Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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Hand turning off the bulb lamp.Turning off the light.

Your Soul Has No “Off Switch”

A major modern misunderstanding of the human mind is to assume that it is like a machine with an “on” and an “off” switch

I have written, in an earlier post, about the problem of “consciousness:” — that is, the problem inherent to the word itself and to the concept it conveys. I believe that “consciousness” is a mere narrative gloss on the mind — it denotes nothing beyond the mental powers of the soul. This is not just linguistic nitpicking. The concept of “consciousness” is much worse than useless. It leads us to misunderstand the mind in a profound way, as I will explain. The point may seem subtle but I believe that, if you think deeply enough about it, you will see that it is obviously true. First, I am not saying “consciousness” is an illusion. or possibly a delusion. This witless…

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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side view of senior man in coma on bed in hospital

Is There Hope for People in a Persistent Vegetative State?

Yes! Modern neuroscience is shining a light on their minds

Today, many neuroscientists don’t even call it a persistent vegetative state. The new term is disorders of consciousness. One neuroscientist recounts, In the past 20 years, advances in neuroimaging techniques have allowed us to explore brain functions in these altered states of consciousness. One breakthrough study conducted at our lab, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, involved 54 DoC patients. The researchers asked the patients to perform two mental-imagery tasks while they lay in a brain scanner. In the first, they were asked to imagine playing tennis; in the second, to imagine walking from room to room in their home – mental tasks that are associated with contrasting patterns of neural activity. Remarkably, five patients…

Sick girl lying on the hospital bed and her mom kiss to support.

Can People in Comas Have Abstract Thoughts?

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor discusses how we might test for that ability

In the recent podcast, “Michael Egnor on Whether People in Comas Can Think,” Robert J. Marks raised an interesting point with Egnor: Can people in comas think abstractly or do they form thoughts only at a much more basic level, given how physically distressed they are? The answer might surprise you.

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Sick mature woman lying in bed

Can Loved Ones in a Coma Hear Us?

Modern brain imaging studies show that very often they can. And, with help from new technology, they can answer us too

Pioneering research using brain imaging (fMRI) over the last fifteen years has shown that, even in deep coma, people can hear, understand, and respond. It’s no longer just anecdotes from caregivers. The controversial Terri Schiavo case might be decided very differently today.

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Independent Thinking

Michael Egnor on Whether People in Comas Can Think

If you’re in a coma, can you still think? Some fascinating neuroscience research sheds light on the brain function of those in comas. Robert J. Marks and Dr. Michael Egnor discuss comas, brain function, and types of thought. Show Notes 00:29 | Introducing Dr. Michael Egnor, Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook 00:58…

Uneasy senior woman praying for sick man

New Evidence That Some Comatose People Really Do Understand

Researchers found mental activity in response to verbal commands even in some “completely unresponsive” patients

There is growing evidence that many comatose patients are quite aware of what is going on around them. For example, nurses are often very careful not to say upsetting things that the patient can hear because blood pressure often rises dramatically, even in deeply “unaware” comatose patients.

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