Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How the brain learns to come up with nothing

22.04.2016

Tübingen neuroscientists discover brain processes which lead to the concept of “zero” on the number line

Zero is a magic number. It stands for emptiness, for nothing – and yet it is considered one of the greatest cultural achievements of humankind, making the breakthrough for science and mathematics. It took a long stretch of human history for zero to be recognized and appreciated.


Tübingen neurology researchers can now report how and where brain cells depict an empty set as a part of the number line.

Andreas Nieder/University of Tübingen

Even children understand that zero itself is a number only after they have learned to count other numbers. It is not easy for human beings to comprehend an empty set as an abstract numerical value. University of Tübingen neuroscience researchers headed by Professor Andreas Nieder now have some answers as to how and where brain cells depict a zero amount as a part of the number line.

The researchers trained two rhesus monkeys to assess the number of dots on a computer screen from zero to four. In the test, the monkeys judged “no dots” as the number closest to one, thereby giving it quantitative significance at the start of the number line.

While this was happening, the researchers measured the activity in two parts of the monkeys’ brains, the parietal lobe and the frontal lobe, which is the next place neural signals are sent. The researchers had shown in the past that these two regions play a key role in the processing of quantities. “A comparison of the two brain regions showed an initial amazing transformation in the way empty sets are portrayed by neurons,” says Andreas Nieder.

Nerve cells in the parietal lobe registered the lack of countable dots as a missing visual stimulus, without quantitative significance and therefore fundamentally different from numbers. But at the next level at which processing takes place, the frontal lobe, the neurons treated the absence of elements as an empty set among other countable sets, with the greatest similarity to the number one. “Not until it gets to the frontal lobe does the empty set become abstracted as a value on the number line, analogously with the behavior of the animals,” says Nieder.

The new findings provide information on how and just where the brain actively translates an absence of countable stimuli into a numerical category. “For a brain which has evolved to process sensory stimuli, conceiving of empty sets is an extraordinary achievement,” Nieder says.

“This is the first sign of the ability to formulate concepts independently of experience and beyond what is perceived, just as required for a complex number theory.” That the nerves in the prefrontal cortex are capable of making that step confirms the tremendous significance of this area of the brain for abstract thought – which is frequently disrupted in neuropsychiatric disorders.

Publication:
Araceli Ramirez-Cardenas, Maria Moskaleva & Andreas Nieder: Neuronal representation of numerosity zero in the primate parieto-frontal number network. Current Biology.
Online: 21 April 2016, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.03.052

Contact:
Professor Andreas Nieder
University of Tübingen
Institute of Neurobiology – Animal Physiology
Phone: + 49 7071 29-75347
andreas.nieder[at]uni-tuebingen.de

Dr. Karl Guido Rijkhoek | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

nachricht How cheetahs stay fit and healthy
24.03.2017 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>