Tuesday, 20 April 2010


I am currently attempting to steer myself through the penultimate essay on my MSc course, which unfortunately is proving to be without a doubt the hardest essay I have ever had to write.

It's about 'the functional role of brain oscillations', and is quite interesting at the same time as being obscenely dull. Essentially, I am writing about how there has always been a bias toward examining where in the brain things are processed, but now there is loads of evidence to suggest that observing when the brain works it's magic are just as essential.

It turns out that brain cells oscillate - the electrical activity they display is not random, it has a rhythm. Nothing particularly remarkable about that, but huge numbers of brain cells actually oscillate together - they become synchronised in their activity, and are extremely accurate (to under a millisecond).

To complicate matters, the frequency at which they oscillate, the speed of the rhythm, varies across different parts of the brain, and also varies for different activities. So we have clusters of cells all 'wobbling' together, at a certain frequency, and other clusters all doing the same at a different frequency.

These oscillations are the brain waves you may have seen on TV, when people are made to do experiments wearing funny electrodes on their head, which produces squiggly lines on a monitor.

So, as I said - the timing of brain activity is equally as valid a field of study as the physical layout of the brain. Neuroscientists are easily seduced by fancy looking brain images, and this may go some way to explain the bias towards the where, but this has meant out knowledge of the when is now lagging behind.

Anyway, its horrifically complicated in places, and the afore mentioned bias in the research means its patchy and inconsistent, and this essay is proving to be a real challenge. But then, I knowingly chose what I thought was the hardest question, as it is potentially the one that may be of must use to me in my future research, so I think I made the right decision in picking this essay.

Still, another 1,500 words to write by Friday, and I stupidly signed up for a two day course starting on thursday...

Better get oscillating!

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