Links for Keyword: Consciousness

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By Gareth Cook One of science’s most challenging problems is a question that can be stated easily: Where does consciousness come from? In his new book Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, philosopher Philip Goff considers a radical perspective: What if consciousness is not something special that the brain does but is instead a quality inherent to all matter? It is a theory known as “panpsychism,” and Goff guides readers through the history of the idea, answers common objections (such as “That’s just crazy!”) and explains why he believes panpsychism represents the best path forward. He answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook. Can you explain, in simple terms, what you mean by panpsychism? In our standard view of things, consciousness exists only in the brains of highly evolved organisms, and hence consciousness exists only in a tiny part of the universe and only in very recent history. According to panpsychism, in contrast, consciousness pervades the universe and is a fundamental feature of it. This doesn’t mean that literally everything is conscious. The basic commitment is that the fundamental constituents of reality—perhaps electrons and quarks—have incredibly simple forms of experience. And the very complex experience of the human or animal brain is somehow derived from the experience of the brain’s most basic parts. It might be important to clarify what I mean by “consciousness,” as that word is actually quite ambiguous. Some people use it to mean something quite sophisticated, such as self-awareness or the capacity to reflect on one’s own existence. This is something we might be reluctant to ascribe to many nonhuman animals, never mind fundamental particles. But when I use the word consciousness, I simply mean experience: pleasure, pain, visual or auditory experience, et cetera. © 2020 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26959 - Posted: 01.15.2020

By Joseph Stern, M.D. The bullet hole in the teenager’s forehead was so small, it belied the damage already done to his brain. The injury was fatal. We knew this the moment he arrived in the emergency room. Days later, his body was being kept alive in the intensive care unit despite an exam showing that he was brain-dead and no blood was flowing to his brain. Eventually, all his organs failed and his heart stopped beating. But the nurses continued to care for the boy and his family, knowing he was already dead but trying to help the family members with the agonizing process of accepting his death. This scenario occurs all too frequently in the neurosurgical I.C.U. Doctors often delay the withdrawal of life-sustaining supports such as ventilators and IV drips, and nurses continue these treatments — adhering to protocols, yet feeling internal conflict. A lack of consensus or communication among doctors, nurses and families often makes these situations more difficult for all involved. Brain death is stark and final. When the patient’s brain function has ceased, bodily death inevitably follows, no matter what we do. Continued interventions, painful as they may be, are necessarily of limited duration. We can keep a brain-dead patient’s body alive for a few days at the most before his heart stops for good. Trickier and much more common is the middle ground of a neurologically devastating injury without brain death. Here, decisions can be more difficult, and electing to continue or to withdraw treatment much more problematic. Inconsistent communication and support between medical staff members and families plays a role. A new field, neuropalliative care, seeks to focus “on outcomes important to patients and families” and “to guide and support patients and families through complex choices involving immense uncertainty and intensely important outcomes of mind and body.” © 2020 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26958 - Posted: 01.14.2020

By John Horgan Last month I participated in a symposium hosted by the Center for Theory & Research at Esalen, a retreat center in Big Sur, California. Fifteen men and women representing physics, psychology and other fields attempted to make sense of mystical and paranormal experiences, which are generally ignored by conventional, materialist science. The organizers invited me because of my criticism of hard-core materialism and interest in mysticism, but in a recent column I pushed back against ideas advanced at the meeting. Below other attendees push back against me. My fellow speaker Bjorn Ekeberg, whose response is below, took the photos of Esalen, including the one of me beside a stream (I'm the guy on the right). -- John Horgan Jeffrey Kripal, philosopher of religion at Rice University and author, most recently, of The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge (see our online chats here and here): Thank you, John, for reporting on your week with us all. As one of the moderators of “Physics, Experience and Metaphysics,” let me try to reply, briefly (and too simplistically), to your various points. First, let me begin with something that was left out of your generous summary: the key role of the imagination in so many exceptional or anomalous experiences. As you yourself pointed out with respect to your own psychedelic opening, this is no ordinary or banal “imagination.” This is a kind of “super-imagination” that projects fantastic visionary displays that none of us could possibly come up with in ordinary states: this is a flying caped Superman to our bespectacled Clark Kent. None of this, of course, implies that anything seen in these super-imagined states is literally true (like astral travel or ghosts) or non-human, but it does tell us something important about why the near-death or psychedelic experiencers commonly report that these visionary events are “more real” than ordinary reality (which is also, please note, partially imagined, if our contemporary neuroscience of perception is correct). Put in terms of a common metaphor that goes back to Plato, the fictional movies on the screen can ALL be different and, yes, of course, humanly and historically constructed, but the Light projecting them can be quite Real and the Same. Fiction and reality are in no way exclusive of one another in these paradoxical states. © 2020 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26953 - Posted: 01.13.2020

