Table of Contents The Brain Fall 2012


We do many amazing things with our brains. Some of those things seem at first to be amazingly dumb. For example, we believe things that "feel" correct, even when we have plenty of evidence to the contrary. We are terrified of shark attacks, but the risk they pose is actually tiny. Equipped with such large, powerful brains, how do we go so wrong? 

These errors aren't stupid. As we explore in this issue, they're systematic — the product of cognitive strategies that help us evade danger, find food, and perform other feats essential for survival. In this special issue of Discover, the neuroscience that reveals why we jump to conclusions, fail to consider evidence, or resort to bias and conjecture instead of sticking to the facts. 

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After Hugh Herr lost both of his legs, he invented a robotic foot that allows amputees to walk, dance, and run. His goal: tapping into the nervous system with a true bionic limb. 


Phineas Gage blasted an iron rod through his brain. He survived, but his personality did not. A new look at brain connections explains why. 


Obesity is in your brain, not your stomach: Genes and stress conspire to make us overeat. Armed with the facts, one writer tries to think himself thin. 


Our moral instincts are deep-seated and sometimes completely irrational. Neuroscience shows where these biases come from, and how we can overcome them. 


We're scared of silly stuff—bugs, heights, airplanes—but we risk our lives by smoking, overeating and driving too fast. Studying how our brains misjudge risk can close the gap between fears and facts. 


Concerns about the long-term effects of contact sports continues to grow. 


If bigger really is better, why are large brains rare in nature? Brain cells have huge appetites, and the trade-off for a huge head is a weaker body. 


A cluster of neurological disease in New England recalls an outbreak of paralysis in Guam. The culprit could be a toxin in the water. 


We rely upon our memories to envision the future. Through the trick of mental time travel, we picture yesterday and imagine tomorrow. 


If we freeze our brains, could future technology bring us back to life? The study of neural connections may answer that question. 



Using magnetic stimulation to take charge of neurons, Alvaro Pascual-Leone spies on the brain's inner workings. 


Laughter is the built-in way humans bond with one another, says cognitive scientist Sophie Scott. 


From supertasters to the munchies, here's a list of things you might not know about taste.