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viernes, 16 de noviembre de 2012

En busca del origen de la creatividad

Brain scans of rappers shed light on creativity

Functional magnetic resonance imaging shows what happens in the brain during improvisation.

Open Mike Eagle

Open Mike Eagle, one of the authors of the latest study, performs on Knocksteady TV.
Rappers making up rhymes on the fly while in a brain scanner have provided an insight into the creative process.
Freestyle rapping — in which a performer improvises a song by stringing together unrehearsed lyrics — is a highly prized skill in hip hop. But instead of watching a performance in a club, Siyuan Liu and Allen Braun, neuroscientists at the US National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda, Maryland, and their colleagues had 12 rappers freestyle in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.
The artists also recited a set of memorized lyrics chosen by the researchers. By comparing the brain scans from rappers taken during freestyling to those taken during the rote recitation, they were able to see which areas of the brain are used during improvisation. The study is published today in Scientific Reports1.
The results parallel previous imaging studies in which Braun and Charles Limb, a doctor and musician at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, looked at fMRI scans from jazz musicians2. Both sets of artists showed lower activity in part of their frontal lobes called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during improvisation, and increased activity in another area, called the medial prefrontal cortex. The areas that were found to be ‘deactivated’ are associated with regulating other brain functions.
“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity,” says Braun.
He adds that this suggestion is “a little bit controversial in the literature”, because some studies have found activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in creative behaviour. He suggests that the discrepancy might have to do with the tasks chosen to represent creativity. In studies that found activation, the activities — such as those that require recall — may actually be less creative.
“We try to stick with more natural creative processing, and when we do that we see this decrease in the dorsal lateral regions,” says Braun.

Pump down the volume

Rex Jung, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, has also studied the link between brain structures and creativity, finding an inverse relationship between the volume of some frontal lobe structures and creativity3. “Some of our results imply this downregulation of the frontal lobes in service of creative cognition. [The latest paper] really appears to pull it all together,” he says. “I’m excited about the findings.”
Jung says that this downregulation is likely to apply in other, non-musical areas of creativity — including science.
The findings also suggest an explanation for why new music might seem to the artist to be created of its own accord. With less involvement by the lateral prefrontal regions of the brain, the performance could seem to its creator to have “occurred outside of conscious awareness”, the authors write.
Michael Eagle, a study co-author who raps under the name Open Mike Eagle, agrees: “That’s kind of the nature of that type of improvisation. Even as people who do it, we’re not 100% sure of where we’re getting improvisation from.”
Liu says that the researchers are now working on problems they were unable to explore with freestylers — such as what happens after the initial burst of creative inspiration.
"We think that the creative process may be divided into two phases," he says. "The first is the spontaneous improvisatory phase. In this phase you can generate novel ideas. We think there is a second phase, some kind of creative processing [in] revision."
The researchers would also like to look at how creativity differs between experts and amateurs of a similar artistic ilk to freestylers: poets and storytellers.

jueves, 15 de noviembre de 2012

Una mutación genética vinculada al Alzheimer

Alzheimer’s Tied to Mutation Harming Immune Response

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Alzheimer’s researchers and drug companies have for years concentrated on one hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease: the production of toxic shards of a protein that accumulate in plaques on the brain.
Amyloid plaques build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.


But now, in a surprising coincidence, two groups of researchers working from entirely different starting points have converged on a mutated gene involved in another aspect of Alzheimer’s disease: the immune system’s role in protecting against the disease. The mutation is suspected of interfering with the brain’s ability to prevent the buildup of plaque.
The discovery, researchers say, provides clues to how and why the disease progresses. The gene, known as TREM2, is only the second found to increase Alzheimer’s risk substantially in older people.
“It points very specifically to a potential metabolic pathway that you could intervene in to change the course of Alzheimer’s disease,” said William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Much work remains to be done before scientists understand precisely how the newly discovered gene mutation leads to Alzheimer’s, but already there are some indications from studies in mice. 
When the gene is not mutated, white blood cells in the brain spring into action, gobbling up and eliminating the plaque-forming toxic protein, beta amyloid. As a result, Alzheimer’s can be staved off or averted.
But when the gene is mutated, the brain’s white blood cells are hobbled, making them less effective in their attack on beta amyloid.
People with the mutated gene have a threefold to fivefold increase in the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease in old age.

domingo, 11 de noviembre de 2012

Con faldas y a lo loco en la CIA

Message from General David H. Petraeus (US Army Retired)

Statement to Employees from General David H. Petraeus (US Army Retired)
November 9, 2012 (Texto tomado del sitio oficial de la CIA)

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.
As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard. Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.
Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.
Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.
With admiration and appreciation,
David H. Petraeus

El asunto Petraeus tiene miga y enjundia. A un super ex oficial, director de la famosa (la tristemente Agency a la que tantos goles le han colado) CIA (tremenda porquería) lo pillan por unos e-mails indiscretos, que, como no podía ser de otra manera, intercepta el FBI. Tachan, primer gran mal rollito: los federales y su envidia verdosa de la Agencia de Langley. Al parecer hay dos féminas que compiten por los favores del super soldado. Una de ellas archivera mayor y empingorotada biógrafa del supersoldado (Paula Broadwell, presunta amante). La otra, no se sabe, no figura. Buen comienzo del culebrón.
Resulta que a un tipo tan duro, que según se dice salvó la papeleta a su país en Irak (hay que ver de qué puñetera manera) y metió mano en Afganistán (donde el número de difuntos es ya muy elevado), ese paradigma de patriota aguerrido, sucumbió en cambio a los bajos ardores de la carne. Y eso después de haber jurado su cargo sobre la Biblia que sostenía su rolliza esposa. Manda eggs, vamos.
Lo peor del  asunto es que algo tan privado y como que de cintura para abajo, cobre tamaña categoría política. ¿Lo han chantajeado?. Tal vez.
El episodio es digno de la serie de comics con el "American Dad" que es un espía destacado en Langley y su muy disfuncional family. Pues eso: vengan muchas guerras de rapiña, niños muertos, mujeres sometidas a los talibanes (que se reproducen como hongos los muy asesinos) y lo que importa es el honor dudoso de un soldado. Mucha hipocresía y cara dura.
Más inteligencia y menos mojigatería en la CIA.