Links for Keyword: Consciousness

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By John Horgan At the beginning of my book Mind-Body Problems, I describe one of my earliest childhood memories: I am walking near a river on a hot summer day. My left hand grips a fishing rod, my right a can of worms. One friend walks in front of me, another behind. We’re headed to a spot on the river where we can catch perch, bullheads and large-mouth bass. Weeds bordering the path block my view of the river, but I can smell its dank breath and feel its chill on my skin. The seething of cicadas builds to a crescendo. I stop short. I’m me, I say. My friends don’t react, so I say, louder, I’m me. The friend before me glances over his shoulder and keeps walking, the friend behind pushes me. I resume walking, still thinking, I’m me, I’m me. I feel lonely, scared, exhilarated, bewildered. Advertisement That moment was when I first became self-conscious, aware of myself as something weird, distinct from the rest of the world, demanding explanation. Or so I came to believe when I recalled the incident in subsequent decades. I never really talked about it, because it was hard to describe. It meant a lot to me, but I doubted it would mean much to anyone else. Then I learned that others have had similar experiences. One is Rebecca Goldstein, the philosopher and novelist, whom I profiled in Mind-Body Problems. Before interviewing Goldstein, I read her novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, and I came upon a passage in which the hero, Cass, a psychologist, recalls a recurrent “metaphysical seizure” or “vertigo” that struck him in childhood. Lying in bed, he was overcome by the improbability that he was just himself and no one else. “The more he tried to get a fix on the fact of being Cass here,” Goldstein writes, “the more the whole idea of it just got away from him.” Even as an adult, Cass kept asking himself, “How can it be that, of all things, one is this thing, so that one can say, astonishingly, ‘Here I am’”? © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26510 - Posted: 08.17.2019

Meredith Fore A long-standing controversy in neuroscience centers on a simple question: How do neurons in the brain share information? Sure, it’s well-known that neurons are wired together by synapses and that when one of them fires, it sends an electrical signal to other neurons connected to it. But that simple model leaves a lot of unanswered questions—for example, where exactly in neurons’ firing is information stored? Resolving these questions could help us understand the physical nature of a thought. Two theories attempt to explain how neurons encode information: the rate code model and the temporal code model. In the rate code model, the rate at which neurons fire is the key feature. Count the number of spikes in a certain time interval, and that number gives you the information. In the temporal code model, the relative timing between firings matters more—information is stored in the specific pattern of intervals between spikes, vaguely like Morse code. But the temporal code model faces a difficult question: If a gap is "longer" or "shorter," it has to be longer or shorter relative to something. For the temporal code model to work, the brain needs to have a kind of metronome, a steady beat to allow the gaps between firings to hold meaning. Every computer has an internal clock to synchronize its activities across different chips. If the temporal code model is right, the brain should have something similar. Some neuroscientists posit that the clock is in the gamma rhythm, a semiregular oscillation of brain waves. But it doesn’t stay consistent. It can speed up or slow down depending on what a person experiences, such as a bright light. Such a fickle clock didn't seem like the full story for how neurons synchronize their signals, leading to ardent disagreements in the field about whether the gamma rhythm meant anything at all. © 2018 Condé Nast.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 14: Biological Rhythms, Sleep, and Dreaming
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 10: Biological Rhythms and Sleep
Link ID: 26494 - Posted: 08.13.2019

Hope Reese Patricia S. Churchland is a key figure in the field of neurophilosophy, which employs a multidisciplinary lens to examine how neurobiology contributes to philosophical and ethical thinking. In her new book, “Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition,” Churchland makes the case that neuroscience, evolution, and biology are essential to understanding moral decision-making and how we behave in social environments. In the past, “philosophers thought it was impossible that neuroscience would ever be able to tell us anything about the nature of the self, or the nature of decision-making,” the author says. The way we reach moral conclusions, Churchland asserts, has a lot more to do with our neural circuitry than we realize. The way we reach moral conclusions, she asserts, has a lot more to do with our neural circuitry than we realize. We are fundamentally hard-wired to form attachments, for instance, which greatly influence our moral decision-making. Also, our brains are constantly using reinforcement learning — observing consequences after specific actions and adjusting our behavior accordingly. Churchland, who teaches philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, also presents research showing that our individual neuro-architecture is heavily influenced by genetics: political attitudes, for instance, are 40 to 50 percent heritable, recent scientific studies suggest. Copyright 2019 Undark

