Chapter 14. Attention and Higher Cognition

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By Eiman Azim, Sliman Bensmaia, Lee E. Miller, Chris Versteeg Imagine you are playing the guitar. You’re seated, supporting the instrument’s weight across your lap. One hand strums; the other presses strings against the guitar’s neck to play chords. Your vision tracks sheet music on a page, and your hearing lets you listen to the sound. In addition, two other senses make playing this instrument possible. One of them, touch, tells you about your interactions with the guitar. Another, proprioception, tells you about your arms’ and hands’ positions and movements as you play. Together, these two capacities combine into what scientists call somatosensation, or body perception. Our skin and muscles have millions of sensors that contribute to somatosensation. Yet our brain does not become overwhelmed by the barrage of these inputs—or from any of our other senses, for that matter. You’re not distracted by the pinch of your shoes or the tug of the guitar strap as you play; you focus only on the sensory inputs that matter. The brain expertly enhances some signals and filters out others so that we can ignore distractions and focus on the most important details. How does the brain accomplish these feats of focus? In recent research at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., we have illuminated a new answer to this question. Through several studies, we have discovered that a small, largely ignored structure at the very bottom of the brain stem plays a critical role in the brain’s selection of sensory signals. The area is called the cuneate nucleus, or CN. Our research on the CN not only changes the scientific understanding of sensory processing, but it might also lay the groundwork for medical interventions to restore sensation in patients with injury or disease. © 2022 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 28330 - Posted: 05.18.2022

Imma Perfetto Have you ever driven past an intersection and registered you should have turned right a street ago, or been in a conversation and, as soon as the words are out of your mouth, realised you really shouldn’t have said that thing you just did? It’s a phenomenon known as performance monitoring; an internal signal produced by the brain that lets you know when you’ve made a mistake. Performance monitoring is a kind of self-generated feedback that’s essential to managing our daily lives. Now, neuroscientists have discovered that signals from neurons in the brain’s medial frontal cortex are responsible for it. A new study published in Science reports that these signals are used to give humans the flexibility to learn new tasks and the focus to develop highly specific skills. “Part of the magic of the human brain is that it is so flexible,” says senior author Ueli Rutishauser, professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, US. “We designed our study to decipher how the brain can generalise and specialise at the same time, both of which are critical for helping us pursue a goal.” They found that the performance monitoring signals help improve future attempts of a particular task by passing information to other areas of the brain. They also help the brain adjust its focus by signalling how much conflict or difficulty was encountered during the task. “An ‘Oops!’ moment might prompt someone to pay closer attention the next time they chat with a friend, or plan to stop at the store on the way home from work,” explains first author Zhongzheng Fu, researcher in the Rutishauser Laboratory at Cedars-Sinai.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28322 - Posted: 05.11.2022

By Richard Sandomir Terry Wallis, who spontaneously regained his ability to speak after a traumatic brain injury left him virtually unresponsive for 19 years, and who then became a subject of a major study that showed how a damaged brain could heal itself, died on March 29 in a rehabilitation facility in Searcy, Ark. He was 57. He had pneumonia and heart problems, said his brother George Wallis, who confirmed the death. Terry Wallis was 19 when the pickup truck he was in with two friends skidded off a small bridge in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas and landed upside down in a dry riverbed. The accident left him in a coma for a brief time, then in a persistent vegetative state for several months. One friend died; the other recovered. Until 2003, Mr. Wallis lay in a nursing home in a minimally conscious state, able to track objects with his eyes or blink on command. But on June 11, 2003, he effectively returned to the world when, upon seeing his mother, Angilee, he suddenly said, “Mom.” At the sight of the woman he was told was his adult daughter, Amber, who was six weeks old at the time of the accident, he said, “You’re beautiful,” and told her that he loved her. “Within a three-day period, from saying ‘Mom’ and ‘Pepsi,’ he had regained verbal fluency,” said Dr. Nicholas Schiff, a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medicine in Manhattan who led imaging studies of Mr. Wallis’s brain. The findings were presented in 2006 in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. “He was disoriented,” Dr. Schiff, in a phone interview, said of Mr. Wallis’s emergence. “He thought it was still 1984, but otherwise he knew all the people in his family and had that fluency.” Mr. Wallis’s brain scans — the first ever of a late-recovering patient — revealed changes in the strength of apparent connections within the back of the brain, which is believed to have helped his conscious awareness, and in the midline cerebellum, an area involved in motor control, which may have accounted for the very limited movement in his arms and legs while he was minimally conscious. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 28273 - Posted: 04.09.2022

