Monday, June 21, 2021

Decision making ability is a reliable marker of emotional stability

 








A common factor called "decision acuity" underpins diverse decision-making abilities. Decision acuity reflects a facility for good decision-making. High decision acuity reflected fast learning, considering outcomes in the distant future, reward sensitivity, trust in others, and a low tendency for retaliation. Crucially, decision acuity and IQ had dissociable brain signatures. Independent of IQ, decision acuity predicted performance in the decision-making tasks was higher in older subjects and increased parental education. 

Decision acuity may be important for understanding mental health, inferior social function, and aberrant thought patterns. Decision acuity increased with age and was associated with mental health symptoms independently of intelligence. Crucially, it was associated with distinctive resting-state networks, particularly in brain regions typically engaged by decision-making tasks. Decision acuity is reliable and stable over months and even years later. Therefore, stable, functional connectivity underpins decision-making ability. 

These results may be important for understanding mental health, particularly regarding poor social function and aberrant thought patterns. Decision acuity is reduced in individuals with low general social functioning. Decision acuity was decreased in those with aberrant thinking and low general social functioning. 

Image: Rodin, The Thinker


Read the original article: A generic decision-making ability predicts psychopathology in adolescents and young adults and is reflected in distinct brain connectivity patterns





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Saturday, May 8, 2021

How does the brain produce the mind?

 



The nature of the mind is an age-old question. The most puzzling aspect of consciousness is its autonomy. The difficulty of meditation indicates the precarious nature of conscious mind control. We have a hard time regulating our thoughts, let alone suppressing them; our emotions, particularly our negative feelings, tend to spill into every aspect of our lives. 

Animals can only find food and escape danger if they provide an intelligent answer to stimuli. They can walk, swim, fly, run, climb trees, and even hunt with incredible precision. How do they do it? Every move is a teaching moment about gravity, distance, weight, and force. The intuition of the physical environment ensures survival. Sensory organs turn the spatial information from our three-dimensional world into a complex temporal rhythm, which forms the basis of decision-making and memory. Adopting the physical laws integrates the organism into the environment. Intellect is the ability to adapt to the physical laws of nature. At a certain neural complexity, emotions permit a far better environmental integration through memory and learning. The birth of the non-material mind enables comparisons and associations based on emotions.

The brain relies on the body for its extensive nutrients needs, but it only connects with the outside world through the sensory system, which channels information to the cortex. The internal mirroring of the environment makes it possible for the mind to orient between birth and death. Therefore, the mind is a temporal compass, which can maintain its purpose automatically, without conscious intention. Stimulus unbalances successive regulatory layers of the brain, but an internal mechanism generates a response that restores a ground condition, the so-called resting state. The brain’s automatic ability to maintain the resting state is particle-like self-regulation.

Watch the video, Where do emotions come from



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Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Higgs boson and the Higgs field

 





The Higgs boson is the fundamental particle associated with the Higgs field. The Higgs boson was proposed in 1964 by Peter Higgs, Fran├žois Englert, and four other theorists to explain why certain particles have mass. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland has confirmed its existence in 2012 through the ATLAS and CMS experiments. 

The Standard Model predicts only massless particles, contradicting our experience. The solution was the Higgs boson, which can provide mass. The Higgs boson is the quantum excitation of the Higgs field. A key feature is that it takes less energy for the field to have a non-zero than a zero vacuum expectation value. This non-zero value could break electroweak symmetry, allowing the weak force bosons to acquire mass.

Questions arise about the Higgs hypothesis:

1, Particles are massless. The Higgs boson lends mass by bumping into those massless particles. Mass would reduce the distance they can travel, which matches experimental findings. The field also explains the mass of other fundamental constituents, including electrons and quarks.

On the other hand, Einstein's general relativity tells us that mass is a permanent quality of particles. Mass can turn into energy by the equation. 


E = M C^2


If the mass is an acquired quality, then energy is also just a figment of the Higgs boson. 

2, In the months leading up to the discovery, the media was awash in buzz for the so-called "God" particle. The discovery of the Higgs boson was supposed to solve fundamental questions in physics about our world's structure. Nevertheless, five years after the discovery, the understanding of the physical world has not progressed. 