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 26480 - Posted: 08.02.2019

By Christof Koch “Consciousness” refers to any subjective experience — the delectable taste of Nutella, the sharp sting of an infected tooth, the slow passage of time when bored, the sense of vitality and anxiety just before a competitive event. In the words of the philosopher Thomas Nagel, consciousness exists in a human or other subject whenever “there is something it is like to be that organism.” The concept has inspired countless philosophical theories since antiquity and much laboratory work over the past century, but it has also given rise to many misunderstandings. Myth No. 1 Humans have a unique brain. There’s a long history of scientists thinking they have identified a particular feature to explain our advanced consciousness (and planetary dominance). In a popular TED talk, the neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel argues that the human brain’s distinctiveness lies in the huge number of neurons that make up the outermost layer of the organ, the cerebral cortex (or neocortex): 16 billion, out of some 86 billion total neurons. “That’s the simplest explanation for our remarkable cognitive abilities,” she says. Other suppositions have included special brain regions or nerve cells found only (or primarily) in humans — spindle or von Economo neurons, for example. Or perhaps the human brain consumes more calories than the brains of other species? After close to two centuries of brain research, however, no single feature of the human brain truly stands out. We certainly do not possess the largest brain — elephants and whales trounce us. Recent research has revealed that pilot whales, a type of dolphin, have 37 billion cortical neurons, undermining Herculano-Houzel’s hypothesis. And researchers have found that whales, elephants and other large-brained animals (not just great apes and humans) also have von Economo neurons. New research shows that humans and mice have about the same number of categories of brain cells. The fact is, there is no simple brain-centric explanation for why humans sit atop the cognitive hill. © 1996-2019 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26467 - Posted: 07.30.2019

By Susana Martinez-Conde Is your mind—every sensation, feeling, and memory you’ve ever had—completely tractable to your brain? If so, does it mean that you are a mere machine, and that all meaning and purpose is illusory? About a year ago, I joined author of Aping Mankind Raymond Tallis, and German philosopher and author of I am Not a Brain Markus Gabriel to discuss these issues at the How the Light Gets In Festival, hosted by the Institute of Art and Ideas. The video of the debate, which you can watch below, just came live last month. My co-panelists and I were tasked to start the debate with short pitches stating our positions on whether our minds and consciousness are no more than matter and mechanism. Specifically, we were charged with answering three questions at the outset, in 4 minutes or less: Are our minds just our brains? Has neuroscience led philosophy astray? Do we need to create new concepts, or abandon old ones, to understand why we feel a sense of meaning? The script that I prepared to address them follows below—but make sure to check out the full video for alternative views, and the discussion that ensued! A lot of the research we do in my lab focuses on understanding the neural bases of illusory perception. About 10 years ago, this led to my becoming interested in the neuroscience of stage magic, and beginning a research program about why magic works in the brain. Along the way, I decided to take magic lessons myself, to get a better understanding of magic: not only as a scientist looking in from the outside, but from the perspective of the magician. This was not only a good research investment, but also a whole lot of fun. But when I tell people about it, a question I get often is, do I still enjoy magic shows, or do they now feel mundane and unmagical? I always answer that I now enjoy magic a lot more than before I started studying it. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26396 - Posted: 07.08.2019

