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Medical Neuroscience

Coursera · Duke University · 10 HN comments

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Course Description

Medical Neuroscience explores the functional organization and neurophysiology of the human central nervous system, while providing a neurobiological framework for understanding human behavior. In this course, you will discover the organization of the neural systems in the brain and spinal cord that mediate sensation, motivate bodily action, and integrate sensorimotor signals with memory, emotion and related faculties of cognition. The overall goal of this course is to provide the foundation for understanding the impairments of sensation, action and cognition that accompany injury, disease or dysfunction in the central nervous system. The course will build upon knowledge acquired through prior studies of cell and molecular biology, general physiology and human anatomy, as we focus primarily on the central nervous system.

This online course is designed to include all of the core concepts in neurophysiology and clinical neuroanatomy that would be presented in most first-year neuroscience courses in schools of medicine. However, there are some topics (e.g., biological psychiatry) and several learning experiences (e.g., hands-on brain dissection) that we provide in the corresponding course offered in the Duke University School of Medicine on campus that we are not attempting to reproduce in Medical Neuroscience online. Nevertheless, our aim is to faithfully present in scope and rigor a medical school caliber course experience.

This course comprises six units of content organized into 12 weeks, with an additional week for a comprehensive final exam:

- Unit 1 Neuroanatomy (weeks 1-2). This unit covers the surface anatomy of the human brain, its internal structure, and the overall organization of sensory and motor systems in the brainstem and spinal cord.

- Unit 2 Neural signaling (weeks 3-4). This unit addresses the fundamental mechanisms of neuronal excitability, signal generation and propagation, synaptic transmission, post synaptic mechanisms of signal integration, and neural plasticity.

- Unit 3 Sensory systems (weeks 5-7). Here, you will learn the overall organization and function of the sensory systems that contribute to our sense of self relative to the world around us: somatic sensory systems, proprioception, vision, audition, and balance senses.

- Unit 4 Motor systems (weeks 8-9). In this unit, we will examine the organization and function of the brain and spinal mechanisms that govern bodily movement.

- Unit 5 Brain Development (week 10). Next, we turn our attention to the neurobiological mechanisms for building the nervous system in embryonic development and in early postnatal life; we will also consider how the brain changes across the lifespan.

- Unit 6 Cognition (weeks 11-12). The course concludes with a survey of the association systems of the cerebral hemispheres, with an emphasis on cortical networks that integrate perception, memory and emotion in organizing behavior and planning for the future; we will also consider brain systems for maintaining homeostasis and regulating brain state.

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This course is offered by Duke University on the Coursera platform.
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

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Your comments are unusually poorly informed and mean spirited for HN.

Here is a course on neuroscience to get you started. Take a look and get back when you may have some idea of what you're commenting on.

I take mean spirited any time over harmful, which I believe your comments are.

If you see a problem with my statements, point to it. If we were discussing programming where my main expertise lies, I would not be directing people to read a "C++ for beginners" book, but pointed to a specific statement in one.

What exactly do you expect me to find in that course that would contradict my comments?

Originally Coursera only wanted money for the - for the vast majority of people useless - verified completion certificate. You had access to all course content including all the tests and could access course content long after the course had ended. So if you did not see any value in that "verified certificate" there was no reason to pay anything. You got a free certificate either way.

I saved all certificates I ever got from edX and from Coursera as PDFs to remember which courses I took. They actually look quite fancy.

- Example certificate that was free at the time:

- The course was part of a series, which these days is available here:

- Here is an R-Markdown document I created for another of the courses in that series, which used peer assessment where we had to evaluate each others results:

At the start everything was free, including all these exercises, all the assessments, and even the certificates. I knew it would not last and used the opportunity, over three years of heavy course taking, over 50 completed courses. I did not have much to spend at the time, I could definitely not have spend the current amounts.

I took over a dozen courses on Coursera alone, medicine and statistics, it was good. I just checked my (long unused) login just now, they only list two courses under completed and "forgot" the other well over a dozen others. Good thing I saved those completion certificates, although there probably is little use in remembering what courses I took - either I remember what I learned or I don't.


Just for fun, this was one of my favorite courses, great professor too, great content: Don't know if it still is as complete, at the time it was almost 25 hours of videos alone, never mind all the reading and all the tests and exercises. It wasn't complicated though, you just had to invest the time but not nearly as much brain as for other "STEM sciency" courses.

