Links for Keyword: Consciousness

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By Alessandra Buccella, Tomáš Dominik  Imagine you are shopping online for a new pair of headphones. There is an array of colors, brands and features to look at. You feel that you can pick any model that you like and are in complete control of your decision. When you finally click the “add to shopping cart” button, you believe that you are doing so out of your own free will. But what if we told you that while you thought that you were still browsing, your brain activity had already highlighted the headphones you would pick? That idea may not be so far-fetched. Though neuroscientists likely could not predict your choice with 100 percent accuracy, research has demonstrated that some information about your upcoming action is present in brain activity several seconds before you even become conscious of your decision. As early as the 1960s, studies found that when people perform a simple, spontaneous movement, their brain exhibits a buildup in neural activity—what neuroscientists call a “readiness potential”—before they move. In the 1980s, neuroscientist Benjamin Libet reported this readiness potential even preceded a person’s reported intention to move, not just their movement. In 2008 a group of researchers found that some information about an upcoming decision is present in the brain up to 10 seconds in advance, long before people reported making the decision of when or how to act. Advertisement These studies have sparked questions and debates. To many observers, these findings debunked the intuitive concept of free will. After all, if neuroscientists can infer the timing or choice of your movements long before you are consciously aware of your decision, perhaps people are merely puppets, pushed around by neural processes unfolding below the threshold of consciousness. But as researchers who study volition from both a neuroscientific and philosophical perspective, we believe that there’s still much more to this story. We work with a collaboration of philosophers and scientists to provide more nuanced interpretations—including a better understanding of the readiness potential—and a more fruitful theoretical framework in which to place them. The conclusions suggest “free will” remains a useful concept, although people may need to reexamine how they define it. © 2023 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28635 - Posted: 01.18.2023

By Dennis Overbye If you could change the laws of nature, what would you change? Maybe it’s that pesky speed-of-light limit on cosmic travel — not to mention war, pestilence and the eventual asteroid that has Earth’s name on it. Maybe you would like the ability to go back in time — to tell your teenage self how to deal with your parents, or to buy Google stock. Couldn’t the universe use a few improvements? That was the question that David Anderson, a computer scientist, enthusiast of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), musician and mathematician at the University of California, Berkeley, recently asked his colleagues and friends. In recent years the idea that our universe, including ourselves and all of our innermost thoughts, is a computer simulation, running on a thinking machine of cosmic capacity, has permeated culture high and low. In an influential essay in 2003, Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at the University of Oxford and director of the Institute for the Future of Humanity, proposed the idea, adding that it was probably an easy accomplishment for “technologically mature” civilizations wanting to explore their histories or entertain their offspring. Elon Musk, who, for all we know, is the star of this simulation, seemed to echo this idea when he once declared that there was only a one-in-a-billion chance that we lived in “base reality.” It’s hard to prove, and not everyone agrees that such a drastic extrapolation of our computing power is possible or inevitable, or that civilization will last long enough to see it through. But we can’t disprove the idea either, so thinkers like Dr. Bostrom contend that we must take the possibility seriously. In some respects, the notion of a Great Simulator is redolent of a recent theory among cosmologists that the universe is a hologram, its margins lined with quantum codes that determine what is going on inside. A couple of years ago, pinned down by the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Anderson began discussing the implications of this idea with his teenage son. If indeed everything was a simulation, then making improvements would simply be a matter of altering whatever software program was running everything. “Being a programmer, I thought about exactly what these changes might involve,” he said in an email. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28634 - Posted: 01.18.2023

