[Paleopsych] NS: Knowledge of gravity hard-wired in the brain

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Sat Apr 23 23:41:34 UTC 2005

Knowledge of gravity hard-wired in the brain
      * 23 April 2005

    NEWTON may have discovered the laws of gravity while relaxing under an
    apple tree, but his brain knew about them all along, according to an
    imaging study. It suggests that our brains have an internal model of
    gravity that helps us understand how objects move under its influence.

    Francesco Lacquaniti at the Santa Lucia Foundation and the University
    of Rome, and his colleagues came up with this idea after observing how
    poor astronauts are at predicting the motion of objects in zero
    gravity. Now, using brain imaging, they have pinned down the brain
    region involved to the vestibular cortex, which handles information
    from the balance organs in the inner ear. It lit up when subjects saw
    objects moving normally under the influence of gravity, but was much
    less active when the movements were unnatural. So the region must be
    responding to gravity, not just movement.

    The vestibular cortex seems to build up an internal model of gravity
    to help predict an object's motion. This is much more efficient than
    mentally running through thousands of possible types of motion, when
    most objects move in quite predictable ways, says Lacquaniti. And
    links to the balance organs may "calibrate" the gravity model.

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