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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.

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

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.

Recognize these emotions The Passion and Reason 15 The book Passion and Reason provides clear definitions and descriptions of 15 separate emotions. These are: Anger — Conspecific threat, trespass, loss attributed to an agent, unjust insult, thwarted goals, plea for justice Envy — Desiring other's stature objects Jealousy — Threat to sexual access. Fright — Concern for a future specific unpleasant event. Anxiety — Concern for an unidentified unpleasant event. The Rationalized 22 The book The Cognitive Structure of Emotions describes these 22 distinct emotions in an organized structure: Appraisal of an event: Fortune of others: Happy-for — (delighted-for, happy-for, pleased-for) — Pleased about an event desirable for another Sorry-for — (compassion, pity, sad-for, sorry-for, sympathy) — Displeased about an event undesirable for another Resentment — (envy, jealousy, resentment) — Displeased about an event desirable for another Gloating — (gloating, Schadenfreude) — Pleased about an event undesirable for another

Oxford Foundation for Theoretical Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence 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.

Understanding Stress: Symptoms, Signs, Causes, and Effects What is stress? The Body’s Stress Response When you perceive a threat, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. The stress response also helps you rise to meet challenges. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life. How do you respond to stress? It's important to learn how to recognize when your stress levels are out of control. The signs and symptoms of stress overload can be almost anything. Stress doesn’t always look stressful Signs and symptoms of stress overload

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.

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.

18 Behaviors of Emotionally Intelligent People When emotional intelligence (EQ) first appeared to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70 percent of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into the broadly held assumption that IQ was the sole source of success. Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as being the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the "something" in each of us that is a bit intangible. Despite the significance of EQ, its intangible nature makes it difficult to measure and to know what to do to improve it if you're lacking. You have a robust emotional vocabulary. All people experience emotions, but it is a select few who can accurately identify them as they occur. You're curious about people. You embrace change. You know your strengths and weaknesses.

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?

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.”

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