Links for Keyword: Consciousness

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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

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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25807 - Posted: 12.21.2018

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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25801 - Posted: 12.20.2018

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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25794 - Posted: 12.17.2018

By Joshua Tan Recently, a blog by Tam Hunt was published at Scientific American which provocatively declared that “The Hippies Were Right: It’s All About Vibrations, Man.” Hunt’s claim is that consciousness emerges from resonant effects found in nature at a wide range of scales. This is reminiscent of arguments that have been made since the development of the science of thermodynamics more than two hundred years ago. In brief, very intriguing and surprising characteristics of complex systems have been discovered and rigorously defined with such tantalizing terms as “emergence,” “resonance” and “self-organization.” These kinds of features of the natural world are so amazing—even uncanny—that they have inspired wild speculation as to their possible implications. Are there deep connections between these phenomena and the more mysterious aspects of our existence such as life, consciousness, and intelligence? Might they even provide us with insight into possible answers to expansively fundamental questions like why there is something rather than nothing? Speculating on such mysteries is an understandable pastime. Diverse thinkers from physicists to philosophers, psychologists to theologians have written libraries worth of treatises attempting to shed light on the possible answers to these deep questions. Along the way, ideas inspired by scientific results have had varying degrees of success. Concepts such as animal magnetism, vitalism, synchronicity, and quantum mysticism all had their day in the Sun, only to end up debunked or dismissed by skeptics and scientists who either pointed out a lack of empirical data supporting the claims or showed that the ideas were incompatible with what we have discovered about the natural world. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25779 - Posted: 12.12.2018

By Tam Hunt Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A bat? A cockroach? A bacterium? An electron? These questions are all aspects of the ancient “mind-body problem,” which has resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years. The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades and is generally known now as the “hard problem” of consciousness (usually capitalized nowadays), after the New York University philosopher David Chalmers coined this term in a now classic 1995 paper and his 1996 book The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. Fast forward to the present era and we can ask ourselves now: Did the hippies actually solve this problem? My colleague Jonathan Schooler (University of California, Santa Barbara) and I think they effectively did, with the radical intuition that it’s all about vibrations … man. Over the past decade, we have developed a “resonance theory of consciousness” that suggests that resonance—another word for synchronized vibrations—is at the heart of not only human consciousness but of physical reality more generally. So how were the hippies right? Well, we agree that vibrations, resonance, are the key mechanism behind human consciousness, as well as animal consciousness more generally. And, as I’ll discuss below, that they are the basic mechanism for all physical interactions to occur. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25751 - Posted: 12.06.2018

Abby Olena In 2005, a 23-year-old woman in the UK was involved in a traffic accident that left her with a severe brain injury. Five months after the event, she slept and woke and could open her eyes, but she didn’t always respond to smells or touch or track things visually. In other words, she fit the clinical criteria for being in a vegetative state. In a study published in Science in 2006, a team of researchers tested her ability to imagine herself playing tennis or walking through her house while they observed activity in her brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Remarkably, her brain responded with activity in the same areas of the brains of healthy people when asked to do the same, indicating that she was capable of complex cognition, despite her apparent unresponsiveness at the bedside. The findings indicated that this patient and others like her may have hidden cognitive abilities that, if found, could potentially help them communicate or improve their prognosis. Since then, researchers and clinicians around the world have used task-based neuroimaging to determine that other patients who appear unresponsive or minimally conscious can do challenging cognitive tasks. The problem is that the tests to uncover hidden consciousness can be complex to analyze, expensive to perform, and hard for all patients to access. “You would like to know if people who look like they’re unconscious are actually following what’s going on and able to carry out cognitive work, and we don’t have an efficient way of sorting those patients,” says Nicholas Schiff, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. © 1986 - 2018 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: 25725 - Posted: 11.27.2018

