Explorations into the Body of Consciousness: Highlights from Dr. Charles Raison’s talk from the International Forum on Consciousness

Forum attendees have dinner with speakers.

Forum attendees have dinner with speakers.

The following blog highlights the presentation from Dr. Charles Raison at the International Forum on Consciousness, Conscious Evolution: The Awakening, co-hosted by the BTC Institute and Promega Corporation, May 7–8, 2015.

The Forum is designed to bring together people from diverse perspectives and professions to facilitate public dialogue regarding complex and challenging issues.  This year, our intent was to respond to voices of wisdom and action that call for us to shift our consciousness up a notch.

Our goals included building on the lessons of past and present in order to grow further into new systems, new ways of being that may better allow us to foster a long-term, sustainable relationship with the biosphere and the ever-evolving cosmos.

A full house of 325+ attendees, we were guided by eight outstanding presenters, all of whose talks and panel discussions may be viewed via links from our website (http://www.btci.org/consciousness/).   Our first speaker, Dr. Charles Raison, who recently joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin , effectively set the stage for the Forum, piquing interest for the talks and discussions that followed, as well as the many related conversations that continue to flow.

A few highlights from his talk:

  • Science strives for objectivity but every scientist has a personal motivation regarding the work they’ve come to do.
  • Quoting John Muir, “When we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Looking at consciousness this way is interesting – not mystical, but actually scientific.

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Neuroscience Explains Harry Potter’s Appeal

BookWithGlassesCurling up with a good book is one of life’s greatest pleasures, whether you’re reading on a tropical beach while on vacation or nestled into your favorite chair at home. As your eyes skim over the words, your mind conjures up images of the events unfolding on the page. Books can take us to fantastic places, real and imaginary, that we will never visit in our lifetime. And while there is some pleasure to be gained from nonfictional books, my favorite books all seem to fall in the realm of fiction. I am not alone. The science fiction and fantasy genre of literature continues to be one of the most popular. Why do so many readers find these types of books so enticing and engaging?

It all comes down to science, specifically neuroscience.

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Daydreaming: The Benefits of a Little Mental Break

Not staring off into space, rather crafting future plans.

Not staring off into space, rather crafting future plans.

Scott Barry Kaufman earned a doctorate in cognitive psychology from Yale University in 2009, preceeded by a masters degree in experimental psychology from Cambridge University in 2005.  This after he spent grades 1-8 in special education. Multiple early childhood ear infections caused him setbacks both education-wise  and socially. Continual bullying by a special education classmate may have further contributed to a lack of progress in early schooling.

Kaufman tells of how he, as a child, retreated to an inner world where he wrote stories, created soap opera plotlines and imagined a future as a successful psychologist.

He also tells how these mental retreats earned him no love from teachers. As you might guess, this inward-turning nature was used as further evidence of his learning disability.

But Kaufman was learning the power of daydreaming. While he was not convincing his teachers and classmates of any particularly strong cognitive abilities, he was basically planning a future that he ultimately achieved, despite somewhat incredible odds. In addition, he was, through daydreaming, reinforcing his dreams.

Today Kaufman is one of a number of psychology experts that are doing research, writing and speaking on the power and benefits of daydreams. Continue reading

Insights into the Function of P7C3 Compounds in Neuroprotection

The multiple Lombardi trophies won by Pittsburgh Steelers.  Image used under Wikimedia Creative Commons, and attributed to daveynin.

The multiple Lombardi trophies won by Pittsburgh Steelers. Image used under Wikimedia Creative Commons, and attributed to daveynin.

It is fall and the season for American football. For this football fan, watching the game is a bit less enjoyable than it used to be, as more and more information is available about the serious and permanent brain injuries suffered by football players.

In the introduction to a recent paper in the journal Cell, “P7C3 Neuroprotective Chemicals Function by Activating the Rate-Limiting Enzyme in NAD Salvage”, not a word about American football is mentioned.

However, the paper begins, “No substantive therapeutics are available for the treatment of almost any form of disease entailing nerve death” (1). The authors list a range of neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington’s, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as ALS  or Lou Gherig’s disease. They also note that there are currently no effective treatments for trauma to the brain or peripheral nervous system.

The authors note that a chemical treatment that could interfere with nerve cell death would have a “transformative impact in modern medicine”. Continue reading

The Road Not Taken: Rodents Rue Bad Decisions

Two rats eatingThe past weekend I switched lines in the grocery store only to regret it a few seconds later when another shopper with an enormous cart got there before me and I had to wait an additional 20 minutes for the cashier to fix a problem with the register. Sound familiar? As far as I know rodents do not shop in the stores that I do but it seems that a rat might have felt the same in my place. Or so say a team of scientists from the University of Minnesota out to study decision-making abilities in rats. 1
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What are you so worried about?

stress ropeThe world we live in is increasingly high-paced and demanding of time and attention. Cell phones and social media keep us constantly stimulated. This kind of environment can lead to stress. Stress is a normal reaction to high-pressure situations and can be a healthy mechanism to help us increase performance for a short period of time.

