Posts Tagged ‘CHRISTIAN COTRONEO’

by CHRISTIAN COTRONEO

The mind may seem to thrive on stimuli — the honking horns, the pixels percolating on this screen at this very moment, or even the way the keyboard feels under your fingers at any given time of day.

But, in fact, it may be what lies between — the time between honks, if you will — when the brain focuses on encoding the information, according to a new study from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and the University of New South Wales.

Of course, we’ve long known that silence is golden — especially when it comes to mental health and dealing with stress. But the new research points to the absence of stimulation as a window when the brain has a chance to learn from its environment.

Think of it as a micro-breather for the mind, allowing it to grasp and distill what it’s experiencing.

To reach that conclusion, researchers Ingvars Birznieks and Richard Vickery developed a unique way to control the neural information that’s presented to the brain. Essentially, they delivered short mechanical taps to the fingertips of study subjects.

Birznieks and Vickery ensured that each tap generated a corresponding nerve impulse to a neuron in the brain. By triggering the sense of touch — which the brain registers from vibrations along the ridge of our fingertips — the scientists were able to monitor how nerve impulses encoded the information.

The thing is, the frequency of those neuron bursts didn’t match the frequency of taps.

“Instead, it was the silent period between bursts that best explained the subjects’ experiences,” Birznieks noted in the NeuRA blog.

Prevailing theories had it that every vibration or tap would have a corresponding nerve impulse, or the brain would be able to detect a periodic regularity in the impulse patterns.

“We were hoping to disprove one of the two competing theories, but showing they were both incorrect and finding a completely new coding strategy totally surprised us,” Birznieks added.

The brain just kept ticking along to its own beat, independent of how often those fingertips were stimulated.

For neuroscience, the findings could be a game-changer. A better understanding of how the brain fields daily neural impulses could pave the way for more efficient interfaces between brain and machine.

And for the rest of us, it suggests that in a increasingly noise-addled society — where every sense seems in danger of over-stimulation — it may do a body good to give the brain a breather.

https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/stories/silence-brain-study-touch-stimulation

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by CHRISTIAN COTRONEO

If you happen to be in Poland’s sprawling Bialowieza Forest, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of its most storied residents: a herd of wild bison.

And you might even spot a strange, new addition to that herd. No, your eyes are not deceiving you. This isn’t forest magic.

That’s a cow.

And how did a farm animal end up joining a herd of fiercely independent — and very much endangered — beasts?

According to Poland’s TVN24 news portal, the cow escaped from her pen at a nearby farm last fall. Back in November, the fugitive farm animal was spotted again, keeping the unlikeliest of company.

“It’s not unusual to see bison near the Bialowieza Forest, but one animal caught my eye,” Adam Zbyryt, the bird expert who spotted the cow told TVN24 back then. “It was a completely different light-brown shade from the rest of the herd. Bison are chestnut or dark brown.”

The cow fit the description of one that had gone missing from the farm: a reddish-grown Limousin cow.

Then winter set in — and most assumed the cow, who wasn’t naturally built for the elements like her hardy friends, would perish.

But earlier this week, Rafal Kowalczyk, director of the Mammal Research Institute at the Polish Academy of Sciences, came upon an astonishing sight: the very same cow, still healthy and seemingly well-fed, and still making time with his wild friends.

Somehow, the runaway cow had managed to thrive over the winter, even as the bison herd hadn’t fully welcomed her into the fold.

Indeed, the images show a cow just at the fringe of the herd. Let’s call her a persistent cow, who may owe her life to the bison.

“She is not very integrated with the group, as bison act like one organism and she stands out,” Kowalczyk told the Polish news station. But wolves, he added, were likely discouraged from attacking her thanks to the daunting company she kept.

But the cow still faces an uncertain future, mostly because her very presence puts an already minuscule bison herd in danger. There are just 600 of these behemoths left in Bialowieza Forest, a UNESCO heritage site spanning some 350,000 acres between Poland and Belarus. For the bison, the primeval forest is their last stronghold in Europe, having been hunted to near-extinction over the last century.

If, as Kowalczyk points out, the bison do accept this insistent cow into their herd, it could lead to mating, which could contaminate the herd with hybrids.

Then there’s the real possibility of the cow dying a particularly painful death during childbirth, as a baby bison may be too much for her bovine birth canal.

It’s hard to blame the cow.

Who wouldn’t peer over the fence at these magnificent animals and not dream of running with them? Besides, by several accounts, she was earmarked for slaughter.

But it does leave a lingering question: What to do with this little dreamer?

Likely, she will have to return to the farm. Or, even better, a sanctuary might step in, thanks to the soaring popularity if this “rebel” cow.

But before then, this cow leaves us all with a little bovine inspiration: There’s no dream too big, too far — or even too weird.

https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/cow-bison-poland-forest