3, The Higgs boson with a mass of 125.35 GeV is too light to form a mass, giving interactions with other particles. To solve this problem, supersymmetry was born. Supersymmetry predicts the existence of extra particles, which would cancel out their Standard-Model partners' contributions to the Higgs mass, allowing a lighter mass Higgs boson. Thus, supersymmetry extends the Standard Model by predicting a super-partner particle for each known particle. These new particles, which could fix the Higgs boson's mass, seemed to explain the Higgs mass problem.

Unfortunately, no supersymmetric particles were observed in collisions at the LHC. Physicists are very clever can solve their problems. In the absence of supersymmetry, they proposed the existence of multiverses. According to this idea, the Higgs can take any mass. Each universe of the infinite number of universes would contain a specific mass Higgs particle. It's reasonable to assume that if there were an infinite number of universes, one of them might have a Higgs with the observed mass, and we are lucky to live in the universe with the right mass. 

Another proposed solution to solve the light-mass Higgs problem is yet another field, the axion field. The Higgs mass would depend on the hypothetical axion field's numerical value, which permeates space and time. Axions could relax the value of the Higgs mass to its observed value. 

4, The Higgs boson is a massive particle, around 125 GeV – that’s about 130 times the proton's mass at rest – with zero electric charges and spin. Where is Higgs boson mass coming from? At one point, the Higgs field turned on. Conveniently, the Higgs field has a non-zero value, so it can spontaneously break down to give mass to the elementary particles. It seems that the idea of the Higgs has only kicked the can down the road. What is your view, is there a Higgs boson or a Higgs hoax?  

A 2014 paper by Belyaev, Brown, Froadi, and Frandsen is a clear reminder that the Standard Model is unsettled and the discovery of the Higgs Boson is not 100% certain. 

Image credit: CERN for the ATLAS and CMS Collaborations


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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Can the mind be examined as a physical system? Social consequences of the fermionic mind hypothesis

 



My latest work connects basic research in neuroscience with psychobiology, clinical diagnostic, and therapeutic insights. Cognition arises from sensory processing, which can increase or decrease synaptic complexity. We may be able to use the tools of mathematics to calculate the energy value of intellect.    

Positive psychology recognizes the close relationship between social climate and resource availability. The social environment is an excellent determinant of the mindset of behavior in animals and people. In the late nineteenth century, the Russian scientist Peter Kropotkin found that species from bacteria and fish to mammals and birds lean toward generosity and cooperation when faced with abundance. From ants and bees to falcons, swallows, gazelles, and buffalos, as well as herds of wild horses, tribes of dogs, wolf packs, and communities of people form cooperation and generosity when faced with biological richness and supply abundance. Positive environments encourage generosity and cooperation by supporting security, trust, and confidence. Desirable population structures promote cooperation.

However, when the reduction of supplies reaches a tipping point, generosity disappears. Defections sweep through the population, the lack of resources inflicts a cognitive burden, which negatively affects IQ. The poor's lack of generosity originates in mental exhaustion rather than personality defects. The above considerations also might explain poverty’s role in negative personality transformations. Conspiracy theories, terrorism, and crime reflect the wide-spread distrust in governments, public institutions, and even science. We propose that the loss of a degree of freedom occurs through distrust. Therefore, interventions to provide basic social safety effectively raise the human race's overall cognitive performance.


Read the whole article in Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal



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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

AlphaFold can predict the exact shape of proteins to precisions within the width of an atom.

 





Starting in the 1950s, the complete structures of proteins were determined by tedious laboratory experiments. Experimental techniques that can map out the structure of proteins in the lab, such as cryo-electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance, and x-ray crystallography, can take hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of trial and error for each protein. 
  
A protein is a precise amino acid sequence that automatically folds itself up with many complex twists into a typical shape. The final structure determines how the protein behaves. Proteins' action is the key to the basic mechanisms of life, how we digest food, how hormones regulate behavior, and how our immune system fights disease. Efforts to develop vaccines for covid-19 have focused on the virus’s spike protein, for example. The way the coronavirus snags onto human cells depends on the shape of this protein and the shapes of the proteins on the outside of those cells. Therefore, finding the folded protein structures is an essential and vigorous research area.

