Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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Multiple personality disorder concept

Another Philosopher Argues That the Unified Self Is an Illusion

At Closer to Truth, Lawrence Kuhn interviews Julian Baggini, who claims, in terms reminiscent of Thomas Metzinger, that a unified self is an illusion

University of Kent philosopher Julian Baggini, author of The Great Guide: What David Hume can teach us about being human and living well (2021), was interviewed recently by Robert Lawrence Kuhn at Closer to Truth (September 1, 2022). In the interview, Dr. Baggini asserted that, while consciousness is not an illusion, a unified self that persists through time is: Here is a partial transcript, interspersed with questions that arise from the discussion: Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Julian, my own internal feeling of awareness my consciousness seems like the most obvious fundamental thing in the world. You tell me it’s an illusion Why? Julian Baggini: (0:11) To be honest, consciousness isn’t an illusion. I mean clearly there’s awareness of the world. I…

Ultrasound examination of the head. Examination of a month old baby

Woman Missing Her Brain’s Language Lobe Pens New York Times Piece

Helen Santoro’s parents were told she would “never speak and would need to be institutionalized.” She became a science writer instead

Children who suffer perinatal strokes may be left with large holes or lesions where brain regions should be. Many are severely disabled. But some are not disabled at all. One woman, Helen Santoro, was so little affected by the lack of a left temporal lobe that she got dropped from a research study of the aftermath. Now a science writer, she published an article last week in the New York Times about her efforts to understand and unravel the mystery. Perinatal stroke is often discovered, as in her case, when the newborn child has trouble with breathing or sucking reflexes. A brain scan showed “a huge hole’ where her left temporal lobe should have been, just above the ear. Because…

Close up flying small lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) hunting night moths insect pest catching in darkness via ultrasound echolocation. Dark background detail wildlife animal portrait.

There Really Is a “Batman” and He Isn’t in the Comics

Daniel Kish lost both eyes to cancer as a baby. With nothing to lose, he discovered human echolocation

Perhaps one should not really say that Daniel Kish “discovered” human echolocation. Yet, having no other options as a blind infant cancer survivor, he discovered early on — and began to publicize — a sense that few sighted persons would even think of: He calls his method FlashSonar or SonarVision. He elaborated for the BBC: Do people need to be blind to do it? Not necessarily: In 2021, a small study led by researchers at Durham University showed that blind and sighted people alike could learn to effectively use flash sonar in just 10 weeks, amounting to something like 40 to 60 hours of total training. By the end of it, some of them were even better at specific tests…

The little chimpanzee monkey put his human friend's hand on his head, hugged him. made a grimace. Sits in a green stroller, wearing blue shorts. Walk down the street. in the background palms,

Researchers Find More Ways That Human and Ape Brains Differ

Underlying the significant differences in brain — to say nothing of the vast difference in mind — is a genetic mystery…

Yale University researchers have identified more specific ways the human brain differs from the brains of all other primates. Using “hundreds of thousands of cells collected from the dlPFC of adult humans, chimpanzees, macaque, and marmoset monkeys,” they found After grouping cells with similar expression profiles they revealed 109 shared primate cell types but also five that were not common to all species. These included a type of microglia, or brain-specific immune cell, that was present only in humans and a second type shared by only humans and chimpanzees. The human-specific microglia type exists throughout development and adulthood, the researchers found, suggesting the cells play a role in maintenance of the brain upkeep rather than combatting disease… An analysis of…

A brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria sp.) waits in ambush on a leaf at night in Costa Rica.

Can Life Forms Like Spiders, That Lack a Neocortex, Really Dream?

