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Scientists Identify Brain's Concept Control Core 118

Van Cutter Romney writes "Scientists have identified the part of the brain which matches words to objects. While scanning brains from people who suffer from Semantic Dementia they have found that the front end of the temporal lobe seems to be crucial to conceptual application. A better understanding on how this part of the brain works can help develop therapies to counteract Semantic Dementia — the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's disease."
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Scientists Identify Brain's Concept Control Core

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  • Well.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by cbiltcliffe ( 186293 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:08AM (#16052984) Homepage Journal
    How about Pinky's Concept Control Core? How come Pinky always gets treated badly?
  • by MECC ( 8478 ) * on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:10AM (#16053003)
    That explains why banging the front of my head against a wall helps me think.

  • ...that all I ever need is four words: "Drink! Arse! Feck! Girls!"
  • Semantic what? (Score:5, Informative)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:13AM (#16053031) Journal
    It would have been nice for a link to describe what Semantic Dementia is so we could get some background info. At least link to wikipedia's article [wikipedia.org] about it. Unfortunately, it's very sparse, but does reveal what I wanted to know:

    ***

    Signs and Symptoms

    SD patients often present with the complaint of word-finding difficulties. On further questioning, patients often appear to have lost the meaning of certain words (e.g. asking "What is a fish?"). As the disease progresses, behavioural and personality changes are often seen similar to those seen in frontotemporal dementia although cases have been described of 'pure' semantic dementia with few late behavioural symptoms.

    Neuropsychology

    Patients perform poorly on tests of semantic knowledge. Published tests include both verbal and non-verbal tasks e.g. The Warrington concrete and abstract word synonym test (Warrington EK, McKenna P, Orpwood L. Single word comprehension: a concrete and abstract word synonym test. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 1998; 8: 143-154.) and The Pyramids and Palm Trees task (Howard and Patterson, 1992)

    Testing will also reveal deficits in picture naming (with semantic errors being made e.g. "dog" for a picture of a hippopotamus) and category fluency (e.g. "Please list as many animals as you can in one minute").

    • by keyne9 ( 567528 )
      Not so oddly, the article on Reuters did a pretty good job explaining the difficulties of the Dementia.
    • It is now possible to map a persons DNA; It was not a trivial task. Why not start mapping a person's Nueral Net? It is not a trivial task. This way men could find out how wives can re-wire us; OH GOD! We need a clue here! How do they do it???

      "slowly, one by one, the penguins steal my sanity" - Unknown
      • I suggest you review ST:'Spock's Brain', all will then become clear to you.

        This way men could find out how wives can re-wire us; OH GOD! We need a clue here! How do they do it???
      • When you train a dog to do a trick, you start out giving it a treat almost every time it does what you want. Gradually, you reduce the treats while he gradually learns to do your bidding until eventually, he requires no treats at all. What a cruel, cruel trick.

        Similarly, a marriage starts out with a honeymoon...
      • by rifter ( 147452 )

        This way men could find out how wives can re-wire us; OH GOD! We need a clue here! How do they do it???

        It's very simple. They simply manipulate the control wire. Every man has one ... you should ask your wife to show you where yours is. :D

    • by treeves ( 963993 )
      I thought this sounded like what Broca's area was supposed to do, IIRC. And Broca's area is at front of temporal lobe. In other words, I thought this was already known.
    • by eepok ( 545733 )
      1) It's an NEWS artcle, not an academic paper on neurological degradation.

      2) If they included the symptoms, you would not have been able to geta +5, now would ya?
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:14AM (#16053043) Homepage
    Semantic dementia that is. FTFA:
    "People have been talking about how the brain encodes concepts for 150 years. We believe we have found it,"
    What they supposedly found was WHERE the brain encodes semantic functioning. No mention of how. Maybe the Reuter's journalist took it out of context or just doesn't understand what fMRI (functional MRI - go look it up on Google) does. We've known for a long time that parts of the temoporal lobe have to do with language parsing.

    Note to editors: Can we have something more detailed than an incorrect, mangled edit of a PR blurb? This says roughly nothing.

    Now, I'm off to take my happy pills for the morning. Back later. Hope this all works out.