Minuscule involuntary eye movements, known as microsaccades, can occur even while one is carefully staring at a fixed point in space. When paying attention to something in the peripheral vision (called covert attention), these microsaccades sometimes align towards the object of interest. New research by National Eye Institute (NEI) investigators shows that while these microsaccades seem to boost or diminish the strength of the brain signals underlying attention, the eye movements are not drivers of those brain signals. The findings will help researchers interpret studies about covert attention and may open new areas for research into attention disorders and behavior. NEI is part of the National Institutes of Health. Scientists working on the neuroscience of attention have recently become concerned that because both attention and eye movements, like microsaccades, involve the same groups of neurons in the brain, that microsaccades might be required for shifting attention. “If microsaccades were driving attention, that would bring into question a lot of previous research in the field.” said Richard Krauzlis, Ph.D., chief of the NEI Section on Eye Movements and Visual Selection, and senior author of a study report on the research. “This work shows that while microsaccades and attention do share some mechanisms, covert attention is not driven by eye movements.” Krauzlis’ previous research has shown that covert attention causes a modulation of certain neuronal signals in an evolutionarily ancient area of the brain called the superior colliculus, which is involved in the detection of events. When attention is being paid to a particular area – for example, the right-hand side of one’s peripheral vision – signals in the superior colliculus relating to events that occur in that area will receive an extra boost, while signals relating to events occurring somewhere else, like on the left-hand side, will be depressed.

Keyword: Attention; Vision
Link ID: 28254 - Posted: 03.26.2022

By Laura Sanders Like all writers, I spend large chunks of my time looking for words. When it comes to the ultracomplicated and mysterious brain, I need words that capture nuance and uncertainties. The right words confront and address hard questions about exactly what new scientific findings mean, and just as importantly, why they matter. The search for the right words is on my mind because of recent research on COVID-19 and the brain. As part of a large brain-scanning study, researchers found that infections of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, were linked with less gray matter, tissue that’s packed with the bodies of brain cells. The results, published March 7 in Nature, prompted headlines about COVID-19 causing brain damage and shrinkage. That coverage, in turn, prompted alarmed posts on social media, including mentions of early-onset dementia and brain rotting. As someone who has reported on brain research for more than a decade, I can say those alarming words are not the ones that I would choose here. The study is one of the first to look at structural changes in the brain before and after a SARS-CoV-2 infection. And the study is meticulous. It was done by an expert group of brain imaging researchers who have been doing this sort of research for a very long time. As part of the UK Biobank project, 785 participants underwent two MRI scans. Between those scans, 401 people had COVID-19 and 384 people did not. By comparing the before and after scans, researchers could spot changes in the people who had COVID-19 and compare those changes with people who didn’t get the infection. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 28246 - Posted: 03.19.2022

Gabino Iglesias The Man Who Tasted Words is a deep dive into the world of our senses — one that explores the way they shape our reality and what happens when something malfunctions or functions differently. Despite the complicated science permeating the narrative and the plethora of medical explanations, the book is also part memoir. And because of the way the author, Dr. Guy Leschziner, treats his patients — and how he presents the ways their conditions affect their lives and those of the people around them — it is also a very humane, heartfelt book. We rely on vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch to not only perceive the reality around us but also to help us navigate it by constantly processing stimuli, predicting what will happen based on previous experiences, and filling the gaps of everything we miss as we construct it. However, that truth, the "reality" we see, taste, hear, touch, and smell, isn't actually there; our brains, with the help of our nervous system continuously build it for us. But sometimes our brains or nervous system have a glitch, and that has affects reality. The Man Who Tasted Words carefully looks at — and tries to explain — some of the most bizarre glitches. Sponsor Message "What we believe to be a precise representation of the world around us is nothing more than an illusion, layer upon layer of processing of sensory information, and the interpretation of that information according to our expectations," states Leschziner. When one of those senses doesn't work correctly, that illusion morphs in ways that significantly impact the lives of those whose nervous systems or brain work differently. Paul, for example, is a man who feels no pain. While this sounds like a great "flaw" to have, Leschziner shows it's the opposite. Pain helps humans learn "to avoid sharp or hot objects." It teaches that certain things in our environment are potentially harmful, tells us when we've had an injury and makes us protect it, and even lets us know there's an infection in our body so we can go to the doctor. © 2022 npr

