Links for Keyword: Consciousness

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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

By John Horgan It is the central mystery of existence, the one toward which all other mysteries converge. Schopenhauer called it the world knot (hence the image above). Descartes often gets credit for posing it first, but Socrates pondered it millennia earlier, as did Buddha and other Eastern sages. I’m talking about the mind-body problem, which encompasses the riddles of consciousness, the self, free will, morality, the meaning of life. Modern scientists and philosophers often make the mind-body problem seem hopelessly esoteric, a topic only for experts. Hard-core materialists insist it is a pseudo-problem, which vanishes once you jettison archaic concepts like “the self” and “free will.” Actually, the mind-body problem is quite real, simple and urgent. You face it whenever you wonder who you really are. Long before I heard of it, I was obsessed with the mind-body problem. I touch on it, directly or indirectly, in my previous four books, even The End of War, the epilogue of which is called “In Defense of Free Will.” Writing hasn’t been cathartic. The more I write about the mind-body problem, the more it grips me. In 2015, after attending a workshop on a weird new theory of consciousness, I started looking at the mind-problem in a new way. Our responses to the mind-body problem will always be emotional as well as rational, a matter of taste as much as truth. We can’t escape our subjectivity when we try to solve the riddle of ourselves. So I conjectured. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25457 - Posted: 09.17.2018

By Abraham Loeb Scientific discoveries substantiate our awe when faced with the richness and universality of the laws of nature. But science falls short of explaining this natural order and why it exists in the first place. This is where philosophy comes to the rescue. Science seeks to understand how the universe works, just as we might try to figure out the mechanics of a sophisticated engine. Philosophy, by contrast, addresses questions that transcend the functionality of nature, as we might pursue the complementary task of figuring out why the engine is constructed in a particular way. As a scientist, I am surprised at the degree of organization the universe exhibits; the same laws that govern its earliest moments—something we know from observations of the most distant galaxies and most ancient radiation—also preside over what we find today in laboratories on Earth. This should not be taken for granted. We could have witnessed a fragmented reality, one in which different regions of spacetime obey different sets of laws or even behave chaotically with no rational explanation. By studying the physical constituents of an engine, one acquires a better understanding of how it works but not necessarily the purpose for its existence. Metaphysical thinking can supplement science in territories not accessible to empirical inquiry. Within these domains, philosophy can build on scientific knowledge rather than yield to it. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25447 - Posted: 09.13.2018

By Anouk Bercht, Steven Laureys Steven Laureys greets me with a smile as I enter his office overlooking the hills of Lige. Although his phone rings constantly, he takes the time to talk to me about the fine points of what consciousness is and how to identify it in patients who seem to lack it. Doctors from all over Europe send their apparently unconscious patients to Laureys—a clinician and researcher at the University of Lige—for comprehensive testing. To provide proper care, physicians and family members need to know whether patients have some degree of awareness. At the same time, these patients add to Laureys’ understanding. The interview has been edited for clarity. What is consciousness? It is difficult enough to define “life,” even more so to define “conscious” life. There is no single definition. But of course, in clinical practice we need unambiguous criteria. In that setting, everyone needs to know what we mean by an “unconscious” patient. Consciousness is not “all or nothing.” We can be more or less awake, more or less conscious. Consciousness is often underestimated; much more is going on in the brains of newborns, animals and coma patients than we think. So how is it possible to study something as complex as consciousness? There are a number of ways to go about it, and the technology we have at our disposal is crucial in this regard. For example, without brain scanners we would know much, much less than we now do. We study the damaged brains of people who have at least partially lost consciousness. We examine what happens during deep sleep, when people temporarily lose consciousness. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25375 - Posted: 08.24.2018

