Posts Tagged ‘Albert Einstein’

The Loss of a Neuroscientist Who Should Have Been Awarded a Nobel Prize

September 6, 2017

And that neuroscientist is Marian Diamond who passed away on July 25, 2017 at the age of ninety. Her painstaking research showed that the body’s three-pound seat of consciousness was a dynamic structure of beautiful complexity, capable of development even in old age.

Prior to her research it was strongly believed the nervous system was fixed. We were stuck with the brain we were born with. And any damage to the brain was irreparable. The brain was a static and unchangeable entity that simply degenerated as we age.

Inspired by the research of psychologist Donald Hebb, she began studying the brains of lab rats. Rats that were raised alone, in small and desolate cages, had more trouble navigating a maze than did rats were raised in “enriched” cages, with toys and rat playmates. Through painstaking analyses of these rat brains she found that the cerebral cortices of rats in “enriched” cages were about 6% thicker than the rats in the “impoverished” cages.

Her findings, published in a 1964 paper with three colleagues, were a pivotal contribution to the long-running debate between nature and nurture, which seeks to determine the extent to which a person is shaped by their genes or by their life experiences.. UC-Berkely professor Robert Knight said “The idea that the brain could change based on environmental input and stimulation was felt to be silly, and that’s the boat she completely sank.

Further research generalized these conclusions to humans. Neuroplasticity was found to be ubiquitous. We continue to generate neurons until we die.

Dr. Diamond went on to develop a rich theory of brain plasticity summarized in the phrase use it or lose it. She outlined the following five factors crucial to brain development at any age: diet, exercise, challenge, newness, and love.

Later in her career she was given several sections of Albert Einstein’s brain. She found an unusually high amount of glial cells, which were thought to be a relatively unimportant part of the tissue that held the brain together. This discovery launched renewed interest in the role of glial cells, which are now believed to play a crucial role in cognitive processes.

This post is based in part on an obituary by Harrison Smith in the 31July 2017 Washington Post.



Some Words from Einstein Worth Pondering

December 24, 2013

I found the following in Mindsight by Daniel J. Siegel (p.255): “In 1959 Albert Einstein received a letter from a rabbi who had lost one of his two daughters to an accidental death. What wisdom could he offered, the rabbi asked to help his remaining daughter as she mourned her sister? Here is what Einstein replied:

A human being is part of a whole. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and foundation for inner security.”

What Einstein’s Brain Tells Us

November 19, 2013

Fortunately Einstein’s heirs allowed for the removal of his brain for study after his demise. As the title of the Washington Post Article indicates “Einstein’s brain was more connected than most. His large corpus callosum, which helps the left and right hemispheres work together, is part of what made the physicist so creative, researchers say.”1 The corpus callosum runs nearly the full length of the brain from behind the forehead to the nape of the neck. Its dense network of neural fibers carries electrical signals between the two hemispheres that make brain regions with very different functions work together.

Peter U. Tse is a neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who studies the underpinnings of artistic, scientific, and mathematical creativity. He argues that “the ways in which we use our brains – and the consistency with which we do so – may matter more as we age.” “He noted that, while Einstein’s brain was much better connected than those of similarly aged men, it was not so different than those of young and healthy controls.”

“That might reflect the fact that Einstein continue to exercise his brain strenuously, forestalling much of the atrophy that comes with age.”

Although we are not Einsteins, it is the continuing theme of the healthmemory blog that we need to continue to exercise our brains strenuously.

1(2013) Healy, M. The Washingtonpost, 13 October, A4.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Temporal Doppler Effect

May 19, 2013

The Doppler Effect refers to frequencies of sound or light increasing as an object approaches and decreasing as the object recedes. The most familiar example of the Doppler Effect is of the frequency of a train whistle increasing as the train approaches and decreasing as the train whistle recedes. The most esoteric example of the Doppler Effect is the red shift of light indicating the age of the universe as the Big Bang recedes. Now it appears that there is also a psychological Doppler Effect.1

In one study, 95 undergraduates were asked either to think ahead to exactly one month from today or to think back to exactly one month ago today. The target day’s psychological distance was reported using a scale from 1 (a really short time from now) to 10 (a really long time from now). One month in the future was reported as being closer than one month in the past.

In another study, 98 Boston commuters were asked to think ahead to exactly one year from today or to think back to exactly one year from today. Again, one year in the future was perceived as being closer than one year in the past.

Yet a third study used’s Mechanical Turk Service. 333 participants completed an online survey for $0.75. Participants took the survey either eight days before or seven days after Valentine’s Day. The survey consisted of a scale ranging from -3 (an extremely short time from now) to 3 (an extremely long time from now) to rate the psychological distance to or from Valentine’s Day. Again the results showed that the time ahead was perceived as shorter than the time past.

The final study used a virtual reality simulator to move the participants either forwards or backwards. Immediately after this virtually reality experience, the participants rated how far an event either three weeks in the future or three weeks in the past felt to them. Those who had had the virtual reality experience of moving forward again experienced the future as being closer than the past. However, this effect was mitigated for those who had experienced the backwards virtual reality experience. Although the simulation did mitigate the feeling of the future being more distant than the past, the difference was not statistically significant. Although the study involved 80 research participants, 40 experiencing forward virtual reality and 40 experiencing backwards virtual reality, it would not be surprising if a much larger research sample did achieve statistical significance at a conventional alpha level of 0.05 (the probability of incorrectly accepting the null hypothesis). The power of the statistical test (the probability of detecting a true difference) was not reported

There are both theoretical physicists and philosophers who have argued that time has no unique direction. Einstein remarked that time’s arrow is” …a gratuitous assumption).2 3 Regardless of the direction of time, it does have a psychological direction affected by the spatio-temporal direction. It would also appear to have adaptive value, as we need to cope with the time dominant future and draw upon the less time dominant past to help us succeed.

1Caruso, E.M., Boven, L.V., Chin, M., & Ward, A. (2013). The Temporal Doppler Effect: When the Future Feels Closer Than the Past. Psychological Science, a

2Einstein, A. (1955 March 21). [Letter to Vero Besso & Bice Rusconi-Bosso]. Albert Einstein Archives (7-245.10) Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

3Mehlbert, H. (1962). Review of the book, The Direction of Time by H. Reichenbach. The Philosophical Review, 71, 99-104

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.