By Matthew Shaer A few years ago, a scientist named Nenad Sestan began throwing around an idea for an experiment so obviously insane, so “wild” and “totally out there,” as he put it to me recently, that at first he told almost no one about it: not his wife or kids, not his bosses in Yale’s neuroscience department, not the dean of the university’s medical school. Like everything Sestan studies, the idea centered on the mammalian brain. More specific, it centered on the tree-shaped neurons that govern speech, motor function and thought — the cells, in short, that make us who we are. In the course of his research, Sestan, an expert in developmental neurobiology, regularly ordered slices of animal and human brain tissue from various brain banks, which shipped the specimens to Yale in coolers full of ice. Sometimes the tissue arrived within three or four hours of the donor’s death. Sometimes it took more than a day. Still, Sestan and his team were able to culture, or grow, active cells from that tissue — tissue that was, for all practical purposes, entirely dead. In the right circumstances, they could actually keep the cells alive for several weeks at a stretch. When I met with Sestan this spring, at his lab in New Haven, he took great care to stress that he was far from the only scientist to have noticed the phenomenon. “Lots of people knew this,” he said. “Lots and lots.” And yet he seems to have been one of the few to take these findings and push them forward: If you could restore activity to individual post-mortem brain cells, he reasoned to himself, what was to stop you from restoring activity to entire slices of post-mortem brain? © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26380 - Posted: 07.02.2019

By Max Bertolero, Danielle S. Bassett | Networks pervade our lives. Every day we use intricate networks of roads, railways, maritime routes and skyways traversed by commercial flights. They exist even beyond our immediate experience. Think of the World Wide Web, the power grid and the universe, of which the Milky Way is an infinitesimal node in a seemingly boundless network of galaxies. Few such systems of interacting connections, however, match the complexity of the one underneath our skull. Neuroscience has gained a higher profile in recent years, as many people have grown familiar with splashily colored images that show brain regions “lighting up” during a mental task. There is, for instance, the temporal lobe, the area by your ear, which is involved with memory, and the occipital lobe at the back of your head, which dedicates itself to vision. What has been missing from this account of human brain function is how all these distinct regions interact to give rise to who we are. Our laboratory and others have borrowed a language from a branch of mathematics called graph theory that allows us to parse, probe and predict complex interactions of the brain that bridge the seemingly vast gap between frenzied neural electrical activity and an array of cognitive tasks—sensing, remembering, making decisions, learning a new skill and initiating movement. This new field of network neuroscience builds on and reinforces the idea that certain regions of the brain carry out defined activities. In the most fundamental sense, what the brain is—and thus who we are as conscious beings—is, in fact, defined by a sprawling network of 100 billion neurons with at least 100 trillion connecting points, or synapses. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26379 - Posted: 07.02.2019

Tam Hunt How can you know that any animal, other human beings, or anything that seems conscious, isn’t just faking it? Does it enjoy an internal subjective experience, complete with sensations and emotions like hunger, joy, or sadness? After all, the only consciousness you can know with certainty is your own. Everything else is inference. The nature of consciousness makes it by necessity a wholly private affair. These questions are more than philosophical. As intelligent digital assistants, self-driving cars and other robots start to proliferate, are these AIs actually conscious or just seem like it? Or what about patients in comas – how can doctors know with any certainty what kind of consciousness is or is not present, and prescribe treatment accordingly? In my work, often with with psychologist Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, we’re developing a framework for thinking about the many different ways to possibly test for the presence of consciousness. There is a small but growing field looking at how to assess the presence and even quantity of consciousness in various entities. I’ve divided possible tests into three broad categories that I call the measurable correlates of consciousness. There are three types of ways to gauge consciousness. You can look for brain activity that occurs at the same time as reported subjective states. Or you can look for physical actions that seem to be accompanied by subjective states. Finally, you can look for the products of consciousness, like artwork or music, or this article I’ve written, that can be separated from the entity that created them to infer the presence – or not – of consciousness. © 2010–2019, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26378 - Posted: 07.02.2019