By Matt Neal Sir John Eccles is an icon of Australian science, but an attempt in later life to mix religion and science made him an outsider in the scientific community as it won him fans in the Catholic Church. In 1963, along with British biophysicists Sir Alan Hodgkin and Sir Andrew Huxley, he won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their groundbreaking work on synapses and the electrical properties of neurons. How Sir John revolutionised neuroscience: He shared the 1963 Nobel Prize for Physiology Or Medicine with Alan Lloyd Hodgkin and Andrew Fielding Huxley "for their discoveries concerning the ionic mechanisms involved in excitation and inhibition in the peripheral and central portions of the nerve cell membrane" Eccles' work showed that the transmission of information and impulses between neurons in the brain was both electrical and chemical in nature His experiments paved the way for treatments of nervous diseases as well as further research into the brain, heart and kidneys That same year, Eccles was named Australian of the Year. But, as University of Sydney Honorary Associate Professor John Carmody once wrote: "the nation appears to have forgotten [Eccles despite the fact] modern neuroscience is forever in his debt". Part of the reason for the decline in his regard could stem from his latter-career work, in which he controversially attempted to marry his scientific prowess with his religious beliefs, and went in search of the soul. © 2018 ABC

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25327 - Posted: 08.14.2018

By Susan Schneider As you read this, it feels like something to be you. You are seeing these words on the page and hearing the world around you, for instance. And all these thoughts and sensations come together into your conscious “now.” Consciousness is this felt quality of experience. Without consciousness, there would be no enjoyment of a beautiful sunset. Nor would there be suffering. Experience, positive or negative, simply wouldn’t exist. At the heart of current theorizing about consciousness in philosophy is the hard problem of consciousness, a puzzle raised by the philosopher David Chalmers. (See his Scientific American article “The Puzzle of Conscious Experience.”) Cognitive science says that the brain is an information processing engine. The hard problem asks: but why does all this sophisticated information processing need to feel like anything, from the inside? Why do we have experience? One influential approach to the problem, endorsed by Chalmers himself, is panpsychism. Panpsychism holds that even the smallest layers of reality have experience. Fundamental particles have minute levels of consciousness, and in a watered-down sense, they are subjects of experience. When particles are in extremely sophisticated configurations, such as when they are in nervous systems, more sophisticated forms of consciousness arise. Panpsychism aims to locate the building blocks of reality in the most basic layer of reality identified by a completed physics. Indeed, panpsychists claim that it is a virtue of their theory that it meshes with fundamental physics, for experience is the underlying nature of the properties that physics identifies. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25297 - Posted: 08.06.2018

By Michael Shermer In 1967 British biologist and Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar famously characterized science as, in book title form, The Art of the Soluble. “Good scientists study the most important problems they think they can solve. It is, after all, their professional business to solve problems, not merely to grapple with them,” he wrote. For millennia, the greatest minds of our species have grappled to gain purchase on the vertiginous ontological cliffs of three great mysteries—consciousness, free will and God—without ascending anywhere near the thin air of their peaks. Unlike other inscrutable problems, such as the structure of the atom, the molecular basis of replication and the causes of human violence, which have witnessed stunning advancements of enlightenment, these three seem to recede ever further away from understanding, even as we race ever faster to catch them in our scientific nets. Are these “hard” problems, as philosopher David Chalmers characterized consciousness, or are they truly insoluble “mysterian” problems, as philosopher Owen Flanagan designated them (inspired by the 1960s rock group Question Mark and the Mysterians)? The “old mysterians” were dualists who believed in nonmaterial properties, such as the soul, that cannot be explained by natural processes. The “new mysterians,” Flanagan says, contend that consciousness can never be explained because of the limitations of human cognition. I contend that not only consciousness but also free will and God are mysterian problems—not because we are not yet smart enough to solve them but because they can never be solved, not even in principle, relating to how the concepts are conceived in language. Call those of us in this camp the “final mysterians.” © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25167 - Posted: 07.02.2018

