Links for Keyword: Consciousness

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James Gorman Humans, chimpanzees, elephants, magpies and bottle-nosed dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror, according to scientific reports, although as any human past age 50 knows, that first glance in the morning may yield ambiguous results. Not to worry. Scientists are talking about species-wide abilities, not the fact that one’s father or mother makes unpredictable appearances in the looking glass. Mirror self-recognition, at least after noon, is often taken as a measure of a kind of intelligence and self-awareness, although not all scientists agree. And researchers have wondered not only about which species display this ability, but about when it emerges during early development. Children start showing signs of self-recognition at about 12 months at the earliest and chimpanzees at two years old. But dolphins, researchers reported Wednesday, start mugging for the mirror as early as seven months, earlier than humans. Diana Reiss a psychologist at Hunter College, and Rachel Morrison, then a graduate student working with Reiss, studied two young dolphins over three years at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Dr. Reiss first reported self-recognition in dolphins in 2001 with Lori Marino, now the head of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She and Dr. Morrison, now an assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of North Carolina Pembroke collaborated on the study and published their findings in the journal PLoS One. Dr. Reiss said the timing of the emergence of self-recognition is significant, because in human children the ability has been tied to other milestones of physical and social development. Since dolphins develop earlier than humans in those areas, the researchers predicted that dolphins should show self-awareness earlier. Seven months was when Bayley, a female, started showing self-directed behavior, like twirling and taking unusual poses. © 2018 The New York Times Company

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: 24519 - Posted: 01.11.2018

By Joshua Rothman One day in the nineteen-eighties, a woman went to the hospital for cancer surgery. The procedure was a success, and all of the cancer was removed. In the weeks afterward, though, she felt that something was wrong. She went back to her surgeon, who reassured her that the cancer was gone; she consulted a psychiatrist, who gave her pills for depression. Nothing helped—she grew certain that she was going to die. She met her surgeon a second time. When he told her, once again, that everything was fine, she suddenly blurted out, “The black stuff—you didn’t get the black stuff!” The surgeon’s eyes widened. He remembered that, during the operation, he had idly complained to a colleague about the black mold in his bathroom, which he could not remove no matter what he did. The cancer had been in the woman’s abdomen, and during the operation she had been under general anesthesia; even so, it seemed that the surgeon’s words had lodged in her mind. As soon as she discovered what had happened, her anxiety dissipated. Henry Bennett, an American psychologist, tells this story to Kate Cole-Adams, an Australian journalist, in her book “Anesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness.” Cole-Adams hears many similar stories from other anesthesiologists and psychologists: apparently, people can hear things while under anesthesia, and can be affected by what they hear even if they can’t remember it. One woman suffers from terrible insomnia after her hysterectomy; later, while hypnotized, she recalls her anesthesiologist joking that she would “sleep the sleep of death.” Another patient becomes suicidal after a minor procedure; later, she remembers that, while she was on the table, her surgeon exclaimed, “She is fat, isn’t she?” In the nineteen-nineties, German scientists put headphones on thirty people undergoing heart surgery, then, during the operation, played them an abridged version of “Robinson Crusoe.” None of the patients recalled this happening, but afterward, when asked what came to mind when they heard the word “Friday,” many mentioned the story. In 1985, Bennett himself asked patients receiving gallbladder or spinal surgeries to wear headphones. A control group heard the sounds of the operating theatre; the others heard Bennett saying, “When I come to talk with you, you will pull on your ear.” When they met with him, those who’d heard the message touched their ears three times more often than those who hadn’t. © 2018 Condé Nast.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 14: Biological Rhythms, Sleep, and Dreaming
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 10: Biological Rhythms and Sleep
Link ID: 24493 - Posted: 01.05.2018

By John Horgan What’s the difference between science and philosophy? Scientists address questions that can in principle be answered by means of objective, empirical investigation. Philosophers wrestle with questions that cannot be empirically resolved and hence remain matters of taste, not truth. Here is a classic philosophical question: What creatures and/or things are capable of consciousness? That is, who (and “who” is the right term, even if you’re talking about a jellyfish or sexbot) belongs to the Consciousness Club? This question animated “Animal Consciousness,” a conference I attended at New York University last month. It should have been called “Animal Consciousness?” or “Animal ‘Consciousness’” to reflect the uncertainty pervading the two-day meeting. Speakers disagreed over when and how consciousness evolved and what is required for it to occur. A nervous system? Brain? Complex responses to the environment? The ability to learn and adapt to new circumstances? And if we suspect that something is sentient, and hence capable of suffering, should we grant it rights? In my last post, I focused on the debate over whether fish can suffer. Scholars also considered the sentience of dogs, lampreys, wasps, spiders, crustaceans and other species. Speakers presented evidence that creatures quite unlike us are capable of complex cognition. Biologist Andrew Barron argued that bees, in spite of their minuscule brains, are not mindless automatons. Their capacity for learning rivals that of mammals. When harmed, bees stop eating and foraging as if they were depressed. Bees, Barron concludes, are conscious. © 2017 Scientific American

