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Neuroscientist

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A neuroscientist (or neurobiologist) is a scientist who has specialised knowledge in the field of neuroscience, the branch of biology[1] that deals with the physiology, biochemistry, anatomy and molecular biology of neurons and neural circuits and especially their association with behaviour and learning.[2]

Camillo Golgi (1843–1926), Italian physician, neuroscientist, and namesake of the Golgi apparatus
Camillo Golgi (1843–1926), Italian physician, neuroscientist, and namesake of the Golgi apparatus

Neuroscientists generally work as researchers within a college, university, government agency, or private industry setting.[3] In research-oriented careers, neuroscientists typically spend their time designing and carrying out scientific experiments that contribute to the understanding of the nervous system and its function. They can engage in basic or applied research. Basic research seeks to add information to our current understanding of the nervous system, whereas applied research seeks to address a specific problem, such as developing a treatment for a neurological disorder. Biomedically-oriented neuroscientists typically engage in applied research. Neuroscientists also have a number of career opportunities outside the realm of research, including careers in industry, science writing, government program management, science advocacy, and education.[4] These individuals most commonly hold doctorate degrees in the sciences, but may also hold a master's degree. The Neuroscientists day is celebrated on August 13th. [5]

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  • James Fallon, Neuroscientist - A Scientist's Journey Through Psychopathy
  • Cool Jobs: The Neuroscientist
  • Inspiring Female Scientist: Neuroscientist Moriel Zelikowsky
  • Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality | Anil Seth
  • You can grow new brain cells. Here's how | Sandrine Thuret