    • by arun_s ( 877518 )
      Can anyone explain if this thing they've identified in the temporal lobe is different from Broca's Area [wikipedia.org], which also (AFAIK) deals with language processing and semantics? Do both perform different functions or does one invalidate the other?
      • by Zenaku ( 821866 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @12:49PM (#16053812)
        Different functions. Broca's area deals more with parsing grammar. What is a noun and what is a verb, word order, etc. It encodes the thought you want to communicate (or decodes the thought being commicated to you) from the brains inner "mentalese" language, into the grammatically correct sentence structure of whatever language you speak. But it doesn't deal with the semantic meaning of the words. If I say to you "The groglent fumbershun melloped into the borsk." you can tell that the sentance is grammatical, and can probably identify the nouns, verbs and adverbs. But the words don't mean anything.

        Imagine that the dictionary in your brain comes in three volumes, and every word you know appears in each volume. Volume 1 only contains the pronunciation of the word. Volume 2 only contains its part of speech. And Volume 3 only contains the definition.

        • by tgv ( 254536 )
          I'm afraid the jury is still out on this one. The left inferior frontal gyrus, BA 45, pars opercularis, whatever you're looking at, does not only seem to be involved in syntax, but in other processes as well. And there is some evidence that it actively constructs meaning. The meaning of words is not just a lexical issue. You can use a context to name something and that name might have an "lexical" meaning, but that will be overruled in the context. All higher processes seem to be involved in this.

          Anyway, I
          • by Zenaku ( 821866 )
            Hey, no arguments from me. I know my explanation was tremendously oversimplified, but the question I was responding to was at a very basic level itself, and I was just trying to make it clear that processing language is not a simple "one-stop-shopping" task that gets magically handled by a single piece of the brain. It is an enormously complex computational task, and I was not qualified to relate all the details of what we know and don't know about it, so I just wanted to give an impression of why this di
        • Douglas Hofstadter's book "Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies" suggests that our understanding of concepts comes from "low-level" and "high-level" perception -- from something like a tagging system that recognizes aspects of a thing and uses those to pick a linguistic label to slap on them. If that's so, then language isn't central to identifying things even though it might be needed for complex reasoning. This article doesn't seem to say much about how we get from seeing an apple to thinking of the word
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by drmarcj ( 807884 )
      Note that they were not talking about an fMRI study.This was an anatomical MRI study. The idea is they looked at patients who have difficulty matching words to the objects they represent and correlated their deficit with what regions of the brain appear to be degenerating in the patients. Your point is very well taken about fMRI - it is more likely to tell you where something is happening than to tell you why.
      • Notes:

        1. Activity localization might tell you what is necessary for a function, but not what is sufficient for that function.

        2. Neurons use inhibition as well as excitation.

        3. Limitations of imaging data: In general, when choosing your imaging technique one must decide between temporal resolution OR spatial resolution. There is a trade-off unfortunately that cannot be avoided by researchers right now.

        Lastly, how does this study fit in with memory research?

    • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @12:10PM (#16053532) Homepage Journal
      The *only* thing we can know about the brain these days is where stuff happens. AFAICT, we dont' have any theory* about how exactly the brain works or what 'thought' ( or even memory ) is. We do have some hypotheses, but nothing that even remotely explains behavior, or has created a model that has anywhere near the ability of a cockroach.

      Until we have such a theory, *all* headlines should read "Scientists discover *where* $mental_phenomenon takes place."

      * 'Theory' in the scientific sense -- a hypothesis tested through falsifiable experiment.
    • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @12:56PM (#16053870)
      What they supposedly found was WHERE the brain encodes semantic functioning. No mention of how.

      Furthermore, semantic functioning is not conceptual encoding.

      Non-humans have concepts: abstract categories whose members they treat indifferently. When a dog that has been house-trained is in a house different from the house it was trained in, it has no difficulty understanding that it isn't supposed to crap on the floor. It has a concept of "house" whose members can be identified by their particulars, but which are all treated in a common way.

      Indeed, if other species didn't have some conceptual ability, it is very unlikely we would have any. Evolution works primarily by elaboration, so without some elaborative material to operate on it is very unlikely a species with our conceptual powers would arise. It would be like a planet of snakes suddenly evolving a species of sprinters.