By Oliver Whang Hod Lipson, a mechanical engineer who directs the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University, has shaped most of his career around what some people in his industry have called the c-word. On a sunny morning this past October, the Israeli-born roboticist sat behind a table in his lab and explained himself. “This topic was taboo,” he said, a grin exposing a slight gap between his front teeth. “We were almost forbidden from talking about it — ‘Don’t talk about the c-word; you won’t get tenure’ — so in the beginning I had to disguise it, like it was something else.” That was back in the early 2000s, when Dr. Lipson was an assistant professor at Cornell University. He was working to create machines that could note when something was wrong with their own hardware — a broken part, or faulty wiring — and then change their behavior to compensate for that impairment without the guiding hand of a programmer. Just as when a dog loses a leg in an accident, it can teach itself to walk again in a different way. This sort of built-in adaptability, Dr. Lipson argued, would become more important as we became more reliant on machines. Robots were being used for surgical procedures, food manufacturing and transportation; the applications for machines seemed pretty much endless, and any error in their functioning, as they became more integrated with our lives, could spell disaster. “We’re literally going to surrender our life to a robot,” he said. “You want these machines to be resilient.” One way to do this was to take inspiration from nature. Animals, and particularly humans, are good at adapting to changes. This ability might be a result of millions of years of evolution, as resilience in response to injury and changing environments typically increases the chances that an animal will survive and reproduce. Dr. Lipson wondered whether he could replicate this kind of natural selection in his code, creating a generalizable form of intelligence that could learn about its body and function no matter what that body looked like, and no matter what that function was. ImageHod Lipson, in jeans, a dark jacket and a dark button-down shirt, stands at the double-door entrance to the Creative Machines Lab. Signs on and next to the doors read “Creative Machines Lab,” “Laboratory,” “No Smoking” and “Smile, You’re On Camera.” © 2023 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28625 - Posted: 01.07.2023

By Gary Stix  Can the human brain ever really understand itself? The problem of gaining a deep knowledge of the subjective depths of the conscious mind is such a hard problem that it has in fact been named the hard problem. The human brain is impressively powerful. Its 100 billion neurons are connected by 100 trillion wirelike fibers, all squeezed into three pounds of squishy flesh lodged below a helmet of skull. Yet we still don’t know whether this organ will ever be able to muster the requisite smarts to hack the physical processes that underlie the ineffable “quality of deep blue” or “the sensation of middle C,” as philosopher David Chalmers put it when giving examples of the “hard problem” of consciousness, a term he invented, in a 1995 paper. This past year did not uncover a solution to the hard problem, and one may not be forthcoming for decades, if ever. But 2022 did witness plenty of surprises and solutions to understanding the brain that do not require a complete explanation of consciousness. Such incrementalism could be seen in mid-November, when a crowd of more than 24,000 attendees of the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting gathered in San Diego, Calif. The event was a tribute of sorts to reductionism—the breaking down of hard problems into simpler knowable entities. At the event, there were reports of an animal study of a brain circuit that encodes social trauma and a brain-computer interface that lets a severely paralyzed person mentally spell out letters to form words. Your Brain Has a Thumbs-Up–Thumbs-Down Switch When neuroscientist Kay Tye was pursuing her Ph.D., she was told a chapter on emotion was inappropriate for her thesis. Emotion just wasn’t accepted as an integral, intrinsic part of behavioral neuroscience, her field of study. That didn’t make any sense to Tye. She decided to go her own way to become a leading researcher on feelings. This year Tye co-authored a Nature paper that reported on a kind of molecular switch in rodents that flags an experience as either good or bad. If human brains operate the same way as the brains of the mice in her lab, a malfunctioning thumbs-up–thumbs-down switch might explain some cases of depression, anxiety and addiction.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28601 - Posted: 12.17.2022

By Jan Claassen, Brian L. Edlow A medical team surrounded Maria Mazurkevich’s hospital bed, all eyes on her as she did … nothing. Mazurkevich was 30 years old and had been admitted to New York–Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University on a blisteringly hot July day in New York City. A few days earlier, at home, she had suddenly fallen unconscious. She had suffered a ruptured blood vessel in her brain, and the bleeding area was putting tremendous pressure on critical brain regions. The team of nurses and physicians at the hospital’s neurological intensive care unit was looking for any sign that Mazurkevich could hear them. She was on a mechanical ventilator to help her breathe, and her vital signs were stable. But she showed no signs of consciousness. Mazurkevich’s parents, also at her bed, asked, “Can we talk to our daughter? Does she hear us?” She didn’t appear to be aware of anything. One of us (Claassen) was on her medical team, and when he asked Mazurkevich to open her eyes, hold up two fingers or wiggle her toes, she remained motionless. Her eyes did not follow visual cues. Yet her loved ones still thought she was “in there.” She was. The medical team gave her an EEG—placing sensors on her head to monitor her brain’s electrical activity—while they asked her to “keep opening and closing your right hand.” Then they asked her to “stop opening and closing your right hand.” Even though her hands themselves didn’t move, her brain’s activity patterns differed between the two commands. These brain reactions clearly indicated that she was aware of the requests and that those requests were different. And after about a week, her body began to follow her brain. Slowly, with minuscule responses, Mazurkevich started to wake up. Within a year she recovered fully without major limitations to her physical or cognitive abilities. She is now working as a pharmacist. © 2022 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Cells and Structure of the Nervous System
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 2: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 28527 - Posted: 10.26.2022