The latest version of DeepMind’s deep-learning system, called AlphaFold, can find a protein’s shape in a few days with high accuracy. The new AlphaFold computational methods predicted the structure of dozens of proteins with a margin of error of just 1.6 angstroms—that’s 0.16 nanometers, less than the size of an atom. 

The breakthrough is a game-changer in pharmaceutical research, new drug design, and disease understanding. Many drugs are designed by simulating their 3D molecular structure, which requires knowing the structure of those proteins, which is true for only a quarter of the roughly 20,000 human proteins. AlphaFold will revolutionize this research. In the longer term, predicting protein structure will also help design synthetic proteins, such as enzymes that digest waste or produce biofuels. 
Read the whole article: Nature 588, 203-204 (2020)


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Friday, November 20, 2020

Essential Genes Evolve in Genome’s Junkyard

 




Essential genes are often thought to be frozen in evolutionary time-evolving only very slowly because their changing or elimination would lead to the organism's death. Hundreds of millions of years of evolution separate insects and mammals, but experiments show that the Hox genes guiding the development of the body plans in Drosophila fruit flies and mice can be swapped without a hitch because they are so similar. This remarkable evolutionary conservation is a foundational concept in genome research. But a new study turns this rationale for genetic conservation on its head. 

Rapidly changing heterochromatin drives the evolution of new essential genes. Young genes are just as likely as old ones to encode essential functions. The most rapidly evolving ones were much more likely to encode essential functions than the more slowly evolving ones. These transcription factors did not localize to euchromatin, the part of the genome where most genes are located, but in the heterochromatin — the regions of densely packed DNA that are mainly kept in a silent state because they contain most of the noncoding DNA and other so-called genomic junk.

Genes commonly evolve by duplication and divergence. A study examined the role of relatively abundant and functionally important de novo genes. These are newly evolved genes, without a possible parent gene. Under the right environmental conditions, stretches of DNA, without any function can provide some advantages, and thus start evolving under selection. Scientists found that overexpressing these proto-gene sequences enhanced growth, proving their potential for the evolution of new functions. 

The new insight could prove important in identifying genes relevant to various medical conditions and biological mysteries. Essential genes that are potential therapeutic targets can be hiding in the heterochromatin, hidden among genomic junk.



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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Evolution of a more upright posture in mammals and birds cooccurred with warm-bloodedness: The benefits of a 252 million years old posture shift.

 






During the Triassic, from 250 to 200 million years ago, the ancestors of both mammals and birds became warm-blooded at the same time. Life was recovering from the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, the greatest mass extinction of all time. It killed as much as 95 percent of life, and the very few survivors were repeatedly hit by global warming and ocean acidification. 

Warm bloodedness is an energy-requiring condition, but it permits the ability to compete better for resources and escape predators. Paleontologists identified warm-bloodedness and evidence for the early origin of feathers or hair in dinosaur and bird ancestors 250 million years ago. The origin of warm-bloodedness is connected to the exact time of the mass extinction. 

Several special features are linked to warm-bloodedness. One is the bones inside the nose and snout, called the turbinates. These bones increase the distance that air travels into the body, allowing it to warm up on the way in. There is also the bony palate, which separates the mouth from the nose and allows for continuous breathing, even while eating. Another, which is rarely preserved in the fossil records, is the presence of fur, which acts as insulation.

At the same time, an almost instantaneous posture shift happened in both mammal and bird ancestors. Amphibians and reptiles are sprawlers, holding their limbs partly sideways. Before the crisis, most reptiles had sprawling posture; afterward, they walked upright. This may have been the first sign of a new pace of life in the Triassic. Erect postures, with the limbs immediately below their bodies, allowed birds and mammals to run faster and further. However, to fuel inner temperature control, warm-blooded animals have to eat much more than cold-blooded animals. Warm bloodedness was a dramatic evolutionary innovation, which led to emotional regulation, making it possible to take care of offspring, learn, and form consciousness. 


Read more about how our mammal ancestors became warm-blooded on Phys.org.


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