By Christof Koch Consciousness is everything you experience. It is the tune stuck in your head, the sweetness of chocolate mousse, the throbbing pain of a toothache, the fierce love for your child and the bitter knowledge that eventually all feelings will end. The origin and nature of these experiences, sometimes referred to as qualia, have been a mystery from the earliest days of antiquity right up to the present. Many modern analytic philosophers of mind, most prominently perhaps Daniel Dennett of Tufts University, find the existence of consciousness such an intolerable affront to what they believe should be a meaningless universe of matter and the void that they declare it to be an illusion. That is, they either deny that qualia exist or argue that they can never be meaningfully studied by science. If that assertion was true, this essay would be very short. All I would need to explain is why you, I and most everybody else is so convinced that we have feelings at all. If I have a tooth abscess, however, a sophisticated argument to persuade me that my pain is delusional will not lessen its torment one iota. As I have very little sympathy for this desperate solution to the mind-body problem, I shall move on. The majority of scholars accept consciousness as a given and seek to understand its relationship to the objective world described by science. More than a quarter of a century ago Francis Crick and I decided to set aside philosophical discussions on consciousness (which have engaged scholars since at least the time of Aristotle) and instead search for its physical footprints. What is it about a highly excitable piece of brain matter that gives rise to consciousness? Once we can understand that, we hope to get closer to solving the more fundamental problem. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25012 - Posted: 05.23.2018

By Tanya Lewis Every few seconds a wave of electrical activity travels through the brain, like a large swell moving through the ocean. Scientists first detected these ultraslow undulations decades ago in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of people and other animals at rest—but the phenomenon was thought to be either electrical “noise” or the sum of much faster brain signals and was largely ignored. Now a study that measured these “infraslow” (less than 0.1 hertz) brain waves in mice suggests they are a distinct type of brain activity that depends on an animal’s conscious state. But big questions remain about these waves’ origin and function. An fMRI scan detects changes in blood flow that are assumed to be linked to neural activity. “When you put someone in a scanner, if you just look at the signal when you don’t ask the subject to do anything, it looks pretty noisy,” says Marcus Raichle, a professor of radiology and neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and senior author of the new study, published in April in Neuron. “All this resting-state activity brought to the forefront: What is this fMRI signal all about?” To find out what was going on in the brain, Raichle’s team employed a combination of calcium/hemoglobin imaging, which uses fluorescent molecules to detect the activity of neurons at the cellular level, and electrophysiology, which can record signals from cells in different brain layers. They performed both measurements in awake and anesthetized mice; the awake mice were resting in tiny hammocks in a dark room. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 25011 - Posted: 05.23.2018

Emine Saner On any given day in Cambridge, you may see numerous people jogging along the towpaths, and it’s not unreasonable to assume neuroscientists may be over-represented. “You see so many,” says Hannah Critchlow, a neuroscientist who likes to jog along the river. Physical fitness may be a secondary consideration, she says; what they are really trying to do is ramp up their neurogenesis – the birth of new nerve cells in the brain. “People used to think that once you were born, that was it, that was all the nerve cells you have throughout life,” she says. “Then, 20 years ago, Rusty Gage [a professor at the Salk Institute in California] discovered that you get neurogenesis in adults, in a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory. It turns out that jogging is really good at increasing neurogenesis in the brain.” And so, Critchlow says with a laugh, she likes to run. “I go: ‘This is wonderful, my neurogenesis is really happy with me at the moment.’” We are sitting in her study at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where Critchlow is outreach fellow, tasked with public engagement. Once described by the Telegraph as “a sort of female Brian Cox”, she has given numerous talks, been a presenter on Tomorrow’s World Live, the interactive version of the BBC science show, appeared on TV, radio and podcasts and was named as a top 100 scientist for her work in science communication. She has just written a book on consciousness – part of the Ladybird Expert series aimed at adults, a brief but mindbending introduction to the brain and the idea of consciousness, taking in philosophy, famous neuroscience breakthroughs and brain facts. © 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24999 - Posted: 05.19.2018

Adam Barrett Understanding the biology behind consciousness (or self-awareness) is considered by some to be the final frontier of science. And over the last decade, a fledgling community of “consciousness scientists” have gathered some interesting information about the differences between conscious and unconscious brain activity. But there remains disagreement about whether or not we have a theory that actually explains what is special about the brain activity which produces our miraculous inner worlds. Recently, “Integrated Information Theory” has been gaining attention – and the backing of some eminent neuroscientists. It says that absolutely every physical object has some (even if extremely low) level of consciousness. Some backers of the theory claim to have a mathematical formula that can measure the consciousness of anything – even your iPhone. These big claims are controversial and are (unfortunately) undermining the great potential for progress that could come from following some of the ideas behind the theory. Integrated Information Theory starts from two basic observations about the nature of our conscious experiences as humans. First, that each experience we have is just one of a vast number of possible experiences we could have. Second, that multiple different components (colours, textures, foreground, background) are all experienced together, simultaneously. © 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: 24972 - Posted: 05.13.2018

