Guidelines For Research In Neuroscience

Area Of Expertise: # Computational Neuroscience #NeuroEngineering  # Neuroscience

Guidelines For Research In Neuroscience:

Simulation is not enough (Specific cases),

Start building Models & Theories at successive levels of Abstractions (Generalizations).

  • Trying to understand the brain by creating exact models of the brain with enormous computing power (costing Billions of dollars) is not going to work – as is intended. 
    • We are never going to understand how the brain works completely with data only from the lowest level (molecules, channels, neurons) with so much complexity involved.
    • There is so much genetic variation from mouse to mouse, primate to primate, that you can’t draw general conclusions from data of genetic expression of a single mouse. What happens in the brain data scanning initiatives is that data is gathered from a single organism. And what is required is something similar to functional genomics – sort of functional neuroscience – trying to understand the relation between behavior and what happens in the brain – not just cataloging what data from a particular brain looks like.
    • What we need is new models, new theories, new abstractions – that can explain all these data.
    • We don’t need to simulate large parts of the brain on computers. Our goal should be simulation of small parts and theoretical models that can explain data from those small parts of the brain. 
  • We need to start building models, theories, abstractions. And then on top our first attempts at building models and theories, we will start building more accurate models, models that connect data from different levels of the brain. 
    • Our first attempts at building models, abstractions might concentrate on data from only one level. Next, our newer models would connect different levels of structural abstractions and their corresponding different levels of functional abstractions found in the brain.
    • Different structural levels of abstractions found in the brain:
      • Molecules, Receptors, Neurotransmitters. 
      • Neuron, Channels, Synapse, Glial Cells.
      • Collection of neurons
      • Brain regions (e.g., Primary Visual Cortex)
      • Brain – Behavior;  
  • Neuroscientists individually work on a tiny part at “only one level” (among all these levels, from molecules and neurons to whole brain) of the brain. We need scientists who can connect different levels of structural abstractions. 
  • The new breed of Neuroscientists, with the aim of building models, abstractions, theories of the brain, would try to learn how scientists with different backgrounds are studying Neuroscience.     
    • What diseases are Neurologists seeing in patients? How do the Neurologists explain them in terms of lesions, etc. in a particular brain region
    • Examples:
      • Speech – Broca’s area [2].
      • Synesthesia [3] – Cross-connections among nearby brain regions.
    • What diseases are Psychiatrists seeing in patients? How do they explain them in terms of excess or reduction in neurotransmitters? 
      • Examples: 
        • Schizophrenia – Excess of Dopamine [4]. 
    • Data from neurons, channels, molecules.
    • Data from specific brain regions (e.g., MRI, fMRI data).
    • Data from optogenetics – switching neurons on and off with light. 
    • Systems Neuroscience
    • Computer Models of brain. Connectomics.
    • What are we learning from our research in Artificial Intelligence about the requirements of intelligence? 
    • Cognitive Neuroscience – latest research on higher mental functions and brain. 
  • Psychologists have built models. Researchers interested in both Artificial Intelligence and Neuroscience (e.g., Marvin Minsky [1]) have built models. Why not start by trying to explain those models with our understanding of the brain?

Large Neuroscience Projects


The Science of Reading: Paper versus Screens

“Technology codes our minds,”
“A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work”

When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in which meaning is anchored to structure.

It is difficult to see any one passage in the context of the entire text.
The implicit feel of where you are in a physical book turns out to be more important than we realized. Only when you get an e-book do you start to miss it.
At least a few studies suggest that by limiting the way people navigate texts, screens impair comprehension.
“The ease with which you can find out the beginning, end and everything in between and the constant connection to your path, your progress in the text, might be some way of making it less taxing cognitively, so you have more free capacity for comprehension,” Mangen says.

People report that they enjoy flipping to a previous section of a paper book when a sentence surfaces a memory of something they read earlier, for example, or quickly scanning ahead on a whim.

Sense of control
People also like to have as much control over a text as possible—to highlight with chemical ink, easily write notes to themselves in the margins as well as deform the paper however they choose.

Because of these preferences—and because getting away from multipurpose screens improves concentration—people consistently say that when they really want to dive into a text, they read it on paper.