      Human reasoning ability comes from a combination of pre-existing capabilities: the aforementioned conceptual capacity we share with many other species, and the equally wide-spread capacity to use symbols such as sounds to refer to other things, like a predator approaching. In humans evolution has enhanced the ability to use symbols so that any symbol can refer to anything, including concepts.
    • As most scientists in the field could point out, there are a number of things wrong. They might have found an area that is critical for the process, *not* the place where it happens. That might be any part of the process involved in the tasks of matching words to objects. Obvious tasks that are required are acoustic decoding, lexical decoding, visual decoding. The example given in the article involves drawing from memory, something altogether different and known to involve the (medial) temporal lobe. Lexica
  • Misleading Headline (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ruiner13 ( 527499 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:14AM (#16053046) Homepage
    the headline implies they've found the location in the brain where it happens, but then they say "it seems to be the frontal lobe". Ok, that's a very large section of the brain, and it doesn't even sound like they are 100% sure. How does a "we think we have an idea" story make it to the front page (repeatedly)?
    • by dildo ( 250211 )
      Kale mondo frappe, ale fries airplane, Kelsey Grammar plastic child murder? Aim shellac muffin for peculiar trunk happenings; if cup, then Kant.

      Really, correspondence illness on the hole-punch makes coins go, so why the sad face, shovel?

  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:14AM (#16053049) Journal
    It could be that words are matched to objects in the non-material spirit realm of the soul and that the part of the brain highlighted in this study is merely where those results are communicated back to the physical world. Or are you one of those un-American communist types who doesn't believe in souls?
    • It could be that words are matched to objects in the non-material spirit realm of the soul and that the part of the brain highlighted in this study is merely where those results are communicated back to the physical world. Or are you one of those un-American communist types who doesn't believe in souls?

      No.

    • by monoqlith ( 610041 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:43AM (#16053305)
      It is true that correlation by itself does not necessitate causality. But people too often use that as an excuse to discredit a causal relationship that by every criterion is a reasonable one. You should remember that correlation is still a necessary condition for causality(if not a sufficient one), and it is often one of the first clues we have in deciding what causes some effect. If 99% of people with Semantic dementia have some problem with their temporal lobe, and no other observable factor has such a high correlation with semantic dementia, it is reasonable to assert that the temporal lobe has something very important to do in dealing with conceptual and semantic reasoning, which is all this article says.

      We do have strong evidence to conclude that all of the areas of the mind that involve concepts, memory, reasoning, and sensory inputs - all of the mental processes that constitute cognition and access - can be explained by a functional state of the brain. Exactly which functional states humans indeed have still to discover. The physical theories we need to explain these processes are still incomplete, but that doesn't mean that we need to assert the existence of a soul or God. While it may be desirable to do so, there is still a lot more to discover about the brain and mind before we adopt a non-materialist theory of the brain. In fact with every new discovery scientists make about the brain, the dualistic theory of the mind holds less water, and seems more and more to be a myth that people invented to explain the mystery of consciousness and subjectivity.

      We do not know the exact mechanism by which the physical, syntax-processing parts of the brain "computer" translate into semantics. Some have suggested that this is impossible if we look at the brain as simply a computer. But this doesn't refute physicalism.

      It is true that we can definitely not explain is how the experience of these concepts, memories, reasonings, and sensory perceptions arises - that is, what is responsible for the phenomenal aspect of consciousness, that thing that allows us to know "what is it like to be me?" and makes my experience unique to my person. We cannot account for this possibility yet using pure physical theories.

      Therefore, this may very well be a non-physical process. I am reluctant to take a side one way or the other - there are compelling arguments for both dualism and monism.

      But there is enoughdata to support the idea that at least the great majority of cognitive functioning takes place somewhere in the brain and is a physical process, not a spiritual one.

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        > But there is enoughdata to support the idea that at least the great majority of cognitive functioning takes place somewhere in the brain and is a physical process, not a spiritual
        > one.

        True, but I believe a theistic interpretation of such behavior is still superior to a non-theistic interpretation. Why? Think about what science has revealed - there are specific physical areas of my brain that deal with non-physical (ie, abstract) objects such as words or concepts. Why is that? Why should any part of
        • Nice try, St. Anselm (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Sunburnt ( 890890 )
          "Why should any part of my brain deal with abstract objects unless they actually exist?"

          (I'm assuming here that the poster would personally agree with the stronger statement: 'My brain deals with abstract objects because they actually exist.')

          That's begging the question here in the same manner as Plantinga's ontological argument. (The question is, "Does my brain deal with 'abstract objects,' or is this just metaphor for a process that reacts to similarities in experience?")

          Not to mention the fal
    • by Briareos ( 21163 )
      Or are you one of those un-American communist types who doesn't believe in souls?

