Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Brain 101: Introduction

(The nervous system is an integrative system for distributing signals, which are electrical events that represent changes in the state of the world and parts of the body) Neuroscience is the systematic quest to understand how we act the way we do: how we come to have idiosyncratic likes, preferences and dislikes; absolute abilities, talents…...

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Animal behavior is patterned neuronal activity

In animals that have a nervous system, all motor, mental and visceral actions (and therefore behavior) are the product of neuronal activity. When neuronal activity in the relevant structures or pathways is disrupted or impeded – for example, with anesthetics -, that behavior stops. But this does not yet explain what is it about neuronal activity that…...

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Behavior with a nervous system becomes fast, flexible and complex

Two distribution systems allow large organisms to act as integrated wholes. One is the immunoendocrine system, which through the release of wide-acting substances in the circulatory system allows slow and lasting (stable) integration of bodily functions. The resulting integrated behaviors take seconds to minutes to occur, and last for hours to several days, as long as the substances released are still active. The other is…...

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Why does the shuffle button work?

My kids got me hooked on the games in the New York Times app. Wordle, which is a “Password” of letters that form words (do kids today still play Password? That game was a sensational lesson in logical thinking!), which I already knew, but hadn’t yet ventured into the others. Spelling Bee and Connections became […]

The thrill of music

There are sites for everything on the Internet, and the other day I discovered one that sold music that supposedly induced “brain states” similar to those produced by drugs. For a few dollars, the site offered the experience of a lysergic, cocaine or cannabinoid trip produced by your brain in response to specifically created music […]

You are not a certain way IN ORDER TO do anything; You can do whatever you do BECAUSE you are a certain way

Darwin was really great, but man, have we abused his legacy. Adaptation (as in “the elephant trunk is adapted to drink water without moving a very heavy head”, or “cats’ eyes are adapted to see at night”) is a pretty handy concept to explain what organisms DO, but the concept implies that organisms BECAME a…...

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Observations from an autistic neuroscientist on twitter

When a disability is a superpower Bombastic news to start the new year: it’s been four years since I found out I’m autistic. Please spare me the “nice” or “flattering” comments like “gee, you don’t look it”, or “but you look so normal”. Functioning in the world of normals, or “neurotypicals”, takes a lot of […]

Acting as another requires self-suppresion

I wrote here recently that the brain in a creative state stops self-policing and lets itself be carried away by its own baggage accumulated throughout life, freely forming and discovering new associations between the elements, including memories and emotions, in its repertoire. The products of our creativity are therefore highly personal – this is guaranteed […]

No, everybody is NOT a little bit autistic

Are you “normal”? Probably yes, and for a very simple reason: mathematically, about 90% of the population is “normal” for every characteristic that can be quantified. Being “normal” doesn’t imply anything good or bad; the term simply denotes that the distribution of that characteristic in the population is bell-shaped, with 90% concentrated near the mean, […]

Why brain soup?

I’ve been for 20 years now in the business of collecting brains from different species and turning them into soup to find out what they are made of – how many neurons, how many non-neuronal cells, and soon now how many of the latter are vasculature. Why? The short practical question is “because we didn’t…...

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