Some neurons in your brain only fire when you’re doing numbers

A new study indicates that certain neurons in the brain are encoded with mathematical calculations and act like the (+) or (-) sign on a calculator.

Scientists found that specific neurons inside the brain fire when people do math. The general belief that the right side of the brain controls emotions and creativity while the left side of the brain is credited with analysis and calculations is more than a challenge. The brain is one of the most complex and least understood parts of life.

Work to understand how the human brain works has accelerated with the goal of creating artificial human intelligence. The truth is that code and machine learning are a world apart from how the brain works. The human brain is also vastly underestimated. He goes through great lengths to perform automatic tasks that keep people alive and other amazing tasks that humans take for granted and never stop to ask how he does them.


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Scientists from the University of Bonn say their study proves that specific neurons in the brain are coded to solve mathematical equations. The study also revealed that during different calculations, different neurons fire. These neurons fire like a (+) or (-) sign on a calculator. Moreover, the study showed that it makes no difference whether the calculation is presented as a numerical equation or as a language problem. Addition or subtraction neurons will light up every time like a Christmas tree.

The mysterious complex simplicity of the brain

Brain Regions Study Results

In the Department of Epileptology at the University Hospital Bonn, epileptic patients undergo specialized surgeries to implant multiple electrodes in their brains. The electrodes are used to determine the origin of the epileptic spasm. This allows for better understanding, reduces seizures, and designs better drugs and treatments. Five women and four men from this program participated in the mathematical study.

The study showed that the brain’s temporal lobe and parahippocampal cortex are deeply connected to mathematical calculations. Mathematical calculations require visualization, memory, language skills, imagination, abstract thinking, and sleep functions, all very complex tools associated with these brain regions. To the scientists’ surprise, when the patients subtracted, different neurons fired when the patients added.

The scientists concluded that the neural cells encode the mathematical operation and instruction and send the electrical signal that triggers the action. So, just by looking at which region of the brain was lighting up, the team could predict with great accuracy whether the patient was adding or subtracting. Although it may seem relatively simple, after all adding and subtracting is not quantum mechanics, Professor Andreas Nieder from the University of Tübingen says that there is “almost none” study on how it works in humans. This fact alone says a lot about how little scientists know how the human brain works.

Next: Scientists May Have Just Figured Out What REM Sleep Is Used For

Source: current biology/cell

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