By Benedict Carey Doctors have known for years that some patients who become unresponsive after a severe brain injury nonetheless retain a “covert consciousness,” a degree of cognitive function that is important to recovery but is not detectable by standard bedside exams. As a result, a profound uncertainty often haunts the wrenching decisions that families must make when an unresponsive loved one needs life support, an uncertainty that also amplifies national debates over how to determine when a patient in this condition can be declared beyond help. Now, scientists report the first large-scale demonstration of an approach that can identify this hidden brain function right after injury, using specialized computer analysis of routine EEG recordings from the skull. The new study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that 15 percent of otherwise unresponsive patients in one intensive care unit had covert brain activity in the days after injury. Moreover, these patients were nearly four times more likely to achieve partial independence over the next year with rehabilitation, compared to patients with no activity. The EEG approach will not be widely available for some time, due in part to the technical expertise required, which most I.C.U.’s don’t yet have. And doctors said the test would not likely resolve the kind of high-profile cases that have taken on religious and political dimensions, like that of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman whose condition touched off an ethical debate in the mid-2000s, or Karen Ann Quinlan, a New Jersey woman whose case stirred similar sentiments in the 1970s. Those debates centered less on recovery than on the definition of life and the right to die; the new analysis presumes some resting level of EEG, and that signal in both women was virtually flat. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 26363 - Posted: 06.27.2019

Paul GabrielsenPaul Gabrielsen For everyone who's looked into an infant's sparkling eyes and wondered what goes on in its little fuzzy head, there's now an answer. New research shows that babies display glimmers of consciousness and memory as early as 5 months old. For decades, neuroscientists have been searching for an unmistakable signal of consciousness in electrical brain activity. Such a sign could determine whether minimally conscious or anesthetized adults are aware—and when consciousness begins in babies. Studies on adults show a particular pattern of brain activity: When your senses detect something, such as a moving object, the vision center of your brain activates, even if the object goes by too fast for you to notice. But if the object remains in your visual field for long enough, the signal travels from the back of the brain to the prefrontal cortex, which holds the image in your mind long enough for you to notice. Scientists see a spike in brain activity when the senses pick something up, and another signal, the "late slow wave," when the prefrontal cortex gets the message. The whole process takes less than one-third of a second. Researchers in France wondered if such a two-step pattern might be present in infants. The team monitored infants' brain activity through caps fitted with electrodes. More than 240 babies participated, but two-thirds were too squirmy for the movement-sensitive caps. The remaining 80 (ages 5 months, 12 months, or 15 months) were shown a picture of a face on a screen for a fraction of a second. © 2018 Condé Nast

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26338 - Posted: 06.19.2019

By John Horgan I can live without God, but I need free will. Without free will life makes no sense, it lacks meaning. So I’m always on the lookout for strong, clear arguments for free will. Christian List, a philosopher at the London School of Economics, provides such arguments in his succinct new book Why Free Will Is Real (Harvard 2019). I met List in 2015 when I decided to attend, after much deliberation, a workshop on consciousness at NYU. I recently freely chose to send him some questions, which he freely chose to answer. –John Horgan Horgan: Why philosophy? Was your choice pre-determined? List: I don’t think it was. As a teenager, I wanted to become a computer scientist or mathematician. It was only during my last couple of years at high school that I developed an interest in philosophy, and then I studied mathematics and philosophy as an undergraduate. For my doctorate, I chose political science, because I wanted to do something more applied, but I ended up working on mathematical models of collective decision-making and their implications for philosophical questions about democracy. Can majority voting produce rational collective outcomes? Are there truths to be found in politics? So, I was drawn back into philosophy. But the fact that I now teach philosophy is due to contingent events, especially meeting some philosophers who encouraged me. Horgan: Free-will denial seems to be on the rise. Why do you think that is? List: The free-will denial we are now seeing appears to be a by-product of the growing popularity of a reductionistic worldview in which everything is thought to be reducible to physical processes. If we look at the world solely through the lens of fundamental physics, for instance, then we will see only particles, fields, and forces, and there seems no room for human agency and free will. People then look like bio-physical machines. My response is that this kind of reductionism is mistaken. I want to embrace a scientific worldview, but reject reductionism. In fact, many scientists reject the sort of reductionism that is often mistakenly associated with science. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26318 - Posted: 06.10.2019