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: 24394 - Posted: 12.05.2017

Marcelo Gleiser Last week, my 13.7 co-blogger Tania Lombrozo reported on a study she developed with graduate student Sara Gottlieb on whether science can explain the human mind. As Tania wrote, this was a survey-based study asking the participants "whether they thought it was possible for science to one day fully explain various aspects of the human mind, from depth perception and memory loss to spirituality and romantic love." On average, the study found, people judged that certain mental phenomena — such as depth perception or the sense of touch — to be "much more amenable to scientific explanation than others — such as feeling pride or experiencing love at first sight." According to the participants, the dividing line separating what science can and cannot explain seems to be the perception that some mental phenomena, for example, religious devotion and complex decision-making, "involved an internal experience accessible through introspection" that distinguishes us from other animals that share with us sensorial experiences, such as seeing and hearing. As Tania remarked, these findings "don't tell us what science can or can't explain. They tell us about the beliefs about what science can and can't explain." The question, then, is: "What do people think explains the human mind, if not science?" This is an interesting point that merits further discussion. Is the mind explainable? © 2017 npr

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24379 - Posted: 11.30.2017

By JAMES GORMAN One of the biggest problems in studying animal communication is figuring out whether the animals know what they are doing. A bird may screech and another bird may understand that the screech is a response to danger. But that doesn’t prove the screecher intended to warn others. It might have been a predictable but involuntary response to something scary, like a scream at a horror movie. So scientists spend a lot of time testing animals in ingenious ways to figure out what might be going on. Three scientists testing wild chimpanzees in Uganda reported Wednesday in the journal Science Advances that chimpanzees can do something that previously had only been known in human beings. They change the way they are communicating to take into account what their audience knows. Humans do this all the time. To a fellow baseball fan you might say, “So, there’s a runner on third, one out, bottom of the ninth, and McAfee hits a sac fly.” To someone from another planet, you might say, “There was a really exciting moment in a sporting event I was attending last night.” Or you might just forget it. Catherine Crockford and Roman M. Wittig of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland were studying wild chimpanzees in Uganda, so the subject of their communication was snakes, not baseball. When a chimp saw a realistic model of a snake, the animal would make more sounds — called hoos — and make a greater effort to show where the snake was if it seemed that other chimps in the area were unaware of the danger. If it seemed other chimps already knew about the snake, it would make fewer calls and stay a shorter time at the danger. To run the experiment, the researchers put a model snake on a path chimpanzees used. When a chimp came along, before it reached the snake, they would play two different chimp calls — either a “rest hoo” or several “alert hoos.” The rest hoo would be made by a chimp that was resting, not aware of any danger. The alert hoos would indicate the chimp who made it had seen something dangerous, like a snake. So the chimp on the trail would know either that its neighbors were clueless or aware of danger. © 2017 The New York Times Company

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: 24333 - Posted: 11.16.2017

Victoria Lorrimar Michael Burdett The idea of dangerous, inhumane artificial intelligence taking over the world is familiar to many of us, thanks to cautionary tales such as the Matrix and Terminator franchises. But what about the more sympathetic portrayals of robots? The benevolence of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character in the later movies of the franchise may have been the exception in older portrayals of AI, but human-like machines are often represented more positively in contemporary films. Think of Ex Machina, Chappie or A.I. Artificial Intelligence. This shift is very likely representative of a wider shift in how we think about these technologies in reality. Blade Runner 2049, long-anticipated sequel to the original 1982 Blade Runner film, is a part of this shift. The ability of science fiction to inspire technological innovation is well-known. A lot of science fiction writers are scientists and technologists (Arthur C Clarke and Geoffrey Landis are two examples), and ideas from science fiction have sparked more serious scientific research (touch screens and tablet computers are common examples). But science fiction serves other purposes too. It can be a tool for exploring the social and ethical implications of technologies being developed now – a fictional laboratory for testing possible futures. It can also prepare us to deal with certain technologies as they arise in the real world. © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.

