Chapter 18. Attention and Higher Cognition

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Bruce Bower WASHINGTON — Beliefs among some university professors that intelligence is fixed, rather than capable of growth, contribute to a racial achievement gap in STEM courses, a new study suggests. Those professors may subtly communicate stereotypes about blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans allegedly being less intelligent than Asians and whites, say psychologist Elizabeth Canning of Indiana University in Bloomington and her colleagues. In turn, black, Hispanic and Native American undergraduates may respond by becoming less academically motivated and more anxious about their studies, leading to lower grades. Even small dips in STEM grades — especially for students near pass/fail cutoffs — can accumulate across the 15 or more science, technology, engineering and math classes needed to become a physician or an engineer, Canning says. That could jeopardize access to financial aid and acceptance to graduate programs. “Our work suggests that academic benefits could accrue over time if all students, and particularly underrepresented minority students, took STEM classes with faculty who endorse a growth mind-set,” Canning says. Underrepresented minority students’ reactions to professors with fixed or flexible beliefs about intelligence have yet to be studied. But over a two-year period, the disparity in grade point averages separating Asian and white STEM students from black, Hispanic and Native American peers was nearly twice as large in courses taught by professors who regarded intelligence as set in stone, versus malleable, Canning’s team reports online February 15 in Science Advances. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25970 - Posted: 02.18.2019

Laura Sanders A conscious brain hums with elaborate, interwoven signals, a study finds. Scientists uncovered that new signature of consciousness by analyzing brain activity of healthy people and of people who were not aware of their surroundings. The result, published online February 6 in Science Advances, makes headway on a tough problem: how to accurately measure awareness in patients who can’t communicate. Other methods for measuring consciousness have been proposed, but because of its size and design, the new study was able to find a particularly strong signal. Conducted by an international team of researchers spanning four countries, the effort “produced clear, reliable results that are directly relevant to the clinical neuroscience of consciousness,” says cognitive neuroscientist Michael Pitts of Reed College in Portland, Ore. Consciousness — and how the brain creates it — is a squishy concept. It slips away when we sleep, and can be distorted by drugs or lost in accidents. Though scientists have proposed many biological explanations for how our brains create consciousness, a full definition still eludes scientists. By finding a clear brain signature of awareness, the new work “bring us closer to understanding what consciousness is,” says study coauthor Jacobo Sitt of INSERM in Paris. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019.

Keyword: Consciousness; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25943 - Posted: 02.09.2019

By Kate Johnson The doctor ordered a “push” on my sedative, and I succumbed to the sweet blackness. But then something went wrong, and I was awake too soon, flailing and crying, the medical team scrambling to maneuver the tube that had been placed down my throat in what should have been a straightforward gastroscopy. I put up a violent struggle on the table: gagging and choking, trying to scream, fighting to pull the medical device out of my esophagus. “Hold her arms!” I heard someone yell. I felt hot tears, and pure terror … and then more blackness. This was the third time I had woken up under the twilight anesthesia known as “conscious sedation.” “You’ll be awake, but you won’t remember” is something thousands of patients are told every day, because the sedatives that doctors use to prepare us for these kinds of procedures come with a convenient side effect: amnesia. I had been given midazolam, a benzodiazepine known for its superior amnestic effects. I should have forgotten. But I didn’t. Instead, the fight-or-flight panic that had ensued was seared into my memory. A terrifying sense of doom enveloped me in the following days, as I kept reliving a routine medical test that my brain had registered, not unreasonably, as a physical assault. What went wrong? My previous two awakenings under conscious sedation had not filled me with the same terror as this one. They had not even struck me as unusual, since I’d been told I would not be entirely asleep. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness; Sleep
Link ID: 25942 - Posted: 02.08.2019