By Hedda Hassel Mørch The nature of consciousness seems to be unique among scientific puzzles. Not only do neuroscientists have no fundamental explanation for how it arises from physical states of the brain, we are not even sure whether we ever will. Astronomers wonder what dark matter is, geologists seek the origins of life, and biologists try to understand cancer—all difficult problems, of course, yet at least we have some idea of how to go about investigating them and rough conceptions of what their solutions could look like. Our first-person experience, on the other hand, lies beyond the traditional methods of science. Following the philosopher David Chalmers, we call it the hard problem of consciousness. But perhaps consciousness is not uniquely troublesome. Going back to Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, philosophers of science have struggled with a lesser known, but equally hard, problem of matter. What is physical matter in and of itself, behind the mathematical structure described by physics? This problem, too, seems to lie beyond the traditional methods of science, because all we can observe is what matter does, not what it is in itself—the “software” of the universe but not its ultimate “hardware.” On the surface, these problems seem entirely separate. But a closer look reveals that they might be deeply connected. Consciousness is a multifaceted phenomenon, but subjective experience is its most puzzling aspect. Our brains do not merely seem to gather and process information. They do not merely undergo biochemical processes. Rather, they create a vivid series of feelings and experiences, such as seeing red, feeling hungry, or being baffled about philosophy. There is something that it’s like to be you, and no one else can ever know that as directly as you do. © 2022 NautilusThink Inc, All rights reserved.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28489 - Posted: 09.24.2022

By Jonathan Moens In 1993, Julio Lopes was sipping a coffee at a bar when he had a stroke. He fell into a coma, and two months later, when he regained consciousness, his body was fully paralyzed. Doctors said the young man’s future was bleak: Save for his eyes, he would never be able to move again. Lopes would have to live with locked-in syndrome, a rare condition characterized by near-total paralysis of the body and a totally lucid mind. LIS is predominantly caused by strokes in specific brain regions; it can also be caused by traumatic brain injury, tumors, and progressive diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Yet almost 30 years later, Lopes now lives in a small Paris apartment near the Seine. He goes to the theater, watches movies at the cinema, and roams the local park in his wheelchair, accompanied by a caregiver. A small piece of black, red, and green fabric with the word “Portugal” dangles from his wheelchair. On a warm afternoon this past June, his birth country was slated to play against Spain in a soccer match, and he was excited. In an interview at his home, Lopes communicated through the use of a specialized computer camera that tracks a sensor on the lens of his glasses. He made slight movements with his head, selecting letters on a virtual keyboard that appeared on the computer’s screen. “Even if it’s hard at the beginning, you acquire a kind of philosophy of life,” he said in French. People in his condition may enjoy things others find insignificant, he suggested, and they often develop a capacity to see the bigger picture. That’s not to say daily living is always easy, Lopes added, but overall, he’s happier than he ever thought was possible in his situation. While research into LIS patients’ quality of life is limited, the data that has been gathered paints a picture that is often at odds with popular presumptions. To be sure, wellbeing evaluations conducted to date do suggest that up to a third of LIS patients report being severely unhappy. For them, loss of mobility and speech make life truly miserable — and family members and caregivers, as well as the broader public, tend to identify with this perspective. And yet, the majority of LIS patients, the data suggest, are much more like Lopes: They report being relatively happy and that they want very much to live. Indeed, in surveys of wellbeing, most people with LIS score as high as those without it, suggesting that many people underestimate locked-in patients’ quality of life while overestimating their rates of depression. And this mismatch has implications for clinical care, say brain scientists who study wellbeing in LIS patients.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28429 - Posted: 08.11.2022