By John Horgan I just spent a week at a symposium on the mind-body problem, the deepest of all mysteries. The mind-body problem--which encompasses consciousness, free will and the meaning of life--concerns who we really are. Are we matter, which just happens to give rise to mind? Or could mind be the basis of reality, as many sages have insisted? The week-long powwow, called “Physics, Experience and Metaphysics,” took place at Esalen Institute, the legendary retreat center in Big Sur, California. Fifteen men and women representing physics, psychology, philosophy, religious studies and other fields sat in a room overlooking the Pacific and swapped mind-body ideas. What made the conference unusual, at least for me, was the emphasis on what were called “exceptional experiences,” involving telepathy, telekinesis, astral projection, past-life recall and mysticism. I’ve been obsessed with mysticism since I was a kid. As defined by William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience, mystical experiences are breaches in your ordinary life, during which you encounter absolute reality--or, if you prefer, God. You believe, you know, you are seeing things the way they really are. These experiences are usually brief, lasting only minutes or hours. They can be triggered by trauma, prayer, meditation or drugs, or they may strike you out of the blue. Advertisement I’ve had mild mystical intuitions while sober, for example, during a Buddhist retreat last year. But my most intense experience, by far, happened in 1981 while I was under the influence of a potent hallucinogen. I tried to come to terms with my experiences in my book Rational Mysticism, but my obsession endures. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26924 - Posted: 12.30.2019

By John Horgan Philosophy has taken a beating lately, even, or especially, from philosophers, who are compulsive critics, even, especially, of their own calling. But bright young women and men still aspire to be full-time truth-seekers in our corrupt, capitalist world. Over the past five years, I have met a bunch of impressive young philosophers while doing research on the mind-body problem. Hedda Hassel Mørch, for example. I first heard Mørch (pronounced murk) speak in 2015 at a New York University workshop on integrated information theory, and I ran into her at subsequent events at NYU and elsewhere. She makes a couple of appearances—one anonymous--in my book Mind-Body Problems. We recently crossed tracks in online chitchat about panpsychism, which proposes that consciousness is a property of all matter, not just brains. I’m a panpsychism critic, she’s a proponent. Below Mørch answers some questions.—John Horgan Horgan: Why philosophy? And especially philosophy of mind? Mørch: I remember thinking at some point that if I didn’t study philosophy I would always be curious about what philosophers know. And even if it turned out that they know nothing then at least I would know I wasn’t missing anything. Advertisement One reason I was attracted to philosophy of mind in particular was that it seemed like an area where philosophy clearly has some real and useful work to do. In other areas of philosophy, it might seem that many central questions can either be deflated or taken over by science. For example, in ethics, one might think there are no moral facts and so all we can do is figure out what we mean by the words “right” and “wrong”. And in metaphysics, questions such as “is the universe infinite” can now, at least arguably, be understood as scientific questions. But consciousness is a phenomenon which is obviously real, and the question of how it arises from the brain is clearly a substantive, not merely verbal question, which does not seem tractable by science as we know it. As David Chalmers says, science as we know it can only tackle the so-called easy problems of consciousness, not the hard problem. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26904 - Posted: 12.19.2019