Transcription

>>James Fallon: I always knew who I was. One thing is I absolutely sure of who I was. My own identity, my sense of self. And then I got a little bit of a surprise. But the first thing it, started out in a small way. You know, I'm a white heterosexual male. My name is James Henry Fallon, so I'm a WHM, and I'm also an Irish Sicilian American, so I'm a WISAHM. Then when I was about 13 I found out that was not my real name. It was not James Henry Fallon, which I think I had made up. I'm a James Harry Fallon. And I'm also -- we were not Irish at all, but we were adopted, so we're really English genetically, if you will. And so here is really what I really am. I'm a white English Sicilian American heterosexual male, middle-class, agnostic, brought-up Catholic boy; libertarian, New York transplant-to-California, married, Angels-Ducks-Chargers fan. So I'm a WESAHM, a MAMCABUCATHIC. Okay. And so that was fun to find out. You know, this was just part of a parlor game that everybody has gone through. And I had a pretty standard youth. I always considered myself to have a standard youth. I ended up being class clown in high school. I was always goofing around. I was more angel than devil. And I also was named Catholic Boy of the Year in the capital of New York. And that, for some reason, afforded me the honor of meeting Nelson Rockefeller. I don't know what the two have to do with each other but it was a fun thing. He didn't do that to me. He was a great guy, and I was a kid. So I did some -- you know, involved with some other things, too, and I was involved with a lot of extreme sports and everything, but pretty normal stuff and really regular stuff. And I have been married since Nixon, and here is my wife, and we started dating when we were 12. We were first dates, and we loved to dance together and swim, so we really go along. We became friends, and we knew nothing about romance and certainly not sex. And then we were about 16. We were just wrestling downstairs, and we just started making out. And it was like, oh, there's this. All of a sudden the hormones hit. [ Laughter ] So we started to go out, and we said, hey, we think we like each other, we really like each other. We ended up getting married. So we've got three kids who are in their 40s and five grandkids now so far, the youngest of whom is 18, and this kind of jumps up at you. I've been a professor at U.C. Irvine since 1978, so I'm kind of a potted plant there. I'm still there, but I've really had a stable family life and I've had a very stable professional life. And I really always considered myself very -- quite normal. And so I retired at 62 from all the administrative work at the university and my formal teaching. I still teach and do stuff, you know, but I mostly do research, but I'm my own graduate student now. I'm just having fun. I don't need to do anything for money so it's great. It's where you want to be. So I'm happy, successful, and I'm a self-diagnosed normal guy. [ Laughter ] And then something happened; okay? Now -- [ Laughter ] I think I'm partially responsible for -- this is the first time Gandalf showed up, and it turned out to be me, in a sense. So what I had been doing since the early '90s, we got a PET scan, a positron emission tomography, and one of the things we were doing was these really bad -- these serial killers, bad murderers would come in, and then during the penalty phase of the trial they'd say, "Okay, I'll get a PET scan and then you can tell me that I'm crazy so I won't get the death penalty." So we'd done that, one or two a year, and it was thrilling for the medical students because they'd these guys in in manacles and shackles into the PET scanner, SWAT team on top of the medical school buildings. The dean and the chancellor loved this, of course. But this went on for a number of years, and other people were sending me different kinds of scans. So I was looking at different scans of murderers, but I told them don't tell me who is who. I wanted to do it all blind, because even when you try, you create a narrative in your head of the way things should be. I said don't tell me even if they're killers or anything. So I got a whole bunch of these in 2005, and when I was looking at them I realized there was a pattern. And I'm not an expert in psychopathy or in murderers or anything else. It's just one of those things you do when you're in neuroanatomist. You like patterns and so people send you this stuff. And that's my computer again, and always has been. And I noticed this pattern, and the pattern was that in all the psychopaths, the area of the brain that's called the limbic system, it's part of the social brain and emotional regulation, that it was turned off in all these guys. So, you know, I just kind of put together a theory and kind of vetted it at different psychiatry departments, law schools and everything just to kind of move it around. And that was 2005. So I had this -- you know, this theory. And then just happened to be doing -- we were looking for the genes associated with Alzheimer's, because we know the apo E but we thought there might be a gene that would interact with it, that would really cause trouble for people who had these genetics. And so we needed some normals. So I got some controls, and I was one of the controls, because we had to get the study done. We had all the Alzheimer's patients. And so what we ended up with is all the controls looked like controls, it was great, except one. I looked at the PET scan, and I told the technician, I said, you've got to go check the scanner because this is obviously one the killers, because it looked like the worst of the psychopaths that I have looked at ever. [ Laughter ] And they went and checked the machine twice and everything, the whole providence of the data. They go, "No, it's somebody in that group." So I had to peel back the name. Somebody is running loose who is a control and is a murderer. And of course I peeled, and the name on it was mine. [ Laughter ] You know, when I saw it, I just kind of laughed. I said, I'm not a murderer, a rapist, any of that stuff. I'm a normal guy. So I just kind of blew it off, and I