An emerging collection of studies emphasizes that in addition to screens possibly taxing people’s attention more than paper, people do not always bring as much mental effort to screens in the first place. Subconsciously, many people may think of reading on a computer or tablet as a less serious affair than reading on paper. Based on a detailed 2005 survey of 113 people in northern California, Ziming Liu of San Jose State University concluded that people reading on screens take a lot of shortcuts—they spend more time browsing, scanning and hunting for keywords compared with people reading on paper, and are more likely to read a document once, and only once.

When reading on screens, people seem less inclined to engage in what psychologists call metacognitive learning regulation—strategies such as setting specific goals, rereading difficult sections and checking how much one has understood along the way.

Jaejeung Kim of KAIST Institute of Information Technology Convergence in South Korea and his colleagues have designed an innovative and unreleased interface that makes iBooks seem primitive. When using their interface, one can see the many individual pages one has read on the left side of the tablet and all the unread pages on the right side, as if holding a paperback in one’s hands. A reader can also flip bundles of pages at a time with a flick of a finger.

Scrolling may not be the ideal way to navigate a text as long and dense as Moby Dick, but the New York Times, Washington Post, ESPN and other media outlets have created beautiful, highly visual articles that depend entirely on scrolling and could not appear in print in the same way. Some Web comics and infographics turn scrolling into a strength rather than a weakness. Similarly, Robin Sloan has pioneered the tap essay for mobile devices. The immensely popular interactive Scale of the Universe tool could not have been made on paper in any practical way. New e-publishing companies like Atavist offer tablet readers long-form journalism with embedded interactive graphics, maps, timelines, animations and sound tracks. And some writers are pairing up with computer programmers to produce ever more sophisticated interactive fiction and nonfiction in which one’s choices determine what one reads, hears and sees next.
– Notes taken from The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens, Scientific American. 

Evolution of My Dreams and Realizations

My first ‘Aim in life’, as far as I can remember (It was 1988 / 89; I was 2 or 3), was to become a milkman. I mean, it wasn’t about being a milkman. I wanted to become the honest person appreciated by my parents – a milkman by the name Mubarak. (“I want to become Mubarak”, I used to say). So, what I truly wanted to become was a plain, simple, honest person. 


Next, I wanted to become a building mechanic. I used to stare at people who built houses in awe. My uncle sent me a toy Mechanical Tool Box.

My next major change in aim occurred when I wanted to join the Military (age: 4-5). Each night, I used to stay awake until the National Anthem with the National Flag was played on BTV and give salute. I watched a Television program depicting Military life. One of my uncles quipped: “The secret: Tahsin wants to become the President!”.

My mom told me of an incident that took place when I was a baby of few months old (1986). One day, General Ershad was delivering a speech (who was then the President). My mom was studying for her exams. I was lying right beside my maternal Grandfather. My Grandfather suddenly started praying loudly: “God, grant my wish and guide my grandson to become the President and lead the Nation.” My Grandmother called my mom, “Come! Quick! Look how your dad is praying for your son!”     

During my First grade, a serial had an enormous influence on me: “The sword of Tipu Sultan”. Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali were my childhood heroes. The serial drew me to History. I was deeply influenced by another historical novel during 3rd / 4th Grade – “Khun Ranga Path”. Besides History, books on General Knowledge were among my favorites from an early age. My father bought me my first “General Knowledge” book (Encyclopedia) around 5. Then I discovered “General Knowledge” books (Encyclopedia) in my aunt’s house. Later, I started buying Encyclopedia myself. I used to stare at the Globe of the world and fantasize (
Grade 3 / 4). I fantasized first becoming a King of Ancient Bengal, then King of Myanmar (Burma) and later lifetime President of Kazakhstan. 

I remember playing computer games at one of our relative’s house during Fifth grade. Almost everyone around me wanted to become a Computer Engineer at that time. So I thought I should try to become one myself – a Computer Engineer. 

During my middle school years, I was a voracious reader of novels. Reading novels was the most fun activity I could think of. I could understand different writing techniques employed by novelists. Becoming a novelist, writing great novels was my dream during 7th to 10th grade (1999 – 2002). For living, I would become a Physician or Engineer or Architect. That was my plan.

During 9th / 10th grade, I made up my mind to study Medicine (there was huge encouragement from my parents) and become a Physician besides writing novels.