Well, it very much depends on ones goals and ones context, doesn't it? Which impacts what ones brain pays wants and what it focuses its attention on, and what it filters out no matter how much you attempt to cram it in.

What I found a revelation and a bug eye opener - yes as a (CS degree) programmer - was: medicine, chemistry (and org. chem and bio.chem), biology. From Coursera and When I did this it was all completely free, now they put some restrictions on some courses (Coursera more so than edX), for example that as a non-payer you cannot do all the exercises.

Even when/if the linked courses are over, accessing there content should still be possible. The courses are free, a certificate is not necessary. Some homework or exams may not be available for non-payers.

Best (university level introductory) course for biology:


Physiology: I actually found a lot of lectures on Google better than any of the online courses, start from

Fundamentals of neuro-science: followed by "Medical Neuroscience" on Coursera: -- easily one of the best courses out there

A very simple course combining (very simple, beginner level) programming and (basic) biology: -- what's interesting here for a programmer definitely isn't the Javascript code, but asking biology questions that can be answered with (even simple) code.

Staticstics is a huge part of medicine and biology - plenty of good courses on probability, statistics (all levels) and courses using R or Python, here a random example course:

On so many more levels than I can briefly write down here this "field trip" into bio-sciences felt soooo much better than learning yet another programming language. Let's keep in mind, regardless of C++, Haskell, Javascript, and/or whatever framework, the hardware underneath all of it is all the exact same architecture. Looking at differences between the programming languages now seems to me like looking at a surface that to a naked eye looks completely smooth, but if you zoom in far enough with an electron microscope it looks like a messy mountain area. But when you do that you lose sight of the big(ger) picture. The excourse into (organic and bio-) chemistry and biology helped me get a better sense of where we are, at least it feels that way. The neuroscience helps remaining grounded (and getting more cynical) when reading popular headlines about "neural network" and "AI" and the like.

Anecdote time.

Just for background story before I come to the music:

I had chronic heavy metal poisoning diagnosed almost a decade ago (fortunately I had all relevant values - hair, blood, urine significantly elevated, usually chronic exposure is much harder to prove). Using chelators for years I got amazing recoveries, for example, for a few months each time after getting a chelator IV (DMPS, DMSA) the area around the side of my thyroid was "working". It was the side that was double-sied with a cold nodule, tested and seen decades ago and again just before the chelation treatments started (going to the endocrinologist again was part of my desperate search for answers that ended when I finally had the crazy idea it might be heavy metals, something only "crazy people" think, but which the lab results fortunately supported). The nodule had disappeared and the thyroid was normal size when I had the endocrinologist do another UV check because I had that crazy idea that what happened through chelation was just that miracle.

Anyway, to the music (slowly).

My brain for long periods of time was not very usable. Lots of "brain fog", stuff that I had firmly in my hands falling out, periods where I crashed into every obstacle in my flat for no apparent reason, hands shaking when I was holding my kindle (had to hold it with two hands), lots of word finding issues, extreme focus on details combined with an ability to let go - very disturbing, for example, when (without wanting to) you concentrate on a tiny insignificant detail and cannot think of anything else, this one thing races through your head for hours, and believe me, I'm not talking about anything reasonable or sane here, it is quite extreme. After a few years my brain was doing very very strange things, but with experience of years I knew it now was on the path to recovery. I needed LOTS of time, lying down, and the brain would do very strange things that I cannot describe but which are definitely not part of normal life.

During that time the one thing that helped me was music. My brain needed music! The beat ("time"), the melody. Especially the timing aspect. Music was medicine. And I'm not talking about some "nice to have" psychological needs, I'm talking about a hard requirement. The right music held my brain together and helped it get or remain organized. Of course, I making that statement "by feel", I wasn't hooked up to an EEG, I have no proof, just my own experience. I did take several neuroscience courses (the best one the big one from Duke on Coursera by an excellent teacher[0]) and lots of anatomy, physiology, statistics), during the last few years, but obviously no scientific rigor was applied to the stories of my own experience.

I didn't have music running all the time. in fact I loathe "background music". I needed it during certain times, especially during the first half of the day, and I would go for a walk and with good inner-ear headsets concentrate on the music. Having it play in the background when I'm doing something else would not have helped at all, quite the opposite, my ability to endure distractions was very limited during those years. I did (involuntarily, broken equipment) perform tests of how I would fare with and without the music. I felt much worse without.

I'm not talking about the usual "helps you in a bad mood" kind of benefit. It's impossible to convey unfortunately, I never did and by now I don't have any more the need for that kind of help from music, so I suspect the vast majority of people won't ever experience something similar in their lives.