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: 24160 - Posted: 10.07.2017

Hannah Devlin French scientists have been criticised for concealing the death of the patient at the centre of a breakthrough in which consciousness was restored to a man in a persistent vegetative state. The treatment was hailed as a major advance in the field and suggested that the outlook for these patients and their families might be less bleak than was previously thought. However, it has emerged that the scientists behind the research withheld the fact that the man, who remains anonymous, died a few months after receiving the therapy. The team justified the decision, citing the family’s wish to keep the death private and a concern that people might have wrongly linked the therapy, which involved nerve stimulation, to the 35-year-old’s death from a lung infection. However, others said the decision had created an over-optimistic narrative of a patient on an upward trajectory. Damian Cruse, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Birmingham, said: “I do worry that the media coverage of the study gave a more hopeful message to other families in this situation than the message that perhaps would have been delivered with all of the facts … If we protect patient anonymity, then there’s no reason not to be able to tell the full story.” When the paper came out last month, Angela Sirigu, who led the work at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France, told the Guardian: “He is still paralysed, he cannot talk, but he can respond. Now he is more aware.” © 2017 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: 24155 - Posted: 10.06.2017

Alva Noë Philosophers have long worried whether it is ever really possible to know how things are, internally, with another. After all, we are confined to the external — to mere behavior, or perhaps to behavior plus measurements of brain activity. But the thoughts, feelings, images, sensations of another person, these are always hidden from our direct inspection. The situation of doctors facing unresponsive victims of brain injury is a terrifying real-world example of the fact that we our locked out of the minds of another. Consider the remarkable report, published Monday in Current Biology and discussed here, that a team in France has enabled a patient who has languished for 15 years in a vegetative state, to show, as they claim, a marked improvement in his levels of consciousness. They achieved this by means of the direct and sustained stimulation of the vagus nerve. As Dr. Angela Sirigu, one of the team leaders, explains by email, the results are dramatic: "After VNS [vagus nerve stimulation] the patient could respond to simple orders that were impossible before (to follow an object with his gaze, to turn the head on the other side of the bed on verbal request). His ability to sustain attention, like staying awake when listening to his therapist reading a book, greatly improved as reported by the mother. After stimulation, we found also responses to 'threat' that were absent before implantation. For instance, when the examiner's head suddenly approached to the patient's face, he reacted with surprise by opening the eyes wide, a reaction which indicates that he was fully aware that the examiner was too close to him." © 2017 npr

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24127 - Posted: 09.30.2017

Hannah Devlin A 35-year-old man who had been in a persistant vegetative state (PVS) for 15 years has shown signs of consciousness after receiving a pioneering therapy involving nerve stimulation. The treatment challenges a widely-accepted view that there is no prospect of a patient recovering consciousness if they have been in PVS for longer than 12 months. Since sustaining severe brain injuries in a car accident, the man had been completely unaware of the world around him. But when fitted with an implant to stimulate the vagus nerve, which travels into the brain stem, the man appeared to flicker back into a state of consciousness. He started to track objects with his eyes, began to stay awake while being read a story and his eyes opened wide in surprise when the examiner suddenly moved her face close to the patient’s. He could even respond to some simple requests, such as turning his head when asked – although this took about a minute. Angela Sirigu, who led the work at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France, said: “He is still paralysed, he cannot talk, but he can respond. Now he is more aware.” Niels Birbaumer, of the University of Tübingen and a pioneer of brain-computer interfaces to help patients with neurological disorders communicate, said the findings, published in the journal Current Biology, raised pressing ethical issues. “Many of these patients may and will have been neglected, and passive euthanasia may happen often in a vegetative state,” he said. “This paper is a warning to all those believing that this state is hopeless after a year.” © 2017 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: 24116 - Posted: 09.26.2017

By Anil Ananthaswamy “We were very happy when we saw him reacting,” says Angela Sirigu of the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Bron, leader of the team that has “woken” a man from a vegetative state. “This patient is like our baby. We are very attached to him. He’ll always remain in our hearts, because he’s our first patient.” Sirigu and her colleagues chose the 35-year-old man to be the first to trial vagus nerve stimulation because his condition had not improved for 15 years. They reasoned that any improvements in his behaviour would be down to the stimulation and not simply chance fluctuations. Before the stimulation started, the man was unresponsive, and his eyes were shut for most of the day. If open, they would stare into empty space, says Sirigu. “You had the feeling he was not looking at you.” That changed once her team began stimulating his vagus nerve. Almost immediately, he began opening his eyes more often. About a month after stimulation began, his behavioural improvements started stabilising. “His eyes were moving around as if he wanted to follow me,” says Sirigu. He then began to respond to instructions to turn his gaze from one side of the bed to another. When a clinician asked him to smile, he’d react by raising his left cheek. When the team played some of his favourite music by French singer Jean-Jacques Goldman, the man had tears in his eyes. Sirigu says vagus nerve stimulation activates the neuroendocrinal system, which can explain the tears. But it happened at the same time as he listened to his preferred music, says Sirigu. “What can we say? We can conclude that there was an emotional reaction.” © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24115 - Posted: 09.26.2017

