Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Whale Brains and Spindle Cells

VENs or Spindle cells, named after their long, spindle-shaped bodies, are neurons that are credited with allowing you to feel love and to suffer emotionally. According to Jon Allman, who spends a lot of his time counting cells in the brain, spindle cells may be the cells that "make us human." Think of VENs as the express trains of the nervous system. They bypass unnecessary connections, enabling you to instantly process and act on emotional cues during complex social interactions. They exist in parts of the human brain that are thought to be responsible for social organization, speech, intuition about the feelings of others, empathy, and rapid "gut" reactions. Now they have been discovered in the brain of whales, which means that at some level whales may share some of the cells that “make us human.” According to Patrick Hof of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and co-discoverer of the whale spindle cells with Estel van der Gucht of the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology:  “They (whales) communicate through huge song repertoires, recognize their own songs and make up new ones. They also form coalitions to plan hunting strategies, teach these to younger individuals, and have evolved social networks similar to those of apes and humans.” No surprise, this is stimulating some debate both on the level of whale intelligence and on the ethics of hunting them.

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