Links for Keyword: Consciousness

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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

By Gretchen Vogel A research group’s claimed ability to communicate with completely paralyzed people has come under fire, prompting research misconduct investigations at a German university and at Germany’s main research agency, the German Research Foundation (DFG). Two years ago, researchers in Germany and Switzerland claimed that by analyzing blood flow in different parts of the brain with an electronic skullcap, they could elucidate answers to yes or no questions from completely paralyzed people. The find, published in PLOS Biology in 2017, raised hopes for patients with degenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that ultimately leave them without any voluntary muscle control—not even the ability to blink or move their eyes—a condition called a “completely locked-in state.” Now, a simmering controversy about the paper has erupted into public view. As first reported by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, PLOS Biology yesterday published a critique of the paper that claims the authors’ statistical analysis is incorrect. Martin Spüler, an informatics specialist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in Germany, says his analysis of the data shows no support for the authors’ claim that their system could allow patients to answer questions correctly 70% of the time. His critique, first raised in late 2017, has prompted investigations of possible scientific misconduct at both DFG and the University of Tübingen, where the group studying locked-in patients is also based. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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: 26127 - Posted: 04.11.2019

By Bernardo Kastrup In his 2014 book, Our Mathematical Universe, physicist Max Tegmark boldly claims that “protons, atoms, molecules, cells and stars” are all redundant “baggage.” Only the mathematical apparatus used to describe the behavior of matter is supposedly real, not matter itself. For Tegmark, the universe is a “set of abstract entities with relations between them,” which “can be described in a baggage-independent way”—i.e., without matter. He attributes existence solely to descriptions, while incongruously denying the very thing that is described in the first place. Matter is done away with and only information itself is taken to be ultimately real. This abstract notion, called information realism is philosophical in character, but it has been associated with physics from its very inception. Most famously, information realism is a popular philosophical underpinning for digital physics. The motivation for this association is not hard to fathom. Indeed, according to the Greek atomists, if we kept on dividing things into ever-smaller bits, at the end there would remain solid, indivisible particles called atoms, imagined to be so concrete as to have even particular shapes. Yet, as our understanding of physics progressed, we’ve realized that atoms themselves can be further divided into smaller bits, and those into yet smaller ones, and so on, until what is left lacks shape and solidity altogether. At the bottom of the chain of physical reduction there are only elusive, phantasmal entities we label as “energy” and “fields”—abstract conceptual tools for describing nature, which themselves seem to lack any real, concrete essence. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26080 - Posted: 03.26.2019

By Bahar Gholipour Philosophers have spent millennia debating whether we have free will, without reaching a conclusive answer. Neuroscientists optimistically entered the field in the 1980s, armed with tools they were confident could reveal the origin of actions in the brain. Three decades later, they have reached the same conclusion as the philosophers: Free will is complicated. Now, a new research program spanning 17 universities and backed by more than $7 million from two private foundations hopes to break out the impasse by bringing neuroscientists and philosophers together. The collaboration, the researchers say, can help them tackle two important questions: What does it take to have free will? And whatever that is, do we have it? Neuroscience’s first and most famous encounter with free will occurred in 1983, when physiologist Benjamin Libet made a peculiar discovery. A brain signal called the readiness potential was known to precede self-initiated actions, such as raising a hand or spontaneously tapping a finger. Libet found the readiness potential starts to rise before people report they are aware of their decision to move. Many took that as a challenge to the existence of free will. But subsequent studies argued that was a flawed interpretation, and that the results said little about free will. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26063 - Posted: 03.22.2019

Jayshree Pandya Even though neuroscience has made amazing advances, the origin of consciousness in humans -- and its nature and processes -- still remain largely unknown; the underlying physiological mechanisms of generating conscious beings are still not clearly understood. However, with the advances in brain mapping and neuroscience, we are perhaps much closer to finally understanding the fundamentals of consciousness in humans than ever before. It is said that what we cannot create we do not understand. While the very nature of human consciousness is difficult to understand, there is an intense effort going on to build a conscious computer mind out of computer chips (now neuromorphic chips). Understandably, there are growing concerns and questions about building a conscious mind using neuromorphic chips when there is so little clarity about the human mind and the very nature of human consciousness. Now, we can perhaps understand the human brain as a functional computer and compare it with functional computer systems/machines. Now, over the years, we have wondered: to what degree are machines aware of their internal and external surroundings? Are computer systems/machines truly aware? Are self-aware machines already here? The answer to these questions perhaps raises only more questions, as comparing consciousness in functional machines to consciousness in functional humans is more difficult than expected. ©2019 Forbes Media LLC.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26032 - Posted: 03.14.2019

Philip Ball Some problems in science are so hard, we don’t really know what meaningful questions to ask about them — or whether they are even truly solvable by science. Consciousness is one of those: Some researchers think it is an illusion; others say it pervades everything. Some hope to see it reduced to the underlying biology of neurons firing; others say that it is an irreducibly holistic phenomenon. The question of what kinds of physical systems are conscious “is one of the deepest, most fascinating problems in all of science,” wrote the computer scientist Scott Aaronson of the University of Texas at Austin. “I don’t know of any philosophical reason why [it] should be inherently unsolvable” — but “humans seem nowhere close to solving it.” Now a new project currently under review hopes to close in on some answers. It proposes to draw up a suite of experiments that will expose theories of consciousness to a merciless spotlight, in the hope of ruling out at least some of them. If all is approved and goes according to plan, the experiments could start this autumn. The initial aim is for the advocates of two leading theories to agree on a protocol that would put predictions of their ideas to the test. Similar scrutiny of other theories will then follow. Whether or not this project, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, narrows the options for how consciousness arises, it hopes to establish a new way to do science for difficult, contentious problems. Instead of each camp championing its own view and demolishing others, researchers will collaborate and agree to publish in advance how discriminating experiments might be conducted — and then respect the outcomes. © 2019 Quanta Magazine

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26017 - Posted: 03.07.2019

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.

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: 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

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: 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.

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: 25941 - Posted: 02.08.2019

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

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: 25908 - Posted: 01.28.2019

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

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: 25851 - Posted: 01.09.2019