just thought to myself, you know, the theory is probably wrong. [ Laughter ] It had to be that. And -- But it turns out the theory wasn't wrong because other people after this found the same pattern in psychopaths. So it wasn't that. About a -- We were very busy that year looking at the genetics and the scans of schizophrenics and people with Alzheimer's, so we were really distracted. But within about six months, 2006, I got the first of my genetics back. And the genetics, the alleles, the forms of the genes that I had, all lined up with high violence and high aggression, low anxiety, and a kind of empathy that's consistent with the psychopath. So, you know, I've got the two biological markers, including ones in my own theory, and I still was pretty much in denial. About the same time, we were having a party. My mother is 97 now and she's just full of it. She's cognitively in great shape. And she says, "Your cousin gave me a book. You've got to read this. It's a historical book and it's about your father's family." Now, her whole family is from Sicily and she always got the business about being Mafia. In fact, growing up, she was a bootlegger and all this stuff and she rode a dynamite truck to Lucky Luciano's place, but they were all good people. You know, they were -- [ Laughter ] So she was sick of that. And here was a book, and it was about the first killing of a mother by a son, matricide, in the American colonies. And it was my direct grandfather; okay? It was the Cornells. But in that, you know, one of my cousins is -- as a Cornell, founded Cornell University. That's very of nice; right? Kind of offset it. [ Laughter ] Hopefully. That's the idea. Another cousin, though, is Lizzie Borden. Cousin Lizzie got a lot of press. I tell you, she's innocent, so we don't count Lizzie as one of the murderers in our family. But we also found, for example, that one of my cousins -- one of our cousins is Jimmy Carter and Marilyn Monroe. And of course we all have these kinds of connections with people, but it was fun finding this out. Again, part of the parlor game of it all. But then it got kind of worse. Now, ancestry is not genetics; right? But it's fun to do. But it turns out on my father's side of the family not only was that one line of murderers and bad actors but there were three other lines of murderers. And one of them went back to this group of English kings who were the most savage of the English kings, and those were all direct grandfathers. And we had slave traders. Oh, they're a very charming family on that side. But there was also kind of a high percentage of ministers and nuns. So we were really holy people or really rats. It was a funny family on that side. So anyway, I found that out, and I got a call, and -- by the guy who had just put money into an adult stem cell company, and he put a few million dollars in. He goes, you know, give a TED Talk and talk about the struggle to get adult stem cell biology accepted. And it never was. And we had findings in the mid '90s and had some findings in the humans. And after ten years, the New York Times, it was not the Nobel committee, said our results were like the most startling finds of the decade of the brain. So I was going to talk about kind of the struggle against the bias, some scientific bias where people just don't believe you. People just didn't think there were adult stem cells in the brain and certainly you couldn't activate them. We found out we could, and now my whole life was dedicated to finding out how to mobilize them to reverse Parkinson's and also chronic stroke. So we formed this company. He goes, "Talk about that," that whole struggle. I talked to the TED people, and they were, "Nyeh, okay, but can you make it sort of personal and funny?" And here's the mistake I made. I said, "Well, I have this other story," you know. And I said, "I don't know if anybody is going to think it was interesting," because they never really thought it was that interesting. And I told them, and they said that's it. So I gave this talk, and in it I had this theory that I got from watching my mother weeding in the backyard. She was on a three-legged stool, and I said, well, we have contributing to psychopathy, these high-vulnerability genes, and the other leg would be a certain brain pattern. And the third one was early abuse or abandonment. Now, I was somebody who never believed that environment meant anything. I was really into the genetics and behaviors, the biological basis of it. So I gave that talk. And that -- that talk -- I know nothing about politics or the law or business. But I found out something -- I do know something about marketing. If you have a TED talk and the keywords are "psychopathic killer," you get a million hits really fast. [ Laughter ] Now, here was -- that was sort of okay. And it was just sort of a cute, fun story. And then I went to Oslo. I was invited to give a talk with the ex-prime minister of Norway on bipolar disorder and the connections and the genetics of it and everything. So I gave it. He gave a talk. He had kind of brought himself out as having that during his first term, and he got treated and came back and very successful second term. So it was kind of a heroic story, especially for a Norwegian to admit this. So I was giving a talk, and I had to use somebody's genetics. So I used all my genetics and my brain pattern. And I listed all of my clinical conditions from birth onwards. You can't read that there, but I went through this whole list. At the end of the talk, the chairman of the department of psychiatry was there. He says, "You don't know this, but you have bipolar disorder. It is just not recognized as such in the United States." He says, "You have hypomania and you don't feel depression but," he says, "you are full bipolar." He says, "And I also want to talk to you afterwards." So we met after the talk at the president of the University of Oslo's house. And several psychiatrists and psychologists were there. I talked to them for a couple hours. They said, "You are pretty close to being a full psychopath." [ Laughter ] Now, that kind of slowed down my cabernet drinking that night. You know, I