Ruth Williams The brains of people in vegetative, partially conscious, or fully conscious states have differing profiles of activity as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), according to a report today (February 6) in Science Advances. The results of the study indicate that, compared with patients lacking consciousness, the brains of healthy individuals exhibit highly dynamic and complex connectivity. “This new study provides a substantial advance in characterizing the ‘fingerprints’ of consciousness in the brain” Anil Seth, a neuroscientist at the University of Sussex, UK, who was not involved in the project, writes in an email to The Scientist. “It opens new doors to determining conscious states—or their absence—in a range of different conditions.” A person can lose consciousness temporarily, such as during sleep or anesthesia, or more permanently as is the case with certain brain injuries. But while unconsciousness manifests behaviorally as a failure to respond to stimuli, such behavior is not necessarily the result of unconsciousness. Some seemingly unresponsive patients, for example, can display brain activities similar to those of fully conscious individuals when asked to imagine performing a physical task such as playing tennis. Such a mental response in the absence of physical feedback is a condition known as cognitive-motor dissociation. Researchers are therefore attempting to build a better picture of what is happening in the human brain during consciousness and unconsciousness. In some studies, electroencephalography (EEG) recordings of the brain’s electrical activities during sleep, under anesthesia, or after brain injury have revealed patterns of brain waves associated with consciousness. But, says Jacobo Sitt of the Institute of Brain and Spinal Cord in Paris, such measurements do not provide good spatial information about brain activity. With fMRI, on the other hand, “we know where the activity is coming from.” © 1986 - 2019 The Scientist.

Keyword: Consciousness; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25941 - Posted: 02.08.2019

By Alex Fox If math is the language of the universe, bees may have just uttered their first words. New research suggests these busybodies of the insect world are capable of addition and subtraction—using colors in the place of plus and minus symbols. In the animal kingdom, the ability to count—or at least distinguish between differing quantities—isn’t unusual: It has been seen in frogs, spiders, and even fish. But solving equations using symbols is rare air, so far only achieved by famously brainy animals such as chimpanzees and African grey parrots. Enter the honey bee (Apis mellifera). Building on prior research that says the social insects can count to four and understand the concept of zero, researchers wanted to test the limits of what their tiny brains can do. Scientists trained 14 bees to link the colors blue and yellow to addition and subtraction, respectively. They placed the bees at the entrance of a Y-shaped maze, where they were shown several shapes in either yellow or blue. If the shapes were blue, bees got a reward if they went to the end of the maze with one more blue shape (the other end had one less blue shape); if the shapes were yellow, they got a reward if they went to the end of the maze with one less yellow shape. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Attention; Evolution
Link ID: 25938 - Posted: 02.08.2019

By Benedict Carey The world’s most common digital habit is not easy to break, even in a fit of moral outrage over the privacy risks and political divisions Facebook has created, or amid concerns about how the habit might affect emotional health. Although four in 10 Facebook users say they have taken long breaks from it, the digital platform keeps growing. A recent study found that the average user would have to be paid $1,000 to $2,000 to be pried away for a year. So what happens if you actually do quit? A new study, the most comprehensive to date, offers a preview. Expect the consequences to be fairly immediate: More in-person time with friends and family. Less political knowledge, but also less partisan fever. A small bump in one’s daily moods and life satisfaction. And, for the average Facebook user, an extra hour a day of downtime. The study, by researchers at Stanford University and New York University, helps clarify the ceaseless debate over Facebook’s influence on the behavior, thinking and politics of its active monthly users, who number some 2.3 billion worldwide. The study was posted recently on the Social Science Research Network, an open access site. “For me, Facebook is one of those compulsive things,” said Aaron Kelly, 23, a college student in Madison, Wis. “It’s really useful, but I always felt like I was wasting time on it, distracting myself from study, using it whenever I got bored.” Mr. Kelly, who estimated that he spent about an hour a day on the platform, took part in the study “because it was kind of nice to have an excuse to deactivate and see what happened,” he said. Well before news broke that Facebook had shared users’ data without consent, scientists and habitual users debated how the platform had changed the experience of daily life. A cadre of psychologists has argued for years that the use of Facebook and other social media is linked to mental distress, especially in adolescents. Others have likened habitual Facebook use to a mental disorder, comparing it to drug addiction and even publishing magnetic-resonance images of what Facebook addiction “looks like in the brain.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention; Depression
Link ID: 25919 - Posted: 01.31.2019

By John Horgan I’m still brooding over the pros and cons of facing truth, or reality. My last post notes that in some situations--when we’re languishing in a nursing home, say, or agonizing over climate change--reality might be distressing, hence the temptation to avoid it. In this post, I’d like to dig deeper into the link between knowledge and mood. When we see reality, assuming that’s possible, how should we feel? And when I say reality I mean Reality, the way things really are. The Truth. Below I’ll consider three possibilities. Buddha and other sages have assured us that Reality should make us happy, no matter what the circumstances of our lives at any particular moment. And not just happy but serene, blissful, immune to the pains that afflict ordinary folk. This is the state known as enlightenment, nirvana, awakening. You plunge into the timeless cosmic consciousness underlying the flux of ordinary mortal existence, and you feel fantastic. (The catch is that, according to Buddha, when you are in this state you realize that “you” don't really exist.) Plato agreed that Truth is sublime, and perceiving it should make you feel good (and be good, but let’s leave that aside). You escape the cave of delusion, step into the incandescent realm of eternal forms and are overcome with rapture. Things might get tricky when you go back inside the cave and tell your benighted buddies what you’ve seen. They might think you're nuts and kill you, but you’ll die happy, as Plato’s mentor Socrates supposedly did. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness; Emotions
Link ID: 25908 - Posted: 01.28.2019