When I read a book on Psychology (my mom’s book on Educational Psychology from her M.Ed. course), I understood that an intense interest in the workings of the human mind was the chief reason I wanted to become a novelist. Moreover, Literature could only depict subjective human experience, but the objective theories of Psychology applied to all humans.

I thought that I could become a Physician and specialize in Psychiatry or Neurology.

Studying Psychology helped me understand the essence of Science: To understand experimentally provable General Rules that govern everything we see around us.

Studying Psychology books gave me the confidence that: I can come up with original ideas, and that I should question what is written in books.

Trying to understand the theories of Psychology in terms of my own experiences and what I see around me, made me aware of the connection between Real World and the world of Books and Theories.

As I later diversified and ventured into different branches of Science, these realizations and understandings proved invaluable.

One day, as I was preparing for my high school (11th grade) Entrance Exam (later it was decided that Entrance would be based on results of matriculation exam), a Chapter on different forms of Energy from my Physics book grabbed my attention. I thought: maybe I could work on both Psychology / Neurology and Physics. I went through my 9-10th grade Physics book. I bought and read other books (Undergraduate level Physics Textbooks, Stephen Hawkin’s A Brief History of Time and others).

I thought and wrote down my understandings and realizations. I tried to come up with new Theories myself.

Physics taught me to understand “everything” in terms of fundamental constituents and few fundamental laws that govern things we see around us.

Physics made me realize the necessity of learning Higher Mathematics.

Mathematical Olympiad was gaining popularity in Bangladesh at that time (it was 2003). I bought Books and started solving problems.

One of the books published at that time was “নিউরনে অনুরণন” (“Resonance in neurons”). The idea for the name: it’s better to create resonance in your brains’ neurons by solving Mathematical problems rather than leaving the neurons idle!

I found out: the more I worked on problems, the better I could think! My Neurons really were resonating!

My interest in Psychology helped me appreciate brain function improvement and Mathematical Problem Solving. I discovered ways of improving brain function myself.

It was an amazing realization – I could become anyone I wanted if I worked in the right way.

Other Sciences started grabbing my attention.

Psychology drew me to Neuroscience – the Biology of what happens in the mind. Physics led me to Cosmology (the study of the evolution of the Universe) and some of the books described evolution of our planet and Biological evolution. Evolutionary Biology was among my favorites.

At that point, I saw my future as a Scientist: trying to understand the truth and decode the Laws of Nature.

I became interested in Computer Science and Engineering as I read an article portraying the field of Artificial Intelligence. The article was written by Dr. Ali Asgar included in one of his popular science books (Grade 11). I bought Undergrad Texts on Artificial Intelligence and started reading.

Psychology and Neuroscience always grabbed my attention. So when I found out that there is a subfield in CS that tries to emulate intelligence on computers, I got hooked instantly. 

Later, I participated in International Mathematical Olympiad, and met people who were serious participants in programming contests and I felt that I really liked contests and competitions. Besides, computation seem to be everywhere – required in almost every branch. I could do Physics and Biology on Computers. I read an inspirational book (“Medhabi Manusher Golpo” – Prof. Dr Kaykobad) which depicted lives of eminent Computer Scientists and students of Computer Science. The choice was either Physics or Computer Science and Engineering, but my parents wouldn’t let me study Physics. Choosing Computer Science and Engineering also made sense when I considered practical aspects. I thought: I could still pursue my multi-disciplinary interests besides studying CSE at college. 

The Majors I considered at that time included: Computer Science and Engineering, Physics, Mathematics, Neuroscience, Nanotechnology / Nanoengineering & Bioengineering / Biomedical Engineering.

[If you find my life and my understandings interesting you might like Looking back and connecting the dots.]

Lets move a few years forward … During March / April 2013, I thought, I should analyze and understand and learn from and codify everything I see around me – just as I did with the sciences and engineering. I started with the political situation in Bangladesh. I wanted to figure out what would happen if I start my own Political Party. Next, I applied my analysis to other domains: Mechanical Engineering, Economics, Computer Science.

I come across new understandings and realizations almost on a daily basis. I look forward to share my newer understandings at sometime in not too distant future: “Living to tell the tale”, truly!

Crime in Psycho-Social Context

Crime is doing something that harms others or doing something that hurts others or that might hurt others if they ever become aware. If someone harms another, then the harmed is also hurt, so “hurt” is more general but “hurt” is not a measurable quantity. (Related – the principle of karma) 

Why do people commit crime? 