Christof Koch A future where the thinking capabilities of computers approach our own is quickly coming into view. We feel ever more powerful machine-learning (ML) algorithms breathing down our necks. Rapid progress in coming decades will bring about machines with human-level intelligence capable of speech and reasoning, with a myriad of contributions to economics, politics and, inevitably, warcraft. The birth of true artificial intelligence will profoundly affect humankind’s future, including whether it has one. The following quotes provide a case in point: “From the time the last great artificial intelligence breakthrough was reached in the late 1940s, scientists around the world have looked for ways of harnessing this ‘artificial intelligence’ to improve technology beyond what even the most sophisticated of today’s artificial intelligence programs can achieve.” Advertisement “Even now, research is ongoing to better understand what the new AI programs will be able to do, while remaining within the bounds of today’s intelligence. Most AI programs currently programmed have been limited primarily to making simple decisions or performing simple operations on relatively small amounts of data.” These two paragraphs were written by GPT-2, a language bot I tried last summer. Developed by OpenAI, a San Francisco–based institute that promotes beneficial AI, GPT-2 is an ML algorithm with a seemingly idiotic task: presented with some arbitrary starter text, it must predict the next word. The network isn’t taught to “understand” prose in any human sense. Instead, during its training phase, it adjusts the internal connections in its simulated neural networks to best anticipate the next word, the word after that, and so on. Trained on eight million Web pages, its innards contain more than a billion connections that emulate synapses, the connecting points between neurons. When I entered the first few sentences of the article you are reading, the algorithm spewed out two paragraphs that sounded like a freshman’s effort to recall the gist of an introductory lecture on machine learning during which she was daydreaming. The output contains all the right words and phrases—not bad, really! Primed with the same text a second time, the algorithm comes up with something different. © 2019 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26894 - Posted: 12.12.2019

By Steve Taylor In the second half of the 19th century, scientific discoveries—in particular, Darwin’s theory of evolution—meant that Christian beliefs were no longer feasible as a way of explaining the world. The authority of the Bible as an explanatory text was fatally damaged. The new findings of science could be utilized to provide an alternative conceptual system to make sense of the world—a system that insisted that nothing existed apart from basic particles of matter, and that all phenomena could be explained in terms of the organization and the interaction of these particles. One of the most fervent of late 19th century materialists, T.H. Huxley, described human beings as “conscious automata” with no free will. As he explained in 1874, “Volitions do not enter into the chain of causation…. The feeling that we call volition is not the cause of a voluntary act, but the symbol of that state of the brain which is the immediate cause." This was a very early formulation of an idea that has become commonplace amongst modern scientists and philosophers who hold similar materialist views: that free will is an illusion. According to Daniel Wegner, for instance, “The experience of willing an act arises from interpreting one’s thought as the cause of the act.” In other words, our sense of making choices or decisions is just an awareness of what the brain has already decided for us. When we become aware of the brain’s actions, we think about them and falsely conclude that our intentions have caused them. You could compare it to a king who believes he is making all his own decisions, but is constantly being manipulated by his advisors and officials, who whisper in his ear and plant ideas in his head. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26881 - Posted: 12.07.2019

By John Williams Credit...Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times Let’s get right to the overwhelming question: What does it mean to experience something? Chances are that when you recount a great meal to a friend, you don’t say that it really lit up your nucleus of the solitary tract. But chances are equally good, if you adhere to conventional scientific and philosophical wisdom, that you believe the electrical activity in that part of your brain is what actually accounts for the sensation when you dine. In “Out of My Head,” the prolific British writer Tim Parks adds to the very long shelf of books about what he calls the “deep puzzle of minute-by-minute perception.” The vast majority of us — and this is undoubtedly for the best, life being hard enough — don’t get tripped up by the ontological mysteries of our minute-to-minute perceiving. We just perceive. But partly because it remains a stubborn philosophical problem, rather than a neatly explained scientific one, consciousness — our awareness, our self-awareness, our self — makes for an endlessly fascinating subject. And Parks, though not a scientist or professional philosopher, proves to be a companionable guide, even if his book is more an appetizer than a main course. He wants “simply” to ask, he writes, whether “we ordinary folks” can say anything useful about consciousness. But he also wants to poke skeptically at the “now standard view of conscious experience as something locked away in the head,” the “dominant internalist model which assumes the brain is some kind of supercomputer.” “Out of My Head” was inspired, in large part, by the theories of Riccardo Manzotti, a philosopher, roboticist and friend of Parks with whom the author has had “one of the most intense and extended conversations of my life.” (A good chunk of that conversation appeared as a 15-part dialogue on the website of The New York Review of Books, whose publishing arm has released “Out of My Head.”) © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26842 - Posted: 11.22.2019