By Bahar Gholipour When Ryan Darby was a neurology resident, he was familiar with something called alien limb syndrome, but that did not make his patients’ behavior any less puzzling. Individuals with this condition report that one of their extremities—often a hand—seems to act of its own volition. It might touch and grab things or even unbutton a shirt the other hand is buttoning up. Patients are unable to control the rebellious hand short of grabbing or even sitting on it. They seem to have lost agency—that unmistakable feeling of ownership of one’s actions and an important component of free will. “It was one of those symptoms that really questioned the mind and how it brings about some of those bigger concepts,” says Darby, now an assistant professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University. Alien limb syndrome can arise after a stroke causes a lesion in the brain. But even though patients who have it report the same eccentric symptoms, their lesions do not occur in the same place. “Could the reason be that the lesions were just in different parts of the same brain network?” Darby wondered. To find out, he and his colleagues compiled findings from brain-imaging studies of people with the syndrome. They also looked into akinetic mutism—a condition that leaves patients with no desire to move or speak, despite having no physical impediment. Using a new technique, the researchers compared lesion locations against a template of brain networks—that is, groups of regions that often activate in tandem. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25724 - Posted: 11.27.2018

By Scott Barry Kaufman "We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness." -- Albert Einstein "In our quest for happiness and the avoidance of suffering, we are all fundamentally the same, and therefore equal. Despite the characteristics that differentiate us - race, language, religion, gender, wealth and many others - we are all equal in terms of our basic humanity." -- Dalai Lama (on twitter) The belief that everything in the universe is part of the same fundamental whole exists throughout many cultures and philosophical, religious, spiritual, and scientific traditions, as captured by the phrase 'all that is.' The Nobel winner Erwin Schrodinger once observed that quantum physics is compatible with the notion that there is indeed a basic oneness of the universe. Therefore, despite it seeming as though the world is full of many divisions, many people throughout the course of human history and even today truly believe that individual things are part of some fundamental entity. Despite the prevalence of this belief, there has been a lack of a well validated measure in psychology that captures this belief. While certain measures of spirituality do exist, the belief in oneness questions are typically combined with other questions that assess other aspects of spirituality, such as meaning, purpose, sacredness, or having a relationship with God. What happens when we secularize the belief in oneness? © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25701 - Posted: 11.19.2018

By John Horgan Don't Make Me One with Everything The mystical doctrine of oneness is metaphysically disturbing, and it can foster authoritarian behavior and encourage an unhealthy detachment. Credit: Mark D Callanan Getty Images A recurring claim of sages east and west is that reality, which seems to consist of many things that keep changing, is actually one thing that never changes. This is the mystical doctrine of oneness. Enlightenment supposedly consists of realizing your oneness with reality, hence the old joke: What did the Buddhist say to the hotdog vendor? Make me one with everything. A column by my fellow Scientific American blogger, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, touts the oneness doctrine. “The belief that everything in the universe is part of the same fundamental whole exists throughout many cultures and philosophical, religious, spiritual, and scientific traditions,” Kaufman writes. His column considers, as his headline puts it, “What Would Happen If Everyone Truly Believed Everything Is One?" Kaufman notes that psychologists Kate Diebels and Mark Leary have explored this question. They define oneness, among other ways, as the idea that “beneath surface appearances, everything is one,” and “the separation among individual things is an illusion.” Diebels and Leary found that 20 percent of their respondents have thought about oneness “often or many times,” and many report having spiritual experiences related to oneness. Diebels and Leary state that “a belief in oneness was related to values indicating a universal concern for the welfare of other people, as well as greater compassion for other people.” Believers “have a more inclusive identity that reflects their sense of connection with other people, nonhuman animals, and aspects of nature.” © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25700 - Posted: 11.19.2018

