Links for Keyword: Consciousness

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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

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