Personal gain and revenge.

Suppose A feels that B has not obeyed the orders of A in a particular instance and that has hurt A. If A punishes B, then that action might include both: personal gain (subordinates get scared and follow A) and revenge. Psychopaths are an exceptional breed. They take pleasure in hurting others. Same thing happens to those who are obsessed with all their life events in which they have been mistreated. People also transfer anger / revenge from one person to another, from one situation to another. We find angry people showing anger (being unable to show anger to superiors or equals) to subordinates, family members who can’t defend themselves from the wrath of the angry person. Revenge can lead to other revenges. (A hurting B or A feeling that B has hurt him, then B taking revenge, then A taking revenge in return.)

Unhappiness, mistreat makes us revengeful. The world is not perfect. Almost everyone is mistreated (or more correctly, almost everyone “feels” that he / she is mistreated) someway someday – no one gets what he / she deserves everyday. But you can still be happy – external conditions don’t make you unhappy, it’s how you interpret your external conditions, what you expectations are, that make you feel happy / unhappy. If you don’t brood how you were mistreated, but instead think of how much fortunate you are in comparison to others and count on God’s blessings you can be happy. Unhappy, revengeful people get more easily inclined towards crime. We need more happy, fulfilled people and less unhappy people. 

Children from broken families don’t get the guidance, love they need in the initial stage. If they are mistreated, or if they feel that they are mistreated, they become revengeful. We need more of loving stronger families, more of stable marriages. Children need the guidance, love and economic support, which gets bolstered by joined efforts of both the parents. 

Like all other affairs of life, committing crime can also become a habit. (Thinking patterns are habit too.) Concentrating on a particular aspect of life e.g., how much everyone around makes a person suffer can also become his / her habit. Punishing / torturing others for anything someone doesn’t like can also become a habit. (For behavior modification, finding out the “habits” that are the root cause of crime of a criminal could be one of the first steps.) So, if a child doesn’t get guidance from the family, feels that he / she is mistreated, becomes revengeful, commits crime and if not taken into account, makes it a habit. – An example of how things might go awfully wrong gradually if unchecked.

The law enforcement agencies should include psychologists / psychiatrists / sociologists to look for abnormal, obsessive behavior among people in all walks of life. Technological solutions e.g., data mining, sentiment analysis, emotion detection etc. might help us in this regard. Lots of research and investigation into psychology, psychiatry, sociology would shed more light. Abnormalities can be brought back to normal (by applying principles and practices from Psychology, Psychiatry, Religious Principles / Eastern philosophies) before things get worse. 

People want to feel good about themselves and they want others (especially people they care about) to feel good about themselves. It is so much more satisfying when you feel that you have earned something yourself. And if you love others deeply, help others earnestly, try to make others happier, you receive love, respect, help in return. This is the greatest reward a man / woman can have. (Look around you. People who are loved by others are usually very nice people, at least better than others that make them stand out.) Whenever you feel an irresistible urge to do something that might hurt others / do harm to others someway someday, remind yourself again and again that someday all your sins would be public, and imagine – feel the shame, hatred (in others’ minds), imagine – feel how people you care about would react / feel. It will help you resist the urge / temptation. (Have you ever had this experience? Feeling of shame, guilt etc.? Always keep it in mind. Has anyone praised you for doing something good (that made you feel really happy)? Keep it in mind too. Make the experiences and the associated feelings guide you. But don’t brood too much in the past. Just help it guide you. You can’t change your past, but you can “always” make the future beautiful.) Imagine-feel how life could have been if you didn’t have some of the things, some of the blessings you have. Now, feel happy and express gratitude. Sincerely believe that whatever you want in life can be achieved without hurting others / doing harm to others. You can even go one step further and begin to shape your desires so that the outcome is desirable to others. Then you can pull off together with others’ help, with greater force than if you were alone! Imagine a life full of mutual love and respect with people you care about! Find love! (It’s not just our romantic partners that we want to feel good about ourselves. We want our parents {Parents start off the process. During our childhood, when they say “Never do it”, we refrain from it and when they encourage us, we make it a habit.}, children, respected people, nice people, relatives and others to feel good about ourselves.) Your loved ones will inspire you!

