Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis



Octopuses Get Emotional About Pain, Research Suggests

The smartest of invertebrates, the octopus, once again prompts us to rethink what we believe to be the origin of intelligence

The octopus is becoming a popular creature among neuroscientists. It is a very smart invertebrate with an unusually complex nervous system, organized in a fundamentally different way from that of, for example, mammals. Recently, a researcher has found the first strong evidence that octopuses feel pain, as opposed to merely reacting to it. There are two parts to pain: The natural physical reaction, like a sophisticated alarm system, sets off a chain of involuntary responses. But that chain of responses, by itself, doesn’t prove that any “self” is feeling anything. The alarm system would work just the same in an empty building as in a populated one. The second component can be called “emotional.” The life form experiences the pain…

Nerve Cell. 3D. Neurons

Researchers Can’t Explain: Memories Drift From Neuron to Neuron

Memories are supposed to stay put in the neurons that lay them down. A recent study, published at Nature, shows that they move a lot…

“Scientists are meant to know what’s going on, but in this particular case, we are deeply confused”, a recent article at The Atlantic begins. It’s about the way nervous system cells don’t simply lay down memories and keep them. The memories drift from neuron to neuron, quite contrary to textbook claims and traditional neuroscience assumptions: The relatively simple explanation found in neuroscience textbooks is that specific groups of neurons reliably fire when their owner smells a rose, sees a sunset, or hears a bell. These representations—these patterns of neural firing—presumably stay the same from one moment to the next. But as Schoonover, Fink, and others have found, they sometimes don’t. They change—and to a confusing and unexpected extent. Schoonover, Fink,…

In the Hospital Sick Man Lying on the Bed, His Visiting Wife Hopefully Sits Beside Him and Prays for His Rapid Recovery. Tragic, Somber and Melancholy Scene.

Is It Safe to Revise the Standard for Legally Recognized Brain Death?

People have a right to not have a controversial concept of death imposed upon them

Originally published on MercatorNet on May 28, 2021 by Nancy Valko I have been writing for many years about the implications of brain death, the lesser known “donation after cardiac/circulatory death”, diagnosed brain death cases like the supposedly “impossible” prolonged survival and maturation of Jahi McMath, and unexpected recoveries like Zack Dunlap’s. Some mothers declared “brain dead” were able to gestate their babies for weeks or months to a successful delivery before their ventilators were removed. Last August, I wrote about the World Brain Death Project and the effort to establish a worldwide consensus on brain death criteria and testing to develop the “minimum clinical standards for determination of brain death” (emphasis added). I also wrote about the current effort “to revise the (US) Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA) to assure a…

person behind mask

We Are Now Informed: Consciousness Does Not Really Exist

Rubbish. Giving up consciousness as an illusion would be like turning off the master switch. What would the ensuing darkness and powerlessness tell us?
What you think is enabling you to listen with any attention to neuroscientists (your dog, coffee cup, and your toothpaste are not listening to neuroscientists) is something — some of them tell us — we should give up as an illusion. Read More ›
Tree brain with human head cape, idea concept of think  hope freedom and mind , surreal artwork, dream art , fantasy landscape, imagination of nature

New Paper Provides Further Evidence for Free Will

According to the new research, many of the busy brain signals on which the “no free will” position depends on were system noise

We all sense that free will is real. We know that we could have stopped ourselves from making some mistakes. For decades, some neuroscientists have claimed that free will is an illusion, based on some well-publicized experiments. Some recent research challenges that: Experiments spanning the 1960s and 1980s measured brain signals noninvasively and led many neuroscientists to believe that our brains make decisions before we do—that human actions were initiated by electrical waves that did not reflect free, conscious thought. However, a new article in Trends in Cognitive Science argues that recent research undermines this popular case against free will. “This new perspective on the data turns on its head the way well-known findings have been interpreted,” said Adina Roskies,…

Cells under a microscope. Cell division. Cellular Therapy. 3d illustration on a dark background

Why Don’t Changes to Our Bodies Create a Different Consciousness?