Tam Hunt Why is my awareness here, while yours is over there? Why is the universe split in two for each of us, into a subject and an infinity of objects? How is each of us our own center of experience, receiving information about the rest of the world out there? Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A gnat? A bacterium? These questions are all aspects of the ancient “mind-body problem,” which asks, essentially: What is the relationship between mind and matter? It’s resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years. The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades. Now it’s generally known as the “hard problem” of consciousness, after philosopher David Chalmers coined this term in a now classic paper and further explored it in his 1996 book, “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.” Chalmers thought the mind-body problem should be called “hard” in comparison to what, with tongue in cheek, he called the “easy” problems of neuroscience: How do neurons and the brain work at the physical level? Of course they’re not actually easy at all. But his point was that they’re relatively easy compared to the truly difficult problem of explaining how consciousness relates to matter. Over the last decade, my colleague, University of California, Santa Barbara psychology professor Jonathan Schooler and I have developed what we call a “resonance theory of consciousness.” We suggest that resonance – another word for synchronized vibrations – is at the heart of not only human consciousness but also animal consciousness and of physical reality more generally. It sounds like something the hippies might have dreamed up – it’s all vibrations, man! – but stick with me. How do things in nature – like flashing fireflies – spontaneously synchronize? © 2010–2018, 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: 25665 - Posted: 11.10.2018

By Anil Seth, Michael Schartner, Enzo Tagliazucchi, Suresh Muthukumaraswamy, Robin Carhart-Harris, Adam Barrett It’s not easy to strike the right balance when taking new scientific findings to a wider audience. In a recent opinion piece, Bernard Kastrup and Edward F. Kelly point out that media reporting can fuel misleading interpretations through oversimplification, sometimes abetted by the scientists themselves. Media misinterpretations can be particularly contagious for research areas likely to pique public interest—such as the exciting new investigations of the brain basis of altered conscious experience induced by psychedelic drugs. Unfortunately, Kastrup and Kelly fall foul of their own critique by misconstruing and oversimplifying the details of the studies they discuss. This leads them towards an anti-materialistic view of consciousness that has nothing to do with the details of the experimental studies—ours or others. Take, for example, their discussion of our recent study reporting increased neuronal “signal diversity” in the psychedelic state. In this study, we used “Lempel-Ziv” complexity—a standard algorithm used to compress data files—to measure the diversity of brain signals recorded using magnetoencephalography (MEG). Diversity in this sense is related to, though not entirely equivalent to, “randomness.” The data showed widespread increased neuronal signal diversity for three different psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin and ketamine), when compared to a placebo baseline. This was a striking result since previous studies using this measure had only reported reductions in signal diversity, in global states generally thought to mark “decreases” in consciousness, such as (non-REM) sleep and anesthesia. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25617 - Posted: 10.26.2018

By Todd E. Feinberg, Jon Mallatt Consciousness seems mysterious. By this we mean that while life in general can be explained by physics, chemistry and biology, it seems that whenever one tries to explain the relationship between the brain and the subjective events that are experienced as feelings—what philosophers often refer to as “qualia”—something appears to be “left out” of the explanation. This apparent divide between the brain and subjective experience is what philosopher Joseph Levine famously called this the “explanatory gap,” and how to bridge that gap is what philosopher David Chalmers called the term “hard problem of consciousness.” We study primary consciousness, the most basic type of sensory experience. This is the ability to have any experience or feeling at all, what philosopher Thomas Nagel called “something it is like to be” in his famous 1974 paper “What is it like to be a bat?” Over the last few years, we have tried to “demystify” primary consciousness by combining neural and philosophical aspects of the problem into a unified view of how feelings are created in a naturally biological way. Our analysis leads us to the view that the puzzle of consciousness and the explanatory gap actually has two related aspects: an ontological aspect and an epistemic aspect and that both have a natural and scientific explanation. First, we consider the ontological aspect of the problem. This part of the puzzle entails what philosopher John Searle called the “ontological subjectivity” of consciousness. This is the idea that consciousness has a unique and fundamentally “first-person” ontology—or mode of being—in that feelings only exist when experienced by an animal subject. The implications of this view would be that no manner of objective scientific explanation, no matter how complete, would “explain away” the neurobiologically unique subjective feelings that are associated with certain brain states—in other words how things feel. The challenge here is to explain this unique aspect of feelings in a way that is consistent with an entirely scientific world view and do so without invoking any new or fundamentally “mysterious” physical principles. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25585 - Posted: 10.17.2018

