The Neurons That Would Starve You

Hunger is complicated. It’s not merely a single drive, though this is mostly how may experience it consciously: a single dimension of hunger magnitude. We are more or less hungry, sometimes not at all. But there’s something else lurking in the brain: anti-hunger. We can be hungry and not hungry simultaneously, in a sense. In more concrete terms, we can imagine that there is in the brain a certain subset of “hunger neurons.” When we feel hungry—as during periods of fasting—it means that these neurons are active. Otherwise, the hunger neurons are silent. Hunger neurons are quite real: neuroscientists have demonstrated their function by stimulating hunger neurons artificially, causing mice to eat at weird times and gain weight. But something interesting happens as we start cranking hunger neurons (agouti-related protein,…


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