These days I can easily not listen to music for days, but during the height of my "strange brain activities" I could not, as I said, music was medicine (for my brain).

So the article does not surprise me because I had already concluded such a relationship, including why different people will react very differently.

PS: By the way, I think we can all agree that the Russian Dance from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is the best piece of music ever written, right? :-) [1]


[1] (not actually my favorite peformance, but I could not find the one that I like most so easily)

> By the way, I think we can all agree that the Russian Dance from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is the best piece of music ever written, right?

As great as it is, the one that always gives me the chills the article spoke of is the third movement in Vangelis Mythodea[1].


Wow, I didn’t like it at all. Stopped it half way because it was boring. What do you like about it?
Free excellent courses:

Start with "Fundamentals of Neuroscience" by Harvard, free multimedia course that requires only a high school level education:

then go to

"Medical Neuroscience" on Coursera (the professor is a great teacher):

Especially the 2nd course is pretty big, on of the largest online courses there is in terms of videos to watch and things to learn. But while it is a lot it is much easier than the quantum mechanics course(s) half the size on edX. You don't have to think much, just listen and learn.

Aft hat you have a very solid foundation, now check out more such courses on the same platform.

  > i.e. the amount of computation that human neural nets can likely be doing
We don't know nearly enough what they are really doing! We only know a few selected bits and pieces! You are basing your assumptions on nothing, so according to logic any conclusion is possible from a faulty premise. On which you promptly deliver spectacularly.

Also, the "computation" a brain does at one moment leaves out the time aspect: Lots of things lead to constant changes. The wiring changes all the time. The "computation" metaphor has little use for describing or understanding this major aspect of "brain". The more I learned about neuroscience the more unhappy I got with the computing metaphor that I had had going in (as a CS graduate, naturally, I think). The brain is so very, very different from my pre-neuroscience-courses notions.

How much neuroscience do you know? If the answer isn't at least an undergrad introductory course (the accompanying book is over a thousand pages), why do you get the idea you can make any predictions?

Read this to read about complexity in biology vs. engineering and what scientists in the field think how well we are dealing with it:



Test yourself: Do you understand what he's talking about?

Fortunately you don't have to sign up at university these days just for such knowledge:

Free courses (if you ignore the certificate nonsense):

- (This is linked to from edX as "The Fundamentals of Neuroscience" Parts 1, 2, 3)

- (Especially "Medical Neuroscience":


Thank you so much for those insightful links!
Usually yes - but it depends. Anything programming related I rarely like as a lecture and completely agree with you, unlike it's general concepts and then it depends, see below. I'm an avid reader, so historically I always favored reading and only the last few years did I get a more nuanced opinion with exposure to new subjects and lecturers.

On the other hand, when I took "Medical Neuroscience" [0], a pretty heavy course with 16 hrs/week ~25 hours (or was it 35?) lectures total (the 1st edition of that course - I have not checked if they made any changes to the edition online now, Coursera switched to a different course format), at least for the duration of the course I ignored the textbook [1] even though I had it. The lecturer was mesmerizing, I just started the videos and listened for hours - and actually learned. The fact that most of the time you do want to take that textbook (even for this exact same subject) is that it's exceedingly rare to find such a specimen of a teacher.

Similarly with basic physiology lectures, even though they were done cheaply and he has stopped making new ones Aaron Mullally's lectures are of the same kind, I could just listen and listen and learn stuff. I tried many different ones, all of them prepared more "professionally" (I don't like that word because the dirtiest and cheapest solution can still be more professional than the one with the best packaging, but you know what I mean, I hope).

Math, physics, chemistry, biology: It depends (so the same), I found lectures - I guess that actually means I found lecturers - that at least for me are better than learning the same from a book. Another example where given the choice between book and lecture I would take the lecture any time: [3] (and that is 100% because of the person giving the lecture).





> (I don't like that word because the dirtiest and cheapest solution can still be more professional than the one with the best packaging, but you know what I mean, I hope).

I had to take a math class while getting my AAS. The class didn't teach me anything with its sleek book, poor explanations, and ineffective teacher. I only passed because of this YouTube channel:

It's professional quality now in this era of professional YouTubers, but not back in the 2000s. Still better than a $100+ textbook.

I recommend you browse through some of the lecture videos of this (free) Medical Neuroscience course:

It's probably way too big a course for someone only casually interested, but it's probably the best (free, but maybe overall) course available on the Internet for an introduction into the subject. Mostly because the professor is great.