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 28233 - Posted: 03.11.2022

By Maryam Clark, science writer Neuroscientists have recorded the activity of a dying human brain and discovered rhythmic brain wave patterns around the time of death that are similar to those occurring during dreaming, memory recall, and meditation. Now, a study published to Frontiers brings new insight into a possible organizational role of the brain during death and suggests an explanation for vivid life recall in near-death experiences. Imagine reliving your entire life in the space of seconds. Like a flash of lightning, you are outside of your body, watching memorable moments you lived through. This process, known as ‘life recall’, can be similar to what it’s like to have a near-death experience. What happens inside your brain during these experiences and after death are questions that have puzzled neuroscientists for centuries. However, a new study published to Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience suggests that your brain may remain active and coordinated during and even after the transition to death, and be programmed to orchestrate the whole ordeal. When an 87-year-old patient developed epilepsy, Dr Raul Vicente of the University of Tartu, Estonia and colleagues used continuous electroencephalography (EEG) to detect the seizures and treat the patient. During these recordings, the patient had a heart attack and passed away. This unexpected event allowed the scientists to record the activity of a dying human brain for the first time ever.

Keyword: Consciousness; Attention
Link ID: 28221 - Posted: 02.26.2022

Nicola Davis Science correspondent It may not yet feature in a West End musical but scientists say they have found an unexpected response to singin’ in the brain. Researchers say they have found particular groups of neurons that appear to respond selectively to the sound of singing. Writing in the journal Current Biology, a team of scientists in the US report how they made their discovery by recording electrical activity in the brains of 15 participants, each of whom had electrodes inserted inside their skulls to monitor epileptic seizures before undergoing surgery. The team recorded electrical activity in response to 165 different sounds, from pieces of instrumental music to speech and sounds such as dogs barking, and then processed them using an algorithm. They combined the results with data from fMRI brain scans previously collected from 30 different individuals to map the location of the patterns in the brain. Dr Samuel Norman-Haignere, a co-author of the study based at the University of Rochester, said the team decided to combine the data from the different approaches to overcome their respective weaknesses and combine their strengths. “fMRI is one of the workhorses of human cognitive neuroscience, but it is very coarse. Intracranial data is much more precise but has very poor spatial coverage,” he said. The results confirmed previous findings from fMRI scans that some neurons respond only to speech or respond more strongly to music. However, they also revealed populations of neurons that appear to respond selectively to the sound of singing, showing only very weak responses to other types of music or speech alone. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Hearing; Attention
Link ID: 28217 - Posted: 02.23.2022