By John Horgan In a previous post I summarized my remarks at “Souls or Selfish Genes,” a conversation at Stevens Institute of Technology about religious versus scientific views of humanity. I represented the agnostic position and David Lahti, a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York, a position more friendly to theism. Below is Lahti’s summary of his opening comments. –John Horgan I’ve been asked to deal with the question of “Souls vs. Selfish Genes”. And whereas I am sure this is a false dichotomy, I’m not quite sure how exactly to fit the two parts of the truth together. But I’ll give you a few thoughts I’ve had about it, which can at least start us off. First, selfish genes. This of course is a reference to Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book of the same name, which is a popular and sensational description of a revolution in our understanding of the way evolution by natural selection operates. Briefly, we discovered in the 1960s-70s that the organismic individual was generally the most important level at which natural selection operates, meaning that evolution by natural selection proceeds primarily via certain individuals in a population reproducing more successfully than others. In fact, this is too simplistic. Hamilton’s theory of kin selection showed that it’s actually below the level of the individual where we really have to concentrate in order to explain certain traits, such as the self-sacrificial stinging of bees and the fact that some young male birds help their mother raise her next brood instead of looking for a mate. Those individuals are not being as selfish as we might predict. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26250 - Posted: 05.20.2019

Ian Tucker Dr Hannah Critchlow is a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge. Her debut book, The Science of Fate, examines how much of our life is predetermined at birth and to what extent we are in control of our destiny. How has the slow march of scientific research affected our concept of fate? On one hand, we know more about how genetics drives our lives, yet we also have more good evidence for things that we can do to shape our own outcomes. This concept of fate and destiny has around since the Greeks – it threads through different cultures and is deeply rooted in the way that we speak today; for instance, we often say that babies are born destined for greatness. It’s a seductive idea. If outcomes are predetermined, that absolves us of blame when things go wrong. Yeah, in some ways it’s a really nice idea, it’s a get-out-of-jail card: we are who we are, so we can just rest on our laurels. It’s quite reassuring. As a parent, I find it quite comforting for my child, because there are a millions of decisions that I have to make for him and it’s quite nice to think a lot of the work has been done now. The genes, the basic neural circuitry that acts as foundation for his life is already there. But as your book explains, our brains are quite plastic… In 2000, a landmark study demonstrated how the brains of London black-cab drivers changed as they took the Knowledge. The hippocampus, which is involved in navigation, learning and memory, enlarged in cabbies who passed the test. This study got a lot of attention and informed the idea that we can hone our brains in the same way as muscle and therefore change our ingrained habits, even become superhumans if we just train our brains in the right way. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26231 - Posted: 05.14.2019

Jenny Kitzinger In 1991, a car crash left Munira Abdulla, a 32-year-old woman from the United Arab Emirates, with devastating brain injuries. Doctors reportedly thought she might never regain full consciousness. However, in late 2018, almost three decades after her initial injury, Abdulla showed signs of recovery – including calling out her son’s name. Abdulla’s story became public on April 22 2019, when an interview with her son was published in The National (a major news outlet in the United Arab Emirates). The following day it was reported by international media under headlines such as “Modern-day miracle: Woman wakes after almost three decades in a coma”. The story was framed as extraordinary and inspiring – and I received a flurry of calls from journalists asking me to explain what had happened. Was she trapped in her body all along? How will she adjust to the modern world? What does this mean for families considering whether it would be kinder to let a loved one die? Just like these journalists – working to a tight timeframe – I relied on The National’s report to try to contribute to the public discussion of Abdulla’s case. This is far from ideal but, looking at this original source, there were clues that, although a very unusual case, the “miracle” might have been overstated and oversimplified. © 2010–2019, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26228 - Posted: 05.11.2019