The TL;DW is that neuroscience is mostly about your "bio-electrical hardware". So nothing soft there at all. Do review it, this is such an interesting field. A good course for even more fundamental fundamentals is this (pretty big and still free) multimedia course from Harvard, which I'd say is aimed at high-school level students:

What you have to understand on the medical side is that there is not much they can do for brain conditions. Surgery is mostly about stopping bleedings and "cutting away stuff". I took a little clinical neuroscience course and it was mostly "we don't know where this comes from", "here we can only treat side-effects", and actually nothing about actually healing anything at least for the various disorders covered in that course. "Brain issues" have the disadvantages that it's harder to do anything since a) it's much more risky (compared to trying and failing fixing a skin condition), b) it's much harder to get drugs there, c) it's harder to do surgery in the brain.

So the science is pretty solid on the very low level, but on the scale of a full human brain there it gets way too complex. So the higher-level you go the more it's (interpretable) statistics, the lower you go the more it's (pretty solid) (cellular or molecular) biology, (bio-)chemistry and/or physics (electricity). They find new but essential things all the time even now, the field still feels "fresh" as in you have no difficulty finding things that need research and still are somewhat basic. The problem is that the really interesting stuff, the things that matter because it's needed for actually doing something about disease or malfunction, all are high-level, and knowing well what goes on in "a" (i.e. one) neuron (or even a group) does not help you that much in clinical practice.

So on a clinical level neuroscience is as much "science" as most of medicine as a whole.

I have taken about 70 courses by now - about 1/3 of them "hard", the rest more like "Nutrition for Horses", on edX and Coursera mostly.

From the courses currently offered on the major course sites it seems they limit themselves to courses taught during the first two years of college - and many courses are dumbed-down to a "general public" level. There are a few exceptions, for example the quantum mechanics courses on edX, but they really are exceptions.

You can get more demanding courses on the university learning websites themselves, for example for Stanford.

The breadth of the courses and course-takers is focused on the basics though. That doesn't mean it's all easy and dumbed-down - a course like "Medical Neuroscience" on Coursera (excellent, by the way, the professor is a wonderful teacher - have a workload of >15 hours/week. It still is "only" an introductory course though.

I think you can sure get the basics via online education, and that means "university level basics". The main problem I see with more advanced courses is that you need to test your level of understanding and have it challenged on a high level, way more than is good for an online course. That's because those tests, if they are any good, is going to show you the huge gaping holes you still have in your knowledge, and for an online course that's too discouraging.

These tests are also really really hard to do automatically.

The usual way here during education is to get a worksheet parallelly to the lecture every week, work through the problems and hand them in for correction and grading.

If it's easy, the solution and correction are straight-forward. But if it's hard, as, say, some mathematical proof, sometimes a lot of knowledge and work goes into determining the correctness of the solution. And these are the problems that I feel changed the structure of my mind over the years.

And then, even if things are easy to determine right or wrong, as for a coding assignment, people still profit immensely from getting good feedback on their work, from qualified people (and not peer-grading like online courses occasionally do).

It's also important to find the right doctor, and this can be very hard. I had always been extremely trusting and never cared about anything - when it came to health, go to the doctor, do what they tell you to the letter, no need to think about anything I have no clue about.

Until the doctor - a professor even - gave me advice in a strange crisis that made no sense. He wasn't wrong, he gave exactly the advice that is current "state of the art" for the condition he diagnosed. The problem was, where did that condition come from? The doc didn't care, his job was done. He had a diagnosis and he gave the recommended treatment suggestion (which consists of working on the symptoms, and very badly so, because they don't understand that condition even though it's quite common). Following his treatment I got a huge candida outbreak (and I don't have chemo or AIDS) the symptoms of which he completely ignored. I later got nystatin and then even got diflucan prescribed for three weeks (it wasn't a systemic infection and yet that stuff helped greatly), both those drugs with huge positive effect, but candida isn't a cause but itself a symptom.

I dug deeper and found the root cause. Then I went and found doctors who actually knew something about it. I got treated at a university clinic by a researcher doc with chelators against chronic mercury poisoning. 5 years later: miracles happened. The last one of many was that the endocrinologist put me back on the table to repeat his ultrasound of my right thyroid, which for over twenty years had been double-size and with a 4mm cold nodule - because the nodule was gone, and the thyroid was almost back to normal size. "I'm amazed" was all he could say several times. During chelation I had had "tissue pain" (can't describe it) for a few weeks right around the right thyroid. There is a lot more, like the psoriasis and the tinnitus and many of other long-term problems that just disappeared.