had never taken it seriously. I had biological data, but I just kind of blew it off. But these people didn't know me, but they knew the clinical and biological data. And these psychiatrists, they talked to me and they said, "You got to check this out." First time I took it seriously. I went home and I asked the question -- I started asking the question to people. And when you ask this question, be ready for some answers. And I just basically said, "Tell me what you really think of me." Now -- And I said, I won't get mad. I won't do anything. And I started with the psychiatrist who knew me for many years and who knew my behaviors. And then I went on to my family and very close friends. They all said the same thing. They said, "Well, you're pretty much close to being a psychopath. We've been telling you for years." [ Laughter ] I said, "No, you said I was crazy." I said, "You're not crazy." But all these things -- they went through the specific behaviors. When I saw them all there, it kind of hit me. Then I got analyzed, psychoanalyzed, and all this stuff and took the tests. And I'm a borderline. I'm not a full categorical psychopath. I'm what you call a pro-social psychopath. It sounds nice. [ Laughter ] It is also called a successful psychopath, which basically means you haven't been caught. So one reason you don't know me is because I have been hiding all these years and didn't quite know that. So, anyway, to get back to this, I still didn't understand why I wasn't really much worse than I was, even though I have behaviors that are not so charming and I have all the -- these pro-social symptoms and traits. And I looked at it, and it didn't make sense to me. And then when I was looking at it just a couple of years ago, I looked at some of the alleles. One of them was the serotonin transporter. And I had these so-called warrior genes. I'm just loaded with them. But some of these, they're only warrior genes if you are abused or abandoned early in life, especially from birth to first few years. But it was found out in a monkey and other papers in humans that if you are treated really in a nurturing environment, it erases some of the other negative characteristics. So this was really the first aha moment because in my whole life, I was always treated like a golden child. Our mother had our older brother, and they wanted a huge family. And then she went through five years of miscarriages, and then I showed up. So the very fact that I was alive meant I was special. You know, it was like a mistake but I'll take it. And so -- and then another four years of miscarriages. And then after that, my mother's uterus got it right so she ended up with six kids, boom, boom, boom, very quickly. But I was treated so well by not only my family but my extended family, and they knew when I was going through puberty, I was in some trouble. I was going through some dark period. In having especially a matriarchy who could see into behavior and do something about it was great. So I think my mother told me teachers, "Watch this kid, make sure he keeps busy." And so I kept busy all the time, and that was it. And then, of course, you know, about ten months ago, I got contacted. And these literary agencies, you got to write a book on it, which I did, "The Psychopath Inside" where I go through some of the nasty things, my own psychopathic behaviors and kind of the biology of it and the genetics of it, what's known about it. Okay. So in reflecting on this, the first thing was that, you know, I had always been in denial of the effect of environment. And it turns out that this was incorrect. Now, if you look at the whole history of nature/nurture which turns into genetics and epigenetics ultimately and environment, from the time of Plato and Socrates, it turns out Plato was correct. Socrates didn't quite have it. But there is this whole history of genetics and a large part at the it at the end, of course, includes Craig. And it will be great to hear what he's going to say. But in this, I never appreciated this interaction of genes and environment and that's when the crow showed up. You know, if you are a scientist, you hate to be wrong, especially if you're narcissistic. I'm very narcissistic. And I had to admit to all my colleagues I was wrong. So when you have to eat crow and a crow this big, I didn't enjoy it at all but, I mean, I was caught in a bind there. So, now, given this, I asked the question: What do I do about this personally? Now, I know that you can't do anything if you are born with a psychopathy or any of these personality disorders. There is no treatment. But I said, I could do it, though. I can change. So what I started doing first with my wife a couple years ago, I started every interaction I would have with her, I stopped for a moment and said, "What would a good guy do here"? So it starts with: Who do you pour the wine for first? Who do you serve? Do you clean up? Simple things. But also I'm the kind of person who if there is, like, a family death, if I find a party, I will be at the party. I mean, I'm a real rat. And so I stop and I stopped and said, "No, you got to do this other thing." But I found out a couple things. First of all, that stopping and looking at this emotionally, you know, with some empathy -- and it turns out I do not have very good empathy, emotional empathy. I have cognitive empathy but not emotional empathy. And I found out that hundreds of times a day I was doing the most selfish thing possible but it slowed me down because I had to think about it. And I became less smart. Part of being a psychopathic is you don't care about other people. Everybody -- usually when you are interacting with people, you are saying: Am I going to hurt this person? Somebody like me, I don't even think of it. So I appear smarter than I am. I may not appear too smart right now, but you appear smarter. And so psychopaths don't have to go through that inefficiency of looping into the limbic system. [ Laughter ] It is sweet, isn't it? And after a couple of months, she goes, "What are you doing? What's going on?" She thought it was a con. I said, "What do you mean?" She says, "Your behavior has