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"Neuroscience explains aspects of human action, but it is not the only source of truth."

Javier Bernácer, researcher of project 'Mind-Brain' of the ICS, presented some of the most advanced techniques of this discipline in a lecture organized by the Ateneo Navarro and the Club de Amigos de la Ciencia.

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Javier Bernácer, researcher of the ICS, and Javier Novo, professor of the School of Sciences. PHOTO: Courtesy
13/12/13 17:09 Isabel Solana

Javier Bernácer, researcher of project Mente-cerebro' (Mind-brain) of the Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Navarra, spoke about the dialogue between Neuroscience and Philosophy during a lecture in the Planetarium of Pamplona, organized by the Ateneo Navarro and the Club de Amigos de la Ciencia.

The specialist began the session by presenting some of the most cutting-edge techniques related to this discipline. Among them he mentioned 'Clarity', which consists of replacing the fats in the brain with a hydrogel that changes the structure of the brain and makes it transparent. According to him, it has as goal to facilitate the vision of neurons through the microscope.

Another of the pioneering techniques he referred to is 'Brainbow' -from brain, brain, and rainbow, rainbow-, which consists of dyeing neurons with colors. "With this technique, the project 'Human Conectome' aims to see the connections of all the neurons in the brain," he explained.

He also alluded to 'optogenetics', which imitates the reaction shown by some photosensitive algae. "It involves activating specific neurons with a certain subject of light, in order to study their behavior," he said.

Javier Bernácer pointed out that although these techniques are useful for research, they cannot be applied in humans because they involve modification Genetics.

With respect to those being developed in people, he spoke of one that has shown good results in Parkinson's patients and in certain cases of very severe depression: "It consists of implanting electrodes in a nucleus of the subject's brain. There is an emitter of an electrical signal: at a certain moment, a discharge is given and the nucleus is inactivated". And he also mentioned another technique that makes it possible to activate or inactivate regions but does not require penetration of the brain, 'transcranial magnetic stimulation'.

"The research in neuroscience has even led us to be able to communicate with some patients in a vegetative state," expressed the 'Mind-brain' specialist. "They are asked to imagine themselves in a status, such as playing tennis, before which a certain brain activity is recorded. They are then asked questions, such as whether they feel pain, and are told to think about that status posed to them if they wish to give an affirmative answer."

Dialogue with the Philosophy

For Javier Bernácer, all these promising results send the message that "there is reason for optimism". However, he stressed that although neuroscience can explain many aspects of human action, it is important to be cautious: "It cannot be deduced that this discipline is the only source of truth. It has its limitations and to overcome them, it can dialogue with the Philosophy".

As an example of how both fields of knowledge can enrich each other, he mentioned the topic of habit, which precisely focuses a project developed by his group of research.

"In contrast to the notion that neuroscience has, as a motor routine, we want to explain it as an acquired disposition that allows us financial aid to make decisions in situations of uncertainty," he pointed out. In this sense, he advanced that his team is working on an experimental project to clarify the changes that occur in the brain with the acquisition of habits.

Javier Bernácer is graduate in Biology and Biochemistry by the University of Navarra and PhD by the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. He has specialized in the Anatomy of the human brain, especially in the nuclei involved in action. Before joining Institute for Culture and Society, he worked at the University of Rochester (USA) and made stays at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and at the University of Cambridge (UK). She is also currently studying the Degree at Philosophy as a complement to her interdisciplinary training .

Obra Social 'La Caixa

The project 'Mente-cerebro' (Mind-brain) of the ICS receives funding from the Obra Social 'La Caixa'..