Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pain and numbers

Today's Science Times has two pieces related to the neuroscience that I found interesting. One by Kate Murphy on how sensations in one part of the body can cause pain in another - so-called referred pain. Researchers see two kinds - one that is caused by the transfer of signals to adjacent nerves that overlap as they come together at the spinal column. The second type does not see such an overlap, here the referred sites seem to be concurrent with acupuncture meridians or the phenomenon of trigger points, a notion anathema to many doctors who practice 'Western' medicine.

Natalie Angier writes about the ability of the mind to approximate numbers versus the ability we cultivate to take the symbols for the abstract concept of quantity (numbers) and manipulate them (compute). Researchers are investigating both whether there is an actual link between these systems - anatomically or whether suceess in one arena can predict success in the other - and also whether those approximating skills can be usefully applied to teaching computation.

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