Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryNeuroscience

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Man in gray long sleeve shirt sitting on brown wooden chair

Neuroscientist: Your Brain Isn’t for Thinking, Just Surviving

Lisa Feldman Barrett hopes that her materialist perspective will help us deal with our current anxieties

Last Sunday, we featured the views of philosopher Samir Chopra, who argues that anxiety, while distressing, is a normal outcome of our human ability to see the past and the future as well as the present. A pig gets anxious when he sees that his trough is empty. But he cannot, by nature, know that he is destined for the menu at a local fast food place, let alone that all his kin have gone that way. Knowing the past and sensing the future opens up both great powers and vast avenues of anxiety for a human mind. But, in an op-ed in the New York Times, psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett (pictured), the author of Seven and a…

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Cat looking to little gerbil mouse on the table. Concept of prey, food, pest.

Can We Find Purpose in a Universe With No Underlying Purpose?

That’s the ambitious goal of a prominent science writer

British science writer Philip Ball offers us a guide to a very interesting project: an attempt to “naturalize” the idea of agency, that is, make the desire to do things—the mouse’s desire to escape the cat— explainable from a fully materialist perspective. That’s much harder than it seems. Rocks don’t desire anything. So we can’t just start from the bottom. It’s also not enough to say that the mouse wants to avoid getting killed. That’s true but it doesn’t really explain anything. For example, a person looks both ways before crossing the street to avoid getting run over. But, by itself, that doesn’t explain why she tries to avoid getting run over. One must factor in her memory, background knowledge,…

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Twisted clock face. Time concept

Do Time and Space Mean the Same Thing to Humans as to Computers?

Futurist George Gilder tells us, humans don’t treat physical and chemical forces or clock pulses the way computers do

Recently, we have looked at four of the six assumptions that, according to futurist George Gilder in Gaming AI, are generally shared by those who believe that, sometime soon in a Singularity , we will merge with our machines: Four of them are: 1) The brain is a computer and Big Data is a Big Answer (here) and 2) maps are territories and reality follows our rules (here). Now here are the final two: • The Locality Assumption: Actions of human agents reflect only immediate physical forces impinging directly on them. • The Digital Time Assumption: Time is objective and measured by discrete increments. (p. 50) Gilder tells us that the Locality Assumption means that “minds respond to local inputs…

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The universe inside us, the profile of a young woman and space, the effect of double exposure. scientific concept. The brain and creativity. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Study: The Human Brain and the Universe Are Remarkably Similar

It looks as though the universe is not random but rather patterned in the way it unfolds

Recently, Franco Vazza, an astrophysicist at the University of Bologna and Alberto Felleti, a neurosurgeon at the University of Verona, decided to compare the network of human brain cells and the network of galaxies in our universe. Even though the universe is 27 orders of magnitude bigger than a singe human brain, remarkable similarities emerged: The human brain functions thanks to its wide neuronal network that is deemed to contain approximately 69 billion neurons. On the other hand, the observable universe is composed of a cosmic web of at least 100 billion galaxies. Within both systems, only 30% of their masses are composed of galaxies and neurons. Within both systems, galaxies and neurons arrange themselves in long filaments or nodes…

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Woman scientist holding lab rat, medicine development, tests on animals

An Old Rat With No Brain Raises Some Very Interesting Questions

The researchers had no idea how strange their lab rat was until, in a routine procedure, they scanned its head

Yes, R222 was only a rat. A rat that turned out to have no brain. But here’s the thing: R222 had lived a normal life as a lab rat for two whole years. According to rat specialists, that’s like 70 human years. Researchers were, to say the least, puzzled. The story begins with a scientist scanning the brains of “very old” lab rats as part of a study on aging. Except that subject R222, otherwise a conventional rat, didn’t seem to have a brain. The brain cavity had collapsed and filled with fluid (hydrocephalus). We can see from the photo that where the control rat has brain, R222 has fluid: On further investigation, researchers found that all brain functions had…

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Male Corpus Callosum Brain Anatomy - blue concept

How Can People Lead Normal Lives Without a Connected Brain?

Roughly 25% of people who lack the brain’s transfer station between the hemispheres live normal lives

Roughly one in 4,000 people lacks a corpus callosum, the structure of neural fibers that transfers information between the brain’s two hemispheres. Surprisingly, the 25% who have nothing but cerebrospinal fluid do not show signs of abnormality. About half have some brain-related problems and the remaining 25% have serious problems. Researchers wanted to know, how does anyone manage to live normally without a corpus callosum to connect the two hemispheres of the brain? It turns out that the human brain goes into high gear, organizing a fix: In a study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, neuroscientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) discovered that when the neuronal fibres that act as a bridge between the hemispheres are missing, the…

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Illustration of synapse and neuron on a blue background.

Have Researchers Discovered Why Humans Are Smarter Than Animals?