By John Horgan Which is more fundamental, mind or matter? You would think, in our ultra-materialistic era, that debate would be settled. But a surprising number of philosophers and scientists still resist the idea that mind is a mere afterthought of matter. One is Bernardo Kastrup, a computer engineer and author of several books, including Why Materialism Is Baloney. In “Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?”, recently posted by Scientific American, Kastrup contends that quantum mechanics—as well as cognitive science, which suggests that minds construct rather than passively mirroring reality--undermines the assumption that the physical world exists independently of our observations. He calls for a new paradigm that makes mind “the essence—cognitively but also physically—of what we perceive when we look at the world around ourselves.” On Twitter, physicist Sean Carroll slammed Kastrup’s “bad article on quantum mechanics,” and science journalist Michael Moyer called it “voodoo.” That’s a bit harsh. Kastrup’s interpretation of quantum mechanics reminds me of that of the great physicist John Wheeler. Decades ago, Wheeler pointed out deep resonances between quantum mechanics and information theory. An electron behaves like a particle or a wave depending on how we interrogate it. Information theory, similarly, posits that all messages can be reduced to “binary units,” or bits, which are answers to yes or no questions. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24949 - Posted: 05.07.2018

By Rachel Aviv Before having her tonsils removed, Jahi McMath, a thirteen-year-old African-American girl from Oakland, California, asked her doctor, Frederick Rosen, about his credentials. “How many times have you done this surgery?” Hundreds of times, Rosen said. “Did you get enough sleep last night?” He’d slept fine, he responded. Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, encouraged Jahi to keep asking questions. “It’s your body,” she said. “Feel free to ask that man whatever you want.” Jahi had begged not to get the surgery, but her mother promised that it would give her a better life. Jahi had sleep apnea, which left her increasingly fatigued and unable to focus at school. She snored so loudly that she was too embarrassed to go to slumber parties. Nailah had brought up four children on her own, and Jahi, her second, was her most cautious. When she saw news on television about wars in other countries, she would quietly ask, “Is it going to come here?” Her classmates made fun of her for being “chunky,” and she absorbed the insults without protest. A few times, Nailah went to the school and asked the teachers to control the other students. The operation, at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital, took four hours. When Jahi awoke, at around 7 p.m. on December 9, 2013, the nurses gave her a grape Popsicle to soothe her throat. About an hour later, Jahi began spitting up blood. The nurses told her not to worry and gave her a plastic basin to catch it in. A nurse wrote in her medical records that she encouraged Jahi to “relax and not cough if possible.” By nine that night, the bandages packing Jahi’s nose had become bloody, too. Nailah’s husband, Marvin, a truck driver, repeatedly demanded that a doctor help them. A nurse told him that only one family member was allowed in the room at a time. He agreed to leave. © 2018 Condé Nast.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 24827 - Posted: 04.06.2018

Laura Y. Cabrera Mr. B loves Johnny Cash, except when he doesn’t. Mr. X has watched his doctors morph into Italian chefs right before his eyes. The link between the two? Both Mr. B and Mr. X received deep brain stimulation (DBS), a procedure involving an implant that sends electric impulses to specific targets in the brain to alter neural activity. While brain implants aim to treat neural dysfunction, cases like these demonstrate that they may influence an individual’s perception of the world and behavior in undesired ways. Mr. B received DBS as treatment for his severe obsessive compulsive disorder. He’d never been a music lover until, under DBS, he developed a distinct and entirely new music preference for Johnny Cash. When the device was turned off, the preference disappeared. Mr. X, an epilepsy patient, received DBS as part of an investigation to locate the origin of his seizures. During DBS, he hallucinated that doctors became chefs with aprons before the stimulation ended and the scene faded. In both of these real-world cases, DBS clearly triggered the changed perception. And that introduces a host of thorny questions. As neurotechnologies like this become more common, the behaviors of people with DBS and other kinds of brain implants might challenge current societal views on responsibility. Lawyers, philosophers and ethicists have labored to define the conditions under which individuals are to be judged legally and morally responsible for their actions. The brain is generally regarded as the center of control, rational thinking and emotion – it orchestrates people’s actions and behaviors. As such, the brain is key to agency, autonomy and responsibility. © 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: 24822 - Posted: 04.04.2018