      I'm un-American, period. This is Europe, after all...

      np: New Order - Working Overtime (Waiting For The Sirens' Call)
  • What a (now neurologically mapped) concept!
  • Printer Friendly (Score:3, Informative)

    by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:16AM (#16053070) Homepage
    cause i can [reuters.com]
    • I really want to mod this informative, but that's kind of precluded by the fact that the original article is so barren of information in the first place. Still kudos :)
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:20AM (#16053103)
    Symantec Dementia isn't nearly as good as McAfee Attention Deficit Disorder or Trend Micro's Cognitive Dissonance.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Rude Turnip ( 49495 )
      All of which are trumped by Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field.
  • yes, but (Score:1, Redundant)

    by zr-rifle ( 677585 )
    does it run Linux?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Well, it does have a pretty decent up-time. About 70 years on average?
      • That's MTBF. It actually has a lousy uptime, only about 15-18 hours per day.
      • Only the basic operations. The user interface starts to function improperly if it runs continuously for a few days. It regularly needs quite some downtime in order to function correctly. During that downtime, you don't get anything but strange "screensavers" commonly known as dreams, and even those don't run all the time.
    • does it run Linux?
      Sure, if you can compile a kernel for brain-human-linux-gnu.
  • by wonkavader ( 605434 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:26AM (#16053173)
    We learn so much from damage. In this case it's not so much about cutting as decay, ok, but it's the same concept. You know, of course, that we learned a huge amount about brain modularity and function during the Russo-Japanese war (you know, the hundred-somethingth Japanese invasion of Korea) because bullets were getting smaller and starting to go through heads without killing people.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) *
      Speaking of lesions, let's not forget the story of Phineas Gage, a classic case study in neuroscience:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage [wikipedia.org]

      On September 13, 1848, Phineas Gage was working outside the small town of Cavendish, Vermont on the construction of a railroad track where he was employed as a foreman. One of his duties was to set explosive charges in holes drilled into large pieces of rock so they could be broken up and removed. This involved filling the hole with gunpowder, adding a fuse, and then
  • by gordona ( 121157 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:34AM (#16053230) Homepage
    If the brain were simple enough to be understood, it would be too simple to understand itself.
    • Well, that's been said of the mind anyhow. You can assert that a brain could be understood, provided you were willing to accept that there's more to "mind" than "brain".
    • And...
      If the brain is so complex that it can't be understood, then the brain still couldn't understand itself. Which would mean it would be impossible to understand the brain regardless if it were simple or complex.

      Unless it is just simple/complex enough to be understood; then we could understand it. And this seems to be the case, as scientists seem to learn more and more about the brain with their studies.
      • Maybe the statement is true that the brain cannot understand itself, but if you look at the quote literally, it works with your idea as well. "as scientists seem to learn more ..." is the key. Groups of brains solving problems. The old addage "Two heads are better than one" works especially well when you have hundreds of thousands of heads.
    • This is one of those things that sounds insightful and seems to make sense at first glance, but falls apart under scrutiny. The reality is that the brain as an external, observable object made up of neurons is completely different from the internal, mental representation made up of mental constructs. There's no reason to believe that we cannot form a complete and accurate map of the brain in human terms. Just because the brain is complex in physical structure, that does not mean that it is impossible to und
  • I have a concept control dual core.
  • by mok000 ( 668612 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:44AM (#16053320)
    So there's hope for G.W. after all....
  • by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:59AM (#16053444) Homepage Journal
    in terms of those suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.

    A lot of the people we used to think were suffering from dementia actually are suffering side effects from drug interactions.

    And the tests used to determine words vary - some are as simple as the Letter S (tell me all the words you can that start with the letter S), some involve giving you three words to remember, having you do a puzzle (like saying the letters of the word WORLD backwards), and then seeing how many of those words you correctly recall.

