Optimize your scientific literature consumption

Danielle Gruber
5 min readNov 2, 2020
Figure by author.

When I first started working at a neuroscience lab in 2018, I had to read a lot of scientific literature. Though important, learning dry, neuroanatomy facts can be a bit boring. What I found most helpful was reading interdisciplinary science papers that discussed the theory behind models and incorporated some philosophy/mathematics perspectives.

The reason why I love mathematical and theoretical models so much is that they make complex concepts intuitive. You can get insight on how signals are transmitted through the brain by examining the behavior of slime mold, which optimize their creation of tubes to best access energy, or treat a set of regions in the brain as a circuit and apply control theory. These are just examples off the top of my head, but there are many more.

To cite my favorite quote,

It would be interesting to inquire how many times essential advances in science have first been made possible by the fact that the boundaries of special disciplines were not respected… Trespassing is one of the most successful techniques in science.

— Wolfgang Köhler in Dynamics in Psychology (1940)

I’ll show you what I mean

I was inspired to write this article as I was doing research today for a model I’m creating about how game theory can be applied to the brain (article to come), and came across two papers: one in Frontiers in Neuroscience and another Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science (cool name, huh?).

Before I reveal the content, let’s get some background about the brain: synchrony is very important in generating large-scale neural functions, and in general cognition and behavior. A neuron firing is only meaningful in the context of all its neuron friends — in order to encode information, a majority of neurons has to agree that the information is important, what type of information it is, etc. After all, a democracy is only useful if all eligible voters cast their votes 🗳️ .(Nearly) unanimous voting is achieved by coordinating activity in time and space, referred to as “synchrony.”

Danielle Gruber

👋 I am a freshman at Yale University majoring in electrical engineering. I’m interested in neuroscience, computer science, math, and everything in between!