By Scott Atran “I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.”—Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms The revival of parochial nationalism in tandem with the spread of transnational terrorism has fragmented social consensus across the world. Governments and peoples are struggling to understand what to do to get along without constant conflict, or even to see if that is possible anymore. A question that drives my colleagues and me is: Can science be of any help? And here I want to focus on one particular contribution from social science: research into how sacred values can ratchet up conflict, and what might be done about it. Current forms of seemingly intractable political conflict—over the wall in America, Brexit in Britain, the Yellow Vests in France, Catalonian Independence in Spain—appear to share two critical features of more violent enduring conflicts, such as the Israel-Palestine dispute or the fight with ISIS and its ilk, which our interdisciplinary research teams of scientists, policymakers and artists at Artis International have been exploring in depth for more than a decade: entrenchment of issues, however material to begin with, in appeal to the uncompromising nature of so-called “sacred values” that people believe in, like God and country; and the belief that the one side, because of its antagonistic values, wants to exclude the other side from social or political life, or even from life itself. With support from Minerva Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense and National Science Foundation, we recently published the first neuroimaging study of a radicalizing population. The research used ethnographic surveys and psychological analysis to identify 535 young Muslim men in and around Barcelona—where ISIS-supporting jihadis killed 13 people and wounded 100 more in the city center in August 2017. © 2019 Scientific American,

Keyword: Emotions; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25906 - Posted: 01.28.2019

By John Horgan In my freshman humanities class, I make students ponder the pros and cons of knowledge. We talk about Plato’s parable, in which people imprisoned in a cave mistake shadows projected on a wall for reality. I ask, Assuming we’re in the cave, how many of you want to escape? Most students dutifully raise their hands, because of course truth is good and ignorance is bad. Then I ask, What if the cave is comfy and the outside world nasty? I bring up The Matrix, in which humans live in a computer simulation, called the Matrix, constructed by evil machines. A band of rebels who have escaped this digital cave is trying to liberate other humans. A rebel named Cypher gives Agent Smith, nasty sentient software created by the machines, information to help him capture the rebels. Agent Smith asks Cypher what he wants for betraying his comrades, and Cypher says he doesn't want to live in reality any more. It’s ugly and stressful, and he hates being bossed around by the rebel leader. Cypher asks for a happy simulated life in the Matrix. Here is an excerpt from his dialogue with Agent Smith, which takes place in a virtual restaurant: Cypher: You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss. Agent Smith: Then we have a deal? Cypher: I don't want to remember nothing. Nothing. You understand? And I want to be rich. You know, someone important, like an actor. Agent Smith: Whatever you want.

Keyword: Alzheimers; Consciousness
Link ID: 25885 - Posted: 01.21.2019

By Catherine L. Caldwell-Harris, Ph.D. Does the language you speak influence how you think? This is the question behind the famous linguistic relativity hypothesis, that the grammar or vocabulary of a language imposes on its speakers a particular way of thinking about the world. The strongest form of the hypothesis is that language determines thought. This version has been rejected by most scholars. A weak form is now thought to be obviously true, which is that if one language has a specific vocabulary item for a concept but another language does not, then speaking about the concept may happen more frequently or more easily. For example, if someone explained to you, an English speaker, the meaning for the German term Schadenfreude, you could recognize the concept, but you may not have used the concept as regularly as a comparable German speaker. Scholars are now interested in whether having a vocabulary item for a concept influences thought in domains far from language, such as visual perception. Consider the case of the "Russian blues." While English has a single word for blue, Russian has two words, goluboy for light blue and siniy for dark blue. These are considered "basic level" terms, like green and purple, since no adjective is needed to distinguish them. Lera Boroditsky and her colleagues displayed two shades of blue on a computer screen and asked Russian speakers to determine, as quickly as possible, whether the two blue colors were different from each other or the same as each other. The fastest discriminations were when the displayed colors were goluboy and siniy, rather than two shades of goluboy or two shades of siniy. The reaction time advantage for lexically distinct blue colors was strongest when the blue hues were perceptually similar.