Paleontologist Günter Bechly argues that it’s highly unlikely. Michael Egnor sides with Aristotle; they dream about what they can perceive

Recently, paleontologist Günter Bechly took issue with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on the question of whether spiders dream. Egnor was willing to accept the possibility, noting that spiders can dream only about things they can think about: “If spiders and bacteria dream, they dream of flies or chemical gradients, but not of philosophy.” Bechly, on the other hand, thinks it’s a filament too far for the spider (never mind the bacteria) to dream at all: … I tend to concur with those neuroscientists who doubt any organisms possess phenomenal consciousness that lack a neocortex (found only in mammals) or a comparable structure (in birds and maybe cephalopods). Rapid eye movement may indicate neural activity, but the concept of dreaming for me…

brain anatomy
Real human half brain anatomy isolated on black background

A Neurosurgeon on Why Some People Function With Only Half a Brain

The study results are reassuring and they point to two larger truths

Yesterday, we ran a story about a recent study in which 40 people who had half of their brains removed (hemispherectomy) as children — due to intractable epilepsy — did unexpectedly well on psychological tests. Some say that it’s easy to explain because the brain has so many redundant elements. But is that all we need to know? We asked pediatric neurosurgeon Michael Egnor for some thoughts on that approach and he replied: The means by which people with major parts of their brains removed maintain function are not understood. It’s nonsense to say, as some do, that “The brain is massively parallel and recursive and functions under network rules and laws.” That’s typical neuroscience gibberish. The fact is that…

brain waves test
Brain model on human brain wave background

People With Half Their Brains Removed Do Well on Psych Tests

In a recent study, adults who had had hemispherectomies as children — to combat severe epilepsy — performed within 10% of other study subjects on face and word recognition

At Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Institute, researchers recently found that people who had had half their brains removed as children (due to serious epilepsy) “scored surprisingly well on face and word recognition tests”: The researchers expected that those volunteers who had only their right hemisphere would do well at face recognition but not as well at word recognition, since the right hemisphere is generally used to process images while the left hemisphere processes words; they expected the opposite results for those who still had just their left hemisphere. Instead, the researchers found that both groups performed nearly equally well and both were on average 86% accurate on the tests compared to a control group consisting of…

Old human skeleton in ancient tomb at archaeological excavation

Human Brain Shape Hardly Changed in 160,000 Years

Faces changed, yes, and researchers think diet may have played a role

The changes in human heads over the past 160,000 years were not driven by a changing brain, researchers say. It was the human face that changed, according to a recent article at New Scientist: Comparing the braincases of early modern human children with adults for the first time allowed the researchers to isolate the brain’s role in the evolution of the skull. The team was surprised to find that while the size and proportions of the skulls of H. sapiens children from 160,000 years ago were largely comparable to children today, the adults looked remarkably different to those of modern adults, with much longer faces and more pronounced features. Human faces continue to grow until the age of around 20,…

3D illustration, embossed mesh representing internet connections, cloud computing and neural network.

Can Computer Neural Networks Learn Better Than Human Neurons?

They can and do; when artificial intelligence programmers stopped trying to copy the human neuron, they made much better progress

Neural networks are all the rage in computing these days. Many engineers think that, with enough computer power and fancy tweaks, they will become as smart as people. Recent successes playing games and predicting protein folds pour gasoline on the AI fire. We could be on the edge of the mystical Singularity, when humans and computers will merge and we become immortal gods. Or not. Let’s wind the clock back to the beginning of neural networks. In computer science terms, they are actually a very old technology. The earliest version, called a perceptron, (a single-layer neural network) was invented in the 1960s, inspired by McCulloch and Pitt’s early model of brain neurons. But, the perceptron was ignored for decades because…

Foreign languages translation or learning languages online. Mobile phone or smartphone with dictionary app on the screen.

