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David Eagleman: The human brain runs on conflict

This article was taken from the May 2011 issue of Wired magazine. Be the first to read Wired's articles in print before they're posted online, and get your hands on loads of additional content by subscribing online. Throughout the 60s, pioneers in artificial intelligence worked late nights trying to build simple robotic programs capable of finding, fetching and stacking small wooden blocks in patterns. It was one of those apparently simple problems that turn out to be exceptionally difficult, and it led AI scientists to think: perhaps the robot could solve the problem by distributing the work among specialised subagents -- small computer programs that each bite off a piece of the problem. One computer program could be in charge of finding, another could fetch, another could solve stacking. The society-of-mind framework was a breakthrough, but, despite initial excitement, a collection of experts with divided labour has never yielded the properties of the human brain. Related:  The Neuroscience of Emotions

What Happens to Consciousness When We Die Where is the experience of red in your brain? The question was put to me by Deepak Chopra at his Sages and Scientists Symposium in Carlsbad, Calif., on March 3. A posse of presenters argued that the lack of a complete theory by neuroscientists regarding how neural activity translates into conscious experiences (such as redness) means that a physicalist approach is inadequate or wrong. The idea that subjective experience is a result of electrochemical activity remains a hypothesis, Chopra elaborated in an e-mail. Where is Aunt Millie's mind when her brain dies of Alzheimer's? The hypothesis that the brain creates consciousness, however, has vastly more evidence for it than the hypothesis that consciousness creates the brain. Thousands of experiments confirm the hypothesis that neurochemical processes produce subjective experiences. Where is the evidence for consciousness being fundamental to the cosmos? How does consciousness cause matter to materialize?

The Neuroscience of Looking on the Bright Side Ask a bride before walking down the aisle “How likely are you to get divorced?” and most will respond “Not a chance!” Tell her that the average divorce rate is close to 50 percent, and ask again. Would she change her mind? Unlikely. Psychologists have documented human optimism for decades. To answer these questions we have investigated optimism by using a recent, burgeoning approach in neuroscience: Describing neural activity related to complex behavior with the simple concept of “prediction errors.” The concept of prediction errors was initially put forward in research on artificial intelligence. How have neuroscientists employed the idea of prediction errors to study brain activity? Interestingly, similar patterns of brain activity seem to be at play when participants gamble for money and when they engage in complex social interactions. Prediction errors also appear to be involved in another common human social behavior, when we find out whether another person likes us or not.

Eye Movements Do Not Reveal Lying: Scientific American Podcast The eyes are the windows to the soul. As such they can reveal if someone is lying, right? Cop shows, advice shows, even some organizational training courses hold that if somebody looks up and to the right, they’re probably lying. Up and to the left means they’re telling the truth. Now a study says that there is no connection between eye movement and lying. The work is in the journal Public Library of Science ONE. Researchers tested eye movement and honesty in multiple ways. The researchers also closely analyzed 52 archived news videos of real people making a public plea for the safe return of a missing relative. —Steve Mirsky [The above text is a transcript of this podcast.] The neuroscience of happiness They say money can’t buy happiness. But can a better understanding of your brain? As recent breakthroughs in cognitive science break new ground in the study of consciousness — and its relationship to the physical body — the mysteries of the mind are rapidly becoming less mysterious. Shimon Edelman, a cognitive expert and professor of psychology at Cornell University, offers some insight in “The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About the Good Life.” Salon spoke with Edelman over the phone about the brain as computer, our cultural investment in happiness, and why knowing how our brains work might make us happier. In the book, you approach neuroscience from a popular perspective, using language and allegories laypeople can understand. Well, I think the principles in question are actually pretty accessible on what you call a superficial level. Well, if pursuit is the key to happiness, is this kind of happiness sustainable? That’s a really good question.

Oxford Foundation for Theoretical Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence Everyday Stress Can Shut Down the Brain's Chief Command Center The entrance exam to medical school consists of a five-hour fusillade of hundreds of questions that, even with the best preparation, often leaves the test taker discombobulated and anxious. For some would-be physicians, the relentless pressure causes their reasoning abilities to slow and even shut down entirely. The experience—known variously as choking, brain freeze, nerves, jitters, folding, blanking out, the yips or a dozen other descriptive terms—is all too familiar to virtually anyone who has flubbed a speech, bumped up against writer’s block or struggled through a lengthy exam. For decades scientists thought they understood what happens in the brain during testing or a battlefront firefight. Select an option below: Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content

What Is the Fundamental Nature of Consciousness? [Excerpt] This chapter from PHI: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul, by Giulio Tononi (Pantheon, 2012) describes Tononi’s theory of consciousness as a measure of information. The brain, Tononi postulates, consists of billions of neurons: think of them as if they were transistorlike bits that, when tallied, sum to equal more than their parts. That increment above and beyond—Tononi calls it phi—represents the degree to which any being, whether human or mule, remains conscious. From the forthcoming book PHI: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul, by Giulio Tononi Copyright © 2012 by Giulio Tononi Published by arrangement with Pantheon Books, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Integrated Information: The Many and the One In which is shown that consciousness lives where information is integrated by a single entity above and beyond its parts When is an entity one entity? While musing such matters, Galileo was startled by a voice. An image came to Galileo.