Keyword: Language; Vision
Link ID: 25869 - Posted: 01.16.2019

Elizabeth Preston A little blue-and-black fish swims up to a mirror. It maneuvers its body vertically to reflect its belly, along with a brown mark that researchers have placed on its throat. The fish then pivots and dives to strike its throat against the sandy bottom of its tank with a glancing blow. Then it returns to the mirror. Depending on which scientists you ask, this moment represents either a revolution or a red herring. Alex Jordan, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, thinks this fish — a cleaner wrasse — has just passed a classic test of self-recognition. Scientists have long thought that being able to recognize oneself in a mirror reveals some sort of self-awareness, and perhaps an awareness of others’ perspectives, too. For almost 50 years, they have been using mirrors to test animals for that capacity. After letting an animal get familiar with a mirror, they put a mark someplace on the animal’s body that it can see only in its reflection. If the animal looks in the mirror and then touches or examines the mark on its body, it passes the test. Humans don’t usually reach this milestone until we’re toddlers. Very few other species ever pass the test; those that do are mostly or entirely big-brained mammals such as chimpanzees. And yet as reported in a study that appeared on bioRxiv.org earlier this year and that is due for imminent publication in PLOS Biology, Jordan and his co-authors observed this seemingly self-aware behavior in a tiny fish. Jordan’s findings have consequently inspired strong feelings in the field. “There are researchers who, it seems, do not want fish to be included in this secret club,” he said. “Because then that means that the [primates] are not so special anymore.” All Rights Reserved © 2019

Keyword: Consciousness; Evolution
Link ID: 25851 - Posted: 01.09.2019

By Scott Barry Kaufman What is going on in our brains when we are creating? How does our brain look different when we are engaging in art vs. science? How does the brain of genius creators differ from the rest of us? What are some of the limitations of studying the creative brain? The neuroscience of creativity is booming. There is now a society (with an annual conference), an edited volume, a handbook, and now an entire textbook on the topic. Bringing the latest research together from a number of scientists*, Anna Abraham wrote a wonderful resource that covers some of the most hot button topics in the field. She was gracious enough to do a Q & A with me. Enjoy! SBK: How’d you get interested in the neuroscience of creativity? AA: I have always been curious about creativity. At the most fundamental level I think I simply wanted to get my head around the mystery of this marvelous ability that each of us possesses. In particular, I hoped to find out what makes some people more creative than others. When I saw an opportunity to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience in the early 2000s in any topic of my choice, I went all in - it was an exciting and promising approach that had until then only been limitedly used to explore the creative mind. SBK: What is creativity? Does the field have a unified, agreed upon definition of creativity that you are satisfied with? AA: There is a surprising level of unanimity in the field when it comes to a boilerplate definition. Most experts agree that two elements are central to creativity. First and foremost, it reflects our capacity to generate ideas that are original, unusual or novel in some way. The second element is that these ideas also need to be satisfying, appropriate or suited to the context in question. I am reasonably satisfied with this definition but not in how it guides scientific enquiry.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 25839 - Posted: 01.05.2019

By Christina Karns ’Tis the season when the conversation shifts to what you’re thankful for. Gathered with family and friends around a holiday feast, for instance, people may recount some of the biggies — such as their health or their children — or smaller things that enhance everyday life — such as happening upon a great movie while channel surfing or enjoying a favorite seasonal food. Psychology researchers recognize that taking time to be thankful has benefits for well-being. Gratitude not only goes along with more optimism, less anxiety and depression, and greater goal attainment, but also is associated with fewer symptoms of illness and other physical benefits. In recent years, researchers have been making connections between the internal experience of gratitude and the external practice of altruism. How does being thankful about things in your own life relate to any selfless concern you may have about the well-being of others? As a neuroscientist, I’m particularly interested in the brain regions and connections that support gratitude and altruism. I’ve been exploring how changes in one might lead to changes in the other. To study the relationship between gratitude and altruism in the brain, my colleagues and I first asked volunteers questions meant to tease out how frequently they feel thankful and the degree to which they tend to care about the well-being of others. Then we used statistics to determine the extent to which someone’s gratitude could predict their altruism. As others have found, the more grateful people in this group tended to be more altruistic. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 25823 - Posted: 12.26.2018

