Posts Tagged ‘MRI’

Scientific tests have revealed that an ancient Buddhist statue contains the perfectly preserved remains of a 1,000-year-old mummified monk, in what is believed to be the only such example in the world.

The monk, who is sitting in the lotus position, is thought to have starved himself to death in an act of extreme spiritual devotion in China or Tibet in the 10th century. His preserved remains were displayed in his monastery.

Some 200 years later, perhaps after his remains started to deteriorate, his mummified body was placed inside the elaborate, lacquered statue of Buddha.

The unusual contents of the statue were discovered in the 1990s when the statue underwent restoration. Experts were unable to remove the mummy due to the risk of disintegration, so they could do little more than peer into the darkened cavity of the Buddha.

Now, an international team of German, Dutch and Italian scientists has conducted a CAT scan which revealed the monk’s skeleton in perfect detail.

“It was not uncommon for monks to practise self-mummification but to find a mummified monk inside a statue is really extraordinary,” said Wilfrid Rosendahl, a German palaeontologist who led the research. “It’s the only known example in the world.

“Using a CAT scan, we saw that there was a perfectly preserved body with skin and muscles inside the statue. It’s a complete mummy, not just a skeleton. He was aged between 30 and 50.”

The mummy has been studied by an interdisciplinary team of experts, including radio carbon dating specialists and textile analysts, at the Meander Medical Centre in Amersfoort, the Netherlands.

Using an endoscope, experts took samples from inside the mummy’s thoracic and abdominal cavities and discovered that the monk’s organs had been removed and replaced with ancient wads of paper printed with Chinese characters.

Samples of bone were also taken for DNA testing.

The Buddha statue was bought several decades ago on the art market by a Dutch private collector, who had no idea that the mummy was hidden inside.

It will go on display in museums around Europe, and is currently in the Natural History Museum in Budapest.

“The monk died in a process of self-mummification,” said Dr Rosendahl.

“During the last weeks he would have started eating less food and drinking only water. Eventually he would have gone into a trance, stopped breathing and died. He basically starved himself to death.

“The other monks would have put him close to a fire to dry him out and put him on display in the monastery, we think somewhere in China or Tibet.

“He was probably sitting for 200 years in the monastery and the monks then realised that he needed a bit of support and preservation so they put him inside the statue.”

Mummified monks were not only the focus of religious devotion, but important for the economy of the monastery because they attracted pilgrims who would offer donations.

Mummified-monk-revealed-inside-1000-year-old-Buddha-statue

Thanks to Steven Weihing for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

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Everyone knows it’s easier to learn about a topic you’re curious about. Now, a new study reveals what’s going on in the brain during that process, revealing that such curiosity may give a person a memory boost.

When participants in the study were feeling curious, they were better at remembering information even about unrelated topics, and brain scans showed activity in areas linked to reward and memory.

The results, detailed October 2 in the journal Neuron, hint at ways to improve learning and memory in both healthy people and those with neurological disorders, the researchers said.

“Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it,” Matthias Gruber, a memory researcher at the University of California, Davis, said in a statement. “These findings suggest ways to enhance learning in the classroom and other settings.”

Gruber and his colleagues put people in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and showed them a series of trivia questions, asking them to rate their curiosity about the answers to those questions. Later, the participants were shown selected trivia questions, then a picture of a neutral face during a 14-second delay, followed by the answer. Afterward, the participants were given a surprise memory test of the faces, and then a memory test of the trivia answers.

Not surprisingly, the study researchers found that people remembered more information about the trivia when they were curious about the trivia answers. But unexpectedly, when the participants were curious, they were also better at remembering the faces, an entirely unrelated task. Participants who were curious were also more likley than others to remember both the trivia information and unrelated faces a day later, the researchers found.

The brain scans showed that, compared with when their curiosity wasn’t piqued, when people were curious, they showed more activation of brain circuits in the nucleus accumbens, an area involved in reward. These same circuits, mediated by the neurochemical messenger dopamine, are involved in forms of external motivation, such as food, sex or drug addiction.

Finally, being curious while learning seemed to produce a spike of activity in the hippocampus, an area involved in forming new memories, and strengthened the link between memory and reward brain circuits.

The study’s findings not only highlight the importance of curiosity for learning in healthy people, but could also give insight into neurological conditions. For example, as people age, their dopamine circuits tend to deteriorate, so understanding how curiosity affects these circuits could help scientists develop treatments for patients with memory disorders, the researchers said.

http://www.livescience.com/48121-curiosity-boosts-memory-learning.html