neurosciences

In order to determine the characteristics of non-philosophy, we frame it in opposition to an image of an established paradigm: Deconstruction

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“I looked up at the shower head, and it was as if the water droplets had stopped in mid-air” […]

Although Baker is perhaps the most dramatic case, a smattering of strikingly similar accounts can be found, intermittently, in medical literature. There are reports of time speeding up – so called “zeitraffer” phenomenon – and also more fragmentary experiences called “akinetopsia”, in which motion momentarily stops.

For instance, travelling home one day, one 61-year-old woman reported that the movement of the closing train doors, and fellow passengers, was in slow motion and “broken up”, as if in “freeze frames”. A 58-year-old Japanese man, meanwhile, seemed to be experiencing life like a badly dubbed movie; in conversation, he found that although others’ voices sounded normal, they were out of sync with their faces. […]

One explanation for this double-failure is that our motion perception system has its own stopwatch, recording how fast things are moving across our vision – and when this is disrupted by brain injury, the world stands still. For Baker, stepping into the shower might have exacerbated the problem, since the warm water would have drawn the blood away from the brain to the extremities of the body, further disturbing the brain’s processing.

Another explanation comes from the discovery that our brain records its perceptions in discrete “snapshots”, like the frames of a film reel. “The healthy brain reconstructs the experience and glues together the different frames,” says Rufin VanRullen at the French Centre for Brain and Cognition Research in Toulouse, “but if brain damage destroys the glue, you might only see the snapshots.”

{ BBC | Continue reading }

A man against capital punishment is accused of murdering a fellow activist and is sent to death row

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It’s a question that has plagued philosophers and scientists for thousands of years: Is free will an illusion?

Now, a new study suggests that free will may arise from a hidden signal buried in the “background noise” of chaotic electrical activity in the brain, and that this activity occurs almost a second before people consciously decide to do something. […]

Experiments performed in the 1970s also raised doubts about human volition. Those studies, conducted by the late neuroscientist Benjamin Libet, revealed that the region of the brain that plans and executes movement, called the motor cortex, fired prior to people’s decision to press a button, suggesting this part of the brain “makes up its mind” before peoples’ conscious decision making kicks in.

To understand more about conscious decision making, Bengson’s team used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the brain waves of 19 undergraduates as they looked at a screen and were cued to make a random decision about whether to look right or left.

When people made their decision, a characteristic signal registered that choice as a wave of electrical activity that spread across specific brain regions.

But in a fascinating twist, other electrical activity emanating from the back of the head predicted people’s decisions up to 800 milliseconds before the signature of conscious decision making emerged.

{ Live Science | Continue reading }

related { Searching for the “Free Will” Neuron }

‘A place void of all light, which bellows like the sea in tempest.’ –Dante

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Some people report that in fear-related situations time seems to slowdown. That is to say, for example, during a car crash the event takes much longer from the point of a person experiencing the crash than the observer. But how and why the brain creates this slow motion experience is not completely understood. […]

In a situation where emotions are involved, there is an increased amygdala activity and a consequent increase in memory recording. When a person is asked to recall a fear-related event, the amount of details that he/she can recall is substantially increased compared to normal situation. However, the brain, not used to recalling so many details, is left to think that the event must have taken longer than it really did.

It is ‘the trick of memory’ as Eagleman puts it; the brain is not used to these exceptional circumstances and therefore, it tricks itself into false time perception.

{ The Question Gene | Continue reading }

Narcissists can feel empathy, research finds

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Those parents at the park taking all those photos are actually paying less attention to the moment, she says, because they’re focused on the act of taking the photo.

“Then they’ve got a thousand photos, and then they just dump the photos somewhere and don’t really look at them very much, ’cause it’s too difficult to tag them and organize them,” says Maryanne Garry, a psychology professor at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. […]

Henkel, who researches human memory at Fairfield University in Connecticut, found what she called a “photo-taking impairment effect.”

“The objects that they had taken photos of — they actually remembered fewer of them, and remembered fewer details about those objects. Like, how was this statue’s hands positioned, or what was this statue wearing on its head. They remembered fewer of the details if they took photos of them, rather than if they had just looked at them,” she says.