By Christina Caron When Chris Lawson began dating Alexandra Salamis, the woman who would eventually become his partner, he was “Mr. Super Attentive Dude,” he said, the type of guy who enjoyed buying cards and flowers for no reason other than to show how much he loved her. But after they moved in together in 2015, things changed. He became more distracted and forgetful. Whether it was chores, planning social events or anything deadline-driven — like renewing a driver’s license — Ms. Salamis, 60, had to continually prod Mr. Lawson to get things done. Invariably, she just ended up doing them herself. “I was responsible for nothing,” Mr. Lawson, 55, admitted. Ms. Salamis, who is not one to mince words, described that period of their relationship as “like living with a child,” later adding, “I hated him, frankly.” But when she brought up her frustrations, Mr. Lawson would become defensive. And as she continued to nag, she started to feel more like a parent than a partner, something they both resented. Then in 2019, at a friend’s suggestion, the pair read an article about how attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D., can affect romantic relationships. “We both kind of looked at each other and our jaws dropped,” Ms. Salamis said. The couple, who live in Ottawa, had discovered something millions of others have realized, often after years of conflict: One of them — in this case, Mr. Lawson — most likely had A.D.H.D., a neurodevelopmental disorder often characterized by inattention, disorganization, hyperactivity and impulsivity. When one or both members of a couple have A.D.H.D., the relationship typically has unique challenges, which are usually exacerbated when the disorder goes undiagnosed, experts say. Studies suggest that people with A.D.H.D. have higher levels of interpersonal problems than their peers do, and marriages that include adults with A.D.H.D. are more likely to be unsatisfying. Forums like the one found on the popular website A.D.H.D. and Marriage are often filled with stories of frazzled, emotionally spent spouses stuck in unhealthy, yearslong patterns. But if a couple makes a strong effort to learn more about the disorder, manage its symptoms and find more effective ways to communicate, they can revitalize their relationship. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ADHD
Link ID: 28209 - Posted: 02.19.2022

By Conor Feehly There's a paradox in our ability to pay attention. When we are hyper-focused on our surroundings, our senses become more acutely aware of the signals they pick up. But sometimes when we are paying attention, we miss things in our sensory field that are so glaringly obvious, on a second look we can’t help but question the legitimacy of our perception. Back in 1999, the psychologist Daniel Simons created a clever scenario that poignantly demonstrates this phenomenon. (Test it yourself in less than two minutes by watching Simons’ video here, which we recommend before the spoiler below.) In the scenario, there are two teams, each consisting of three players, with one team dressed in black and the other in white. The viewer is asked to count how many passes the team in white makes throughout the course of the video. Sure enough, as the video ends, most people are able to accurately guess the number of passes. Then the narrator asks: But did you see the gorilla? As it turns out, someone in a gorilla suit slowly walks into the scene, in plain sight. Most people who watch the video for the first time and focus on counting passes completely overlook the out-of-place primate. It seems strange, given the viewer’s intent observation of the small field of view where the scene unfolds. Predictive Processing Neuroscientist Anil Seth offers an interesting explanation of this phenomenon in his book Being You: A New Science of Consciousness. Seth’s description draws from one of neuroscience’s leading theories of cognition and perception. © 2022 Kalmbach Media Co.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 28208 - Posted: 02.19.2022

By Emma Yasinski By the time kids diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder meet with clinical psychologist Mary O’Connor, they have often been taking multiple medications or unusually high doses of stimulants like Ritalin. “They may have had a trial of stimulants that worked initially,” she says, but when the effect waned, their physicians prescribed higher doses, sometimes to the point of toxicity. O’Connor researches fetal alcohol spectrum disorders at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she has provided both diagnosis and treatment to children exposed to alcohol in the womb. At one end of the spectrum sits fetal alcohol syndrome, characterized by facial abnormalities, growth problems, and intellectual disabilities. The other end of the spectrum is characterized by subtler symptoms, including poor judgement and impulsivity — in other words, what looks to many like ADHD. But experts say standard ADHD treatments often don’t work as well for children exposed to alcohol in-utero. And lack of awareness, a shortage of specialists, and social stigma have combined to limit families’ ability to receive an accurate diagnosis and support for FASD, a condition that is underdiagnosed in the United States and could affect between 1 and 5 percent of this country’s children. The lack of diagnoses, scientists say, stifles research on treatments and may even cloud data on therapies for other disorders.

