Interview with Jim Ranck, discoverer of Head-Direction cells

May 7, 2019,  Andre Fenton and I interview Jim Ranck. The interview is quite long — 90 minutes — and is organized in a decade-by-decade manner. For each segment we discuss Jim’s personal history, his scientific accomplishments, and some major events in Neuroscience.

watch, above, or go directly to youtube: https://youtu.be/i6hIVqXPNdQ

The interview contains lots of hippocampal minutia. Best suited for people in the field … but I think there are other gems.

The timeline is something like this:

0:00:00    1930-40s birth thru college: 
0:04:50    1950s  med school, Univ chicago, Public Health 
0:20:10    1960s  Univ Washington, Biophysics, Brain Impedance, Mich
0:31:00    1970s  Hippocampal Neurons, O'Keefe & Nadel
                  Phil Best, place cells are real
0:48:00    1975   Move to Brooklyn, single neurons
1:08:43    1980s  (part 1) computerized data collection and
                  analysis
1:10:40    1980s  (part 2) Head-Direction cells. Ego and allocentric
1:22:55    1990s  Cognitive Neuroscience, the book.

Most important segment is on discovery and description of Head-Direction Cells,
1:10:40 – 1:23:00

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What is episodic memory good for?

The function of learning is clear: modifying behavior through experience. Memory, the storage of information that supports learning, is clearly necessary and valuable. Current psychology and neuroscience tell us that there are two memory systems enabled by separate neural systems. Procedural memory relies on reward circuitry and trial-and-error processes to mold efficient behaviors. Episodic memory stores specifc events in the life of the individual — but for what purpose? Continue reading

What is Cognition?

snoopy2In 1981 I was an eager post-doctoral fellow, learning to record place cell’s in Jim Ranck’s lab and beginning to understand John O’Keefe and Lynn Nadel’s “Cognitive Map” theory of the hippocampus. One afternoon, while I had a rat in the maze and watched traces of action potentials sweep by on the oscilloscope, Jim Ranck looked over my should and said …

“This is terrific! Place cells are the gateway to understanding how the brain produces cognition.”1

This was both inspirational and opaque. Continue reading

Grid Cells, Place Cells and Navigation

grid module small I’ve made a posting on the BrainsFacts Blog site on Grid Cells and Path Integration. Aimed at High School and College students, but I think it gets complicated. Write your comments here!

Also, planning a third post or the Modular organization of Grid Cells. Based on new paper “Specific evidence of low-dimensional continuous attractor dynamics in grid cells” (Yoon et al) published in Nature Neuroscience.

Can a Parkinson’s Patient Ride a Bike (without a helmet)?

bikeThree years ago the New England Journal of Medicine published a remarkable case study : “Cycling for Freezing Gait”. The report from doctors in the Netherlands describes a man with severe Parkinson’s disease who was virtually unable to walk, but, when put on a bike, rode beautifully, including the ability to turn, raise off the seat for power, and comfortably dismount.

Continue reading