According to a new study, human memories are not stored in patterns, like animal memories, but jumbled all together

Researchers have believed for fifty years that the hippocampus, the seat of memory storage in our brains, stores patterns of memories separately. That’s true in animals but not, it turns out, in humans, according to neuroscientist Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, “In contrast to what everybody expects, when recording the activity of individual neurons we have found that there is an alternative model to pattern separation storing our memories… Shockingly, when we directly recorded the activity of individual neurons, we found something completely different to what has been described in other animals. This could well be a cornerstone of human’s intelligence.” University of Leicester, “Human intelligence just got less mysterious” at ScienceDaily He found that, human neurons, by contrast, store all the…

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Strongyloides stercoralis (threadworm) in stool, analyze by microscope

Stretton’s Paradox: The Paradox of the Lowly Worm

Because nature is full of intelligence, the more we learn, even about a worm, the less we "know"
George Gilder used the term “Stretton’s paradox” in connection with the attempt to understand the human connectome, the white matter in your brain that is as dense as the entire internet. Read More ›
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3D Rendering of binary tunnel with led leading light. Concept for data mining, big data visualization, machine learning, data discovery technology, customer product analysis.

The Brain Is Not a Computer and Big Data Is Not a Big Answer

These claims are mere tales from the AI apocalypse, as George Gilder tells it, in Gaming AI

In Gaming AI, George Gilder (pictured) sets out six assumptions generally shared by those who believe that, in a Singularity sometime soon, we will merge with our machines. Some of these assumptions seem incorrect and they are certainly all discussable. So let’s look at the first two: • “The Modeling Assumption: A computer can deterministically model a brain.” (p. 50) That would be quite difficult because brains don’t function like computers: As neuroscientist Yuri Danilov said last year, “Right now people are saying, each synoptical connection is a microprocessor. So if it’s a microprocessor, you have 1012 neurons, each neuron has 105 synapses, so you have… you can compute how many parallel processing units you have in the brain if…

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Liquid Nitrogen bank containing suspension of stem cells. Cell culture for the biomedical diagnostic

Can We Make Brains in a Dish? Can We Make MINDS in a Dish?

Experiments with brain organoids have left many wondering whether we should be concerned about creating brains-in-a-dish

In a recent report, Nature addressed several studies on disembodied brains grown in the lab. One of those studies, published last year by Alysson Muotri of the University of California, San Diego, showed that brain organoids (organized clusters of brain cells) displayed electrical signals reminiscent of a twenty-five-week-old pre-term baby. the electrical activity continued for several months until the experiment was eventually stopped. Experiments with such brain organoids have left many wondering whether we should be concerned about creating brains-in-a-dish. Organoids, such as those made of kidney or liver cells, have been used to study drug development and disease. They are made either from embryonic stem cells—an ethically problematic source because they involve the destruction of an embryo—or induced pluripotent…

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open door to another world

Everyone Seems To Be Looking For the “Seat of Consciousness”

Does consciousness have a seat at the table? Wait a minute. Isn’t consciousness the TABLE?

Prominent neuroscientist Christof Koch, whose theory of consciousness is linked to panpsychism, has a new paper at Nature: Human Behaviour. Ideally, many science notables would like to “naturalize” human consciousness—to make it the same sort of phenomenon as the wind in the trees in a universe where nothing has any intrinsic meaning that sets it apart from anything else or points to a higher order of things. That would, of course, make calculation easier. But is it true? Here’s the abstract: Electrical stimulation of the human cortex, undertaken for brain surgery, triggers percepts and feelings. A new study documents an ordering principle to these effects: the farther removed from sensory input or motor output structures, the less likely it is…

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A child with epilepsy during a seizure

Why, as a Neurosurgeon, I Believe in Free Will

The spiritual aspect of the human soul, sadly, leaves its signature in epilepsy

In his classic book, Mystery of the Mind, (1975) epilepsy surgery pioneer Dr. Wilder Penfield, asked a significant question: “Why are there no intellectual seizures?” Epileptic seizures can be experienced in a variety of ways—convulsions of the whole body, slight twitching of a muscle, compulsive memories, emotions, perceptions of smells or flashes of light, complex motor behaviors such as chewing or laughing or even walking, or subtle moments of inattention. But seizures never have intellectual content. There are no intellectual seizures, which is odd, given that large regions of the brain are presumed by neuroscientists to serve intellectual thought. It is all the more remarkable when we consider that seizures commonly originate in these “intellectual” areas of the brain. Yet…

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Father and child reading story book

Researchers: Human Brains Are Prewired To Recognize Words

Zeynep Saygin at Ohio State and her colleagues challenged a long-standing belief that human brains are not pre-adapted to learn language: Humans are born with a part of the brain that is prewired to be receptive to seeing words and letters, setting the stage at birth for people to learn how to read, a new study suggests. Analyzing brain scans of newborns, researchers found that this part of the brain – called the “visual word form area” (VWFA) – is connected to the language network of the brain. “That makes it fertile ground to develop a sensitivity to visual words – even before any exposure to language,” said Zeynep Saygin, senior author of the study and assistant professor of psychology…