By John Horgan I’m already getting pushback against my free online book Mind-Body Problems: Science, Subjectivity & Who We Really Are. Tom Clark knocks me for not giving more credit to straight-forward materialism, or naturalism, as he prefers to call it. Meanwhile, Deepak Chopra, while defending an anti-materialistic view, compares my pluralistic approach “to giving every player in a junior soccer match a trophy.” Good one, Deepak! See “Discussion” for these and other comments. It was precisely because people have divergent views of the mind-body problem that I decided to write a book about it. The mind-body problem is the knottiest of all mysteries. It encompasses puzzles such as consciousness (which David Chalmers calls “the hard problem”), free will, the self, morality and the meaning of life (which Owen Flanagan, a subject of my book, calls “the really hard problem”). Another way of posing the mind-body problem is simply by asking, Who are we, really? Sages as diverse as Buddha, Plato, Kant and Douglas Hofstadter (to whom I devote a chapter of Mind-Body Problems) have offered answers to this question. In the early 1990s, Francis Crick said that science had finally given us the tools to solve the problem once and for all. In his 1994 book The Astonishing Hypothesis, he spells out the implications of his ultra-materialistic creed “You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25543 - Posted: 10.08.2018

By Michael Price Alien limb syndrome isn’t as extraterrestrial as it sounds—but it’s still pretty freaky. Patients complain that one of their hands has gone “rogue,” reaching for things without their knowledge. “They sit on their hand trying to get it not to move,” says Ryan Darby, a neurologist and neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “They’re not crazy. They know there’s not something controlling their arm, that it’s not possessed. But they really feel like they don’t have control.” Now, a study analyzing the locations of brain lesions in these patients—and those who have akinetic mutism, in which people can scratch an itch and chew food placed into their mouths without being aware they’ve initiated these movements—are shedding light on how our brains know what’s going on with our bodies. The work shows how neuroscience is beginning to approach elements of the biological nature of free will. “I think it's really nice work, carefully done and thoughtfully presented,” says Kevin Mitchell, a neurogeneticist at Trinity College in Dublin who studies perception and who wasn’t involved in the study. Philosophers have wrestled with questions of free will—that is, whether we are active drivers or passive observers of our decisions—for millennia. Neuroscientists tap-dance around it, asking instead why most of us feel like we have free will. They do this by looking at rare cases in which people seem to have lost it. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 25520 - Posted: 10.02.2018

By John Horgan I just finished Tao Lin’s new book Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change, and I have some things to say about it. I’m a Lin fan. He first came to my attention in 2013 when he mailed me his novel Taipei, which mentions a trippy scene in The End of Science. Taipei is a lightly fictionalized memoir that details a young writer’s consumption of drugs, including uppers, downers, heroin, cannabis and a smattering of psychedelics, sometimes all in combination. Lin writes with a deadpan hyper-realism so acute that he makes other fiction and non-fiction seem phony. Even when he’s funny, Lin is bleak, but there’s something exhilarating about the precision with which he describes the world, other people, the swirl of his thoughts and emotions. He’s like a stoned American version of Norwegian memoirist/novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle. Lin also reminds me of Jack Kerouac, who in On the Road and Dharma Bums desperately chases epiphanies in an effort to escape his tormented self. Advertisement By the time I finished Taipei, I was worried about the author, who seems to be in a state of terminal despair. Lin was apparently worried too. Trip recounts how he pulls himself out of his “zombie-like and depressed” funk by immersing himself in the writings and online talks of psychedelic visionary Terence McKenna. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25513 - Posted: 10.01.2018