    There's also a test, the Boston Naming Test, which involves recognizing pictures and giving the word for the picture - however, it's culturally biased towards Boston, and doesn't work so well with other populations.
  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @12:19PM (#16053589) Homepage
    Why do I have so much trying to put a name to a face if I haven't talked to the person in a long time?
  • Just curiously, not to be nitpicky, but hwy do you post a picture of Albert Einstein when discussing Cognitive Neuroscience? He was a physicist. Currently physicists are delving into brain fuction through the sub-discipline of psychophysics, but I don't beleive Einstein had anything to do with it. Just FYI. You can hate me now...
    • by Neoncow ( 802085 )
      Hover your mouse over Mr. Einstein's face; the alternative text says science. They use the picture of Einstein because he is probably the most recognised scientist in popular culture.
      • Yeah I gathered that, just a pet peave from a neurotic neouropsychology student. Better Einstein than Freud I suppose...
  • That probably explains why my head hurts after learning new words in a foreign language. I realize that I have to constantly use imagery(because of my learning style) for each new word.
    • Nah, you're probably just squinching up your face when you're concentrating on the vocabulary. Short of some kind of brain swelling or stimulation of pain centers, you're not going to experience pain from normal functions. (Even ones that are frustrating, like learning a foriegn language :))
  • by sottitron ( 923868 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:17PM (#16054012)
    Breakthrough discovery in Washington

    By Alan Smithee, General Cool Guy

    Washington - Man *thinks* he identified the answer to life, the universe, and everything. It *seems* to be somewhere between 38 and 45.

    Please promptly place this discovery and Mr. Smithee's amazing journalism covering my scientific feat on Slashdot's main page.
  • by corbettw ( 214229 ) <corbettw@yaho[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @01:17PM (#16054019) Journal
    The article presents a lot of ... information.

    Shoot, what's that word? Not insightful, not useful... something that makes you more concerned/aware about something than you were before.

    It's right on the tip of my tongue...
  • Match this: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:02PM (#16054390) Homepage
    Can they figure out how to map the word "Correlation" to "Causation"?

    This is actually a press-problem. Neuroscientists doing this kind of work know the difference, and the field is actually called "Neural correlates". But the popular press seems to always conflate correlation with causation. Bad press!
    • Exactly! Correlation does not infer causation... More people need to take a course in Research Methods.
      • by jafac ( 1449 )
        But I'm especially funny today, because, you see, the article is about a region in the brain that maps meanings to words, and I said that the PRESS was trying to conflate the meanings of the words correlation and causa- . . . oh, never mind.

        Let me know when they come up with a brain scan that identifies the region of the brain that processes humor.
        • Ahhhhhh... humor. Even if we do find that part of the brain, I'm sure scientist will find a way to take all the fun out of it. Cheers to your efforts on the humor front!
      • Correlation suggests causation. And one thing it certainly doesn't do is refute it.
        • It is possible for the correlates to be related, but one does not necessarily cause the other. If I indicated it refuted causation that is not true, but I don't believe I did. Please see this link for clarification on where I am coming from. Ya gotta scroll down the page a bit... http://www.psychstat.missouristate.edu/introbook/s bk17m.htm [missouristate.edu] Cheers
          • I think I might have been confusing this article with another that was talking about the CO2 cycle and global warming saying the correlation/causation line as a method of refutation(that line doesn't work when there are other things linking humans and the CO2 levels, such as simple physics).
            • I know there are always exceptions to the rules, and my knowledge only really consists of behavioral science applications. Physics is all new to me. Thanks for the good debate :)
  • This must be the first brain-related discovery that didn't involve mice! Ever! What have you done to the mice? Those rodents have provided their biological services to us all those years and they just get dumped in the end when we start making important cognitive psychology discoveries? Mice have concepts too..cat..cheese..maze..electric shock.

    Is intel involved in this project?
  • I love how little science news articles always relate these pie in the sky research projects to how it will someday be able to help the needy. Every article that mentions brain research mentions how it will be able to help that .00000000001% of the population. And I love how every article that talks about the rediculous new robots that get made in Japan will someday be able to help the elderly get around.

    I think it is good to be altruistic, and I'm all for helping them. But we live in a capitalistic world a
  • by sammy baby ( 14909 ) on Thursday September 07, 2006 @01:58AM (#16057764) Journal
    My wife used to work with a lady whose husband suffered a severe stroke. His ability to match words to objects suffered somewhat, which led to the following conversation between the two of them.

    (Scene - Mister and Missus are walking through the back yard, when Mister notices something on the ground.)

    Mister: Oh, hey. Take a look at these tracks.

    Missus: Oh, yeah. What do you think made those tracks?

    Mister: (looks hesitant) A Benfucker.

    (pause)

    Missus: A what?

    Mister: You know. (Look of frustration.) A Benfucker!

    Try as he might, he couldn't come up with any word for the animal he was thinking of other than "Benfucker."

    Never did find out what kind of tracks they were.

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