Google Base

Google has opened a new service called Google Base that allows you to upload, publish and index arbitrary data for free. Does this mean that scientists can now share their raw data simply by uploading it to Google Base, without bothering to store and webhost it themselves?

I checked out the site and it seems that Google explicitly invites all kinds of data, with no size restrictions. But I find it hard to believe that Google can really handle all the terrabytes of data that some labs generate; in fact, just a few days ago, I was thinking of uploading a few hundred gigs of imaging videos to Google Video; but do they really want that? On the other hand, maybe they can handle it; they are Google, after all.

So my opinion is that scientists should start submitting their data (all of it, including large raw data files) to Google Base until/unless Google says they changed their mind and they don’t want it.

Also, don’t forget about subject-specific databases like neurodatabase.org; until the bright future of ubiquitous cross-database integration arrives, it will be easier to search for things with the subject-specific databases, provided that enough people use the same ones.

See this news article in Nature for more commentary.

The central role of expectation in cognition

I think we’re undergoing somewhat of a slow revolution in the cognitive sciences. The field is slowly coming to focus on the central role of prior expectation in cognition.

Evidence that prior expectation has a large effect on the interpretation of sensory input is by no means new, but it seems to me that people are focusing on prior expectation more and more when they theorize about the mind. For example:

* The recent post about hypnosis and the Stroop effect (the nytimes article focuses on this aspect of the work)
* The fact that most of the connections between lower-order sensory areas and higher-order areas are feedback connections from the higher to the lower
* The fact that imagining a visual image causes activation in (see [1], there’s a bunch of followup studies to that one too)
* This may be just a rumor, but I’ve heard that it’s been demonstrated that when you saccade, that near the end of the interim period when you cannot see, your primary visual cortical cells start firing in the patterns corresponding to what you expect to see at the new location. Does anyone have a source for that (I’ll ask the person who told me if they have a citation)?
* Jeff Hawkins’s effort to make theories of the mind centered on prediction
* The current fad in Bayesian analysis in theoretical cognitive science (which provides a mathematical framework for computing probabilities which take into account both prior expectation and evidence)

I don’t mean to imply that this potential paradigm shift is something that people are unaware of; indeed, Kosslyn, Hawkins and others have long been avid proponents of the view that sensory processing (as well as other aspects of cognition) is best understood as centered around prediction and prior expectation, not incoming sensory data.

[1] Kosslyn, S. M., Alpert, N. M., Thompson, W. L., Maljkovic, V., Weise, S. B., Chabris, C. F., Hamilton, S. E., Rauch, S. L., & Buonanno, F. S. (1993). Visual mental imagery activates topographically organized visual cortex: PET investigations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 5(3), 263–287.

Hypnosis can stop Stroop effect

This Is Your Brain Under Hypnosis – New York Times

Very interesting stuff. Subjects were hypnotized and told that days later they would see “gibberish” symbols printed in particular colors. They needed to report back the color that the word appeared in. (For those unfamiliar, the Stroop test presents color words, like “red”, in a different color, such as the word “red” written with green ink. People have difficulty reporting the color of the word because we have a strong need to “read” the written word.)

The highly hypnotizable subjects (grouped according to a predetermined measure) essentially showed no Stroop effect (ie. no reaction time difference with conflicting word and color). And, with fMRI, they saw that normally activated visual-reading areas were not activated in these subjects.

His Holiness's Message: Better living through chemicals (or electrodes)

His Holiness has spoken. He wants neuro-drugs to take and electrodes stuck in his brain so that he doesn’t have to spend hours meditating each day. (Enlightenment now!) If you want to do hot stuff, study physics or brain science. His interest in neuroscience stems from a long-standing interest in body hair. Yes, body hair. Americans need to figure their own way through this whole intelligent design business. Not all antidepressants are alike; for instance, the Dalai Lama is against tranquilizers. Definitely against tranquilizers. And, perhaps most surprisingly, His Holiness, approves of animal research — when it’s done right and with respect.

Minute-by-minute liveblog follows after the jump.
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