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Ode to the Brain

"The brain is a very big place, in a very small space" -Carl Sagan, in the latest Symphony of Science song. More geeky scientific awe, communicated via music and imagery, from composer John Boswell.

"Here is this mass of jelly you can hold in the palm of your hands. And it can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space." -Vilayanur Ramachandran.

Lyrics after the jump.

[Robert Winston]
It's amazing to consider that I'm holding in my hands
The place where someone once felt, thought, and loved
For centuries, scientists have been battling to understand
What this unappealing object is all about

[Vilayanur Ramachandran]
Here is this mass of jelly
You can hold in the palm of your hands
And it can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space

[Carl Sagan]
The brain has evolved from the inside out
It's structure reflects all the stages through which it has passed

[Jill Bolte Taylor]
Information in the form of energy
Streams in simultaneously
Through all of our sensory systems

And then it explodes into this enormous collage
Of what this present moment looks like
What it feels like
And what it sounds like

And then it explodes into this enormous collage
And in this moment we are perfect
We are whole and we are beautiful

[Robert Winston]
It appears rather gruesome
Wrinkled like a walnut, and with the consistency of mushroom

[Carl Sagan]
What we know is encoded in cells called neurons
And there are something like a hundred trillion neural connections
This intricate and marvelous network of neurons has been called
An enchanted loom

The neurons store sounds too, and snatches of music
Whole orchestras play inside our heads

20 million volumes worth of information
Is inside the heads of every one of us
The brain is a very big place
In a very small space

No longer at the mercy of the reptile brain
We can change ourselves
Think of the possibilities

[Bill Nye]
Think of your brain as a newspaper
Think of all the information it can store
But it doesn't take up too much room
Because it's folded

[Oliver Sacks]
We see with the eyes
But we see with the brain as well
And seeing with the brain
Is often called imagination

[Various]

[Robert Winston]
It is the most mysterious part of the human body
And yet it dominates the way we live our adult lives
It is the brain

This is the ninth installment in Boswell's series. For more _floss coverage, search the site. I still think the first song, "A Glorious Dawn," is the best.

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Animals
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]

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entertainment
Why Our Brains Love Plot Twists
Getty Images
Getty Images

From the father-son reveal in The Empire Strikes Back to the shocking realization at the end of The Sixth Sense, everyone loves a good plot twist. It's not the element of surprise that makes them so enjoyable, though. It's largely the set-up, according to cognitive scientist Vera Tobin.

Tobin, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University, writes for The Conversationthat one of the most enjoyable moments of a film or novel comes after the big reveal, when we get to go back and look at the clues we may have missed. "The most satisfying surprises get their power from giving us a fresh, better way of making sense of the material that came before," Tobin writes. "This is another opportunity for stories to turn the curse of knowledge to their advantage."

The curse of knowledge, Tobin explains, refers to a psychological effect in which knowledge affects our perception and "trips us up in a lot of ways." For instance, a puzzle always seems easier than it really is after we've learned how to solve it, and once we know which team won a baseball game, we tend to overestimate how likely that particular outcome was.

Good writers know this intuitively and use it to their advantage to craft narratives that will make audiences want to review key points of the story. The end of The Sixth Sense, for example, replays earlier scenes of the movie to clue viewers in to the fact that Bruce Willis's character has been dead the whole time—a fact which seems all too obvious in hindsight, thanks to the curse of knowledge.

This is also why writers often incorporate red herrings—or false clues—into their works. In light of this evidence, movie spoilers don't seem so terrible after all. According to one study, even when the plot twist is known in advance, viewers still experience suspense. Indeed, several studies have shown that spoilers can even enhance enjoyment because they improve "fluency," or a viewer's ability to process and understand the story.

Still, spoilers are pretty universally hated—the Russo brothers even distributed fake drafts of Avengers: Infinity War to prevent key plot points from being leaked—so it's probably best not to go shouting the end of this summer's big blockbuster before your friends have seen it.

[h/t The Conversation]

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