Six Brain Regions Control Language — But We’re Not Sure How

We’re learning more about human language but it remains, in its way, mysterious

Neuroscientist Saima Malik-Moraleda told The Scientist, recently that six main regions of the brain respond to language tasks but not to, say, math tasks. Using fMRI data, a recent comprehensive survey — of which she is a co-author — examined two native speakers of each of 45 languages while the speaker was performing either a linguistic or non-linguistic specific task. From the interview, SM-M: But the variability that we saw across languages was lower than the variability that we see across participants, meaning that the language network seems to be incredibly stable and similar across languages. One of the questions that cognitive neuroscientists who particularly study language wonder is: “Why do we have six areas? What does each area do?”…

Pileated woodpecker nest in Florida

Woodpeckers: There Are Advantages to Having a Small Brain

Woodpeckers absorb 1200 to 1400 g shock driving their beaks into wood — but a shock absorbing skull doesn’t explain the absence of damage

How do woodpeckers absorb a remarkable amount of shock to the head — 1200 to 1400 g — for each hit on a tree? A football player might absorb 120 g — without damaging their brains? The answers could help minimize brain damage in humans and suggested explanations include a surplus of tau proteins (2017), an unusual bone in the tongue, and head movements that minimize brain damage. A new research team challenges such explanations saying that their data show that woodpecker heads” act more like stiff hammers” and that “any shock absorbance would hinder the woodpeckers’ pecking abilities.” But then what about the bird’s brain? While the deceleration shock with each peck exceeds the known threshold for a concussion…

Machine learning , artificial intelligence , ai, deep learning blockchain neural network concept. Brain made with shining wireframe above multiple blockchain cpu on circuit board 3d render.

Artificial neural networks can show that the mind isn’t the brain

Because artificial neural networks are a better version of the brain, whatever neural networks cannot do, the brain cannot do.

What is the human mind? AI pioneer Marvin Minsky (1927–2016) said in 1987 that essentially “Minds are what brains do.” That is, the mind is the result of electrical waves cycling through the brain, as neurons spike and synapses transmit signals. But is that true? Can we test this idea? We can indeed, using artificial neural networks. One of the most popular approaches to artificial intelligence is artificial neural networks. These networks, inspired by an early model of how neurons fire (the McCulloch–Pitts model), consist of nodes, where each node is similar to a neuron. A node receives signals and then sends them to its linked nodes based on an activation function. There are, of course, differences between neural networks…

Organoids in petri dish .  Few distributed on growing medium. 3d illustration rendering

Lab-Grown Brains Are Closer Now. Should They Have Rights?

A new neuroscience research area raises as much concern as excitement: growing mini “human brains” in a lab. The excitement is the prospect of better understanding and treatment of dementia, autism, and motor neuron disease (ALS). The concern is that they will become sentient, capable of feeling. Then what? Starting in 2008, researchers learned that they could coax human stem cells to self-organize into “brainlike structures with electrically active neurons.” Although the cell clusters behave, to some extent, like human embryos, they are not human embryos but skin cells from an adult. That limits the ethical conflict in that the research does not depend on the abortion industry. But ethical issues crop up anyway as groups of cells become more…


Neuroscientists: We hear when we are asleep — but we don’t listen

The new finding may help determine whether an apparently unconscious or demented person can actually understand what is said to him

Earlier this week, we talked about the fact that the human nose is much more sensitive than we sometimes think. Our sense of smell gets ignored in favor of visual, auditory, or symbolic information — but it’s still there. The same goes with our hearing when we are asleep, researchers say: The researchers were surprised to discover that the brain’s response to sound remains powerful during sleep in all parameters but one: the level of alpha-beta waves associated with attention to the auditory input and related expectations. This means that during sleep, the brain analyzes the auditory input but is unable to focus on the sound or identify it, and therefore no conscious awareness ensues. Tel-Aviv University, “During sleep the…

Brain stroke concept. Migraine and headache conceptual image, 3D illustration

Thrones Star Can Speak While Lacking “Quite a Bit” of Brain. How?

Yes, Emilia Clarke is lucky her aneurysms weren’t worse but, given our brains’ complexity, how do our mental abilities survive?

Game of Thrones (2011–2019) star Emilia Clarke, who suffered two aneurysms in her twenties, told BBC News that “‘quite a bit’ of her brain no longer functions” after the extensive bleeding and surgeries: “There’s quite a bit missing, which always makes me laugh,” Clarke said, speaking about her brain. “Strokes, basically, as soon as any part of your brain doesn’t get blood for a second, it’s gone. So, the blood finds a different route to get around, but then whatever bit is missing is therefore gone.” … Clarke said at the time that the surgery left her with “a deep paranoia” over whether it would prevent her from continuing a career as an actor. But she went on to star…

coconut octopus underwater macro portrait on sand

Jumping Genes … A New Clue to Octopus Intelligence?