By Emily Laber-Warren A few years ago, scientists conducted a real-world experiment at a ThyssenKrupp steel factory in Germany. They assigned the day shift to early risers and the late shift to night owls. Soon the steel workers, many of whom had been skeptical at the outset, were getting an extra hour of sleep on work nights. By simply aligning work schedules with people’s internal clocks, the researchers had helped people get more and better rest. “They got 16 percent more sleep, almost a full night’s length over the course of the week,” said Till Roenneberg, a chronobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, who headed the study. “That is enormous.” In recent years, American educators have been paying increased attention to their students’ sleep needs, with growing debate about delaying school start times. Now a number of businesses are following suit, encouraging their employees to work when their bodies are most awake. “It’s a huge financial burden not to sleep properly,” Dr. Roenneberg said. “The estimates go toward 1 percent of gross national product,” both in the United States and Germany. Emerging science reveals that each of us has an optimal time to fall asleep and wake up, a personalized biological rhythm known as a “chronotype.” When you don’t sleep at the time your body wants to sleep — your so-called biological night — you don’t sleep as well or as long, setting the stage not only for fatigue, poor work performance and errors but also health problems ranging from heart disease and obesity to anxiety and depression. A full 80 percent of people have work schedules that clash with their internal clocks, said Céline Vetter, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and director of the university’s circadian and sleep epidemiology lab. “The problem is huge,” Dr. Vetter said. “If we consider your individual chronotype and your work hours, the chances are very high that there’s quite a bit of misalignment.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Biological Rhythms; Attention
Link ID: 25822 - Posted: 12.26.2018

By Steve Ayan Peter Carruthers, Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park, is an expert on the philosophy of mind who draws heavily on empirical psychology and cognitive neuroscience. He outlined many of his ideas on conscious thinking in his 2015 book The Centered Mind: What the Science of Working Memory Shows Us about the Nature of Human Thought. More recently, in 2017, he published a paper with the astonishing title of “The Illusion of Conscious Thought.” In the following excerpted conversation, Carruthers explains to editor Steve Ayan the reasons for his provocative proposal. What makes you think conscious thought is an illusion? I believe that the whole idea of conscious thought is an error. I came to this conclusion by following out the implications of the two of the main theories of consciousness. The first is what is called the Global Workspace Theory, which is associated with neuroscientists Stanislas Dehaene and Bernard Baars. Their theory states that to be considered conscious a mental state must be among the contents of working memory (the “user interface” of our minds) and thereby be available to other mental functions, such as decision-making and verbalization. Accordingly, conscious states are those that are “globally broadcast,” so to speak. The alternative view, proposed by Michael Graziano, David Rosenthal and others, holds that conscious mental states are simply those that you know of, that you are directly aware of in a way that doesn’t require you to interpret yourself. You do not have to read you own mind to know of them. Now, whichever view you adopt, it turns out that thoughts such as decisions and judgments should not be considered to be conscious. They are not accessible in working memory, nor are we directly aware of them. We merely have what I call “the illusion of immediacy”—the false impression that we know our thoughts directly. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 25807 - Posted: 12.21.2018

By Steve Ayan Research on the unconscious mind has shown that the brain makes judgments and decisions quickly and automatically. It continuously makes predictions about future events. According to the theory of the “predictive mind,” consciousness arises only when the brain’s implicit expectations fail to materialize. Higher cognitive processing in the cerebral cortex can occur without consciousness. The regions of the brain responsible for the emotions and motives, not the cortex, direct our conscious attention. In 1909 five men converged on Clark University in Massachusetts to conquer the New World with an idea. At the head of this little troupe was psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Ten years earlier Freud had introduced a new treatment for what was called “hysteria” in his book The Interpretation of Dreams. This work also introduced a scandalous view of the human psyche: underneath the surface of consciousness roils a largely inaccessible cauldron of deeply rooted drives, especially of sexual energy (the libido). These drives, held in check by socially inculcated morality, vent themselves in slips of the tongue, dreams and neuroses. The slips in turn provide evidence of the unconscious mind. At the invitation of psychologist G. Stanley Hall, Freud delivered five lectures at Clark. In the audience was philosopher William James, who had traveled from Harvard University to meet Freud. It is said that, as James departed, he told Freud, “The future of psychology belongs to your work.” And he was right. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness; Attention
Link ID: 25801 - Posted: 12.20.2018