By Gabriel Finkelstein Unlike Charles Darwin and Claude Bernard, who endure as heroes in England and France, Emil du Bois-Reymond is generally forgotten in Germany — no streets bear his name, no stamps portray his image, no celebrations are held in his honor, and no collections of his essays remain in print. Most Germans have never heard of him, and if they have, they generally assume that he was Swiss. But it wasn’t always this way. Du Bois-Reymond was once lauded as “the foremost naturalist of Europe,” “the last of the encyclopedists,” and “one of the greatest scientists Germany ever produced.” Contemporaries celebrated him for his research in neuroscience and his addresses on science and culture; in fact, the poet Jules Laforgue reported seeing his picture hanging for sale in German shop windows alongside those of the Prussian royal family. Those familiar with du Bois-Reymond generally recall his advocacy of understanding biology in terms of chemistry and physics, but during his lifetime he earned recognition for a host of other achievements. He pioneered the use of instruments in neuroscience, discovered the electrical transmission of nerve signals, linked structure to function in neural tissue, and posited the improvement of neural connections with use. He served as a professor, as dean, and as rector at the University of Berlin, directed the first institute of physiology in Prussia, was secretary of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, established the first society of physics in Germany, helped found the Berlin Society of Anthropology, oversaw the Berlin Physiological Society, edited the leading German journal of physiology, supervised dozens of researchers, and trained an army of physicians. © 2019 Scientific American

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: 26811 - Posted: 11.11.2019

By Dan Falk At the moment, you’re reading these words and, presumably, thinking about what the words and sentences mean. Or perhaps your mind has wandered, and you’re thinking about dinner, or looking forward to bingeing the latest season of “The Good Place.” But you’re definitely experiencing something. How is that possible? Every part of you, including your brain, is made of atoms, and each atom is as lifeless as the next. Your atoms certainly don’t know or feel or experience anything, and yet you — a conglomeration of such atoms — have a rich mental life in which a parade of experiences unfolds one after another. The puzzle of consciousness has, of course, occupied the greatest minds for millennia. The philosopher David Chalmers has called the central mystery the “hard problem” of consciousness. Why, he asks, does looking at a red apple produce the experience of seeing red? And more generally: Why do certain arrangements of matter experience anything? Anyone who has followed the recent debates over the nature of consciousness will have been struck by the sheer variety of explanations on offer. Many prominent neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, philosophers, and physicists have put forward “solutions” to the puzzle — all of them wildly different from, and frequently contradicting, each other. “‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and 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.”

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26802 - Posted: 11.08.2019

By Christof Koch “And death shall have no dominion”—Dylan Thomas, 1933 You will die, sooner or later. We all will. For everything that has a beginning has an end, an ineluctable consequence of the second law of thermodynamics. Few of us like to think about this troubling fact. But once birthed, the thought of oblivion can’t be completely erased. It lurks in the unconscious shadows, ready to burst forth. In my case, it was only as a mature man that I became fully mortal. I had wasted an entire evening playing an addictive, first-person shooter video game—running through subterranean halls, flooded corridors, nightmarishly turning tunnels, and empty plazas under a foreign sun, firing my weapons at hordes of aliens relentlessly pursuing me. I went to bed, easily falling asleep but awoke abruptly a few hours later. Abstract knowledge had turned to felt reality—I was going to die! Not right there and then but eventually. Advertisement Evolution equipped our species with powerful defense mechanisms to deal with this foreknowledge—in particular, psychological suppression and religion. The former prevents us from consciously acknowledging or dwelling on such uncomfortable truths while the latter reassures us by promising never-ending life in a Christian heaven, an eternal cycle of Buddhist reincarnations or an uploading of our mind to the Cloud, the 21st-century equivalent of rapture for nerds. Death has no such dominion over nonhuman animals. Although they can grieve for dead offspring and companions, there is no credible evidence that apes, dogs, crows and bees have minds sufficiently self-aware to be troubled by the insight that one day they will be no more. Thus, these defense mechanisms must have arisen in recent hominin evolution, in less than 10 million years. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26780 - Posted: 11.01.2019

