11–12 Researchers agree that genetic factors are a predominant cause of autism. Yet each new gene accounts for only about 1 to 2 percent of all cases. Now mounting evidence suggests that many of these defective genes fall along a brain pathway where key neural connections develop. At a two-day meeting sponsored by the journal Brain Research, The Emerging Neuroscience of Autism Spectrum Disorders, scientists will discuss how these insights can help trace the disorder’s genesis and spur novel treatment strategies.
13–14 Over the past three years IBM scientists have developed a robot called Watson that can defeat human contestants at Jeopardy! Watson’s ability to decode puzzling questions depends on intricate computer algorithms that mimic how the human brain processes language and information. At the two-day First International Conference on Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures, researchers will discuss other potential applications of such artificial intelligence. For instance, robots may someday do chores around the house or inspect electrical equipment on airplanes.
24 Love and Other Drugs, a film by Edward Zwick, director of the 2006 film Blood Diamond, depicts an artist named Maggie (Anne Hathaway) in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Instead of crumbling from the devastating news, she displays a positive attitude and relentless spirit. In fact, Maggie copes with her own fate by helping a distraught Viagra salesman (Jake Gyllenhaal) find a sense of purpose in life.
19 On this day in 1967 magician Criss Angel was born. Angel stars in the television show Criss Angel Mindfreak, which debuted in 2005, where he showcases stunning illusions in front of live audiences. His tricks have included mind-reading card tricks, walking on water and levitating above a hotel. He has also paid homage to legendary Harry Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture Cell trick, in which Houdini was lowered into a tank of water and had to escape shackles and chains before drowning. In this issue of Scientific American Mind, discover the neuroscience behind infamous tricks performed by some of the world’s best illusionists [see “Mind over Magic?”].
PLAYING WITH YOUR MIND
Several interactive museum exhibits showcase how your brain responds to its surroundings.
Starting November 20
What if you could step inside your head and walk through your brain? The American Museum of Natural History invites you to explore the nooks and crannies of our most complicated organ in a new exhibit, called Brain: The Inside Story, that will run until August 14, 2011. Observe how the brain continually changes with age and navigate a tangle of interconnected neurons to see how they communicate with one another.
New York City
Often music demands a response from our bodies, whether it’s toe-tapping or unbridled swing dancing. Music engages the entire brain, from areas devoted to sounds and language to those dedicated to vision and even touch. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s new exhibit Sonic Shadows, which will run until October 16, 2011, takes advantage of our rich experience of music. One interactive display transforms a steel pedestrian bridge into a musical instrument, using sensors to detect the tiny vibrations from your footsteps and change them into a symphony as you walk.