By Anna Azvolinsky To define human consciousness at the neuronal level is among the most difficult of tasks for neuroscience. Still, researchers have made inroads, most recently by sinking electrodes deep with the brains of epilepsy patients and recording the activity of single neurons as the awake patients described whether they observed an image flashed before them. Previous work had found that the stronger the individual neuron activity, the more likely it is to be associated with conscious perception. In this latest study, published today (September 21) in Current Biology, researchers from the University of Bonn Medical Center in Germany find a second factor—timing—that appears important to the brain’s conscious awareness. Firing of single neurons within the medial temporal lobe (MTL), which is important for long-term memory, was weaker and delayed when human subjects were not aware of seeing an image compared to when they reported seeing one. “[The authors] contribute a major piece of the puzzle of human consciousness with a set of data that is very impressive,” says Rafael Malach, a neurobiologist who studies the human brain at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and who was not involved in the work. “This is a well-designed study done in a medical setting that generated a unique dataset that is not easy to obtain,” says Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was also not involved in the work but who has previously collaborated with one of the study’s authors, Florian Mormann. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24100 - Posted: 09.23.2017

Sigal Samuel James Kugel has been spent his entire scholarly career studying the Bible, but some very basic questions about it still obsess him. What was it about the minds of ancient Israelites that allowed them to hear and see God directly—or at least, to believe that they did? Were the biblical prophets literally hearing voices and seeing visions, understanding themselves to be transmitting God’s own exact words? If so, why did such direct encounters with God become rarer over time? In his new and final book, The Great Shift, Kugel investigates these questions through the lens of neuroscientific findings. (The approach is reminiscent of other recent books, like Kabbalah: A Neurocognitive Approach to Mystical Experiences, co-written by a neurologist and a mysticism scholar.) First, Kugel uses biblical research to show that ancient people had a “sense of self” that was fundamentally different from the one modern Westerners have—and that this enabled them to experience and interpret prophecy differently than we do. Then he uses scientific research to show that we shouldn’t assume their view was wrong. If anything, our modern Western notion of the bounded, individual self is the anomaly; most human beings throughout history conceived of the self as a porous entity open to intrusions. In fact, much of the rest of the world today still does. Kugel cites several studies showing that even now, many healthy people hear voices—as much as 15 percent of the general population. He also cites a recent cross-cultural study in which researchers interviewed voice hearers in the United States, Ghana, and India. The researchers recorded “striking differences” in how the different groups of people felt about the voices they hear: In Ghana and India, many participants “insisted that their predominant or even only experience of the voice was positive. … Not one American did so.” (c) 2017 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24084 - Posted: 09.20.2017

By Bernardo Kastrup An article on the neuroscience of infant consciousness, which attracted some interest a few years ago, asked: “When does your baby become conscious?” The premise, of course, was that babies aren’t born conscious but, instead, develop consciousness at some point. (According to the article, it is about five months of age). Yet, it is hard to think that there is nothing it feels like to be a newborn. Newborns clearly seem to experience their own bodies, environment, the presence of their parents, etcetera—albeit in an unreflective, present-oriented manner. And if it always feels like something to be a baby, then babies don’t become conscious. Instead, they are conscious from the get-go. The problem is that, somewhat alarmingly, the word “consciousness” is often used in the literature as if it entailed or implied more than just the qualities of experience. Dijksterhuis and Nordgren, for instance, insisted that “it is very important to realize that attention is the key to distinguish between unconscious thought and conscious thought. Conscious thought is thought with attention.” This implies that if a thought escapes attention, then it is unconscious. But is the mere lack of attention enough to assert that a mental process lacks the qualities of experience? Couldn’t a process that escapes the focus of attention still feel like something? Consider your breathing right now: the sensation of air flowing through your nostrils, the movements of your diaphragm, etcetera. Were you not experiencing these sensations a moment ago, before I directed your attention to them? Or were you just unaware that you were experiencing them all along? By directing your attention to these sensations, did I make them conscious or did I simply cause you to experience the extra quality of knowing that the sensations were conscious? © 2017 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24083 - Posted: 09.20.2017