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Doctor with MRI scan

Neuroscience Refutes Free Will? Addressing an Objection

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is not as good as Libet’s methods for assessing real-time effects

In reply to a post in which I pointed out that neuroscience strongly supports the reality of free will, commenter AaronS1978 makes a point at Uncommon Descent: First Michael Egnor is wrong about there being no brain wave activity with free won’t Patrick Haggard in 2014 discovered accidotal brain waves to free won’t I feel he kind of makes declarations, I understand his position philosophically and I do agree with a lot of it, but saying there is no activity before free won’t and saying it’s immaterial is incorrect Furthermore why wouldn’t there be brain activity when exercising your will? Wouldn’t that just mean that your soul was using your brain? Isn’t consciousness and conscious experience (hard problem of the…

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Concept of

Do We Really Have Free Will? Four Things to Know

Free will makes more sense of our world than determinism and science certainly allows for it

Free will is a contentious topic in science these days. Theoretical physicists weigh in sharply on one side or the other. Just this month, based on quantum mechanics, mathematician Tim Andersen says maybe and theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder says no. Based on cosmology, the study of our universe, physicist George Ellis said yes last June. With free will, as with consciousness, we don’t fully understand what’s involved. All insights from science are partial so we can’t look to science for a definitive answer. But maybe science can offer some hints. Here are four that might be helpful: 1.Has psychology shown that free will does not really exist? Psychological research on free will has supported the concept of free will but…

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Hands of a man tearing a piece of paper with inscription free will

Neuroscience Can Help Us Understand Why Free Will Is Real

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder and biologist Jerry Coyne, who deny free will, don’t seem to understand the neuroscience

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne seems obsessed with denying free will. In a recent post on his blog, Why Evolution Is True, he supported the claim of theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder that we do not have free will: If you’ve read this site, you’ll know that my own views are pretty much the same as hers, at least about free will. We don’t have it, and the fundamental indeterminacy of quantum mechanics doesn’t give it to us either. Hossenfelder doesn’t pull any punches: “This means in a nutshell that the whole story of the universe in every single detail was determined already at the big bang. We are just watching it play out.”… QED! Jerry Coyne, “Sabine Hossenfelder says we don’t…

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Brain doodle illustration with textures

Your Mind vs. Your Brain: Ten Things To Know

Although we are only beginning to understand the workings of the brain, it clearly isn't the same thing as the mind

Here are some reasons why they aren’t really the same: 1.Is the human brain unique in some way? Yes, but not so much in its structure as in the things we do with it. For example, the human, mouse, and fly brains all use the same basic mechanisms, which is a bit of a puzzle, considering the different things we do with our brains. The human brain is bigger than most. But then lemurs performed as well as chimps on the primate cognitive test battery (a primate intelligence test) and lemurs only have brains that are 1/200th the size of chimps’ brains. So, what we humans are doing differently from lemurs and chimps doesn’t depend wholly on brain size either.…

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Woman Lost Something

Researchers: Now We Know How Objects Can Hide in Plain Sight!

At times, we can’t “see” what we are looking for because our brain waves are not co-operating

Have you ever looked desperately for something—your passport perhaps—and then found, half an hour later, that it was right in front of you all the time? Inconspicuous but not really invisible? “Hiding in plain sight,” as the saying goes. It happens to everyone. We wonder why we didn’t find it before. But some enterprising researchers asked a different question: Why do we find it later? And they have come up with an explanation from the way our brains work: They found that patterns of neural signals, called traveling brain waves, exist in the visual system of the awake brain and are organized to allow the brain to perceive objects that are faint or otherwise difficult to see. Salk News, “Traveling…

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Closeup of housefly

Human, Mouse, and Fly Brains All Use the Same Basic Mechanisms

The study of brains in recent decades has yielded a very different picture from the patterns we might have expected

With differing outcomes, of course: A new study led by researchers from King’s College London has shown that humans, mice and flies share the same fundamental genetic mechanisms that regulate the formation and function of brain areas involved in attention and movement control. News Centre, “Humans and flies employ very similar mechanisms for brain development and function” at King’s College London (August 3, 2020) We might have expected a gradual increase in size and complexity, corresponding with ability, leading up to the human brain. But we have learned from recent research that lemurs, with brains 1/200 the size of chimps’, pass same IQ test (the Primate Cognition Test Battery). Human intellectual abilities are orders of magnitude greater than that of…

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World Alzheimer’s day concept. Human hands holding brain of earth over blurred blue nature background. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Why a Science Fiction Writer Thinks Life Is More Than Just Matter

Many animals and even bacteria show behavior that smacks of thinking, he says
Science fiction author and retired internist Geoffrey Simmons talks about the amazing intelligence that life forms, even cells, show. Read More ›