Monday, 29 April 2013

After-Death Consciousness...Dualism Revived?

Ever wonder what happens to consciousness when we die? Until the advent of modern cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) the answer seemed clear; the heart stopped beating, the lungs stopped working and blood could not reach the brain so it shut down. Consciousness shut down along with it.  But researchers are taking another look at consciousness during the time of clinical death. The website describes the initiative as “The Human Consciousness Project will conduct the world’s first large-scale scientific study of what happens when we die and the relationship between mind and brain during clinical death. The diverse expertise of the team ranges from cardiac arrest, near-death experiences, and neuroscience to neuroimaging, critical care, emergency medicine, immunology, molecular biology, mental health, and psychiatry.”

It seems clear that when the heart stops, so too does blood flow to the brain and if CPR is not performed, death will occur. When a patient is in cardiac arrest blood flow to the brain stops after approximately 10 seconds. However, Dr. Sam Parnia who is leading the AWARE Study as part of the Human Consciousness Project says that death is a process rather than a moment. Even after the heart has stopped,  brain cells do not appear to shut down for some time. This gives medical staff time to carry out CPR to keep the heart beating and blood flowing to vital organs including the brain. While brain activity has stopped, it appears that there may still be something going on in the minds of some patients.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

What cognitive ecology can tell us about Shakespearean Theatre

Everyone who has seen a theatre production of the same play twice (at different evenings, in different theatres, in different years, in different countries…) will have noticed something: You do not see the same play twice.

This in itself is not surprising as the European theatre tradition is largely build on the idea of constant re-interpretation and ongoing modernization of plays, and the definition of drama furthermore implicitly entails that the text never functions as more than a basis for all the add-ons that constitute a play – one might promptly think of: the actors, the playing setting, the audience space.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

A Kind of Summary...

Being an engineer I'm quite taken by Benny Shanon's parametric model of consciousness. However I must admit his 13 parameters seem a bit artificial and he's very light on providing the normal ranges for them, although I was originally drawn to his approach by his contention that he had experienced the abnormal ranges. Anyway, given the bones of a model I decided to try to use it to summarise the module.
Here's my attempt:

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Enactivism and Mirror Neurons

Imitation and physical coupling are believed to support bonding and relationship formation. There is a school of thought that imitation is not merely a social skill, but results directly from the existence of so called mirror neurons in the brain. A leading proponent of this theory is  V. S. Ramachandran, who in his essay “Mirror Neurons and Their Role in Human Evolution” goes so far as to say that this is how language developed:

“Moreover, as Rizzolati has noted, these neurons may also enable you to mime — and possibly understand — the lip and tongue movements of others which, in turn, could provide the opportunity for language to evolve. (This is why, when you stick your tongue out at a new born baby it will reciprocate! How ironic and poignant that this little gesture encapsulates a half a million years of primate brain evolution)”

The Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness is a very subjective term or concept that is extremely difficult to define or identify as definitively being present but I’m going to have a go at discussing it anyway. Don’t worry; however, I wouldn’t dare mention the term ‘N _ ture vs. N_ _ ture’. The Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven has written extensively on this topic and his work gives some interesting insights.

How computational models may help develop tailored solutions for bilingual aphasia

Although quite a lot is known about monolingual aphasia and its treatment options, bilingual aphasia research has been lagging behind and has only recently become the subject of systematic investigation.  As a result, formalized accounts of treatment scenarios and outcomes are few and display a huge amount of variability.  In Faroqi-Shah et al.’s recent meta-analysis for example, some of the studies reviewed were primarily naming therapies, whilst others aimed at improving sentence production and still others were more globally directed at improving communication abilities. In addition to this, as a group of patients, bilingual aphasics vary greatly along dimensions such as age of acquisition, pre-stroke proficiency in L1 and L2 and post-stoke impairment in each of the two languages. According to a recent study by Kiran and colleagues “the factors that influence treatment outcomes are not well understood. Static factors, such as pre-stroke language state, the etiology of aphasia, and level of impairment between the two languages as well as dynamic factors, such as treatment methodology, and current language exposure, add to the complicated portrait of bilingual aphasia rehabilitation.”