By Erin Blakemore Do you talk to yourself? Don’t sweat it: Scientists say you’re not alone. And the ways in which you chatter to yourself, both in your head and out loud, are changing what neuroscientists know about the human brain. Writing in Scientific American, psychologist Charles Fernyhough reveals why we’re our best conversational partners. Scientists have only recently learned how to study self-talk — and it’s opening up exciting new avenues of research. It turns out there are two ways of chatting yourself up. In “inner speech,” you speak to yourself without making sound. With “private speech,” you do the same thing, just out loud. This chatter serves varied purposes: It can help people control themselves and relate to others. But it’s notoriously hard to study. So Fernyhough and colleagues figured out some inventive ways to prompt people to talk to themselves as they lay inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, scanner. When they studied the brains of people who talked to themselves internally, the team noticed that spontaneous inner speech activates a different part of the brain than words that the participants were asked to say aloud. And people whose self-talk takes the form of a monologue seem to activate different brain areas than those who carry on a dialogue in their heads. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 23924 - Posted: 08.07.2017

Tim Adams Henry Marsh made the decision to become a neurosurgeon after he had witnessed his three-month-old son survive the complex removal of a brain tumour. For two decades he was the senior consultant in the Atkinson Morley wing at St George’s hospital in London, one of the country’s largest specialist brain surgery units. He pioneered techniques in operating on the brain under local anaesthetic and was the subject of the BBC documentary Your Life in Their Hands. His first book, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, was published in 2014 to great acclaim, and became a bestseller across the world. Marsh retired from full-time work at St George’s in 2015, though he continues with long-standing surgical roles at hospitals in the Ukraine and Nepal. He is also an avid carpenter. Earlier this year he published a second volume of memoir, Admissions: a Life in Brain Surgery, in which he looks back on his career as he takes up a “retirement project” of renovating a decrepit lock-keeper’s cottage near where he grew up in Oxfordshire. He lives with his second wife, the social anthropologist and author Kate Fox. They have homes in Oxford, and in south London, which is where the following conversation took place. Have you officially retired now? Well, I still do one day a week for the NHS, though apparently they want a “business case” for it, so I’m not getting paid at present. Yes, well, people talk about the mind-matter problem – it’s not a problem for me: mind is matter. That’s not being reductionist. It is actually elevating matter. We don’t even begin to understand how electrochemistry and nerve cells generate thought and feeling. We have not the first idea. The relation of neurosurgery to neuroscience is a bit like the relationship between plumbing and quantum mechanics.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23842 - Posted: 07.17.2017

By Anil Ananthaswamy To understand human consciousness, we need to know why it exists in the first place. New experimental evidence suggests it may have evolved to help us learn and adapt to changing circumstances far more rapidly and effectively. We used to think consciousness was a uniquely human trait, but neuroscientists now believe we share it with many other animals, including mammals, birds and octopuses. While plants and arguably some animals like jellyfish seem able to respond to the world around them without any conscious awareness, many other animals consciously experience and perceive their environment. Read more: Why be conscious – The improbable origins of our unique mind In the 19th century, Thomas Henry Huxley and others argued that such consciousness is an “epiphenomenon” – a side effect of the workings of the brain that has no causal influence, the way a steam whistle has no effect on the way a steam engine works. More recently, neuroscientists have suggested that consciousness enables us to integrate information from different senses or keep such information active for long enough in the brain that we can experience the sight and sound of car passing by, for example, as one unified perception, even though sound and light travel at different speeds. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 23785 - Posted: 06.28.2017

Kerin Higa After surgery to treat her epilepsy severed the connection between the two halves of her brain, Karen's left hand took on a mind of its own, acting against her will to undress or even to slap her. Amazing, to be sure. But what may be even more amazing is that most people who have split-brain surgery don't notice anything different at all. But there's more to the story than that. In the 1960s, a young neuroscientist named Michael Gazzaniga began a series of experiments with split-brain patients that would change our understanding of the human brain forever. Working in the lab of Roger Sperry, who later won a Nobel Prize for his work, Gazzaniga discovered that the two halves of the brain experience the world quite differently. When Gazzaniga and his colleagues flashed a picture in front of a patient's right eye, the information was processed in the left side of the brain and the split-brain patient could easily describe the scene verbally. But when a picture was flashed in front of the left eye, which connects to the right side of the brain, the patient would report seeing nothing. If allowed to respond nonverbally, however, the right brain could adeptly point at or draw what was seen by the left eye. So the right brain knew what it was seeing; it just couldn't talk about it. These experiments showed for the first time that each brain hemisphere has specialized tasks. In this third episode of Invisibilia, hosts Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin talk to several people who are trying to change their other self, including a man who confronts his own biases and a woman who has a rare condition that causes one of her hands to take on a personality of its own. © 2017 npr