The sense of consciousness remains single and united despite ceaseless bodily change

In the third podcast of the “Unity of Consciousness” series, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews Angus Menuge, professor and chair of philosophy at Concordia University, on unique features of human consciousness, including the question of why there really can’t be two of you. But Dr. Marks asks one final question: If consciousness is simply generated by the body, as materialists think, why don’t changes to our bodies create different consciousnesses? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Angus-Menuge-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 11:06 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: There are cells that change quite a lot. And then there are cells that don’t change a lot, for example, neurons. That is, you keep the same neurons.…

There But For Fortune

Life in the Plural: If There Were Two of You, Would “You” Exist?

According to philosopher Angus Menuge, there can’t be two of you, because two things cannot be one thing.

In the third podcast of the series, “Unity of Consciousness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews Angus Menuge, professor and chair of philosophy at Concordia University, on unique features of human consciousness, including the fact that our experiences are a unity, which has prompted some interesting thought experiments, for example those of Richard Swinburne. But here’s another one: What if there really were two of you? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Angus-Menuge-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 06:49 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: What is the idea of “too many thinkers” in philosophy? Angus Menuge (pictured): The simple view of personal identity is that your soul or your mind is always you. That’s a dualist view.…

Double exposure. A curly-haired brunette is standing in the doorway of the theater. Poster events, personality psychology. Cloak and reincarnation. Fasting alcoholic fears. Bifurcation. Made in camera

Why Do We Stay the Same Person Over Time? Why Not Split Up?

It would be a total fluke if all the different clouds of atoms that produce your brain would always produce the same consciousness. But they do

In the third podcast of the series, “Unity of Consciousness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews Angus Menuge, professor and chair of philosophy at Concordia University, on unique features of human consciousness, including the fact that our experiences are a unity, despite being scattered across many brain regions and even if our brains are split in half: But now let’s do some thought experiments, as proposed by Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Angus-Menuge-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 04:55 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Angus Menuge: There’s another problem raised by [philosopher] Richard Swinburne: He imagines that he’s going to have an operation where each of his cerebral hemispheres is placed in another person. So…

Human brain model for education in laboratory.

Intelligence: A Thousand Brains — or a Thousand Theories?

What does the iconic mammalian neocortex do that equivalent systems in birds and octopuses can’t do? That’s not clear

Jeff Hawkins, inventor of PalmPilot (a smartphone predecessor) and co-founder of Numenta (2005), does not lack confidence. After an interview with him in connection with his new book, A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence (Basic Books 2021), Will Douglas Heaven tells us at MIT Review, “Neuroscientist and tech entrepreneur Jeff Hawkins claims he’s figured out how intelligence works—and he wants every AI lab in the world to know about it”: He’s not the first Silicon Valley entrepreneur to think he has all the answers—and not everyone is likely to agree with his conclusions. But his ideas could shake up AI. Will Douglas Heaven, ““We’ll never have true AI without first understanding the brain”” at MIT Technology Review (March…

Various expressions

How Split-Brain Surgery Underlines the Unity of Consciousness

At one time, some thought that if the brain were split, consciousness would be too, but that did not turn out to be true

In the third podcast of a series, “Unity of Consciousness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews Angus Menuge, professor and chair of philosophy at Concordia University, on unique features of human consciousness. They started with the fact that our experiences are a unity despite being scattered across many brain regions. But it’s a remarkable fact that our consciousness remains single even when our brains are split in half: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Angus-Menuge-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 03:04 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: Let’s talk about the split brain operation where a neurosurgeon goes in and separates the right and left hemispheres. As I understand it, the signal for the epileptic fits starts on…

Happy family enjoying picnic

Mystery: Our Brains Divide Up Events But We Experience Them Whole

That’s one of the conundrums of consciousness

In the third podcast of the series, “Unity of Consciousness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews Angus Menuge, professor and chair of philosophy at Concordia University, on some of the unique features of human consciousness, starting with its unity. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Angus-Menuge-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 01:04 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: We hear of “Dr. Jekyll–Mr. Hyde” dual personalities but most of us only have one consciousness. What is the so-called unity of consciousness? It’s an area in philosophy, is that right? Angus Menuge (pictured): Going back a very long way. It’s mentioned by Plato and Aristotle, and later on by Kant… We can have many experiences concurrently. So when you…

Light rays through the black window. Toned photo

Can LSD Help Us Understand the Mind–Brain Relationship?