Henkel says her students’ memories were impaired because relying on an external memory aid means you subconsciously count on the camera to remember the details for you.

{ NPR | Continue reading }

photo { Florian Maier-Aichen, Untitled (Cloud), 2001 }

An instant under the mirror

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Important peculiarities of the human memory system:

— A remarkable capacity for storing information is coupled with a highly fallible retrieval process.

— What is accessible in memory is highly dependent on the current environmental, interpersonal, emotional and body-state cues.

— Retrieving information from memory is a dynamic process that alters the subsequent state of the system.

— Access to competing memory representations regresses towards the earlier representation over time.

{ Robert Bjork | Continue reading }

‘A pair of powerful spectacles has sometimes sufficed to cure a person in love.’ –Nietzsche

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The brain systems that modulate “that loving feeling” are only just beginning to be understood, but neuroscience research is pointing more and more to the idea that the sensation of love relies on the same brain circuitry that goes awry in addiction. Love is a drug, basically — because only a drive as strong as an addiction could keep couples together through the stresses of parenting and keep parents tied to their kids.

Research has found, for example, that people in love are similar to those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder — not only in terms of their obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior, but also the low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in their blood. So in a sense, love may be a special case of addiction

“The bottom line is that a lot of data on people rejected in love show that the major pathways linked with addiction become activated,” says Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University. If love is a drug, however, love’s chemistry can be chemically manipulated — those who are in love but don’t want to be could potentially take a pill that simply makes the formerly loved one seem no more special than a stranger.

{ NY mag | Continue reading }

“Love hurts”—as the saying goes—and a certain amount of pain and difficulty in intimate relationships is unavoidable. Sometimes it may even be beneficial, since adversity can lead to personal growth, self-discovery, and a range of other components of a life well-lived.

But other times, love can be downright dangerous. It may bind a spouse to her domestic abuser, draw an unscrupulous adult toward sexual involvement with a child, put someone under the insidious spell of a cult leader, and even inspire jealousy-fueled homicide. […]

Modern neuroscience and emerging developments in psychopharmacology open up a range of possible interventions that might actually work. These developments raise profound moral questions about the potential uses—and misuses—of such anti-love biotechnology. In this article, we describe a number of prospective love-diminishing interventions, and offer a preliminary ethical framework for dealing with them responsibly should they arise.

{ Taylor Francis Online | Continue reading }

‘Burrow for seed, the screech in hole’ —@TNI_InfantBat

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The contest, an unusual collaboration between industry and academic scientists, featured one-minute matches between 16 world-class “memory athletes” from all over the world as they met in a World Cup-like elimination format. The grand prize was $20,000; the potential scientific payoff was large, too. […]

Simon Reinhard, 35, a lawyer who holds the world record in card memorization (a deck in 21.19 seconds), and Johannes Mallow, 32, a teacher with the record for memorizing digits (501 in five minutes) […]

“We found that one of the biggest differences between memory athletes and the rest of us,” said Henry L. Roediger III, the psychologist who led the research team, “is in a cognitive ability that’s not a direct measure of memory at all but of attention.”

The technique the competitors use is no mystery.

People have been performing feats of memory for ages, scrolling out pi to hundreds of digits, or phenomenally long verses, or word pairs. Most store the studied material in a so-called memory palace, associating the numbers, words or cards with specific images they have already memorized; then they mentally place the associated pairs in a familiar location, like the rooms of a childhood home or the stops on a subway line. […] “When I see the eight of diamonds and the queen of spades, I picture a toilet, and my friend Guy Plowman,” said Ben Pridmore, 37, an accountant in Derby, England, and a former champion. […]

Now and then, a challenger boasts online of having discovered an entirely new method, and shows up at competitions to demonstrate it. “Those people are easy to find, because they come in last, or close to it,” said another world-class competitor, Boris Konrad, 29.

Anyone can learn to construct a memory palace, researchers say, and with practice remember far more detail of a particular subject than before.

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

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‘Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.’ –Hume

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“Neuroreductionism” is the tendency to reduce complex mental phenomena to brain states, confusing correlation for physical causation. In this paper, we illustrate the dangers of this popular neuro-fallacy, by looking at an example drawn from the media: a story about “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” in women. We discuss the role of folk dualism in perpetuating such a confusion, and draw some conclusions about the role of “brain scans” in our understanding of romantic love.

