I am a self-confessed ‘tinkerer.’
As far back in my childhood as I remember, complex objects have always fascinated me. I took them apart and tried, often unsuccessfully, put them back together again. Starting with toys and clocks, I soon graduated to radios, televisions, and more. Gradually, I began identifying parallels in the complexity of organization, structure, and function between these relatively simpler machines, and biological automatons. I became more engrossed with living systems, not only because of their incredible, and at the same time wonderful complexity, but also the functional relationship between this complexity and the diverse challenges it helps overcome.
Today, I am ready to ‘tinker’ with the ultimate machine – the human body and the brain, and ask fundamental questions about how the two work in unison.
The principal driver of my research in the fundamental ability of the primate’s hand to facilitate and extend cognition. Manual dexterity provides for unique sensorimotor modalities affording complex and highly dynamic interfacing with physical environments. Tooling extends the body’s perceptuomotor capabilities further to transform the organism’s situatedness, invoking simultaneous and cascading effects on perception and action.
An ongoing line of my research aims to investigate how the central nervous system forms perceptual judgments of properties of handheld objects via muscular effort in the absence of vision, what neurophysiological processes subserve the detection of and attunement to physical properties of objects such as torque and the moment of inertia, and how the body-wide distributed network comprising the skin, connective-tissue net, muscles, tendons, bones, joints, and nerve fibers provides the biophysical substrate during perception via muscular effort. To date, I have addressed these questions using motion tracking, electromyography (EMG), and postural sway analysis in combination with state-of-the-art non-linear modeling techniques in healthy populations. My findings highlight that muscular effort differentially contributes to perception of heaviness and length, and that a critical nonlinear interplay between posture and manual exploration influences such perception.
Another line of research aims to understand the evolution of stone-tool use in hominid ancestors. Using a nonhuman primate model (bearded capuchin monkeys), I showed that monkeys could modulate their striking strategy and kinematic parameters of each strike in accordance with the type and condition of the nut, an ability that was believed to be uniquely human. Although the monkeys control the hammer’s trajectory by using joint synergies as do humans, they cannot control the hammer’s kinetic energy at impact like humans due to perceptuomotor limitations. Given that the perceptual capabilities rather than the motor capabilities of the monkeys limit their control of hammers, my research indicated that perceptuomotor capabilities played a crucial role, and possibly evolved much later than motor capabilities, in the evolution of dexterous stone-tool use in humans.
An earlier line of research has been to understand the factors responsible for the evolution of lateral asymmetries in the body, brain, and cognition. To this goal, I used a combination of field studies on the hand-usage pattern in bonnet macaques and mathematical modeling of lateral asymmetries in an artificial system. A set of ingenious experiments on macaques placed the traditional, rigid ideas about handedness into a flexible, functional approach of the division of labor between the two hands. The mathematical model showed that a laterally asymmetrical movement at a lower level of behavioral organization of movements could stimulate the development of directionally consistent laterally asymmetrical movements at consecutive higher levels. This process continues until it fully optimizes space and time, the extent of which increases with the increasing complexity of the task, suggesting that laterally asymmetrical movements can self-organize as a consequence of space-time optimization.
I’m a self-confessed tinkerer. cognitive neuroscientist, specializing in brain stimulation, with applications to understanding the cortical control of goal-directed movements. Nooo! Your yawning is not goal-directed movement. God no. Btw, I do believe in God(s).
Since 01/07/2019, I am a postdoctoral research associate in the Movement Neuroscience Laboratory housed in the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement & Rehabilitation Science at Northeastern University.
So when you come to my lab, I will either ask you to sit get an fMRI scan of your brain and then will make you sit on a chair wearing a VR headset and when you try to grab that fancy virtual object, I will zap parts of your brain. No, its not dangerous, its fun. Try it yourself.