scientists in his memory. Or, also useful for dishonest players, to point out to the human player that his answers contradict each other. The researchers played this game with 27 different ways of asking the questions (out of 81 possible combinations). The soup gave the right answer every time, purely through pattern recognition.

Thinking drugs
The thinking soup, in scientific terms “biochemical systems with artificial intelligence”, can have powerful applications in medicine (see article DNA computer, cup of thinking medicines about Ehud Shapiro's research), chemistry and biological research, the researchers said. In the future, such systems can become active in cells, whereby they can determine by checking a number of chemical questions whether, for example, there is an AIDS virus particle in the cell. Chemists can also use it to make much more complex chemicals or build new structures, such as nanorobots, molecule by molecule.

Chemical neurons
The researchers built their biochemical neural network based on a simple model of a neuron with a linear threshold value. The model neuron receives input signals and multiplies them by a positive or negative weighting factor. Only when the weighted sum of inputs exceeds a certain threshold value does the neuron give a signal. This is an extreme simplification of actual neurons. It is true that, just like this artificial neuron, they only give one signal, but real neurons can also adjust the sensitivity of fellow neurons and the like. Yet these artificial neurons are remarkably lifelike. Even this small number can exhibit brain-like behavior.

How did they build this chemical brain?
To build the DNA neural network, the researchers used a process called strand-displacement cascade. This method uses single and partial DNA double chains (the well-known DNA helix). The single piece of the DNA double helix sticks out like a tail. If a single chain encounters a double chain with a 'tail', and the DNA bases ('letters') of the tail match the DNA bases of the free-floating DNA, the free-floating part binds to the tail and dissipates the double chain. The expelled piece of DNA, the output, can now react with another piece of DNA. The researchers can give the DNA any desired base sequence and also determine the concentrations of each DNA strand. In this way, the scientists can teach the soup the unique patterns of yes and no answers that belong to each of the four researchers. They cheated a bit. They ran a computer simulation to determine which concentrations were needed to implant memories in the DNA neural network.

DNA brain very small and slow
Although thinking DNA soup is in principle possible, according to the researchers this brain is quite limited. Adding more than 40 chemical neurons to the soup is virtually impossible, the researchers think. We have billions of times more. The system is also very slow. It took eight hours to identify each scientist. The molecules were also used up: after completing 'the game', a new mixture has to be made. In short: don't be afraid that when you come to work tomorrow, there will be a large pot of DNA in the place of your chair. Realizing a working thinking chemical system in a petri dish - let alone in a living organism - is a much more complicated challenge. On the other hand, you could imagine building a chemical system around this that removes and refreshes the chemicals after each cycle.

Did life start with thinking soup?
Bacteria are remarkably smart when you consider that they are, in fact, just bags of chemicals. They are able to perceive things and do certain things in response, such as moving the whiptail or producing a certain substance. All that sometimes complex behavior stems from that bag of chemicals. Researcher Qian thinks this is what causes the limited form of bacterial intelligence.

And who knows, the first life may have arisen in this way. Collaborating molecules that at some point formed a membrane and started to work with RNA. The previously described here Voronoi cells, a type of liquid vesicle, also have a very simple form of information processing capability.

Sources
Lulu Qian, Erik Winfree, Jehoshua Bruck. Neural network computation with DNA strand displacement cascades. Nature, 2011
First Artificial Neural Network Created out of DNA: Molecular Soup Exhibits Brainlike Behavior, ScienceDaily (2011)

 

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