While stress is a response to a specific situation, anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness that may not trace back to an identifiable source. Anxiety is a perfectly normal feeling to have once in a while, especially during or just before or after periods of prolonged stress. This feeling can be beneficial in some cases by creating a heightened awareness and preparing us for what is to come. Continue reading

Lessons From the ‘Long Goodbye’

Lewy Body stained with alpha-synuclein.

Lewy Body stained with alpha-synuclein.

A week ago Sunday, I walked among crowds of mothers, grandmothers, and children of all ages celebrating Mother’s Day at the Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, Missouri.  As I watched happy families, I couldn’t help being jealous.  Though I was there with my grandmother and other close relatives, I missed my mom, especially since I was in my hometown for her funeral the day before.  Had my mom been alive and well, we might have walked those same paths ourselves and enjoyed the new life teeming above the earth.  Instead, my mother lost her battle of more than six years with Lewy Body dementia the week before at the age of 61.

As a biologist, I was well-aware of Alzheimer disease in the abstract, and tau proteins, beta-amyloid, and genetic predisposition.  But until my mom was diagnosed in 2008, I was painfully ignorant of dementias other than Alzheimer disease.  Once we knew what mom was fighting, I learned that Alzheimer disease and Lewy Body are hardly unique.  The number of other dementias that exist is long and includes vascular dementia, mixed dementia, Parkinson’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Huntington disease, and many others.[1] Continue reading

NAD: A Renaissance Molecule and its Role in Cell Health

Promega NAD/NADH-Glo system and how to prepare samples for  identification of NAD or NADH.

Promega NAD/NADH-Glo system and how to prepare samples for identification of NAD or NADH.

NAD is a pyridine nucleotide. It provides the oxidation and reduction power for generation of ATP by mitochondria. For many years it was believed that the primary function of NAD/NADH in cells was to harness and transfer energy  from glucose, fatty and amino acids through pathways like glycolysis, beta-oxidation and the citric acid cycle.

Today, however, NAD is recognized as an important cell signaling molecule and substrate. The many regulatory pathways now known to use NAD+ in signaling include multiple aspects of cellular homeostasis, energy metabolism, lifespan regulation, apoptosis, DNA repair and telomere maintenance.

This resurrection of NAD importance is due in no small part to the discovery of NAD-using enzymes, especially the sirtuins. Continue reading

Not Music to Everyone’s Ears

iStock_000016543302SmallWhen my son was about 2 years old, he commented that the jingles “Twinkle twinkle little star” and “alphabet song” had the same musical notation. While I do not think I am tone deaf and I do appreciate music, I had not made the connection in all these years.  Music appreciation is perhaps one of the most subjective and controversial topics. For some people, appreciating music involves understanding the technical nuances and critically evaluating artist’s mastery over the art, and for some of us, it is about simply enjoying the patterns and rhythms. While one might claim that they enjoy all kinds of music, for most of us, only certain kinds of music elicit a deeper appreciation, emotive experience and pleasure. Our music preferences are molded by exposure, cultural diversities and to some extent, mood. Music is extremely varied, and listing the kinds of music could fill pages. Arguing one kind of music is better than other is as like saying one color is better than the other.

So, what biological purpose does music serve? Continue reading

Histone Deacetylase Activity in Health and Disease

Histones_11340TAEpigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression arising from chromosomal changes that are not caused by alterations in DNA sequence. It seems that almost daily, this field of study is revealing more and more about the ways in which genes are turned on or off–governing cell fate and regulating response to environmental factors such as stress or toxin exposure. In recent years there have been numerous papers implicating epigenetic mechanisms in the control of biological events as varied as fat burning in response to exercise, cancer progression, and control of memory and other neurological processes.

Histone modification by acetylation is one of the most well-studied epigenetic mechanisms. A quick literature search shows that more than 60 papers discussing some aspect of histone acetylation/deacetylation have already been published in 2014. In chromatin, DNA is tightly wrapped around histones. Acetylation of lysine residues on the histone tail by histone acetylases (HATs) neutralizes the positive charge on the histone molecule, decreasing its ability to bind the DNA backbone, and increasing expression by allowing transcription factors to access the DNA. On the other hand, histone deacetlyases (HDACs) remove these acetyl groups, causing tighter binding to DNA and decreasing gene expression. Continue reading