{ Savulescu & Earp | Continue reading }

photo { John Gutmann, Naked Breasts, Covered Face, 1939 }

‘ACCIDENT. Always regrettable.’ —Flaubert

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The US National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) said the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) had so many problems we effectively need to tear it up and start again. The way forward, it said, is a new research programme to discover the brain problems that underlie mental illnesses.

That research is now taking off. The first milestone came earlier this year, when the NIMH published a list of 23 core brain functions and their associated neural circuitry, neurotransmitters and genes – and the behaviours and emotions that go with them (see “The mind’s 23 building blocks”). Within weeks, the first drug trials conceived and funded through this new programme will begin. […]

Criticism of psychiatry has been growing for years – existing treatments are often inadequate, and myriad advances in neuroscience and genetics have not translated into anything better. Vocal opponents are not confined to the US. Last week, the new UK Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry launched a campaign claiming that drugs such as antidepressants and antipsychotics often do more harm than good.

What’s more, many suspect that commonly used labels, such as depression and schizophrenia, merely group together people sharing some superficial symptoms, when their underlying brain disorders are quite different.

Genetic studies, for instance, suggest that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, supposedly distinct conditions, involve mutations in many of the same genes. And diagnostic confusion between the disorders is common. […]

So what do the mind’s 23 building blocks consist of? The best mapped-out anatomically is the brain’s fear circuitry, thanks to years of scaring volunteers as they lie in fMRI scanners. This system is probably involved in phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another is the related circuitry that deals, not with present danger, but with vaguer fears that something bad might happen in future. “That circuit is very relevant to rumination and anxiety,” says Cuthbert.

Another five neural systems are components of the brain’s reward circuitry, which is active when we find something pleasurable – like eating or sex – and drives us to repeat the experience. These can malfunction when people are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The reward system, says Cuthbert, is very powerful because one of the most important things that organisms need to learn is to seek out things like food and water. “Drug abuse hijacks that system so the cues create urges that are very hard to resist,” he says.

{ NewScientist | Continue reading }

Let’s follow that fire truck I think your house is burnin down

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The average person misplaces up to nine items a day, and one-third of respondents in a poll said they spend an average of 15 minutes each day searching for items—cellphones, keys and paperwork top the list, according to an online survey of 3,000 people published in 2012 by a British insurance company. […]

In a recent study, researchers in Germany found that the majority of people surveyed about forgetfulness and distraction had a variation in the so-called dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2), leading to a higher incidence of forgetfulness. According to the study, 75% of people carry a variation that makes them more prone to forgetfulness.

{ WSJ | Continue reading }

related { Processing new information during sleep compromises memory }

photo { Daniel Bejar, The Visual Topography of a Generation Gap (Brooklyn, NY, #1), 2011 }

We must embrace emptiness and burn it as fuel for our journey

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If you’re like most people, you spend a great deal of your time remembering past events and planning or imagining events that may happen in the future. While these activities have their uses, they also make it terribly hard to keep track of what you have and haven’t actually seen, heard, or done. Distinguishing between memories of real experiences and memories of imagined or dreamt experiences is called reality monitoring and it’s something we do (or struggle to do) all of the time. […]

Perhaps you’ve left the house and headed to work, only to wonder en route if you’d locked the door. Even if you thought you did, it can be hard to tell whether you remember actually doing it or just thinking about doing it. […]

The study’s authors also found greater activation in the anterior medial prefrontal cortex when they compared reality monitoring for actions participants performed with those they only imagined performing.

{ Garden of the Mind | Continue reading }

‘The fire of hell is called eternal, only because it never ends.’ –Thomas Aquinas

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When you really focus your attention on something, you’re said to be “in the present moment.” But a new piece of research suggests that the “present moment” is actually […] a sort of composite—a product mostly of what we’re seeing now, but also influenced by what we’ve been seeing for the previous 15 seconds or so. They call this ephemeral boundary the “continuity field.”

{ Quartz | Continue reading }

photo { Richard Sandler }