By John Horgan Last month my school, Stevens Institute of Technology, hosted a “debate” called “Souls or Selfish Genes?” The Stevens Christian Fellowship, which organized the event (along with Veritas), billed it as “a discussion between two professors (a Christian and non-Christian) in search of truth about what makes us human.” I was the non-Christian and David Lahti, a biologist at City University of New York, the Christian. The moderator and most of the audience (according to a show of hands) were Christian too. Lahti and I had a hard time finding things on which to disagree. I nodded along when he objected to the “souls or selfish genes” dichotomy, arguing that faith and evolutionary theory are compatible. I didn’t oppose religious belief so much as I defended disbelief, toward scientific as well as religious explanations of who we are. Below are things I said, or wanted to say, at the event. For as long as I can remember, the world has struck me as improbable, inexplicable, just plain weird. I have felt estranged from everything, including other people and myself. Psychiatrists call these feelings derealization and depersonalization. I yearned for a revelation that could dispel the weirdness and make me feel at home in my own skin. As a boy I took comfort in my parents’ religion, Catholicism. Priests, nuns and my parents assured me that I am a child of God with an immortal soul. If I obey the Ten Commandments, confess my sins and go to church, I will ascend to heaven, where I will hang out with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (which a mural in my church depicted as a dove emanating laser beams). By the time I was 11 or so Catholicism stopped making sense. Why, if God loves us, would He inflict hell on us, just for skipping mass now and then? That doctrine, which hard-eyed nuns taught in catechism, seemed awfully harsh. Also, I couldn’t imagine how heaven could fail to be boring. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26212 - Posted: 05.07.2019

By Palko Karasz and Christopher F. Schuetze LONDON — When Munira Abdulla had last been fully awake, the first George Bush was America’s president and the Soviet Union was nearing its demise. It was the year the Persian Gulf war ended. In 1991, at the age of 32, Ms. Abdulla, from the oasis city of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, suffered injuries in a road accident that left her in a state of reduced consciousness for most of the next three decades. After 27 years, she awoke last June at a clinic near Munich, where doctors had been treating her for the complications of her long illness. “I never gave up on her, because I always had a feeling that one day she will wake up,” said Omar Webair, her 32-year-old son, who was just 4 when the accident happened. He shared his mother’s story with the Emirati news website The National on Monday. Dr. Friedemann Müller, the chief physician at the Schön Clinic, a private hospital with campuses around Germany, said that Ms. Abdulla had been in a state of minimal consciousness. He said only a handful of cases like hers, in which a patient recovered after such a long period, had been recorded. Patients in a state of reduced consciousness are usually classified into three categories. In a full coma, the patient shows no signs of being awake, with eyes closed and unresponsive to the environment. A persistent vegetative state includes those who seem awake but show no signs of awareness, while a minimally conscious state can include periods in which some response — such as moving a finger when asked — can be noted. Colloquially, all three categories are often described as comas. Signs that Ms. Abdulla was recovering started to emerge last year when she began saying her son’s name. A couple of weeks later, she started repeating verses from the Quran that she had learned decades ago. “We didn’t believe it at first,” Dr. Müller said. “But eventually it became very clear that she was saying her son’s name.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26177 - Posted: 04.27.2019

By Olivia Goldhill Free will, from a neuroscience perspective, can look like quite quaint. In a study published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers in Australia were able to predict basic choices participants made 11 seconds before they consciously declared their decisions. In the study, 14 participants—each placed in an fMRI machine—were shown two patterns, one of red horizontal stripes and one of green vertical stripes. They were given a maximum of 20 seconds to choose between them. Once they’d made a decision, they pressed a button and had 10 seconds to visualize the pattern as hard as they could. Finally, they were asked “what did you imagine?” and “how vivid was it?” They answered these questions by pressing buttons. Using the fMRI to monitor brain activity and machine learning to analyze the neuroimages, the researchers were able to predict which pattern participants would choose up to 11 seconds before they consciously made the decision. And they were able to predict how vividly the participants would be able to envisage it. Lead author Joel Pearson, cognitive neuroscience professor at the University of South Wales in Australia, said that the study suggests traces of thoughts exist unconsciously before they become conscious. “We believe that when we are faced with the choice between two or more options of what to think about, non-conscious traces of the thoughts are there already, a bit like unconscious hallucinations,” he said in a statement. “As the decision of what to think about is made, executive areas of the brain choose the thought-trace which is stronger. In, other words, if any pre-existing brain activity matches one of your choices, then your brain will be more likely to pick that option as it gets boosted by the pre-existing brain activity.”

