Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Resting brain works on Screensaver Mode

At Rest, Your Brain Runs in Screensaver Mode
Robert Roy Britt (
Your brain's visual centers remain active when your eyes are closed and even when you sleep, studies have shown. But it's a different type of activity, one not fully understood.

A new study sheds light. In both situations — resting with eyes closed or sleeping — electrical activity continues in the brain, but the activity is represented by slow electrical fluctuations, rather than the bursts of activity that occur when you're awake with eyes wide open. The resting oscillations, as the scientists call them, were found to be most pronounced during deep sleep, as might be expected.

The slow fluctuation pattern can be compared to a computer screensaver, say the researchers at the Weizmann Institute.

Though the newfound activity's function is unclear, the researchers have a couple ideas:

Perhaps neurons, like philosophers, must "think" in order to be; neuron survival, the idea goes, would require a constant state of activity. Or maybe the minimal level of activity enables a quick start when an outside stimulus is presented, something like a getaway car with the engine running, the researchers suggest.

These new ideas differ starkly from how scientists thought all this worked. "In the old approach, the senses are 'turned on' by the switch of an outside stimulus," explained Weizmann Institute neurobiology student Yuval Nir, who worked on the study. "This is giving way to a new paradigm in which the brain is constantly active, and stimuli change and shape that activity."

This different type of brain activity could also explain why most people don't constantly experience hallucinations or hear voices while they rest, the researchers suggest. More>>

Meditation and the Brain

Matthieu Ricard (speaking at Google)

Speaker: gifted French scientist turned Buddhist monk, bestselling author, translator, and photographer. He has lived and studied in the Himalayas for the last 35 years.

If happiness is an inner state, influenced by external conditions but not dependent on them, how can we achieve it? Matthieu Ricard examines the inner and outer factors that increase or diminish our sense of well-being, dissect the underlying mechanisms of happiness, and lead us to a way of looking at the mind itself based on his book, Happiness: A Guide to Life's Most Important Skill and from the research in neuroscience on the effect of mind-training on the brain.

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