Neurovalidity and the Knowledge of Salmon

In this entertaining talk skeptical social psychologist Carol Tavris notes the tendency to add the prefix 'neuro' to a variety of different fields of study with the intent of adding status and validity, likening it to how the suffix 'behaviour' had to be added to various phenomena in the behaviourist era.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Empathy: Inherited or taught?

Whether empathy is inherited or not is quite an interesting question for me. I always wondered how I resemble my parents, and most often I find similar characteristics, or similarity in decision-making. Looking through a child's evolution over the years, we see that the child learns from the environment around him/her. However, are certain traits inherited?

In the following article, Perri Klass shares her observations whether empathy is inherited or not.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The use of psychedelic drugs for the enhancement of creativity has always amazed me. My first encounter was Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge which was allegedly written (the first part at least) while he was under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs (probably a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by mushrooms). His friend Wordsworth was also alleged to have snorted cocaine regularly (and probably together, in Dove Cottage).

The novelist-philosopher Aldous Huxley (1959/1971) made similar observations following his personal experience with another psychoactive substance, mescaline.

“…A man consists of what I may call an Old World of personal consciousness and, beyond a dividing sea, a series of New Worlds – the not too distant Virginias and Carolinas of the personal subconscious and the vegetative soul; the Far West of the collective unconscious ... ; and, across another, vaster ocean, at the antipodes of everyday consciousness, the world of Visionary Experience…”

Read on....

Jeff Stibel's 'Intelligent Internet', Enactivism, and the End of Days

The internet is ‘a new entity’, on its way to becoming ‘a new life form’; it is ‘a global brain’ that is ‘starting to develop intelligence’. So gushes Jeff Stibel, a brain scientist turned businessman/technoevangelist who expounds his futurist faith with buttock-clenching enthusiasm in this video. Computers are wired together by the internet like neurons in a brain. We have brains and are smart. Thus, the internet must be getting smart too.

Given its naturalistic position that cognition is the sense-making of living, embodied organisms in the world and that 'autonomy' and 'experience' should be central to any account of cognition, what would an enactivist take on such claims regarding the internet be? I can only speculate as follows:

A Different Way to Learn

The following is a description of learning: “[People] achieve a routinized, taken-for-granted mastery of certain skills. Then [they are confronted] with a new problem … which forces [them] to rethink their now taken-for-granted mastery and to integrate their old skills with new ones. Then these new sorts of problems are practiced until a new higher-order routinized, taken-for-granted mastery occurs. This cycle is repeated … This cycle is the basis for producing expertise in any area.” Who would have guessed that, in context, this description refers to playing video games? (see here)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

L’art pour le cerveau

Times in which art was done or appreciated purely for its own sake (if these times have ever existed) are clearly over: Nowadays people do not only want to possess art(works or knowledge) to impress their friends and work mates, no, art is also good for your brain!

Everyone has surely heard of the popularized version of the Mozart Effect, which suggested that "listening to Mozart makes you smarter", or that early childhood exposure to classical music has a beneficial effect on mental development. 

In recent years the over-dramatization of these effects (which in 1998 still led an U.S. governor to spend $105,000 a year to provide every child born in his state with a classical music CD) became clear to the public, but the general question of whether arts training can change the brain to enhance general cognitive capacities is still a popular among researchers.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Bystander Effect

The bystander effect refers to: the more people, the less personal responsibility. It can be associated to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present (e.g. person being attacked or mugged during daylight and no one intervening or calling the police). The probability of help has often appeared to be inversely related to the number of bystanders. I find this very interesting. Why does this happen? Is this related to brain coupling, joint action? Find the causes below.

Cognition in underdeveloped countries

All previous posts seem to me brilliant in a sense that they involve spreading innovative ideas and evolutionary and state of the art research. While all of these are pretty, I was reading today of how 1.3 billion people in the world lack electricity and how nearly 40% of the world's population rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste to cook, breathing in toxic smoke that causes lung disease and kills nearly two million people a year (i.e. more than AIDS: 1.8 million in 2010 and three times the number from malaria: 660,000 in 2010). [Engineering & Technology, volume 8, issue 3, April 2013]
This made me question about education and cognition in such environments.