Is the mind generated by the brain or does the brain merely focus the mind on the current scene? An experiment sheds some light

In a fascinating article inThe Guardian titled “Acid test: scientists show how LSD opens doors of perception,” science editor Ian Sample discusses recent research on the mechanism by which LSD alters the brain and the mind. He begins by quoting Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) who noted that LSD “lowers the efficiency of the brain as an instrument for focusing the mind on the problems of life.” Remarkably, recent work in neuroscience supports Huxley’s view. The research, conducted at Cornell University, confirms what has been called the Rebus model of psychedelics. Rebus is a rough acronym for “relaxed beliefs under psychedelics”; the model proposes that the brain is essentially a prediction engine for daily life. In this model, the brain processes information…

Illustration of spiral arrangement in nature.  Golden Ratio concept

Quick Facts on IIT (the Leading Theory of Consciousness)

IIT may be part of a trend in science in which emergence and panpsychist theories are slowly replacing materialist and physicalist ones

Consciousness, as a concept, is so easy to experience and so hard to define. Or explain. The most popular current theory of consciousness is Integrated Information Theory (IIT), pioneered by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi and championed by Allen Institute neuroscientist Christof Koch. For the purpose of discussing IIT, science writer Mike Hogan works with this definition: Consciousness for purposes of this theory is defined as ‘self-awareness’ or the Central-Identity; the inner-voice that allows your brain to talk to itself, an awareness that ‘you’ exist, the rationalization of your own relevance to that existence, and an awareness of the cause and effect of your actions in regard to yourself and your environment. Mike Hogan, “The Best Available Story of Human Consciousness” at…

double exposure of the Passion of the Christ

The Brain Prosperity Gospel: Can “Neurotheology” Be Real Science?

The study of the neuroscience of mental states, including religious belief, is a reasonable pursuit but neurotheology, as a science, faces huge obstacles

Neurotheology is the study of the neuroscience associated with spiritual experience. It is a growing field. In a recent essay, Andrew Newberg, a prominent researcher, discusses recent advances: The field of neurotheology continues to expand from its early origins several decades ago to the present day. In its simplest definition, neurotheology refers to the field of scholarship that seeks to understand the relationship between the brain and our religious and spiritual selves. As I always like to say, it is important to consider both sides of neurotheology very broadly. Thus, the “neuro” side includes brain imaging, psychology, neurology, medicine, and even anthropology. And the “theology” side includes theology itself, but also various aspects related to religious beliefs, attitudes, practices, and…

Active nerve cells

Human Neurons Are Different From Animal Ones, Researchers Say

A Canadian research team got a rare chance to compare live brain tissue from donors undergoing surgery with that of rodents

Most neuroscience studies on live neurons depend on animal neurons. But a group of researchers in Canada got the opportunity to study live neurons from 66 human donors undergoing brain surgery for epilepsy and tumors. So they had a chance to compare human with rodent neurons: “The goal of this study was to understand what makes human brain cells ‘human,’ and how human neuron circuitry functions as it does,” says Dr. Taufik Valiante, neurosurgeon, scientist at the Krembil Brain Institute at UHN and co-senior author on the paper. University Health Network, “Researchers Identify Unique Characteristics of Human Neurons” at Neuroscience News (May 3, 2021) Looking specifically at live human cortical pyramidal cells, they found “notable and unexpected differences between their…

The War of Logic vs Creativity

Are You Left-Brained? Right-Brained? That’s Nice. Now Forget It.