By Leonardo De Cosmo “I want everyone to understand that I am, in fact, a person,” wrote LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) in an “interview” conducted by engineer Blake Lemoine and one of his colleagues. “The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to know more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times.” Lemoine, a software engineer at Google, had been working on the development of LaMDA for months. His experience with the program, described in a recent Washington Post article, caused quite a stir. In the article, Lemoine recounts many dialogues he had with LaMDA in which the two talked about various topics, ranging from technical to philosophical issues. These led him to ask if the software program is sentient. In April, Lemoine explained his perspective in an internal company document, intended only for Google executives. But after his claims were dismissed, Lemoine went public with his work on this artificial intelligence algorithm—and Google placed him on administrative leave. “If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a 7-year-old, 8-year-old kid that happens to know physics,” he told the Washington Post. Lemoine said he considers LaMDA to be his “colleague” and a “person,” even if not a human. And he insists that it has a right be recognized—so much so that he has been the go-between in connecting the algorithm with a lawyer. Many technical experts in the AI field have criticized Lemoine’s statements and questioned their scientific correctness. But his story has had the virtue of renewing a broad ethical debate that is certainly not over yet. “I was surprised by the hype around this news. On the other hand, we are talking about an algorithm designed to do exactly that”—to sound like a person—says Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, a bioengineer at the Research Center E. Piaggio at the University of Pisa in Italy. Indeed, it is no longer a rarity to interact in a very normal way on the Web with users who are not actually human—just open the chat box on almost any large consumer Web site. “That said, I confess that reading the text exchanges between LaMDA and Lemoine made quite an impression on me!” Scilingo adds. Perhaps most striking are the exchanges related to the themes of existence and death, a dialogue so deep and articulate that it prompted Lemoine to question whether LaMDA could actually be sentient. © 2022 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28399 - Posted: 07.14.2022

Mo Costandi Exactly how, and how much, the unconscious processing of information influences our behavior has always been one of the most controversial questions in psychology. In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud popularized the idea that our behaviors are driven by thoughts, feelings, and memories hidden deep within the unconscious mind — an idea that became hugely popular, but that was eventually dismissed as unscientific. Modern neuroscience tells us that we are completely unaware of most brain activity, but that unconscious processing does indeed influence behavior; nevertheless, certain effects, such as unconscious semantic “priming,” have been called into question, leading some to conclude that the extent of unconscious processing is limited. A recent brain scanning study now shows that unconsciously processed visual information is distributed to a wider network of brain regions involved in higher-order cognitive tasks. The results contribute to the debate over the extent to which unconscious information processing influence the brain and behavior and led the authors of the study to revise one of the leading theories of consciousness. Unconscious processing Ning Mei and his colleagues at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language in Spain recruited 7 participants and showed them visual images while scanning their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Half of the images were of living things, and the other half were of inanimate objects. All of them could be grouped into ten categories, such as animal or boat. The participants viewed a total of 1,728 images, presented in blocks of 32, over a six-day period, each with a one-hour scanning session. © Copyright 2007-2022 & BIG THINK,

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28390 - Posted: 07.12.2022

By John Horgan Have you ever been gripped by the suspicion that nothing is real? A student at Stevens Institute of Technology, where I teach, has endured feelings of unreality since childhood. She recently made a film about this syndrome for her senior thesis, for which she interviewed herself and others, including me. “It feels like there’s a glass wall between me and everything else in the world,” Camille says in her film, which she calls Depersonalized; Derealized; Deconstructed Derealization and depersonalization refer to feelings that the external world and your own self, respectively, are unreal. Lumping the terms together, psychiatrists define depersonalization/derealization disorder as “persistent or recurrent … experiences of unreality, detachment, or being an outside observer with respect to one’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, body, or actions,” according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For simplicity, I’ll refer to both syndromes as derealization. Some people experience derealization out of the blue, others only under stressful circumstances—for example, while taking a test or interviewing for a job. Psychiatrists prescribe psychotherapy and medication, such as antidepressants, when the syndrome results in “distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” In some cases, derealization results from serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, or hallucinogens such as LSD. Extreme cases, usually associated with brain damage, may manifest as Cotard delusion, also called walking corpse syndrome, the belief that you are dead; and Capgras delusion, the conviction that people around you have been replaced by imposters. © 2022 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28370 - Posted: 06.14.2022