So I'm glad that I ignored the doctor(s), very, very few would find a chronic heavy metal poisoning. Ignoring a doctors opinion and going out on my own was the hardest thing I ever did in my life.

Internet forums, while indeed and truly often horrible, did help me find the problem. You have to filter out over 90%, but one doesn't even have to be an expert to detect the BS. The rest can be valuable when your doctor doesn't find anything. It's not like doctors couldn't find it - it's just that they don't have the time. The waiting room is full, how much time is it worth spending on the problems of any given patient? Especially "functional" problems where you can't actually see anything even with biomedical imaging.


Completely unrelated to both the previous story and inside that story to the problem I had, I started learning about medical topics, actually out of boredom initially and then got drawn into it. Hundreds of lecture hours and courses later I now understand the basics of anatomy, physiology, had to learn lots of chemistry, org. chem., biochemistry, lots of statistics (never played any significant role in my CS study or in my life), and neuroscience, over 70 courses in total half of which were medical topics. It feels GOOD to know those things, I recommend it to anyone who has some time left for learning. Neuroscience especially should be a must for CS/IT folks, try for a start and Medical Neuroscience ( as a follow-up, one of the best courses out there mostly because the professor teaching it is wonderful. Don't just learn functional programming with Haskell or Scala, learn brain! :)

I'm very intrigued about your mercury poisoning - how did they find out? I read that hair analysis is not so accurate, but everybody makes different claims.
The diagnosis is mostly done by indirect means and by testing if the antidote does anything. Chronic mercury poisoning is very hard to diagnose by testing because there is no way to measure how much mercury is stored in your body except by cutting off pieces from various organs and sending them to a lab - obviously not feasible. There is the chelation challenge method, for example the "DMPS test", where you are given a dose of the chelator and then they check urine for heavy metals. The problem is most chelators only work in extracellular space. There are studies showing positive results of such a test do correlate well with heavy metal intoxication. Here is a summary paper from a lab - sorry, German: You can also look at indirect indicators, for example my WBC count was quite low (and no clear reason presented itself) and a few other values were a bit wacky too.

Anyway, as for myself I was "lucky", I had elevated mercury levels in urine and in blood. I had hair tested too and mercury was very high. Since it's unlikely mercury in hair came from an outside source that directly (i.e. not through your body) contaminated the hair sample it can give a good indication that the person was exposed to mercury - it doesn't tell you anything about how much is in the body. After all, if it's in the hair it's a good sign because it's being excreted. Also, different labs may very well give you different results when you send them hair taken from the same person at the same point in time - this has been tested. What works better than trying to interpret an individual lab test is a trend: Take the same test each year - using the same lab of course - and look at the change. And always in the larger context, any single value of anything is rarely meaningful just by itself.

So after an initial diagnosis what completes a diagnosis is to start a probationary treatment with the appropriate chelator and see what happens. That's not unusual, a lot of treatments prescribed by your doctor are of that kind. Assume a diagnosis and test it by treating for the diagnosis.

This all goes into the much larger issue that we are far from knowing the effects of levels of chemicals a) individually at low doses that don't show an immediate effect b) cocktails of several substances at low doses. We know quite a bit about effects of substances on a molecular and sometimes on a cellular level, but that doesn't translate well to knowing what happens long-term and at doses that don't have a clear immediate effect in real life. I can't find the reference any more, but a few years ago I read a study of LD50 values (lethal dose - it is the amount of the substance required to kill 50% of the test population, rats for example). They found that when you combine lead and mercury the lethality if about a thousand times higher than each one by itself. So of what use are individual legal limits? Their main purpose isn't medical but administrative, at what point is the cutoff point for effort vs. effect, e.g. money spend on getting the last bit of lead out of pipes and houses vs. beneficial effect. How long did it take for lead to be taken seriously? That was a lone fight for a long time, today consensus is - and I quote a professor of public health from a course on water treatment I took who presented the studies - that there is no known safe lower limit. Doesn't mean we can get to zero everywhere, so we do have an official limit for good reasons. I always cringe when people use those limits as arguments in a health debate though as if they were some sort of objective proof that there is no problem and anyone expressing concern is a tinfoil hat person.

Thank you for this extensive answer! German is no problem for me (Austria :)). I might get a hair test now.
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