Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


Team of  programmers working on new project.They working late at night at the office.

Does Programming Depend More on Math or Language Skills?

Neither, actually, say researchers. It’s a more global network

Researchers have discovered that learning to code software uses not just math or language skills but rather a broader region of the brain called the “multiple demand network,” which is active when we are solving complex problems: “Understanding computer code seems to be its own thing. It’s not the same as language, and it’s not the same as math and logic,” says Anna Ivanova, an MIT graduate student and the lead author of the study. Anne Trafton, “To the brain, reading computer code is not the same as reading language” at MIT News Paper. (open access) (December 15, 2020) Neuroscientist Evelina Fedorenko, another of the study’s authors, says that there are two schools of thought regarding programming: One is, you…

The human stomach is strong. The internal organs are shaped by green trees. (environment)

Did You Know You Have a Second Brain?

Our guts operate on a quite separate nervous system. Learning more will help control gastrointestinal diseases

Our huge gastrointestinal tracts operate their own nervous system, using neurons that follow different principles from those of brain neurons, according to recent findings: Our approximately seven-meter long gastrointestinal (GI) tract has its own functionally distinct neurons. Since this enteric nervous system (ENS) operates autonomously, it is sometimes referred to as the “second” or “abdominal” brain. While the ENS controls muscle movement (peristalsis) in the gut and its fluid balance and blood flow, it also communicates with the immune system and microbiome. Karolinska Institutet, “New fundamental knowledge of the ‘abdominal brain’” at Medical Xpress (December 7, 2020) Paper. (subscription required) The Karolinska researchers made progress in studying the little-understood second brain by mapping the neuron types in the digestive systems…


Psychologist: Consciousness Is Not a Thing But a Point of View

Mark Solms attempts to explain consciousness in his new book, Hidden Spring

Anyone who thinks about consciousness soon realizes that it is a Hard Problem. It means being a subject of experience, rather than an object to which experiences happen. A dog has consciousness. He yelps when in pain. But a rock does not care about becoming sand. In an interesting article in Psychology Today, neuropsychologist Mark Solms outlines some thoughts from a book he has written on the subject, The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness (Norton, 2021): Physiological processes do not produce consciousness in the sense that the liver produces bile. Consciousness is not a thing but rather a point of view. What we perceive objectively as physiological processes in the brain we perceive subjectively as conscious…

Charming young woman undergoing electroencephalography

New Findings Debunk Many Studies Claiming To Read Minds via EEG

The researchers first became suspicious when they could not replicate many findings

We are told by Purdue University researchers that “many eye-popping findings that were based on this dataset and received high-profile recognition are false after all.” In this case, there was a simple error: The Purdue team performed extensive tests over more than one year on the dataset, which looked at the brain activity of individuals taking part in a study where they looked at a series of images. Each individual wore a cap with dozens of electrodes while they viewed the images. The Purdue team’s work is published in IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence. The team received funding from the National Science Foundation. “This measurement technique, known as electroencephalography or EEG, can provide information about brain activity…

ai, analysis, artificial intelligence, automation, big data, brain, business, cg, cloud computing, communication, computer graphics, concept, creative, cyber, deep learning, digital transformation

Why did the Human Brain Project Crash and Burn?

To simulate the human brain on a computer was a top flight EU project a decade ago. Today, a filmmaker explores the rubble dreams leave behind

The Human Brain Project from 2013 sounded like science fiction in an EU setting: We will build a brain in a decade: “And, if we do succeed, we will send, in ten years, a hologram to talk to you.” Well, we all got one thing right. It was fiction. Filmmaker Noah Hutton, a sympathetic observer, chronicled the decline, producing a documentary, In Silico, that focuses on booster Henry Markram who, according to his TED talk bio from 2009, was “director of Blue Brain, a supercomputing project that can model components of the mammalian brain to precise cellular detail — and simulate their activity in 3D. Soon he’ll simulate a whole rat brain in real time.” When the project started to…

Medical tablet displaying cerebral activity

Why Are Some Scientists Turning Away From Brain Scans?

Sometimes, brain scans just sound like popular opinion. What's wrong?

Brain scans have brought us many benefits, including the discovery that people (or rats for that matter) can function normally without most of their brain. Without such scans, there was no way to be sure. But, as with any technology, there are problems: Studies of brain images have suggested that Republicans and Democrats have visibly different thinking, that overweight adults have stronger responses to pictures of food and that it’s possible to predict a sober person’s likelihood of relapse. But such buzzy findings are coming under growing scrutiny as scientists grapple with the fact that some brain scan research doesn’t seem to hold up. Such studies have been criticized for relying on too few subjects and for incorrectly analyzing or…

Everyone Has A Story, typed words on a vintage typewriter. old paper. close-up. my history

Do We Really Remain the Same Person Throughout Our Lives?

Or is the continuity of our selves just an illusion?

That’s an interesting question because most cells in our bodies will die and be replaced a number of times. Many brain cells die but they are not replaced. They are just gone. So what, if anything, remains the same? One well-known professor of psychology, Susan Blackmore (pictured), argues that there is no continuity between our present selves and our past selves: Susan says there is an “illusion of continuity”, but what we think is “us” is just a “multiple parallel system” with “multiple parallel things going on”. So, she says, “the so-called me now is just another reconstruction. There was another one half an hour ago, and there’ll be another one, but they’re not really the same person, they’re just…

Laboratory mice in the experiment test. Blue filter.

Has Neuroscience “Proved” That the Mind Is Just the Brain?

This is hardly the first time that bizarre claims have been made for minimal findings. In neuroscience, materialism is the answer only if you don’t understand the questions.

Last month, materialist neurologist Steven Novella made a rather astonishing claim in a post at his Neurologica blog: A recent open-access study of learning and decision-making in mice shows that the human mind is merely what the human brain does. That’s a lot for mice to prove. In the study, the mice were trained to choose holes from which food is provided. Their brain activity was measured as they learned and decided which holes were best. The research looks specifically at quick and intuitive decision-making vs. decision-making that is slower and involves analysis of the situation. The investigators found that analysis-based decisions in the mice involve brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is a region of the brain…

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…

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,…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

Strongyloides stercoralis (threadworm).jpg
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 ›
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…

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…

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…

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…