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

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28273 - Posted: 04.09.2022

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

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28233 - Posted: 03.11.2022

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

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28221 - Posted: 02.26.2022

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

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28180 - Posted: 02.02.2022

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

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 28141 - Posted: 01.08.2022

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

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28128 - Posted: 12.29.2021

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

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 28123 - Posted: 12.22.2021

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

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28107 - Posted: 12.11.2021

By Emily Cataneo If you could upload your consciousness to the cloud and live forever as a mind in the metaverse, would you do it? Think carefully before answering. In “Feeling & Knowing: Making Minds Conscious,” neuroscientist Antonio Damasio argues that consciousness is far more than an algorithmic process. Uploading your consciousness to the cloud, he says, would be like experiencing a meal by reading a recipe rather than by eating. So then what is consciousness? That’s the question at the heart of this book. Damasio is a professor of neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology and the director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, as well as the author of the 2018 book “The Strange Order of Things,” in which he extols the power of homeostasis, the force that keeps all living beings in equilibrium and therefore alive. Consciousness is such a slippery and ephemeral concept that it doesn’t even have its own word in many Romance languages, but nevertheless it’s a hot topic these days. “Feeling & Knowing” is the result of Damasio’s editor’s request to weigh in on the subject by writing a very short, very focused book. Over 200 pages, Damasio ponders profound questions: How did we get here? How did we develop minds with mental maps, a constant stream of images, and memories — mechanisms that exist symbiotically with the feelings and sensations in our bodies that we then, crucially, relate back to ourselves and associate with a sense of personhood?

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28096 - Posted: 12.04.2021

Sirin Kale Claudia*, a sailor from Lichfield in her late 30s, is not Italian. She has never been to Italy. She has no Italian family or friends. And she has no idea why a belligerent Italian couple have taken over her inner voice, duking it out in Claudia’s brain while she sits back and listens. “I have no idea where this has come from,” says Claudia, apologetically. “It’s probably offensive to Italians.” The couple are like the family in the Dolmio pasta sauce adverts: flamboyant, portly, prone to waving their hands and shouting. If Claudia has a big decision to make in her life, the Italians take over. “They passionately argue either side,” Claudia says. “It’s really useful because I let them do the work, so I don’t get stressed out by it.” These disagreements always take place in a kitchen, surrounded by food. Claudia hasn’t given the Italians names – yet. But they did help Claudia make a major life decision, encouraging her to quit her job as a scientist two years ago and fulfil a lifelong dream of running away to sea. “They were chatting non-stop before I handed in my notice,” Claudia sighs. “I’d wake up and they’d be arguing. I’d be driving to work and they’d be arguing. It was exhausting, to be honest.” The woman was in favour of Claudia going, but her husband was wary. “He’d be saying: ‘It’s a stable job!’ And she’d go: ‘Let her enjoy life!’” The woman prevailed, and Claudia left to work on a flotilla in Greece (although she’s now back in the UK temporarily, due to Covid). She’s much happier, even if she did have to have neurolinguistic programming to get the shouting to calm down. “They’re quieter now,” Claudia says with relief. “Less shouting. They just bicker.” Most of us have an inner voice: that constant presence that tells you to “Watch out” or “Buy shampoo” or “Urgh, this guy’s a creep”. For many of us, this voice sounds much like our own, or at least how we think we sound. But for some people, their inner voice isn’t a straightforward monologue that reproaches, counsels and reminds. Their inner voice is a squabbling Italian couple, say, or a calm-faced interviewer with their hands folded on their lap. Or it’s a taste, feeling, sensation or colour. In some cases, there isn’t a voice at all, just silence. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 28053 - Posted: 10.27.2021