The Upside of Pessimism The theory of defensive pessimism suggests that imagining—and planning for—worst-case scenarios can be more effective than trying to think positively. I have pretty low expectations for this article. Oh sure, I spent a lot of time on it, and I personally think it’s a great read. But I’m kind of worried that you will hate it. Worse yet, I’m afraid you’ll hate me for writing it. Or at least, that’s how I would start out thinking if I were prone to defensive pessimism, a phenomenon in which people imagine worst-case scenarios in order to manage their anxiety. This type of negativity might sound like apostasy by American standards. I recently spoke with Norem, a pioneer of the defensive pessimism theory. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows, and you can take a test to find out if you’re a defensive pessimist here. Olga Khazan: What is defensive pessimism? Khazan: How would I apply this in real life? Norem: Public speaking is my favorite example.

Unlocking the Secrets and Powers of the Brain | Mind & Brain Zimmer: There is a lot of work lately in understanding how perception translates into action, making sense of what goes on when we make a decision to do something. Wang: Some neuroscientists who are studying these processes are interested in the idea that perhaps you could have a brain center that gathers evidence and reaches a threshold for making a commitment. There might be another brain center that expresses confidence in the decision or even the very awareness of the decision. Here’s an example that many of you may have encountered from everyday life. So you can be pretty committed to a decision yet be unaware of it. Zimmer: Mike, you’ve been working with legal scholars to try to bring insights from neuroscience to the law. When you have this basic insight, then you realize that new knowledge about who we are is going to change how we think about the law. The more immediate issue is that neuroscience is everywhere. Audience member?

U.S. researchers map emotional intelligence of the brain We tend to think of reason and emotion as being two different things, but it turns out that there may not be a choice between the heart and the head. A University of Illinois team, led by neuroscience professor Aron Barbey, has made the first detailed 3D map of emotional and general intelligence in the brain, that shows a strong overlap of general and emotional intelligence. Reason and emotions aren’t opposites, but rather two types of intelligence or, perhaps, two aspects of one intelligence. Reason comes under the heading of general intelligence. There are a number of theories about how general and emotional intelligence are related. Relationships between general and emotional intelligence The study was based on computed tomography (CT) scans taken of the brains of 152 US Vietnam War veterans. The CT scans provided the first detailed 3D map of the regions of the brain associated with general and emotional intelligence. In the video below, Aron Barbey discusses the study.

MindPapers: Contents Search tips There are two kinds of search you can perform on MindPapers: All fields This mode searches for entries containing the entered words in their title, author, date, comment field, or in any of many other fields showing on MindPapers pages. Surname This mode searches for entries containing the text string you entered in their author field. Remember: viewing options in the menu above affect the results you get when searching. Note that short and / or common words are ignored by the search engine. Why Emotion Will Usually Outweigh Logic In The Audience’s Brains | Horace Mann League Blog Many people like to think that business is all about logic, and that customers behave having rationally analysed all available data, considered the various pros and cons of different courses of action and come to a logical conclusion. Although it’s very difficult for very logical people to understand (e.g. accountants, engineers, IT professionals), this could not be further from the truth, as the quote above from Buck Rogers of IBM demonstrates (and he was talking about mainframe computers!). The reality is that a high percentage of the time people make decisions based purely on emotion. ay in the centre of the brain and is primeval. The Neocortex is a much more recent development, in evolutionary terms. However, a lot of the time this route ‘short circuits’ and emotions are triggered automatically, with the Cortex being left out. This happens in all brains, but more frequently in some people than others. He could have just said, “The world is watching this election.”

The Psychology of Nakedness | Wired Science Editor’s Note: Portions of this story in italics below were found to come from LiveScience. The human mind sees minds everywhere. Show us a collection of bouncing balls and we hallucinate agency; a glance at a stuffed animal and we endow it with a mood; I’m convinced Siri doesn’t like me. The point is that we are constantly translating our visual perceptions into a theory of mind, as we attempt to imagine the internal states of teddy bears, microchips and perfect strangers. Most of the time, this approach works well enough. If I notice someone squinting their eyes and clenching their jaw, I automatically conclude that he must be angry; if she flexes the zygomatic major – that’s what happens during a smile – then I assume she’s happy. But this intricate connection between mind theorizing and sensory perception can also prove problematic. Do people’s mental capacities fundamentally change when they remove a sweater? What does all this have to do with nakedness? PS.

The Neuroscience of Self-Esteem, Self-Criticism and Self-Compassion All the emphasis on self-esteem building in recent decades has done little to instruct people on what to do when they hit a bump in the road. Most of us, research shows, unleash our inner critic – even if the hardship is brought on by age, illness or another inevitable part of life. Recently, scientists such as Paul Gilbert of Kingsway Hospital in the United Kingdom and Kristin Neff of the University of Texas at Austin, have suggested being self-compassionate, rather than self-critical, especially in rough times, is more likely to help us rebound and may lead to greater success and happiness in the long run. This is not just semantics or new-age feel-good fluff. The "drive" system Likely linked to self-esteem, this system, which is thought to rely heavily on dopamine, compels us to pursue resources, mates, skills, status and so on, Gilbert told LiveScience. The threat-protection system For many of us, these first two systems dominate. Luckily, there is another option (and another system).