Can We Predict Presidential Elections?

I came across this article last week as I was reading some material about machine learning. Chris Wilson holds that computers cannot predict the results of the presidential election. I believe the opposite but we probably cannot decide yet. Machine learning is a mathematical model that can perform tasks that are impossible to humans (coursera link).

Monday, 8 April 2013

Him, Cyborg.

"He's more machine now than man"—Obi-wan Kenobi

The augmentation of biology with technology is not a new concept—indeed such devices play an integral role in modern human existence. However, because these contraptions are external to cognitive systems, they are not utilized as efficiently as they could be. What if this limitation could be removed and cognition could be aided directly by technology? Kevin Warwick examined just this question in a set of experiments that has since been dubbed "Project Cyborg".

Cognition gone bananas

With so much financial turmoil in the past few years, the cognition of economics has become a popular topic. Research in this area has taken two approaches: 1. analyzing the cognitive system to understand why people make certain choices regarding economic theory; and 2. analyzing economic trends in the hopes of extrapolating the cognitive processes that produced certain consequences. While both strategies sound good in theory, what if neither is the correct approach? What if the economy is something other than some combination of environmental and cognitive factors?

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Dream in code: 'Neural Decoding of Visual Imagery During Sleep'

Lucid dreaming

fMRI/EEG combination used to decode dream images

 A study recently published in the journal Science described work on dream image mapping carried out by neuroscientist Yukiyasu Kamitani and colleagues at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Computational Neuroscience labs in Kyoto, Japan.

 Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to scan the brains of three young men as they drifted off to sleep inside an fMRI scanner, while simultaneously recording their brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG).

When the men had entered a ' hypnagogic state' - when their brain wave patterns had begun to resemble those known to be associated with sleep - they were woken up and asked to describe their dreams, then allowed to go back to sleep. This procedure was carried in three-hour blocks, repeated 7 to 10 times (on different days) for each volunteer. Approximately 200 dream reports were recorded from each participant, and the reported images were then grouped into categories that were specifically oriented  to the individual's particular patterns of  repeatedly-occurring elements using the lexical database WordNet. A video montage of images from the ImageNet database corresponding to the keywords generated by the dream reports was presented to the wide-awake men while their brain activity was being monitored. An algorithm developed to recognise the brain activity ''signatures'' associated with various dream images separated non-visual brain activity from vision-related excitation patterns, to verify that dreaming involves some of the same brain areas that are associated with visual imagery. This algorithm was combined with machine-learning techniques that used the waking brain activity patterns as 'training' examples. After training the program, the researchers input patterns of sleeping brain activity - the 'test' examples - and were able to predict which category of image had produced that pattern of brain activity.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Humanoid Robot called NAO helps teach social skills to children with Autism

Autism is a group of developmental brain disorders, collectively called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary from one child to the next, but in general, they fall into the three domains: (1) Social impairment (2) Communication difficulties and (3) Repetitive and stereotyped behaviours. Aiden, seen in the picture to the left, is a 3 year old boy who has ASD. 

Given that the 2nd of April 2013 is World Autism Awareness Day, I thought that it would be appropriate to publish this post today.

Monday, 1 April 2013

A World without Words

So much of what we have studied this year is bound to language. How humans communicate with each other and the world around them is fundamental to how we understand cognition. The role of language is central to almost everything we do, instead of “you are what you eat” it’s more a case of “you are your language”. Every debate we have had can be traced or linked to language; the mind-body problem, memory, problem-solving, visual perception, ...pretty much everything we share is recorded and communicated using language.  Wittgenstein said that the limits of language are the limits of our world while Ferdinand de Saussure said “Without language, thought is a vague, uncharted nebula.” Just the other day we saw how language develops in an infant through Deb Roy’s charting of the first years of his son’s life. At the other end of the spectrum, thinking about not having any language is beyond the imagination of most of us. The closest we can get is imagining stories of children raised by wolves like Romulus and Remus but even that is shrouded in mythology and supposition.