Keyword: ADHD; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 28206 - Posted: 02.16.2022

By Andrea Gawrylewski In 2016 a panel of physicists, a cosmologist and a philosopher gathered at the American Museum of Natural History to discuss an idea seemingly befitting science fiction: Are we living in a computer simulation? How exactly the flesh and blood of our brain is able to formulate an aware, self-examining mind capable of critical thought remains a mystery. Perhaps the answer eludes us because, the panel mused, we are the avatars of a higher species’ simulation and simply unable to discover the truth. As intriguing a hypothesis as it is, neuroscience has learned enough about our consciousness to counter such a fantastical possibility. Newly mapped networks within the human brain show regions that fire in concert to create cognition. Zapping the brain with magnetic pulses while recording neural activity might soon detect conscious thought, which could be especially useful for patients who are awake but unable to communicate or respond to external stimuli. These discoveries chip away at the isolating experience of humanity and the idea that a person can never truly know whether anyone but oneself is truly conscious. To some extent, we exist in our own bubbles of subjective experience. A growing body of evidence suggests that perception is a construction of the brain. Because the brain initiates some actions before we become aware that we have made a decision, we might even deduce that each of us is some kind of biochemical puppet, but experiments confirm that we do indeed have free will. And our cognition clearly results from highly evolved neural mechanisms, common to all of us, for making new memories, navigating social relationships and recognizing faces. Ultimately a shared sense of reality influences how we perceive ourselves and the formation of “in-groups” and “out-groups,” which can create social and political division. © 2022 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 28180 - Posted: 02.02.2022

By Charles F. Zorumski One minute you’re enjoying a nice buzz, the next your brain stops recording events that are taking place. The result can mean having vague or no memory of a time period ranging anywhere from a few minutes up to several hours. Scary—isn’t it? Unfortunately, alcohol-induced blackouts aren’t a rarity, either. A 2015 survey of English teenagers who drank showed 30 percent of 15-year-olds and 75 percent of 19-year-olds suffered alcohol-induced blackouts. In medical terms this memory loss is a form of temporary anterograde amnesia, a condition where the ability to form new memories is, for a limited time, impaired. That means you can’t remember a stretch of time because your brain was unable to record and store memories in the first place. Neuroscientists do not fully understand how blackouts occur. Researchers long assumed alcohol impairs memory because it kills brain cells. Indeed, long-standing alcohol abuse can damage nerve cells and permanently impact memory and learning. It is unlikely, however, that brain damage is behind acute blackouts. It is clear that processes in the hippocampus—the area of brain involved in the formation, storage and retrieval of new memories—are disturbed. Specifically, it appears alcohol impairs the so-called long-term potentiation of synapses at the pyramidal cells in the hippocampus. Alcohol alters the activity of certain glutamate receptors, thereby boosting the production of specific steroid hormones. This in turn slows the long-term potentiation of hippocampal synapses. Normally this mechanism, responsible for strengthening the synaptic transfer of information between neurons, is the basis of memory formation. © 2022 Scientific American,

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28142 - Posted: 01.08.2022

By JP O'Malley Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio believes that the link between brain and body is the key to understanding consciousness. In his latest book, Feeling & Knowing: Making Minds Conscious, he explains why. Consciousness is what gives an individual a sense of self; it helps one stay in the present, remember the past and plan for the future. Many scientists have argued that consciousness is created by vast networks of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain. While it’s clear that the brain plays a major role in conscious experiences, it doesn’t act alone, argues Damasio, director of the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute. Instead, he argues, consciousness is generated by a variety of structures within an organism, some neural, some not. What’s more, feelings — mental experiences of body states — help connect the brain to the rest of the body. “The feelings that we have of, say, hunger or thirst, or pain, or well-being, or desire, etc. — these are the foundation of our mind,” Damasio says. In his view, feelings have played a central role in the life-regulating processes of animals throughout the history of life. In Feeling & Knowing, Damasio suggests that consciousness evolved as a way to keep essential bodily systems steady. This concept is also known as homeostasis, a self-regulating process that maintains stability amid ever-changing conditions. Consciousness emerged as an extension of homeostasis, Damasio argues, allowing for flexibility and planning in complex and unpredictable environments. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Consciousness; Emotions
Link ID: 28141 - Posted: 01.08.2022