Phil Jaekl Driving a car is a complex task for a brain to coordinate. A driver may drink a cup of coffee and have a conversation with a passenger, all while safely piloting a vehicle through traffic. But all of this activity requires attention—that is, concentrating on the tasks and sources of information that matter and blocking out those that don’t. How the brain manages that orchestration is a long-standing scientific mystery. One prominent view, based on findings from human behavioral studies, is that the brain guides us through a world chock-full of sensory inputs by focusing a metaphorical spotlight on what it deems important, while filtering out relatively trivial details. Unlike some other, functionally well-defined aspects of cognition, this attentional spotlight has eluded scientific understanding. Its neural substrates have been particularly difficult to pin down to specific activities and locations in the brain—although several studies have implicated the frontoparietal network, which spans the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain. Meanwhile, attention studies involving visual tasks that require continuous focus—detecting a small object flashing on a cluttered computer screen, for example—have shown that task performance varies over short time intervals, with episodes of peak performance and of poor performance alternating on millisecond timescales. Such research suggests that the attentional spotlight might not be as constant as once thought. Yet, until now, researchers have not been able to directly connect these changes in performance to fluctuations in brain activity. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 25800 - Posted: 12.20.2018

By Kuheli Dutt When neuroscientist Ben Barres delivered his first seminar, an audience member praised him, commenting that Ben’s work was much better than that of his sister, Barbara Barres. The irony? Ben Barres (now deceased), a transgender scientist was Barbara Barres before he transitioned to male. When New York Times columnist Brent Staples was a graduate student in Chicago’s Hyde Park, he found that white people on the street perceived him, an African American, as a threat to their safety. They were visibly tense around him, clutched their purses and sometimes even crossed the street to avoid him. But when he started whistling tunes from classical music, people suddenly weren’t afraid of him anymore—they relaxed and some even smiled at him. Implicit bias runs far deeper than we realize. A riddle used at implicit bias trainings goes like this: A father and his son are in a terrible car crash. The father dies at the scene. His son, in critical condition, is rushed to the hospital; he’s in the operating room, about to go under the knife. The surgeon says, “I can’t operate on this boy—he’s my son!” The audience is then asked how that’s possible. Responses include several scenarios: two gay fathers; one biological and one adopted father; one father and one priest (religious father); all of which are possible. However, an obvious answer that most people miss: the surgeon is the boy’s mother. Whether we like it or not, we are conditioned to associating surgeons with being male. © 2018 Scientific American,

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 25799 - Posted: 12.20.2018

By John Horgan In 1994 I sat in an auditorium in Tucson, Arizona, as a young man with long brown hair began talking about consciousness. I remember being dimly conscious at first, perhaps because I was hung over, but gradually the sounds he was making woke me up. “There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience,” he said, “but there is nothing that is harder to explain.” Explaining what he meant by conscious experience, the long-haired man said: “When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought.”* Consciousness is harder than other problems posed by the mind, the long-haired man argued, such as vision and memory. We have inklings how the brain accomplishes these functions, and we can build machines that replicate them, but we have no idea how the brain generates subjective experiences, or how to give them to machines. That long-haired young man was David Chalmers, speaking at a scientific conference on consciousness that I was covering for Scientific American. In part because of that lecture, Chalmers went on to become a leading philosopher, and many scientists and philosophers now refer to consciousness as “the hard problem.” It has become a pop-culture meme.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 25794 - Posted: 12.17.2018

By Jane E. Brody Dr. Gayatri Devi’s patient, a 55-year-old former headmistress, had good reason to be distraught. The woman had a yearlong history of progressive memory loss and behavioral problems and was referred to Dr. Devi, a neurologist, with a possible diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia. As Dr. Devi recounted in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, the woman’s once prodigious memory had seriously deteriorated and she’d become increasingly irritable. She had difficulty organizing tasks, keeping track of belongings, setting goals, making plans and seeing them through. Yet the results of medical and neurological tests and brain scans were normal. Noting that the woman had gone through menopause a year earlier, Dr. Devi traced her symptoms to the decline in estrogen stimulation of the brain that occurs in all women at menopause with varying effects. Some are more sensitive to falling estrogen levels than others. With a likely diagnosis of menopause-related cognitive impairment, the doctor prescribed hormone-replacement therapy. Within 15 months, the woman’s behavioral symptoms had disappeared and her learning ability and memory were back to normal. She was able to complete a demanding graduate program and assume a new leadership position in education. This woman’s case was admittedly extreme, but Dr. Devi told me that “60 percent of women go through menopause-related cognitive impairment” that, when serious enough to be brought to medical attention, is too often misdiagnosed as “mild cognitive impairment,” a precursor to dementia. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25793 - Posted: 12.17.2018