Sue Blackmore Are you longing for your brain and all its memories to be preserved for ever? That once fanciful idea seems creepily closer now that a complete pig’s brain has been successfully treated, frozen, rewarmed and found to have its neural connections still intact. This achievement, by the cryobiology research company 21st Century Medicine (21CM), has just won the final phase of the Brain Preservation Foundation’s prize – a prize that demanded all of a brain’s synaptic connections be preserved in a way that allowed for centuries-long storage of the entire information content of a whole large mammal’s brain. They used a pig’s brain, which was perfused with lethal glutaraldehyde before being frozen at –135C, a method called aldehyde-stabilised cryopreservation (ASC). This process kills any chance of the brain being brought to life again, but they won because when the treated brain was warmed up again its connectome – the brain’s wiring diagram – was amazingly well preserved. In fact it was so well preserved that even the fine ultrastructural details of dendritic spine synapses could still be seen with a 3D electron microscope. This means potentially 150 trillion connections, all of which may be implicated in storing memory. A human brain treated this way could never be brought back to life. Yet all its preserved information could potentially be uploaded into an artificial or virtual body indistinguishable from the previously living one – like “uploading a person’s mind” after a long wait. Would this then be “you”? © 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24753 - Posted: 03.15.2018

By Dina Fine Maron After Richard Hodges pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and residential burglary, he appeared somewhat dazed and kept asking questions that had nothing to do with the plea process. That’s when the judge ordered that Hodges undergo a neuropsychological examination and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) testing. Yet no irregularities turned up. Hodges, experts concluded, was faking it. His guilty plea would stand. But experts looking back at the 2007 case now say Hodges was part of a burgeoning trend: Criminal defense strategies are increasingly relying on neurological evidence—psychological evaluations, behavioral tests or brain scans—to potentially mitigate punishment. Defendants may cite earlier head traumas or brain disorders as underlying reasons for their behavior, hoping this will be factored into a court’s decisions. Such defenses have been employed for decades, mostly in death penalty cases. But as science has evolved in recent years, the practice has become more common in criminal cases ranging from drug offenses to robberies. Advertisement “The number of cases in which people try to introduce neurotechnological evidence in the trial or sentencing phase has gone up by leaps and bounds,” says Joshua Sanes, director of the Center for Brain Science at Harvard University. But such attempts may be outpacing the scientific evidence behind the technology, he adds. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24720 - Posted: 03.05.2018

Lauren Smith As a shark biologist, I enjoy nothing more than going scuba diving with sharks in the wild. However, I realise it’s an immense privilege to do this as part of my work – and that for the vast majority of people experiencing the underwater world in such a way is simply not possible. Nevertheless, even without the aid of an air tank humans interact with fish on many levels and in greater numbers than they do with mammals and birds. A review published by the journal Animal Cognition in 2014 by Culum Brown, an associate professor at Macquarie University, Sydney, explains that fish are one of the vertebrate taxa most highly utilised by humans. But despite the fact that they are harvested from wild stocks as part of global fishing industries, grown under intensive aquaculture conditions, are the most common pet and are widely used for scientific research, fish are seldom afforded the same level of compassion or welfare as warm-blooded vertebrates. As Brown highlights in his review, part of the problem is the large gap between people’s perception of fish intelligence and the scientific reality. This is an important issue because public perception guides government policy. The perception of an animal’s intelligence often drives our decision on whether or not to include them in our moral circle. From a welfare perspective, most researchers would suggest that if an animal is sentient, then it can most likely suffer and should therefore be offered some form of formal protection.

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: 24702 - Posted: 02.27.2018