In a society where people from all walks of life are treated equal and can pursue the life of their dreams, where law and order is strictly maintained, where everyone is held accountable for their deeds, people won’t hurt / harm others for personal gain and people would rely on law enforcement authority for judgment instead of taking revenge. Moreover, in a society where anyone can become anyone he / she wants to be, people are happier, more satisfied and more fulfilled and happier people are more empathetic, compassionate – people who care not only about themselves but also others.

Measuring Intelligence: Pitfalls and Fallacies

“Top performing IT professionals outperform their peers not by a factor of 2 times or 10 times or even 100 times, but by 10,000 times.”

– Nathan Myhrvold, former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft [1]

The currently accepted IQ scale does not seem reasonable if we look a little bit more closely

The scale measures intelligence in terms of age. An IQ of 150 indicates a 10 year old boy’s general intelligence is equal to the general intelligence of a 15 year old boy. People have a life expectancy of around 70. So there is an upper limit to how much intelligent a person can be! Beyond that, we are sorry, intelligence is not measurable! If we continue with this line of argument, then the whole process of going through the works of geniuses and labeling them with some IQ score is questionable.  

Here is an excerpt I found in one of my books:
Good programmers are up to 28 times better than mediocre programmers, according to individual differences research. Given that their pay is never commensurate, they are the biggest bargains in the software field.—Robert Glass (Fact 2 of Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering [2002])

Is this claim reasonable? Let’s think.

A genius can’t be just 1.5 times or 2 times better in performance (and worse yet, only compared to his / her age!) as the IQ scale shows. Reading speed can vary 3, 4 (or more) times. Learning capability can vary several times. Someone who knows how to organize the newly learned knowledge and store it as a model by modifying and augmenting his previous knowledge (More background knowledge leads to more understanding which leads to more effectivelearning.) can learn several times quicker. Intellectuals are persons who by definition enjoy intellectually satisfying tasks. So they naturally spend a lot more time on learning and applying knowledge than others. They have more background knowledgewhich makes it easier for them to learn new concepts faster and go deeper. 

If we want to measure someone’s general intelligence, numeric measures representing skills should be multiplied. Someone with 2 times the reading speed and 2 times the learning abilities of me, who spends 2 times more time on studying and who has 5 times more background knowledge than me which makes him 2 times more effective at learning newer concepts, should be able to learn 2*2*2*2 = 16 times more thanme in a time frame of, say, several days. 

Next comes the question of applying the learned knowledge. Problem solving capability variesgreatly, though there is no standard way of measuring problem solving capability. We can look at different problem solving competitions held regularly. If one problem at a certain competition can be solved by 200 contestants  a second problem by 20 and a third problem by only 2, then we can reasonably conclude that the third problem is at least 10 times or more (maybe 100 times) as hard as the first problem. In this case those 2 solvers are at least 10 times better than those who could only solve the easiest one. Whoa! Now, who doesn’t want to become a genius given it’s true that one can become a genius if he / she is willing to put the required efforts?

Sometimes we underestimate geniuses. A genius can make mistakes in a field in which he / she doesn’t have much interest and / or knowledge. He / she might perform poorly under mental pressure/ tension / inattentiveness as mental pressure and tension can take up parts of his / her working memory (which acts as the temporary memory for holding intermediate steps during problem solving) which is probably one of the most crucial factors in abilities that are tested in IQ. Among many other faulty judgments we make, one iswhat I call superset-subset faulty judgement: we believe that if X is more knowledgeable than Y in subject S, then knowledge of X in subject S is a superset of Y, which is rare as the breadth and depth of knowledge in almost any subject area is so huge that its impossible for a single person to know everything in a subject. So knowledge of one person is rarely the superset of knowledge of anotherperson in a particular subject.

There are other factors like Emotional Intelligence, Personality traits (e.g., perseverance) that playequal or more important role in success. Someone who is 10 times more intelligent than another person, and 2 times better at handling stress, plus 2 times more goal directed, focused and well planned, overall might be 10*2*2 = 40 times more effective.

So it seems reasonable to conclude that an intellectually gifted person might probably be 10 to 50 (or maybe more) times better performer in intellectual tasks combined than the average. So next time you meet an intellectually gifted person, don’t forget to show some respect! 


  1. The Human Side of IT