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Details of information processing in the brain revealed: New research shows that, when focused, we process information continuously, rather in waves as previously thought -- ScienceDaily

Our brains oscillate at many different frequencies, explains Mathewson, and each frequency has a different role. "This study examined 12 hertz alpha oscillations, a mechanisms used to inhibit, or ignore, a certain stimulus thereby allowing us to focus on a particular time or space that we are experiencing, while ignoring others," says Mathewson. For example, if there is a repetitive stimulus in the world, such as the sound of someone's voice in a lecture theatre, the alpha waves lock onto the timing of that stimulus, and the brain becomes better at processing things that occur in time with that stimulus. The new findings show, surprisingly, that this happens more in places we are ignoring. "We are bombarded with so much information and stimulation that we can't possibly process it all at once. Whether it be commuting, engaging in our work, studying for a class, or working out, our brains select the useful information and ignore the rest, so that we can focus on a single or a few items in order to make appropriate responses in the world. This research helps explain how," says Mathewson.

Portions of the brain fall asleep and wake back up all the time, Stanford researchers find | EurekAlert! Science News

The team used what amounts to sets of very sensitive pins that can record activity from a column of neurons in the brain. In the past, people had known that individual neurons go through phases of being more or less active, but with this probe they saw for the first time that all the neurons in a given column cycled together between firing very rapidly then firing at a much slower rate, similar to coordinated cycles in sleep. "During an on state the neurons all start firing rapidly," said Kwabena Boahen, a professor of bioengineering and electrical engineering at Stanford and a senior author on the paper. "Then all of a sudden they just switch to a low firing rate. This on and off switching is happening all the time, as if the neurons are flipping a coin to decide if they are going to be on or off." Those cycles, which occur on the order of seconds or fractions of seconds, weren't as visible when awake because the wave doesn't propagate much beyond that column, unlike in sleep when the wave spreads across almost the entire brain and is easy to detect.

Kelly Clancy on the Logic Behind the Myth That We Only Use 10 Percent of Our Brains

Over the past 15 years scientists have begun to amass evidence that these brain waves play an active role in information processing, shunting some neural inputs while enhancing others, for example, or altering the timing of spikes. This suggests that spikes are not the sole information-carrying signal in the brain, and that, in turn, the “inactive” neurons are doing much more than it seems.

Fluid immortality, a poem by Robert Krulwich

When the storm passes, you'd think the water would calm, settle and return to a quiet equilibrium, but the energy, oddly, doesn't dissipate. The storm has become a wave that now lives in a patch of sea, moving along with no need for a push from above. It is, says Pretor-Pinney, what scientists call a "free wave," no longer driven by wind (those are "forced waves"). Now it is a moving bit of history, an old sea storm moving on, free to roam. It has become a "swell."