By Sara Reardon Brain scientists can watch neurons fire and communicate. They can map how brain regions light up during sensation, decision-making, and speech. What they can't explain is how all this activity gives rise to consciousness. Theories abound, but their advocates often talk past each other and interpret the same set of data differently. "Theories are very flexible," says Christof Koch, president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington. "Like vampires, they're very difficult to slay." Now, the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF), a nonprofit best known for funding research at the intersection of science and religion, hopes to narrow the debate with experiments that directly pit theories of consciousness against each other. The first phase of the $20 million project, launched this week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago, Illinois, will compare two theories of consciousness by scanning the brains of participants during cleverly designed tests. Proponents of each theory have agreed to admit it is flawed if the outcomes go against them. Head-to-head contests are rare in basic science. "It's a really outlandish project," says principal investigator Lucia Melloni, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany. But understanding consciousness has become increasingly important for researchers seeking to communicate with locked-in patients, determine whether artificial intelligence systems can become conscious, or explore whether animals experience consciousness the way humans do. To winnow the theories, TWCF took inspiration from a 1919 experiment in which physicist Arthur Eddington pitted Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity against Isaac Newton's gravitational theory. Eddington measured how the Sun's gravity caused light from nearby stars to shift during a solar eclipse—and Einstein won. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26715 - Posted: 10.17.2019

Subhash Kak Many advanced artificial intelligence projects say they are working toward building a conscious machine, based on the idea that brain functions merely encode and process multisensory information. The assumption goes, then, that once brain functions are properly understood, it should be possible to program them into a computer. Microsoft recently announced that it would spend US$1 billion on a project to do just that. So far, though, attempts to build supercomputer brains have not even come close. A multi-billion-dollar European project that began in 2013 is now largely understood to have failed. That effort has shifted to look more like a similar but less ambitious project in the U.S., developing new software tools for researchers to study brain data, rather than simulating a brain. Some researchers continue to insist that simulating neuroscience with computers is the way to go. Others, like me, view these efforts as doomed to failure because we do not believe consciousness is computable. Our basic argument is that brains integrate and compress multiple components of an experience, including sight and smell – which simply can’t be handled in the way today’s computers sense, process and store data. Brains don’t operate like computers Living organisms store experiences in their brains by adapting neural connections in an active process between the subject and the environment. By contrast, a computer records data in short-term and long-term memory blocks. That difference means the brain’s information handling must also be different from how computers work. © 2010–2019, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26714 - Posted: 10.17.2019

Patricia Churchland Three myths about morality remain alluring: only humans act on moral emotions, moral precepts are divine in origin, and learning to behave morally goes against our thoroughly selfish nature. Converging data from many sciences, including ethology, anthropology, genetics, and neuroscience, have challenged all three of these myths. First, self-sacrifice, given the pressing needs of close kin or conspecifics to whom they are attached, has been documented in many mammalian species—wolves, marmosets, dolphins, and even rodents. Birds display it too. In sharp contrast, reptiles show no hint of this impulse. Second, until very recently, hominins lived in small groups with robust social practices fostering well-being and survival in a wide range of ecologies. The idea of a divine lawgiver likely played no part in their moral practices for some two million years, emerging only with the advent of agriculture and larger communities where not everyone knew everyone else. The divine lawgiver idea is still absent from some large-scale religions, such as Confucianism and Buddhism. Third, it is part of our genetic heritage to care for kith and kin. Although self-sacrifice is common in termites and bees, the altruistic behavior of mammals and birds is vastly more flexible, variable, and farsighted. Attachment to others, mediated by powerful brain hormones, is the biological platform for morality. © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

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: 26678 - Posted: 10.08.2019