changed. You're nice." And then I started to do it with everybody else close to me. And they said the same thing. They weren't talking to each other. But then they -- and I told my wife and I told my close friends. I said, "This is not sincere. I'm just doing it because I think I can do it." [ Laughter ] And I was really being honest. It was like, Are you lying? Being honest? And they said, no, just the fact that you're trying and you're doing this is enough. I said, "You don't care if I'm sincere?" They go "No." I never understood this about people. They all just want to be treated well. This is a big surprise to me. [ Laughter ] You are talking to a 14-year-old boy here. And so the next thing is what do you do professionally? So I got two of my close colleagues. In the back, there is Fabio Macciardi. He was the first guy that discovered associative mating. You end marrying a family basically. This was back in the '80s. He's a geneticist and epidemiologist, psychiatrist. And also Tom Stevenson who raises -- who is a fund-raiser. And the three of us got together. Of course, when you get three of you together, you don't call yourself the three amigos or the three musketeers, or what my wife called us which I can't repeat, you call yourself a global consortium, of course. [ Laughter ] So we started this global consortium. I mean, it is the only thing to do, right? And so what we started to do is given this information, what can we do professionally? Now that we are starting -- and a lot of people are starting to know this research-wise -- how epigenetics evinces behavior and can it be changed, I said, once you have early epigenetic changes early in life, you can't change them. So -- but how can we convince belligerent countries, belligerent groups that by creating neighborhoods that are in generation after generation of violence, it changes those kids because they're seeing violence all the time. And you end up with a warrior culture which sounds like, you know, a brave world, but really they destroy themselves. So if we can convince them biologically and behaviorally that it is a bad thing to do, to have generations of it because they destroy themselves -- everybody's against war, right? But if you say you are going to destroy yourself with it... So that was the beginning idea. And we started to do some studies. Now, one of the things -- it got me to thinking about leadership. And so when I was thinking of all the psychopaths in the world, of course, this idea came up through film and movies and through the financial world and elsewhere that there was something about psychopathy and leadership. Now, I thought the first thing -- my recommendation to any company or a group -- and I work with the military, them too -- that they take -- in the C suite, they have a C level person called the CPO. It is very important which, of course, is the chief psychopathic officer. Now, that sounds -- it is tongue in cheek, and it is not cute to have a full categorical psychopath working with you. It is really bad. But there are traits associated with psychopathy that are interesting. And if you take one trait -- and this is one of these pro-social traits called fearless dominance. And fearless dominance is a major psychopathic trait. On the left is Teddy Roosevelt. You have JFK, FDR, Ronald Reagan. They all have a very high psychopathic trait called fearless dominance, but it is pro social. It is not the antisocial. It is a pro-social one. Now, the thing about this, this is also associated by the voters as being leadership. So when people with that charisma, they got the light around them when they walk in the room, that's fearless dominance. And it is what people want. It doesn't make you a good leader, but it really impresses people. So leadership at any level is this. And so, you know, in a way, we have to accept some psychopathic traits as being very powerful. And, you know, you can look at, for example, more recently President Clinton, President Carter. Now, President Clinton he's kind of in the middle. He doesn't have this full trait. He is in the middle but it is thought to have great leadership skills. And Jimmy Carter has zero psychopathy, as it turns out. Now, he has got leadership skills but zero psychopathy. So we are tending to have these less sort of pernicious people. Now, if you look at the Bushes, it turns out that George Bush and Bill Clinton have the same level of psychopathy in leadership. It is the same one. George, Sr. also like Jimmy Carter, zero. And so there is a very interesting thing of how psychopathy really integrates into the culture. If you look at empathy, here's another one. Different kinds of empathy. One has to do with being ingroup and outgroup, people who are empathetic toward family and tribe versus whole nation and the world. And now there are other people who just have this cognitive one, and there's the marker in my brain for cognitive empathy. I have very little emotional empathy. But I know what other people are feeling. And so the problem with psychopaths is they use that against you. Now, if you take a look, I looked at three of my heros, right? Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. It turns out that they love the world. They love all the children of the world. They did tremendous things. But if you heard Nelson Mandela's daughter talk at his memorial, she said he was a great man but you probably didn't want to be his daughter. Same thing with Gandhi. He was not very good with his own family. Mother Teresa interpersonally, a wonderful person, was a little prickly to be along with. [ Laughter ] Some of these traits are very conducive to leadership. But one of the points is that you don't have good and bad genes. And if we look at these traits as good and bad, think of them like this. Some of these traits are good for the individual and a family. They're not good for the whole species. Some which are great for the species are terrible for home life. And if you look at it that way, you have to look at it in a complete species way. And so we started asking some questions -- and just one, leaders and energy. Without narcissism, who's got the energy to