Neuroscience Challenges Old Ideas about Free Will Do we have free will? It is an age-old question which has attracted the attention of philosophers, theologians, lawyers and political theorists. Now it is attracting the attention of neuroscience, explains Michael S. Cook: Why did you decide to tackle the question of free will? Gazzaniga: I think the issue is on every thinking person’s mind. Now, after 50 years of studying the brain, listening to philosophers, and most recently being slowly educated about the law, the issue is back on my front burner. Cook: What makes you think that neuroscience can shed any light on what has long been a philosophical question? Gazzaniga: Philosophers are the best at articulating the nature of a problem before anybody knows anything empirical. Having said that, philosophers can’t have all the fun. Cook: Do you think that neuroscience, as a field, needs to tackle these questions? Gazzaniga: We all need to understand more about free will, or more wisely put, the nature of action. The world is not flat.
The Benefits of Daydreaming A new study suggests that a daydreaming is an indicator of a well-equipped brain Does your mind wander? During a class or meeting, do you find yourself staring out the window and thinking about what you’ll do tomorrow or next week? Well, psychological research is beginning to reveal that daydreaming is a strong indicator of an active and well-equipped brain. A new study, published in Psychological Science by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, suggests that a wandering mind correlates with higher degrees of what is referred to as working memory. For example, imagine that, when leaving a friend ‘s house, you promise to call when you get home safely. In the study, the researchers sought to examine the relationship between people’s working memory capacity and their tendency to daydream. Surprisingly, there was a correlation between mind wandering during the first task and high scores on the working memory test.
The Evolution of Grief, Both Biological and Cultural, in the 21st Century | Culturing Science Three months ago, I received an email informing me that a high school friend, Pat, had died. I read his obituary and my body stopped functioning. I froze on the spot, limbs tense but trembling. My mouth went dry, my vision blurred. As I waited for my train in the packed station, I could barely stand as my muscles turned to jelly and legs folded beneath my body. I tried to maintain composure in the public space, but my contorted face betrayed my sorrow. It was shocking to me: I felt real physical pain — a biological response brought about by stress hormones — in response to death. Evolutionary biologists think that grief is passed on not because it provides benefit in itself, but rather it is a side effect of having relationships. In more social animals, such as humans, those reciprocal relationships extend beyond parent-child. This idea was endlessly comforting in my mourning. Grief is the price we pay for friendship. Digital love The onslaught of mourning continued, nonetheless. Images:
Thinking in a Foreign Language Makes Decisions More Rational | Wired Science To judge a risk more clearly, it may help to consider it in a foreign language. A series of experiments on more than 300 people from the U.S. and Korea found that thinking in a second language reduced deep-seated, misleading biases that unduly influence how risks and benefits are perceived. “Would you make the same decisions in a foreign language as you would in your native tongue?” “It may be intuitive that people would make the same choices regardless of the language they are using, or that the difficulty of using a foreign language would make decisions less systematic. Psychologists say human reasoning is shaped by two distinct modes of thought: one that’s systematic, analytical and cognition-intensive, and another that’s fast, unconscious and emotionally charged. 'Would you make the same decisions in a foreign language?' Equally plausible, however, is that communicating in a learned language forces people to be deliberate, reducing the role of potentially unreliable instinct.
The Evolution of REM Dreaming New studies reveal that more animals are dreaming than we thought. In fact, all mammals and birds have REM, and if J.M. Siegel is correct, reptiles may have REM as well. REM, or Rapid Eye Movement sleep is a regularly occurring stage of sleep in which, when people are awakened and asked, dreams are often reported. In this stage of sleep, which occurs about six times a night for an average of twenty minutes each, our eyes move under our eyelids as if we were awaking and scanning some scene, hence the designation Rapid Eye Movement sleep. After the 1953 discovery of REM in humans by modern science, researchers began testing other species for REM and searching for signs of dreaming in all kinds of creatures. A theory developed that dreaming was an evolutionary advance to keep the mammalian brain warm and alert and to not let it sink too deeply into inactivity. Who's dreaming the most? Sleep itself is somewhat different for every species. J. Just what this means is unclear. Conclusions
Exceptional Memory Explained: How Some People Remember What They Had for Lunch 20 Years Ago Researchers from the University of California, Irvine reported in 2006 on a woman named Jill Price who could remember in great detail what she did on a particular day decades earlier. James McGaugh, Larry Cahill and Elizabeth Parker put the woman through a battery of tests and ascertained that she was not using any of the memory tricks that have been known to mnemonists for millennia. Word got out, the media descended and the lab now receives calls every day from people who say they have the same ability as Price. A question that has persisted about this line of research is whether the brains of these people are distinct from the organs of others who can’t remember yesterday’s lunch, let alone trivial events from 20 years back. “There seems to be this extreme organizational capacity, kind of like the tricks that mnemonists use,” says Howard Eichenbaum, a Boston University professor who is editor of the journal Hippocampus. Source: University of California, Irvine
Bedside detection of awareness in the vegetative state: a cohort study Introduction Up to 43% of patients diagnosed as vegetative are reclassified as (at the least) minimally conscious when assessed by experienced teams.1—3 However, a further subset of conscious patients could exist who are undetected even after extensive clinical investigation in specialised centres. Findings from functional neuroimaging studies4, 5 have called into question several of the core principles that underpin diagnosis of the vegetatative state; in particular, the extent to which clinicans can truly consider that a patient is unaware of themselves and their environment simply because they show no overt behavioural responses to external stimulation. Use of fMRI in this patient group is very challenging; in addition to issues of cost and scanner availability, the physical stress incurred by patients when they are transferred to a suitably equipped fMRI facility is substantial. Methods Patients and controls We acquired informed assent from all patients' families and medical teams.
What's Wrong With the Teenage Mind? "What was he thinking?" It's the familiar cry of bewildered parents trying to understand why their teenagers act the way they do. How does the boy who can thoughtfully explain the reasons never to drink and drive end up in a drunken crash? Adolescence has always been troubled, but for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, puberty is now kicking in at an earlier and earlier age. At the same time, first with the industrial revolution and then even more dramatically with the information revolution, children have come to take on adult roles later and later. Our Juliets (as parents longing for grandchildren will recognize with a sigh) may experience the tumult of love for 20 years before they settle down into motherhood.