By David J. Linden When a routine echocardiogram revealed a large mass next to my heart, the radiologist thought it might be a hiatal hernia—a portion of my stomach poking up through my diaphragm to press against the sac containing my heart. “Chug this can of Diet Dr. Pepper and then hop up on the table for another echocardiogram before the soda bubbles in your stomach all pop.” So I did. However, the resulting images showed that the mass did not contain the telltale signature of bursting bubbles in my stomach that would support a hernia diagnosis. A few weeks later, an MRI scan, which has much better resolution, revealed that the mass was actually contained within the pericardial sac and was quite large—about the volume of that soda can. Even with this large invader pressing on my heart, I had no symptoms and could exercise at full capacity. I felt great. The doctors told me that the mass was most likely to be a teratoma, a clump of cells that is not typically malignant. Their outlook was sunny. Riffing on the musical South Pacific, my cardiologist said, “We’re gonna pop that orange right out of your chest and send you on your way.” While I was recovering from surgery, the pathology report came back and the news was bad—it wasn’t a benign teratoma after all, but rather a malignant cancer called synovial sarcoma. Because of its location, embedded in my heart wall, the surgeon could not remove all of the cancer cells. Doing so would have rendered my heart unable to pump blood. The oncologist told me to expect to live an additional six to 18 months. (c) 2022 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.

Keyword: Attention; Consciousness
Link ID: 28138 - Posted: 01.05.2022

By Abdulrahman Olagunju How does our brain know that “this” follows “that”? Two people meet, fall in love and live happily ever after—or sometimes not. The sequencing of events that takes place in our head—with one thing coming after another—may have something to do with so-called time cells recently discovered in the human hippocampus. The research provides evidence for how our brain knows the start and end of memories despite time gaps in the middle. As these studies continue, the work could lead to strategies for memory restoration or enhancement. The research has focused on “episodic memory,” the ability to remember the “what, where and when” of a past experience, such as the recollection of what you did when you woke up today. It is part of an ongoing effort to identify how the organ creates such memories. A team led by Leila Reddy, a neuroscience researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, sought to understand how human neurons in the hippocampus represent temporal information during a sequence of learning steps to demystify the functioning of time cells in the brain. In a study published this summer in the Journal of Neuroscience, Reddy and her colleagues found that, to organize distinct moments of experience, human time cells fire at successive moments during each task. The study provided further confirmation that time cells reside in the hippocampus, a key memory processing center. They switch on as events unfold, providing a record of the flow of time in an experience. “These neurons could play an important role in how memories are represented in the brain,” Reddy says. “Understanding the mechanisms for encoding time and memory will be an important area of research.” © 2021 Scientific American

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 28133 - Posted: 12.31.2021

Robert Martone We are all time travelers. Each day, we experience new things as we travel forward through time. In the process, the countless connections between the nerve cells in our brain recalibrate to accommodate these experiences. It’s as if we reassemble ourselves daily, maintaining a mental construct of ourselves in physical time, and the glue that holds together our core identity is memory. Not only do we travel in physical time; we also experience mental time travel. We visit the past through our memories and then journey into the future by imagining what tomorrow or next year might bring. When we do so, we think of ourselves as we are now, remember who we once were and imagine how we will be. A new study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience(SCAN), explores how a specific brain region helps knit together memories of the present and future self. Injury to that area leads to an impaired sense of identity. The region—called the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC)—may produce a fundamental model of our self and place it in mental time. In doing so, this study suggests, it may be the source of our sense of self. Psychologists have long noticed that our mind handles information about one’s self differently from other details. Memories that reference the self are easier to recall than other forms of memory. They benefit from what researchers have called a self-reference effect (SRE), in which information related to one’s self is privileged and more salient in our thoughts. Self-related memories are distinct from both episodic memory, the category of recollections that pertains to specific events and experiences, and semantic memory, which connects to more general knowledge, such as the color of grass and the characteristics of the seasons. © 2021 Scientific American,