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 23749 - Posted: 06.17.2017

By Helen Thomson People in a minimally conscious state have been “woken” for a whole week after a brief period of brain stimulation. The breakthrough suggests we may be on the verge of creating a device that can be used at home to help people with disorders of consciousness communicate with friends and family. People with severe brain trauma can fall into a coma. If they begin to show signs of arousal but not awareness, they are said to be in a vegetative state. If they then show fluctuating signs of awareness but cannot communicate, they are described as being minimally consciousness. In 2014, Steven Laureys at the University of Liège in Belgium and his colleagues discovered that 13 people with minimal consciousness and two people in a vegetative state could temporarily show new signs of awareness when given mild electrical stimulation. The people in the trial received transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which uses low-level electrical stimulation to make neurons more or less likely to fire. This was applied once over an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in “higher” cognitive functions such as consciousness. Soon after, they showed signs of consciousness, including moving their hands or following instructions using their eyes. Two people were even able to answer questions for 2 hours by moving their body, before drifting back into their previous state. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23610 - Posted: 05.13.2017

By Christof Koch | Imagine you are an astronaut, untethered from your safety line, adrift in space. Your damaged radio lets you hear mission control's repeated attempts to contact you, but your increasingly desperate cries of “I'm here, I'm here” go unacknowledged—you are unable to signal that you're alive but injured. After days and weeks of fruitless pleas from your loved ones, their messages cease. You become lost to the world. How long do you keep your sanity when you are locked in your own echo chamber? Days? Months? Years? This nightmarish scenario is vividly described by British neuroscientist Adrian Owen in his upcoming book Into the Gray Zone (Scribner). Taking my evening bath while dipping into its opening pages, I only put the book down after finishing hours later, with the water cold. The story of communicating with the most impaired neurological patients at a greater distance from us than an astronaut lost in space is told by Owen in a most captivating manner. A professor at Western University in Ontario, Canada, Owen pioneered brain-imaging technology to establish what islands of awareness persist in patients with severe disorders of consciousness. These people are bedridden and seriously disabled, unable to speak or otherwise articulate their mental state following traumatic brain injury, encephalitis, meningitis, stroke, or drug or alcohol intoxication. Two broad groups can be distinguished among those who do not quickly succumb to their injuries. Vegetative state patients, in the first group, cycle in and out of sleep. When they are awake, their eyes are open, but attempts to establish bedside communications with them—“if you hear me, squeeze my hand or look down”—meet only with failure. These patients can move their eyes or head, swallow and yawn but never in an intentional manner. Nothing is left but surviving brain stem reflexes. With proper nursing care to avoid bedsores and infections, these individuals can live for years. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23563 - Posted: 05.02.2017

By Neuroskeptic In a thought-provoking new paper called What are neural correlates neural correlates of?, NYU sociologist Gabriel Abend argues that neuroscientists need to pay more attention to philosophy, social science, and the humanities. Abend’s main argument is that if we are to study the neural correlates or neural basis of a certain phenomenon, we must first define that phenomenon and know how to identify instances of it. Sometimes, this identification is straightforward: in a study of brain responses to the taste of sugar, say, there is little room for confusion because we all agree what sugar is. However, if a neuroscientist wants to study the neural correlates of, say, love, they will need to decide what love is, and this is something that philosophers and others have been debating for a long time. Abend argues that cognitive neuroscientists “cannot avoid taking sides in philosophical and social science controversies” in studying phenomena, such as love or morality, which have no neutral, universally accepted definition. In choosing a particular set of stimuli in order to experimentally evoke something, neuroscientists are aligning themselves with a certain theory of what that thing is. For example, the field of “moral neuroscience” makes heavy use of a family of hypothetical dilemmas called trolley problems. The classic trolley problem asks us to choose between allowing a runaway trolley to hit and kill five people, or throwing one person in front of the trolley, killing them but saving the other five.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23501 - Posted: 04.18.2017