go 24/7 to be a President or a CEO? You have to be on all the time. And the average person just doesn't have it. Doesn't have that drive and take risks. We took two of many questions that we're now looking at, so we are looking at funding for these others. And we have also started on some of these. And I'm almost done here. I see I am out of time. Because we are really concerned about not only bullying but street violence and home violence. And so what we did was, like -- I went to the Sahara. And the idea was that nomads have very little war. So if you took a group of living nomads and went in and tested them genetically, for example, with origins, et cetera, but also interviewed all of them, both Bedouins and Berbers, Arabic, non-Arabic nomads, and in this found out that both of these, the Arabic and non-Arabic, were genetically very close to Sicilians. In fact, the way they adjudicate problems is very similar to the way Sicilians do it. And they have a very stable society. They let people fight for a while. And then they got to get in front of the elders and say "Shut up." So they have a very efficient way. You did this and this. And so they have a very efficient way. What I never understood and appreciated was the effect of the physical -- harsh physical environment. The harsh physical environment is very conducive to peace. And this is why Burning Man should never be held anywhere other than that playa up in northern Nevada. If it was held in a very nice place, people would be fighting all the time. But up there, you got to be good to each other. Now another thing we are looking at right now is we're looking at human skeletons and human DNA from 500,000 years ago to today. This guy right here we're looking at is 24,000 years ago. It is upper paleolithic, and we have good DNA from him. We have a skull reconstructed, so we are reconstructing what his brain looked like. And we're trying to match up the changing genetics throughout the past 500,000 years with the brain, how the brain is changing, and the culture, the art that's found with them, the tools. So we're trying to look at it in kind of a transdisciplinary way to see the human trajectory. Now, one thing I said a few minutes ago was that you can't reverse epigenetics very easily. But it turns out Fabio Macciardi just published a paper that showed that you can, which is fantastic news, that you can go back and forth with gene expression. You can change the epigenetics which means that we may be able to uncode psychopaths and other nasty people or people who have been bullied. You know, the whole depressing cycle of that. So that was very good news. And I want to end with this, which is here's the usual way we look at the human trajectory. That is, we see this steady progression into modern man. But we're headed, of course, toward a transhuman world that was already mentioned today. And that is the integration of synthetic biology and digital sorts of interactions with our genome and our epigenome. And so that's being done. It is inevitable. And it is probably a good thing even though it is scary. So here is where we see humans going. We went from handyman, homo habilis to homo erectus to homo sapiens. There we are today. Neanderthals, we somehow outbred them, and so they went extinct. But about -- there is about 1% of Neanderthal DNA in each of you. But it is different DNA for all of you. So about 25% of Neanderthals is in us. So they became somewhat integrated with us. But now what happens after that? Well, we have with the transhuman changes, we're going to have a homo cyberneticus and homo optimus who are then going to interbreed to form homo hybridus. And homo hybridus will then be integrated with robotus primus and to make ultimately homo machinus. This is going to be the brave new world that some people see. And, of course, the people who are fighting this will become almost Homo sapiens leditus and they will simply go away. This is a depressing future. But if you're a scientist, it is very exciting. [ Laughter ] Bums artists out. I know that. Lastly, what does this have to do with "The Common Thread"? In thinking about this, in order to really do all of this well, how do we address the threat of violence and abuse in global cultures and look at this throughout the span of human history, we need to sustain a stable and nurturing information society for good business and to do it well and ethically and morally, right? And so that's -- it is very important for us to proceed in this way. Now, here we have a new formulation of what Neanderthal -- this is a Neanderthal woman, a pregnant woman, probably looked like. It is much different than we're used to seeing. A very elegant red-head her in this picture. Her hair is dyed. And this is a reconstruction of what she looked like. And here in the middle is some of us Neanderthals, meaning just a fairly modern young gal. And where the interaction takes place, what is the common thread? Well, it turns out that Neanderthals did have culture and a flute was found. So they played music. Instead of talking so much, they probably used their mouth as a third hand. I want fishing -- tuna fishing three days ago. And everybody out there was a Neanderthal because we had to tie hooks and everything with our mouth. But also last month found in Gibraltar in a Neanderthal cave was this symbol that was carved into the rock. The first real showing of neanderthal art. Now, I don't know what it looks like to you, but to me it looks like a hashtag. [ Laughter ] This first hashtag was 40,000 years ago by a Neanderthal. What was he trying to tell us, this artist? Well, in finding the weave -- the weave of the common thread, I think the best verbal description of it is by Goethe and Faust, which is "In truth, the subtle web of thought is like the weaver's fabric wrought. When treadle moves a thousand lines, swift dart the shuttles to and fro, unseen the threads together flow, a thousand knots one stroke combines. In the talks I've heard, I've seen some of those single strokes that are really quite inspiring. So I think we may see it here before the conference is over with. So thank you. [ Applause ]