Despite being very different, the human brain and the octopus brain share the same sort of jumping genes

The fact that octopuses are unusually intelligent (like mammals) — even though they are solitary invertebrates — means that they now receive some protection against cruelty. Protection that no one bothers about for, say, clams and oysters. But the science puzzle remains. How did octopuses and some of their close kin among the cephalopods get so smart? Theories about how mammals and birds got to be smart may not work here. A recent paper adds a little more information to the controversy. Studying the common octopus and the California octopus, researchers found that the same “jumping genes” are active in the octopus brain as in the human one — even though the two types of brain are very different. Jumping…

Group of cute smart dolphins in the ocean

Why Some Life Forms Are Smarter Than Others Is Still a Mystery

Brains are not simple so many “just common sense” theories have fallen by the wayside

As biologist John Timmer notes at Ars Technica, some life forms appear much more intelligent than others despite having brains of roughly the same size: Animals with very different brains from ours—a species of octopus and various birds—engage with tools, to give just one example. It seems intuitive that a brain needs a certain level of size and sophistication to enable intelligence. But figuring out why some species seem to have intelligence while closely related ones don’t has proven difficult—so difficult that we don’t really understand it. John Timmer, “Brain size vs. body size and the roots of intelligence” at Ars Technica (July 12, 2022) As he points out, some things we might expect to be true — puzzlingly —…

A classy and gorgeous mestiza woman in a student uniform with bow tie. Serious pensive look in her eyes. Outdoor scene.

Neuroscientists: Our Brains May Detect Deepfakes When Minds Don’t

Using electroencephalography, researchers found that brains may be spotting something that minds miss

In an interesting series of experiments using electroencephalography (EEG), University of Sydney neuroscientists found that our brains are sometimes alerted to computer-generated fakes when our minds really don’t know: When looking at participants’ brain activity, the University of Sydney researchers found deepfakes could be identified 54 percent of the time. However, when participants were asked to verbally identify the deepfakes, they could only do this 37 percent of the time. “Although the brain accuracy rate in this study is low – 54 percent – it is statistically reliable,” said senior researcher Associate Professor Thomas Carlson, from the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology. “That tells us the brain can spot the difference between deepfakes and authentic images.” University of Sydney,…

Young woman having knee pain

Study: Brain Scans Show That Mindfulness Reduces Acute Pain

The volunteers who meditated during a controlled pain experiment reported a 32% reduction in severity

Recently, neuroscientists at the University of California – San Diego studied whether mindfulness meditation can reduce the perception of pain. That, of course, meant actually causing the volunteers to experience pain. What’s at stake is a central claim of mindfulness meditation: “One of the central tenets of mindfulness is the principle that you are not your experiences,” said senior author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “You train yourself to experience thoughts and sensations without attaching your ego or sense of self to them, and we’re now finally seeing how this plays out in the brain during the experience of acute pain.” University of California – San Diego, “Mindfulness meditation reduces pain…

baby chimpanzee ape at the zoo.

Human Brain Has Many More Language Connections Than Chimp Brain

That finding isn’t surprising in principle but the researchers pinned down specific areas of greater connectivity

In a study of brain scans from 50 humans and 29 chimpanzees, researchers discovered an interesting difference: The connections between language areas in the human brain are much larger than previously thought and quite different from those of the chimpanzee brain. That’s, of course, consistent with the relative complexity of human thought and language but the question had not really been examined before with a focus on one specific area. The researchers were interested in a nerve tract that connects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, the arcuate fasciculus. Chimpanzee brain connectivity seems to involve mainly the temporal lobe but in humans there is a connection towards the frontal and parietal lobes via the arcuate fasciculus. “Our findings…