By Benedict Carey For more than a decade, doctors have been using brain-stimulating implants to treat severe depression in people who do not benefit from medication, talk therapy or electroshock sessions. The treatment is controversial — any psychosurgery is, given its checkered history — and the results have been mixed. Two major trials testing stimulating implant for depression were halted because of disappointing results, and the approach is not approved by federal health regulators. Now, a team of psychiatric researchers has published the first long-term results, reporting Friday on patients who had stimulating electrodes implanted as long ago as eight years. The individuals have generally fared well, maintaining their initial improvements. The study, appearing in the American Journal of Psychiatry, was small, with just 28 subjects. Even still, experts said the findings were likely to extend interest in a field that has struggled. “The most impressive thing here is the sustained response,” Dr. Darin Dougherty, director of neurotherapeutics at Massachusetts General Hospital, said. “You do not see that for anything in this severe depression. The fact that they had this many people doing well for that long, that’s a big deal.” The implant treatment is known as deep brain stimulation, or D.B.S., and doctors have performed it for decades to help people control the tremors of Parkinson’s disease. In treating depression, surgeons thread an electrode into an area of the brain that sits beneath the crown of the head and is known to be especially active in people with severe depression. Running electrical current into that region, known as Brodmann Area 25, effectively shuts down its activity, resulting in relief of depression symptoms in many patients. The electrode is connected to a battery that is embedded in the chest. The procedure involves a single surgery; the implant provides continuous current from then on. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 26673 - Posted: 10.04.2019

Alison Abbott A prominent German neuroscientist committed scientific misconduct in research in which he claimed to have developed a brain-monitoring technique able to read certain thoughts of paralysed people, Germany’s main research agency has found. The DFG’s investigation into Niels Birbaumer’s high-profile work found that data in two papers were incomplete and that the scientific analysis was flawed — although it did not comment on whether the approach was valid. In a 19 September statement, the agency, which funded some of the work, said it was imposing some of its most severe sanctions to Birbaumer, who has positions at the University of Tübingen in Germany and the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, Switzerland. The DFG has banned Birbaumer from applying for its grants and from serving as a DFG evaluator for five years. The agency has also recommended the retraction of the two papers1,2 published in PLoS Biology, and says that it will ask him to return the grant money that he used to generate the data underpinning the papers. “The DFG has found scientific misconduct on my part and has imposed sanctions. I must therefore accept that I was unable to refute the allegations made against me,” Birbaumer said in a statement e-mailed to Nature in response to the DFG’s findings. In a subsequent phone conversation with Nature, Birbaumer added that he could not comment further on the findings because the DFG has not yet provided him with specific details on the reasoning behind the decisions. Birbaumer says he stands by his studies, which he says, “show that it is possible to communicate with patients who are completely paralysed, through computer-based analysis of blood flow and brain currents”. © 2019 Springer Nature Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: 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 Consciousness; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 26636 - Posted: 09.23.2019

By Kenneth Shinozuka What is consciousness? In a sense, this is one of the greatest mysteries in the universe. yet in another, it’s not an enigma at all. If we define consciousness as the feeling of what it’s like to subjectively experience something, then there is nothing more deeply familiar. Most of us know what it’s like to feel the pain of a headache, to empathize with another human being, to see the color blue, to hear the soaring melodies of a symphony, and so on. In fact, as philosopher Galen Strawson insightfully pointed out in a New York Times opinion piece, consciousness is “the only thing in the universe whose ultimate intrinsic nature we can claim to know.” This is a crucial point. We don’t have direct access to the outer world. Instead we experience it through the filter of our consciousness. We have no idea what the color blue really looks like “out there,” only how it appears to us “in here.” Furthermore, as some cognitive scientists like Donald Hoffman have argued in recent years, external reality is likely to be far different from our perceptions of it. The human brain has been optimized, through the process of evolution, to model reality in the way that’s most conducive to its survival, not in the way that most faithfully represents the world. Science has produced an outstandingly accurate description of the outer world, but it has told us very little, if anything, about our internal consciousness. With sufficient knowledge of physics, I can calculate all the forces acting on the chair in front of me, but I don’t know what “forces” or “laws” are giving rise to my subjective experience of the chair. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26607 - Posted: 09.13.2019