Contents

Job overview

Job description

A dissected sheep brain.
A dissected sheep brain.

Neuroscientists focus primarily on the study and research of the nervous system. The nervous system is composed of the brain, spinal cord and nerve cells. Studies of the nervous system may focus on the cellular level, as in studies of the ion channels, or instead may focus on a systemic level as in behavioural or cognitive studies. A significant portion of nervous system studies is devoted to understanding the diseases that affect the nervous system, like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Lou Gehrig's. Research commonly occurs in private, government and public research institutions and universities.[6]

Some common tasks for neuroscientists are:[7]

  • Developing experiments and leading groups of people in supporting roles
  • Conducting theoretical and computational neuronal data analysis
  • Research and development of new treatments for neurological disorders
  • Working with doctors to perform experimental studies of new drugs on willing patients
  • Following safety and sanitation procedures and guidelines
  • Dissecting experimental specimens

Salary

The overall median salary for neuroscientists in the United States was $79,940 in May 2014[where?]. Neuroscientists are usually full-time employees. Below, median salaries for common work places in the United States are shown.[7]

Common Work Places Median Annual Pay
Colleges and universities $58,140
Hospitals $73,590
Laboratories $82,700
Research and Development $90,200
Pharmaceutical $150,000

Work environment

Neuroscientists research and study both the biological and psychological aspects of the nervous system.[7] Once neuroscientists finish their post doctoral programs, 39% go on to perform more doctoral work, while 36% take on faculty jobs.[8] Neuroscientists use a wide range of mathematical methods, computer programs, biochemical approaches and imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography angiography, and diffusion tensor imaging.[9] Imaging techniques allow scientists to observe physical changes in the brain, as signals occur. Neuroscientists can also be part of several different neuroscience organizations where they can publish and read different research topics.

Job outlook

Neuroscience is expecting a job growth of about 8% from 2014 to 2024, a considerably average job growth rate when compared to other professions. Factors leading to this growth include an aging population, new discoveries leading to new areas of research, and an increasing utilization of medications. Government funding for research will also continue to influence the demand for this specialty.[7]

Education

Neuroscientists typically enroll in a four-year undergraduate program and then move on to a PhD program for graduate studies. Once finished with their graduate studies, neuroscientists may continue doing postdoctoral work to gain more lab experience and explore new laboratory methods. In their undergraduate years, neuroscientists typically take physical and life science courses to gain a foundation in the field of research. Typical undergraduate majors include biology, behavioral neuroscience, and cognitive neuroscience.[10]

Many colleges and universities now have PhD training programs in the neurosciences, often with divisions between cognitive, cellular and molecular, computational and systems neuroscience.

Interdisciplinary fields

Neuroscience has a unique perspective in that it can be applied in a broad range of disciplines, and thus the fields neuroscientists work in vary. Neuroscientists may study topics from the large hemispheres of the brain to neurotransmitters and synapses occurring in neurons at a micro-level. Some fields that combine psychology and neurobiology include cognitive neuroscience, and behavioural neuroscience. Cognitive neuroscientists study human consciousness, specifically the brain, and how it can be seen through a lens of biochemical and biophysical processes.[11] Behaviorial neuroscience encompasses the whole nervous system, environment and the brain how these areas show us aspects of motivation, learning, and motor skills along with many others.[12]

History

Egyptian understanding and early Greek philosophers

Hieroglyphic stating the word, "brain", dated to 1700 BC. This work is considered a copy of an original writing as old as 3000 BC.
Hieroglyphic stating the word, "brain", dated to 1700 BC. This work is considered a copy of an original writing as old as 3000 BC.

