Links for Keyword: Consciousness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Barrett Understanding the biology behind consciousness (or self-awareness) is considered by some to be the final frontier of science. And over the last decade, a fledgling community of “consciousness scientists” have gathered some interesting information about the differences between conscious and unconscious brain activity. But there remains disagreement about whether or not we have a theory that actually explains what is special about the brain activity which produces our miraculous inner worlds. Recently, “Integrated Information Theory” has been gaining attention – and the backing of some eminent neuroscientists. It says that absolutely every physical object has some (even if extremely low) level of consciousness. Some backers of the theory claim to have a mathematical formula that can measure the consciousness of anything – even your iPhone. These big claims are controversial and are (unfortunately) undermining the great potential for progress that could come from following some of the ideas behind the theory. Integrated Information Theory starts from two basic observations about the nature of our conscious experiences as humans. First, that each experience we have is just one of a vast number of possible experiences we could have. Second, that multiple different components (colours, textures, foreground, background) are all experienced together, simultaneously. © 2010–2018, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24972 - Posted: 05.13.2018

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

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

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

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

Laura Y. Cabrera Mr. B loves Johnny Cash, except when he doesn’t. Mr. X has watched his doctors morph into Italian chefs right before his eyes. The link between the two? Both Mr. B and Mr. X received deep brain stimulation (DBS), a procedure involving an implant that sends electric impulses to specific targets in the brain to alter neural activity. While brain implants aim to treat neural dysfunction, cases like these demonstrate that they may influence an individual’s perception of the world and behavior in undesired ways. Mr. B received DBS as treatment for his severe obsessive compulsive disorder. He’d never been a music lover until, under DBS, he developed a distinct and entirely new music preference for Johnny Cash. When the device was turned off, the preference disappeared. Mr. X, an epilepsy patient, received DBS as part of an investigation to locate the origin of his seizures. During DBS, he hallucinated that doctors became chefs with aprons before the stimulation ended and the scene faded. In both of these real-world cases, DBS clearly triggered the changed perception. And that introduces a host of thorny questions. As neurotechnologies like this become more common, the behaviors of people with DBS and other kinds of brain implants might challenge current societal views on responsibility. Lawyers, philosophers and ethicists have labored to define the conditions under which individuals are to be judged legally and morally responsible for their actions. The brain is generally regarded as the center of control, rational thinking and emotion – it orchestrates people’s actions and behaviors. As such, the brain is key to agency, autonomy and responsibility. © 2010–2018, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24822 - Posted: 04.04.2018

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

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

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

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

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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24702 - Posted: 02.27.2018

By John Horgan I’ve been writing for decades about the mind-body problem, the deepest of all mysteries, and I’m trying to finish a book tentatively titled Mind-Body Problems. And yet only recently have I realized that few people outside philosophy and mind-related scientific fields are familiar with the phrase “mind-body problem.” I also realized that I knew nothing about the origins of the phrase. Google didn’t provide an immediate answer, so I reached out to David Chalmers, a prominent philosopher of mind. “Good question,” he said when I asked on Facebook who coined mind-body problem. He passed my query on to other scholars. I’ve culled the information below from responses of Chalmers, Galen Strawson, Eric Schliesser, Charles T. Wolfe, Godehard Bruntrup, Victor Caston and Paolo Pecere, to whom I am very grateful. A Google N-gram on “mind-body problem” shows the phrase spiking from 1910 to 1925, dipping for a couple of decades and then rising again in the 1950s. The earliest reference I can find on Google Books dates back to 1879, when the prominent American scholar Felix Adler lectured on atheism to the Ethical Culture Society. An excerpt: Advertisement If then, consciousness, or mind, in something like its traditional sense, cannot successfully be explained away by the new epistemology, we must resolutely face the metaphysical question of the relation of the mind to the physical world in which it has its setting. The central and crucial part of this question is, of course, to be found in the mind-body problem… If we refuse to accept the pan-objective epistemology already considered which would do away with consciousness in the traditional sense, we must recognize that the relation of the mind to the body forms a real and inescapable problem… How can two things so different from each other as mind and body interact? To which, it seems to me, the sufficient answer is to be found in the rather obvious query, Why can they not? Are we so sure that unlike things cannot influence each other? The only way really to decide this question is to go to experience and see. [Bold added.] © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24648 - Posted: 02.12.2018

By JOANNA KLEIN Plants don’t get enough credit. They move. You know this. Your houseplant salutes the sun each morning. At night, it returns to center. You probably don’t think much of it. This is simply what plants do: Get light. Photosynthesize. Make food. Live. But what about all the signs of plant intelligence that have been observed? Under poor soil conditions, the pea seems to be able to assess risk. The sensitive plant can make memories and learn to stop recoiling if you mess with it enough. The Venus fly trap appears to count when insects trigger its trap. And plants can communicate with one another and with caterpillars. Now, a study published recently in Annals of Botany has shown that plants can be frozen in place with a range of anesthetics, including the types that are used when you undergo surgery. Insights gleaned from the study may help doctors better understand the variety of anesthetics used in surgeries. But the research also highlights that plants are complex organisms, perhaps less different from animals than is often assumed. “Plants are not just robotic, stimulus-response devices,” said Frantisek Baluska, a plant cell biologist at the University of Bonn in Germany and co-author of the study. “They’re living organisms which have their own problems, maybe something like with humans feeling pain or joy.” “In order to navigate this complex life, they must have some compass.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 14: Biological Rhythms, Sleep, and Dreaming
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 10: Biological Rhythms and Sleep
Link ID: 24611 - Posted: 02.03.2018

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