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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 existential quest of psychological science for its soulThe Neuroscience of EmotionsSoon Joon

Evolutionary psychology and high standards of scientific research Since its official launch in the early 1990s, and its precursor sociobiology in the 1970s, evolutionary psychological research has been the repeated target of controversy. Dawkins, in his afterword of David Buss' Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (2005), wondered whether EP really warrants this degree of controversy and scrutiny. At the 'high' end of the spectrum of scientific claims, we find controversial claims like the effectiveness of homeopathy or the existence of telepathy, at the low end of the spectrum, we find questions like the effects of alcohol on motor control, and it seems self-evident that the former type of claims need to be held to much higher standards than the latter. At what end of the spectrum does EP lie? Yet, the recent retraction of Kanazawa's paper on the alleged racial differences in perceived physical attractiveness, and the earlier controversy on Hauser's scientific misconduct have each sparked debates that do seem to question EP's most basic assumptions.

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

The Curious Brain in the Museum - The 2010 Henry Cole Lecture 7:00 pm — 8:00 pm on Thursday 18 November 2010 Hochhauser Auditorium, Sackler Centre for arts education, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Exhibition Road entrance. Leading development psychologist and self-confessed "museum addict", Professor Uta Frith FRS will give the Victoria and Albert Museum's 2010 Henry Cole lecture. The V&A's annual Henry Cole lecture honours the legacy of the Museum's founding director and explores issues facing museums and contemporary culture and society. In this short film, specially commissioned as part of the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary celebrations in 2010, Professor Uta Frith FRS and her young companion, Amalie Heath-Born, find out just what goes on inside our brains when we view the treasures on display at London’s world-famous Victoria and Albert Museum. "The human mind/brain is exquisitely social and automatically responds to signals sent by other people. Tickets may be booked through the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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

Happiness index to gauge Britain's national mood | Politics The UK government is poised to start measuring people's psychological and environmental wellbeing, bidding to be among the first countries to officially monitor happiness. Despite "nervousness" in Downing Street at the prospect of testing the national mood amid deep cuts and last week's riot in Westminster, the Office of National Statistics will shortly be asked to produce measures to implement David Cameron's long-stated ambition of gauging "general wellbeing". Countries such as France and Canada are looking at similar initiatives as governments around the world come under pressure to put less store on conventional economic measures of prosperity such as gross domestic product. British officials say there is still hesitation in some parts of Whitehall over going ahead with the programme during such difficult economic times, but Cameron is said to want to place the eventual results at the heart of future government policy-making.

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

Is this evidence that we can see the future? - life - 11 November 2010 Extraordinary claims don't come much more extraordinary than this: events that haven't yet happened can influence our behaviour. Parapsychologists have made outlandish claims about precognition – knowledge of unpredictable future events – for years. But the fringe phenomenon is about to get a mainstream airing: a paper providing evidence for its existence has been accepted for publication by the leading social psychology journal. What's more, sceptical psychologists who have pored over a preprint of the paper say they can't find any significant flaws. "My personal view is that this is ridiculous and can't be true," says Joachim Krueger of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who has blogged about the work on the Psychology Today website. Critical mass The paper, due to appear in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology before the end of the year, is the culmination of eight years' work by Daryl Bem of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. 'Stroke of genius'

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.

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