Bahar Gholipour The death of free will began with thousands of finger taps. In 1964, two German scientists monitored the electrical activity of a dozen people’s brains. Each day for several months, volunteers came into the scientists’ lab at the University of Freiburg to get wires fixed to their scalp from a showerhead-like contraption overhead. The participants sat in a chair, tucked neatly in a metal tollbooth, with only one task: to flex a finger on their right hand at whatever irregular intervals pleased them, over and over, up to 500 times a visit. The purpose of this experiment was to search for signals in the participants’ brains that preceded each finger tap. At the time, researchers knew how to measure brain activity that occurred in response to events out in the world—when a person hears a song, for instance, or looks at a photograph—but no one had figured out how to isolate the signs of someone’s brain actually initiating an action. The experiment’s results came in squiggly, dotted lines, a representation of changing brain waves. In the milliseconds leading up to the finger taps, the lines showed an almost undetectably faint uptick: a wave that rose for about a second, like a drumroll of firing neurons, then ended in an abrupt crash. This flurry of neuronal activity, which the scientists called the Bereitschaftspotential, or readiness potential, was like a gift of infinitesimal time travel. For the first time, they could see the brain readying itself to create a voluntary movement.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26602 - Posted: 09.11.2019

By Tam Hunt How do you know your dog is conscious? Well, she wags her tail when she’s happy, bounces around like a young human child when excited, and yawns when sleepy— among many other examples of behaviors that convince us (most of us, at least) that dogs are quite conscious in ways that are similar to, but not the same as, human consciousness. Most of us are okay attributing emotions, desires, pain and pleasure—which is what I mean by consciousness in this context—to dogs and many other pets. What about further down the chain. Is a mouse conscious? We can apply similar tests for “behavioral correlates of consciousness” like those I’ve just mentioned, but, for some of us, the mice behaviors observed will be considerably less convincing than for dogs in terms of there being an inner life for the average mouse. Advertisement What about an ant? What behaviors do ants engage in that might make us think an individual ant is at least a little bit conscious? Or is it not conscious at all? Let me now turn the questions around: how do I know you, my dear reader, are conscious? If we met, I’d probably introduce myself and hear you say your name and respond to my questions and various small talk. You might be happy to meet me and smile or shake my hand vigorously. Or you might get a little anxious at meeting someone new and behave awkwardly. All of these behaviors would convince me that you are in fact conscious much like I am, and not just faking it! Now here’s the broader question? How can we know anybody or any animal or any thing is actually conscious and not just faking it? The nature of consciousness makes it by necessity a wholly private affair. The only consciousness I can know with certainty is my own. Everything else is inference. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26557 - Posted: 08.31.2019

By Anil K. Seth On the 10th of April this year Pope Francis, President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and former rebel leader Riek Machar sat down together for dinner at the Vatican. They ate in silence, the start of a two-day retreat aimed at reconciliation from a civil war that has killed some 400,000 people since 2013. At about the same time in my laboratory at the University of Sussex in England, Ph.D. student Alberto Mariola was putting the finishing touches to a new experiment in which volunteers experience being in a room that they believe is there but that is not. In psychiatry clinics across the globe, people arrive complaining that things no longer seem “real” to them, whether it is the world around them or their own selves. In the fractured societies in which we live, what is real—and what is not—seems to be increasingly up for grabs. Warring sides may experience and believe in different realities. Perhaps eating together in silence can help because it offers a small slice of reality that can be agreed on, a stable platform on which to build further understanding. Advertisement We need not look to war and psychosis to find radically different inner universes. In 2015 a badly exposed photograph of a dress tore across the Internet, dividing the world into those who saw it as blue and black (me included) and those who saw it as white and gold (half my lab). Those who saw it one way were so convinced they were right—that the dress truly was blue and black or white and gold—that they found it almost impossible to believe that others might perceive it differently. We all know that our perceptual systems are easy to fool. The popularity of visual illusions is testament to this phenomenon. Things seem to be one way, and they are revealed to be another: two lines appear to be different lengths, but when measured they are exactly the same; we see movement in an image we know to be still. The story usually told about illusions is that they exploit quirks in the circuitry of perception, so that what we perceive deviates from what is there. Implicit in this story, however, is the assumption that a properly functioning perceptual system will render to our consciousness things precisely as they are. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Link ID: 26549 - Posted: 08.29.2019