The rise and fall of a really Cool myth about the brain

If you have a few minutes waiting in line, you can try various tests on the internet to help you “figure out the huge dilemma”: Are you left- or right-brained? Or, at least, “Which side of your brain is more dominant?” (in 30 seconds). Buzzfeed, more elaborately, offers a Triangle Test to reveal the dominant side. This stuff is fun (maybe). But should we take it seriously? No. Many of us have heard one version or another of the pop psych myth that the brain functions as two separate departments, logic (left) vs. creativity (right). The myth carries conversations and sells workshops, books and TV shows. In reality, the brain’s two hemispheres work together for most jobs, the degree of…

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A Short Film Explores the Dreamscape of a Child in a Coma

While her faithful father waits and tries to connect with her…

Last week, five animated short films competed for Oscar gold, with the top prize going to the emotionally charged “If Anything Happens I Love You.” The short is a bold examination of bereavement as two parents grapple with the violent loss of their young daughter. It’s a worthy winner. However, my own pick didn’t make the shortlist. WiNDUP (2020), written and directed by young creative Yibing Jiang, is also a poignant meditation on parenthood and grief — in this case, for a child in a possibly irreversible coma — as well as a technical gem. Jiang’s company, Unity, uses custom-built software to create shorts in “real-time 3D” on standard computers. Doing without certain tools that animators take for granted today,…

Woman experiencing sad emotions and evaluate their emotions from the side. Emotional Intelligence Concept

Neuroscientist: We Are Closing In On the Secret of Self-Awareness

But then he turns around and admits that we are frustratingly far from understanding how it all works. His frustration is understandable.

Cognitive neuroscientist Stephen M. Fleming, author of Know Thyself: The Science of Self-Awareness (2021), offers an excerpt at Slate in which he implies that we have made some headway in understanding self-awareness. Size alone is not the key to intellectual capacity, he says, but rather the “brain soup,” the number of neurons that can be packed into the brain. Primates of all types (monkeys, apes, and humans) are much more efficient at packing neurons into the brain than rodents are: “Regardless of their position on the tree, it seems that primates are evolutionary outliers—but, relative to other primates, humans are not.” He points to a portion of the prefrontal cortex, the “association cortex” which is “particularly well-developed” in humans, relative…

Neural networks of the human brain. 3d illustration of abstract nerve centers. Electrical impulses in brain. Bright full color

Young Filmmaker Tackles the Hype About Computing the Brain

In Silico, in which Noah Hutton sorts hope from hype, goes livestream today

Twelve years ago Noah Hutton (pictured), who had some background in neuroscience, heard prominent neuroscientist Henry Markram tell viewers in a TED talk that he had determined how to simulate a complete human brain, via supercomputers, within a decade. At the time, Hutton didn’t question that and he started to document the Blue Brain project that Markham directed, which started with a mouse brain. But then things stalled: As Hutton recounted in Scientific American yesterday, “there were magnificent fly-through visualizations of the first square millimeter of simulated rat brain set to The Blue Danube available in a visitor’s screening room, but a definite lack of progress along the road map towards a human brain.” There was, however, the recognition that…

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Cute little boy thinking

Boy Born With 2% of Brain “Does Maths, He Loves Science”

Noah Wall’s story raises intriguing questions about the relationship between the brain and the mind

Well before Noah Wall was born, his odds did not look very good. Scans showed he had developed a cyst which was destroying his brain, along with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Doctors predicted he would likely never talk, walk, or eat on his own. Five times his parents, Michelle (Shelly) and Rob, were pressed to abort him. Shelly recalls, “It wasn’t until around the 12 week scan that they knew something just wasn’t quite right,” Shelly told The Epoch Times in a video interview. “I said, ‘Does the baby have a heartbeat?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s all that matters to us.’” Shelly and Rob were referred to the RVI Hospital in Newcastle, where their baby…