Imagine having the ability to know that something drastic was going to happen before it ever took place. Some might call it being psychic; others call it science.

Over time, technology has steadily risen and become more advanced. Recently, a team of neuroscientists “published a paper claiming it has developed a mathematical calculation that could potentially predict the tipping point of any massive event.”

These events would vary from market crashes, all the way to someone having a brain seizure.

This would be accomplished through a working system of nodes. During this, one neuron inside the brain would “ignite a stream of connected activity – a web-like chain reacting that unfolds in seemingly unpredictable ways.”

Scientists, however, have discovered that events can in fact be predicted with the proper information. A group of professors at the University of Sussex, along with colleagues working in psychology and physics, are conducting experiments that replicate monitored brain activity.

This team has also formulated an equation that disclosed the effects of information being flown between multiple nodes. Lionel Barnett, one of the leading authors on the paper, discovered that all of the elements “casually influence each other.”

Barnett’s discovery will enable scientists to differentiate between when a node is dependent upon its own behavior, and when it is dependent upon all other nodes.

“The dynamics of complex systems – like the brain and the economy – depend upon how their elements casually influence each other; in other words, how information flows between them,” said Barnett.

Since the system is this complex, how is it possible to be able to predict something so sporadic?

The team of researchers proposes that it is manageable to measure when a system reaches its “tipping point,” as it alters from a healthy system to one that shows immense change.

The theory was tested using a model that physicists use to predict “phase transitions” in standard systems. This, accompanied by supercomputers at the Charles Sturt University in Australia allowed the team to find the “global transfer entropy flow.”

This basically means that scientists have discovered that certain flows reach peaks repeatedly, right before a tipping point. If the possibility of this major scientific discovery is plausible, the world as is known will be altered entirely.

According to Anil Seth, the co-director of the Sackler Centre, “This would change the course of the dynamics and prevent seizures.” This was before Seth further suggested that the application could be used for financial, climate and immune systems.

Seth explained, in depth, that he believes this possibility is really feasible, in spite of the systems being so vastly diverse. On the other hand, although there is faith in the project itself, there are many factors that come into play.

For example, human error and factors such as interference from mathematically-drawn conclusions as a result of errors, could affect the results. Through further research, the team hopes to make exciting revelations in this field.

Samaria Garrett

Sources: The New Yorker, Wired
Photo: Severa Rules

Martha Farah applies neuroscience to socioeconomic questions related to the brain. She argues that, “The relevance of SES (Socioeconomic status) to cognitive neuroscience lies in its surprisingly strong relationship to cognitive ability as measured by IQ and school achievement, beginning in early childhood.”

Her interest in the “brain’s response to circumstances of social class” sparked from hiring babysitters for her daughter. She often hired women who would be grouped into low socioeconomic status – single mothers on welfare. Farah was intrigued by the differences in the lives of these women and their children and her own life and that of her daughter.

How a child is raised can vary greatly depending on socioeconomic status. Children who grow up in impoverished circumstances tend to be exposed to a narrower vocabulary and a simpler grammatical structure. They also receive more negative feedback and in general there is less awareness of what a child needs for healthy development. Farah also identified the stress of uncertainty as a key factor affecting children’s development. With parents preoccupied about being able to put food on the table or giving their children basic safety, there was much less focus on nurturing, patient behavior.

Farah and colleagues tested the effects of parental stress on children in a long-term study. When the children were 4 years old a test was done of how nurturing the parents were. Then, 11 to 14 years later, the children were subjected to giving a talk in front of a hostile audience to test their stress levels. What they found was a correlation between parental support and stress reaction in children. Less parental warmth was connected to less of a normal stress response a decade later.

Farah concluded from her studies that the brain development of children in these circumstances is definitely influenced by stress. The question that remains is whether that process can be reversed. This is not a topic that receives a lot of attention as of yet and funding is limited. But Farah and a small group of colleagues are committed to continuing their research to more fully understand poverty’s developmental effect on the brain and how this can be altered to offer these children a healthier future.

– Zoë Meroney

Sources: CNN Health, UPenn
Photo: Daily Science