Neuroplasticity: Remodel your brain!

Our brain is extraordinarily plastic. Not in the Tupperware and Barbie doll kind of way -- in the neuroscience field plasticity means the amazing ability of our brains to change and to adapt to pretty much everything that happens to us. There were times when scientists believed that once you’re out of the sweet childhood years your brain is like a dried clay pot, stuck in one form only. Yet tons of research has proved them wrong -- the brain turned out to be much more like play-doh, really. These changes can occur on very different scales: From a single neuron changing its connection to a whole cortical area shrinking or getting larger. There is plenty of factors altering the way your brain is wired including injury and stroke, as well as less tragic ones such as meditation, exercise or having piano lessons every day. As with everything in life, plasticity has two sides -- A side where your brain can reorganise itself during the after-stroke rehabilitation and the (dark) side where you are plagued by phantom pain after losing a limb. So let’s see how and what and why it all happens.

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Brain 101: Get to know your lord and master.

I'm gonna make a bold claim and say that you are your brain. Everything you think, feel and experience happens in and is possible solely because of your brain. Your consciousness arises there, your love resides there, your annoyance at the neighbour's dog barking in the night is also situated there (although many philosophers of mind would fight me on that reductionist view). So learning some basic things about our Lord Commander of the Mind Watch (sorry) doesn't seem like a bad idea to me. 

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A slightly too late bi-weekly neuroscience news block.

It is this time of the month again: Time to overview the cool stuff neuroscience discovered in the last two (okay, almost three) weeks! On the agenda today:  How scientists can read your mind, why you better should clean up your work desk right about now, new victories in the fight against Alzheimer's and some encouragement for your scribblings on the old newspapers or writing Harry Potter fan fiction in your secret notebook.  

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Fear and loathing in Amsterdam or This time I went to a conference on psychedelic research

Oh, Amsterdam, the city of sex and drugs! Just kidding, there is certainly more to it than that. Like, for example, piss-drunk British teenagers coming in on these EasyJet weekend flights. Just kidding again! Amsterdam is a great city which I love dearly and just this weekend it hosted the third Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research. So I guess you can say, I came to Amsterdam for drugs. Psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, ayahuasca, mescaline, ibogaine -- everything was covered. It was great seeing how many research groups are investing their efforts in what can be called the psychedelic Renaissance and how many non-scientists were there to gain some knowledge about these often still stigmatised drugs.

So here you go, your fresh fix of psychedelic research!

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Memory and the manipulations thereof.

Have you ever envied Kate Winslet’s character in the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”? Have you ever wished that you could erase memories of a nasty ex just by pushing a button? (I sure did after one of my exes told me that trees have souls whereas I do not) Or that you could bring an elusive memory back into your head? (I bet everyone who has ever written an exam sure did). Basically: Would you like to manipulate memory?

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New kid on the (news) block: Bi-weekly neuroscience news

So not only did I create a fancy new website, I also decided to spice it up a bit more. *Intense drumroll* From now on I will do a bi-weekly news block to keep you updated on what awesome stuff has been discovered in neuroscience while we all were struggling through the week. On the menu this week: magic mushrooms and depression, what happens in your brain when you talk to God, and memory enhancement by brain manipulation. 

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Watching your own dream on YouTube and reading your spouse’s mind: bad sci-fi idea or the thing to get ready for?

Who did not envy Professor X, the Vulcans or higher elves (I am so sorry, couldn’t think of less nerdier examples!) at least once in their lives? I sure did. Every time a question about superpowers comes up in “Would you rather?..” I always pick mind-reading without even hearing the second option. But how realistic is that? Will we be able to communicate without speaking any time soon? Create romantic moments by finishing each other sentences all the time? Win a Pulitzer Prize by knowing the true answers to all your interview questions? Just brainstroming here.

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