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26167 - Posted: 04.23.2019

By Gina Kolata In a study that raises profound questions about the line between life and death, researchers have restored some cellular activity to brains removed from slaughtered pigs. The brains did not regain anything resembling consciousness: There were no signs indicating coordinated electrical signaling, necessary for higher functions like awareness and intelligence. But in an experimental treatment, blood vessels in the pigs’ brains began functioning, flowing with a blood substitute, and certain brain cells regained metabolic activity, even responding to drugs. When the researchers tested slices of treated brain tissue, they discovered electrical activity in some neurons. The work is very preliminary and has no immediate implications for treatment of brain injuries in humans. But the idea that parts of the brain may be recoverable after death, as conventionally defined, contradicts everything medical science believes about the organ and poses metaphysical riddles. “We had clear lines between ‘this is alive’ and ‘this is dead,’” said Nita A. Farahany, a bioethicist and law professor at Duke University. “How do we now think about this middle category of ‘partly alive’? We didn’t think it could exist.” For decades, doctors and grieving family members have wondered if it might ever be possible to restore function to a person who suffered extensive brain injury because of a severe stroke or heart attack. Were these brains really beyond salvage? The new research confirms how little we know about the injured brain and so-called brain death. Bioethicists like Dr. Farahany were stunned and intrigued by the findings, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. “This is wild,” said Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. “If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26153 - Posted: 04.18.2019

Laura Sanders Scientists have restored cellular activity to pig brains hours after the animals’ death — an unprecedented feat. This revival, achieved with a sophisticated system of artificial fluid, took place four hours after the pigs’ demise at a slaughterhouse. “This is a huge breakthrough,” says ethicist and legal scholar Nita Farahany of Duke University, who wasn’t involved in the research. “It fundamentally challenges existing beliefs in neuroscience. The idea of the irreversibility of loss of brain function clearly isn’t true.” The results, reported April 17 in Nature, may lead to better treatments for brain damage caused by stroke or other injuries that starve brain tissue of oxygen. The achievement also raises significant ethical puzzles about research on brains that are not alive, but not completely dead either. In the study, the brains showed no signs of the widespread neural activity thought to be required for consciousness. But individual nerve cells were still firing. “There’s this gray zone between dead animals and living animals,” says Farahany, who coauthored a perspective piece in Nature. The experiments were conducted on pigs that had been killed in a food processing plant. These animals were destined to become pork. “No animals died for this study,” the authors of the new work write in their paper. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26152 - Posted: 04.18.2019

Nita A. Farahany, Henry T. Greely and Charles M. Giattino. Scientists have restored and preserved some cellular activities and structures in the brains of pigs that had been decapitated for food production four hours before. The researchers saw circulation in major arteries and small blood vessels, metabolism and responsiveness to drugs at the cellular level and even spontaneous synaptic activity in neurons, among other things. The team formulated a unique solution and circulated it through the isolated brains using a network of pumps and filters called BrainEx. The solution was cell-free, did not coagulate and contained a haemoglobin-based oxygen carrier and a wide range of pharmacological agents. The remarkable study, published in this week’s Nature1, offers the promise of an animal or even human whole-brain model in which many cellular functions are intact. At present, cells from animal and human brains can be sustained in culture for weeks, but only so much can be gleaned from isolated cells. Tissue slices can provide snapshots of local structural organization, yet they are woefully inadequate for questions about function and global connectivity, because much of the 3D structure is lost during tissue preparation2. The work also raises a host of ethical issues. There was no evidence of any global electrical activity — the kind of higher-order brain functioning associated with consciousness. Nor was there any sign of the capacity to perceive the environment and experience sensations. Even so, because of the possibilities it opens up, the BrainEx study highlights potential limitations in the current regulations for animals used in research. Most fundamentally, in our view, it throws into question long-standing assumptions about what makes an animal — or a human — alive. © 2019 Springer Nature Publishing AG

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26151 - Posted: 04.18.2019