Some of the first writings about the brain come from the Egyptians. In about 3000 BC the first known written description of the brain also indicated that the location of brain injuries may be related to specific symptoms. This document contrasted common theory at the time. Most of the Egyptians' other writings are very spiritual, describing thought and feelings as responsibilities of the heart. This idea was widely accepted and can be found into 17th century Europe.[13]

Plato believed that the brain was the locus of mental processes. However, Aristotle believed instead the heart to be the source of mental processes and that the brain acted as a cooling system for the cardiovascular system.[14]

Galen

In the Middle Ages, Galen made a considerable impact on human anatomy. In terms of neuroscience, Galen described the seven cranial nerves' functions along with giving a foundational understanding of the spinal cord. When it came to the brain, he believed that sensory sensation was caused in the middle of the brain, while the motor sensations were produced in the anterior portion of the brain. Galen imparted some ideas on mental health disorders and what caused these disorders to arise. He believed that the cause was backed-up black bile, and that epilepsy was caused by phlegm. Galen's observations on neuroscience were not challenged for many years.[15]

Medieval European beliefs and Andreas Vesalius

Medieval beliefs generally held true the proposals of Galen, including the attribution of mental processes to specific ventricles in the brain. Functions of regions of the brain were defined based on their texture and composition: memory function was attributed to the posterior ventricle, a harder region of the brain and thus a good place for memory storage.[13]

Andreas Vesalius redirected the study of neuroscience away from the anatomical focus; he considered the attribution of functions based on location to be crude. Pushing away from the superficial proposals made by Galen and medieval beliefs, Vesalius did not believe that studying anatomy would lead to any significant advances in the understanding of thinking and the brain.[13]

Current and developing research topics

Research in neuroscience is expanding and becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. Many current research projects involve the integration of computer programs in mapping the human nervous system. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsored Human Connectome Project, launched in 2009, hopes to establish a highly detailed map of the human nervous system and its millions of connections. Detailed neural mapping could lead the way for advances in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders.

Neuroscientists are also at work studying epigenetics, the study of how certain factors that we face in our everyday lives not only affect us and our genes but also how they will affect our children and change their genes to adapt to the environments we faced.

Behavioral and developmental studies

Neuroscientists have been working to show how the brain is far more elastic and able to change than we once thought. They have been using work that psychologists previously reported to show how the observations work, and give a model for it.

L-phenylalanine
L-phenylalanine

One recent behavioral study is that of phenylketonuria (PKU), a disorder that heavily damages the brain due to toxic levels of the amino acid phenylalanine. Before neuroscientists had studied this disorder, psychologists did not have a mechanistic understanding as to how this disorder caused high levels of the amino acid and thus treatment was not well understood, and oftentimes, was inadequate. The neuroscientists that studied this disorder used the previous observations of psychologists to propose a mechanistic model that gave a better understanding of the disorder at the molecular level. This in turn led to better understanding of the disorder as a whole and greatly changed treatment that led to better lives for patients with the disorder.[16]

Another recent study was that of mirror neurons, neurons that fire when mimicking or observing another animal or person that is making some sort of expression, movement, or gesture. This study was again one where neuroscientists used the observations of psychologists to create a model for how the observation worked. The initial observation was that newborn infants mimicked facial expressions that were expressed to them. Scientists were not certain that newborn infants were developed enough to have complex neurons that allowed them to mimic different people and there was something else that allowed them to mimic expressions. Neuroscientists then provided a model for what was occurring and concluded that infants did in fact have these neurons that fired when watching and mimicking facial expressions.[16]

Effects of early experience on the brain

Neuroscientists have also studied the effects of "nurture" on the developing brain. Saul Schanberg and other neuroscientists did a study on how important nurturing touch is to the developing brains in rats. They found that the rats who were deprived of nurture from the mother for just one hour had reduced functions in processes like DNA synthesis and hormone secretion.[16]

Michael Meaney and his colleagues found that the offspring of mother rats who provided significant nurture and attention tended to show less fear, responded more positively to stress, and functioned at higher levels and for longer times when fully mature. They also found that the rats who were given much attention as adolescents also gave their offspring the same amount of attention and thus showed that rats raised their offspring similar to how they were raised. These studies were also seen on a microscopic level where different genes were expressed for the rats that were given high amounts of nurture and those same genes were not expressed in the rats who received less attention.[16]

The effects of nurture and touch were not only studied in rats, but also in newborn humans. Many neuroscientists have performed studies where the importance of touch is show in newborn humans. The same results that were shown in rats, also held true for humans. Babies that received less touch and nurture developed slower than babies that received a lot of attention and nurture. Stress levels were also lower in babies that were nurtured regularly and cognitive development was also higher due to increased touch.[16] Human offspring, much like rat offspring, thrive off of nurture, as shown by the various studies of neuroscientists.

Famous neuroscientists

Neuroscientists awarded Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine

Neuroscientists in popular culture

See also

References

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External links

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