Keyword: Consciousness; Attention
Link ID: 28128 - Posted: 12.29.2021

By Christof Koch A young Ernest Hemingway, badly injured by an exploding shell on a World War I battlefield, wrote in a letter home that “dying is a very simple thing. I’ve looked at death, and really I know. If I should have died it would have been very easy for me. Quite the easiest thing I ever did.” Years later Hemingway adapted his own experience—that of the soul leaving the body, taking flight and then returning—for his famous short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” about an African safari gone disastrously wrong. The protagonist, stricken by gangrene, knows he is dying. Suddenly, his pain vanishes, and Compie, a bush pilot, arrives to rescue him. The two take off and fly together through a storm with rain so thick “it seemed like flying through a waterfall” until the plane emerges into the light: before them, “unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.” The description embraces elements of a classic near-death experience: the darkness, the cessation of pain, the emerging into the light and then a feeling of peacefulness. Peace Beyond Understanding Near-death experiences, or NDEs, are triggered during singular life-threatening episodes when the body is injured by blunt trauma, a heart attack, asphyxia, shock, and so on. About one in 10 patients with cardiac arrest in a hospital setting undergoes such an episode. Thousands of survivors of these harrowing touch-and-go situations tell of leaving their damaged bodies behind and encountering a realm beyond everyday existence, unconstrained by the usual boundaries of space and time. These powerful, mystical experiences can lead to permanent transformation of their lives. © 2021 Scientific American,

Keyword: Consciousness; Stress
Link ID: 28123 - Posted: 12.22.2021

By Dr Lisa Feldman-Barrett The question of free will is still hotly debated. On the one hand, we clearly experience ourselves as able to make choices and freely act on them. If you fancy some crisps, you can choose to walk into a shop, buy a packet and eat them. Or you can choose to eat a pastry, a salad, or nothing at all. This certainly feels like free will. On the other hand, neuroscience evidence clearly shows that the brain usually initiates our actions before we’re aware of them. Here’s what I mean. Your brain’s primary task is to regulate the systems of your body to keep you alive and well. But there’s a snag: your brain spends its days locked in a dark, silent box (your skull) with no direct access to what’s going on inside your body or outside in the world. It receives ongoing information about the state of your body and the world – ‘sense data’– from the sensory surfaces of your body (your retina in your eyes, your cochlea in your ears, and so on). These sense data are outcomes of events in the world and inside your body. But your brain does not have access to the events or their causes. It only receives the outcomes. A loud bang, for example, might be thunder, a gunshot, or a drum, and each possible cause means different actions for your brain to launch. How does your brain figure out the causes of sense data, so that it prepares the best actions? Without direct access to those causes, your brain has to guess. And so, in every moment, your brain remembers past experiences that are similar to your present circumstances, to guess what might happen in the next moment, so it can prepare your body’s next action.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 28107 - Posted: 12.11.2021

Iris Berent How can a cellist play like an angel? Why am I engrossed in my book when others struggle with reading? And while we’re at it, can you tell me why my child won’t stop screaming? Now neuroscience offers the answers—or so say the news headlines. The brains of musicians “really do” differ from those of the rest of us. People with dyslexia have different neural connections than people without the condition. And your screaming toddler’s tantrums originate from her amygdala, a brain region linked to emotions. It’s all in the brain! Neuroscience is fascinating. But it is not just the love of science that kindles our interest in these stories. Few of us care for the technical details of how molecules and electrical charges inthe brain give rise to our mental life. Furthermore, invoking the brain does not always improve our understanding. You hardly need a brain scan to tell that your toddler is enraged. Nor is it surprising that an amateur cellist’s brain works differently than Yo-Yo Ma’s—or that the brains of typical and dyslexic readers differ in some way. Where else would those differences reside? These sorts of science news stories speak to a bias: As numerous experiments have demonstrated, we have a blind spot for the brain. In classic work on the “seductive allure of neuroscience,” a team of researchers at Yale University presented participants with a psychological phenomenon (for instance, children learning new words), along with two explanations. One invoked a psychological mechanism, and the other was identical except it also dropped in a mention of a brain region. The brain details were entirely superfluous—they did nothing to improve the explanation, as judged by neuroscientists. Yet laypeople thought they did, so much so that once the brain was invoked, participants overlooked gross logical flaws in the accounts. © 2021 Scientific American,

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 28105 - Posted: 12.11.2021