hotandcold2Modified from Mahmoud Ibrahim

I wake up drenched in sweat and shivering. I feel so cold, that I pull the blankets up over my face, but when my hand touches my face it feels burning hot.

What’s going on? Is this all a fever dream? I have a fever and I’m over-heating, so the blazing skin and soaking sweat make sense, but why am I simultaneously shivering and clutching for the covers?

In honor of last weekend, which I spent unable to think of anything other than my fever, I’ll explain how temperature sensation works and four situations when your brain lies to you, and the sensation of temperature you feel is opposite of what you would expect: why chili peppers actually make you cold, how eating the wrong fish can make cold feel hot for months, and why people freezing to death strip their clothes off. (It’s also a good reminder to get your flu shot or else you might find your whole week shot, lying in your own sweat and barely able to get out of bed.)

Fever Genes

Bacteria and viruses don’t cause fevers directly, but rather Continue reading ‘When hot and cold tell lies – Four situations where hot feels cold or cold feels hot’


While researching last week’s post on the Best popular neuroscience books, I came upon many people asking:

Which is the best neuroscience textbook?

Is there any consensus? I looked up the top neuroscience graduate programs in the U.S.[1] and found syllabi from introductory neuroscience classes taught at these universities.

Here’s a couple tables summarizing the textbooks being used (More information about how to get these books for cheap, where I got this data, and a tip-off to a dope coloring book are all below):

Continue reading ‘What are the Best Neuroscience Textbooks? Which textbooks do elite universities use? And how you can buy them for cheap?’

It was a book that originally piqued my interest in neuroscience and in the ten years I’ve studied neuro, what I’ve learned from books has stuck with me longer than what I’ve learned in classes, lectures, conferences.

Why do books stick with us? Are well-written books crafted for the structure of our minds—creating interesting stories that we can remember and connecting newly learned facts in our semantic memory with a narrative we store in our episodic memory?

Regardless, because of my belief in books and how they’ve benefited me, I’m compiling a list of my favorite books about neuroscience and psychology:


  1. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales – Oliver Sacks – Neurology

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat really was a life-changing book for me. After taking Psychology for the rumored easy A, doing horribly, and then studying like crazy to bring up my grade, I discovered I was genuinely interested in psychology. A friend recommended this book, which catapulted my interest from the psychology to neuroscience, and the hard problem of consciousness—how does consciousness emerge from our material brain, and how can changes to our or brain result in bizarre experiences of consciousness?

Oliver Sacks is a neurologist and writer, and in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat each chapter is a case study describing an interesting patient, and reflecting on them in a literary style. The eponymous character in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat suffers from a visual agnosia, a neurological condition where although his vision is largely intact—he can draw pictures of what he sees—he can no longer interpret his vision. Leaving his appointment, he mistakes his wife who is standing in the corner of the room for a coat rack, her head for a hat, and he ends up yanking up on her head Continue reading ‘Five Neuroscience Books That Changed My Life’


Step aside Cesar Millan—these days when you want to know what the dog really saw, ask a scientist not a Dog Whisperer. While studies of domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) have been fundamental to neuroscience—it was Pavlov’s dog after all that drooled when it heard that bell—dog studies are undergoing a renaissance due to advances in genetic and brain-scanning techniques, and dogs are emerging as unique research subjects due to their evolutionary history, their close relationship with humans, their high intelligence, and most importantly their  Continue reading ‘Studying Your Best Friend’s Brain – Dog’s unique role in the study of evolution, speech processing, and brain diseases’


When I first sleep with someone we have to have the talk: “You really wear one of those?” It can be a bit embarrassing to sleep with an eye mask and earplugs, but what am I supposed to do? I’m bad at sleeping.

Sleep is important, obviously for feeling rested and awake during the day, but also for maintaining health. Disruptions to sleep increase the risk of not just Continue reading ‘My Secret Night Life—Insomnia, Drugs, Sleep Doctors, and the Circadian Rhythm of it All’


I love improv comedy because of its authenticity. You might ask me, how can a dramatic form where the performers are literally making everything up as they go possibly be authentic? To that I would say, “Yes, and… Fuck, I really should’ve thought that one through.”

I’ve always been a fan of comedy, but five years ago, if you had asked me to go to an improv show, I would have passed, saying (or at least thinking), “It may be a great way for comedians to hone their skills–to build those 10,000 hours–but I want to watch their best, painstakingly edited final product, not their practice session.”

Last night, I was walking down a crowded street, earbuds in, listening to Comedy Bang Bang, trying desperately not to laugh in public. My face was so lit up by the comedy, that it drew multiple strangers to Continue reading ‘How a Neuroscientist Came Around to Improv Comedy’


“Autism is about having a pure heart and being very sensitive… It is about finding a way to survive in an overwhelming, confusing world… It is about developing differently, in a different pace and with different leaps,” Trisha Van Berkel.

How do genes—DNA, these physical atoms: carbons, hydrogens, and nitrogens—influence our subjective experience of consciousness? And how can mutations to genes lead to the alterations in behavior and consciousness seen in disorders like autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is now estimated to affect 1 in 68 children in the United States and causes difficulties with social interaction, and a tendency towards repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. A surprising new study published in Cell indicates that two well-studied mutations that cause autism may actually be acting outside of the brain, and an oft-overlooked symptom may be more important than we’ve thought.

This new study—which we’ll return to in a moment—connects fundamental autism biological research to an emerging line of research that shows our body contains a special set of nerves whose function is detecting pleasant social touch.

Orphaned monkeys, cattle squeeze chutes, and hypersensitivity to touch.

Touch is an integral part of social experience. In the 1950s, In response to radical behaviorists like B.F. Skinner, who thought that a child’s love for his or her mother came from the repeated association of the mother with food, Harlow showed that monkeys have an intrinsic desire for touch:

Those poor cute Harlow monkeys…😦

Harlow raised baby monkeys in complete social isolation, unless you count the two monkey mannequins in their room. The first was made of metal wire and dispensed milk, and the second had no clear functional benefit to the baby monkey, but it was covered in soft cloth the monkey could cling to. Harlow showed the monkeys would feed from the metal monkey, but spend their time with the cloth one and seek it out when they were distressed.

Parental touch plays an important role in soothing a child’s negative emotions[1], and is a large component of early interactions between parent and child such as nursing, cradling, and swaddling, the foundation upon which social interaction may begin to be learned.

However, many autistic people report difficulties with their sense of touch. Temple Grandin, a neuroscientist on the spectrum described her experience: “As a child, I craved to feel the comfort of being held, but I would pull away when people hugged me. When hugged, an overwhelming tidal wave of sensation flowed through me.” This desire to be embraced (and some bovine inspiration) prompted her to invent a “squeeze machine,” that allowed her to simulate being embraced without the overwhelming, unpredictable stimulation of direct human contact.

While Grandin isn’t representative of the typical ASD patient, her experiences with touch are. In a survey of caregivers of nearly 300 children with ASD, 60% reported their child experienced tactile sensitivity differences greater than two standard deviations from the mean—for example experience severe distress during grooming. These symptoms are now become acknowledged as representative, and the latest version of Psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM) includes sensory abnormalities as a core feature of the disorder.

スクリーンショット 2016-08-19 12.15.57 PMsource:

So, what is causing these sensory differences in autism? Why is touch important for human interaction and social development? Can social deficits in autism be explained by sensory hypersensitivity?  Continue reading ‘Two well-studied autism mutations cause social defects in mice. But they’ve now been found to do so through effects outside the brain. How can this be?’

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