"Have you ever considered that the X-Men movies are not just about mutants with superhuman abilities but a perfect illustration of the ideas of the famous 17th century philosopher Spinoza? Just as the X-Men grapple with questions like "what makes us unique?? and "what are we capable of ?? so did Spinoza. That's according to Kirsty?s next guest, the philosophy professor Ollivier Pourriol who uses American blockbusters as teaching aids. " (BBC World Service)
"Learning, Arts, and the Brain, a study three years in the making, is the result of research by cognitive neuroscientists from seven leading universities across the United States. In the Dana Consortium study, released in March 2008, researchers grappled with a fundamental question: Are smart people drawn to the arts or does arts training make people smarter?" w/ PDF download (The Dana Consortium Report)
"Fishing in the stream of consciousness, researchers now can detect our intentions and predict our choices before we are aware of them ourselves. The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision -- an eternity at the speed of thought."
Educators for Reproductive Freedom is a group of faculty and staff from Northern Kentucky University that aims to build a campus network of faculty and staff interested in promoting reproductive rights; promote campus-wide discussion of reproductive rights through regular programs and a listserv; support NKU student groups with an interest in the issue; and network with community groups who support reproductive rights.
"Not many people think about what it's like to be a bat, but for those who do, it's enlightening and potentially groundbreaking for understanding aspects of the human brain and nervous system. Cynthia Moss, a member of the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science program at the University of Maryland, College Park, Md., is one of few researchers who spend time trying to get into the heads of bats."
"The brain does not simply gather and stockpile information as a computer?s hard drive does. Facts are stored first in the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain about the size and shape of a fat man?s curled pinkie finger. But the information does not rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don?t remember how you learned it." ( NYTimes.com)
"The upshot is that atheism does not undermine morality, but atheists? conception of morality may depart from traditional theistic conceptions. Rather than condemning atheism, we might work to build institutions that promote charity more effectively among those who do not participate in organized religion, and we might try to develop secular foundations for morality to help guide people who do not consider God to be the source of moral rules. Both these efforts would serve atheists and theists alike." (Jesse Prinz)
"Serotonin (5-HT) has long been implicated in social behavior and impulsivity, but the mechanisms through which it modulates self-control remain unclear. We observed the effects of manipulating 5-HT function on behavior in the Ultimatum Game, where players must decide whether to accept or reject fair or unfair monetary offers from another player. Participants with depleted 5-HT levels rejected a greater proportion of unfair, but not fair offers, without showing changes in mood, fairness judgments, basic reward processing, or response inhibition. Our results suggest that 5-HT plays a critical role in regulating emotion during social decision-making." -- Crockett et al., 10.1126/science.1155577 -- Science
"It's 150 years since Darwin made one of the the most significant breakthroughs in scientific history - the theory of natural selection. But if it hadn't been for a young ornithologist on the other side of the world, his seminal work might never have appeared. Robin McKie tells the extraordinary story behind The Origin of Species" ( The Observer)
Wallace wrote up his ideas and sent them to Charles Darwin, already a naturalist of some reputation. His paper arrived on 18 June, 1858 - 150 years ago last week - at Darwin's estate in Downe, in Kent.
In order to preserve Darwin's claim on natural selection Hooker and Lyell arranged for a joint reading of both men's works at the Linnean Society in Burlington House, Piccadilly.
Self-educated and from a humble background, Wallace had none of the privileges accorded to university-educated Darwin, whose father was a prosperous doctor. He had had to make his way as an apprentice carpenter and then a trainee surveyor, before turning himself into a distinguished naturalist. He was also an early socialist, a supporter of women's rights, a backer of the land reform movement and a consummately skilful writer.
"Is it right to call someone a eugenicist, or to say their ideas are just like eugenics (even if they truly are)? In the June 2008 issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Stephen Wilkinson of Keele University (that?s in Staffordshire, which is itself in the UK) contemplates that question in his piece titled ?Eugenics talk? and the language of bioethics." (Human Enhancement and Biopolitics)
"Many people fear that science and technology are encroaching on domains of life in a way that undermines human dignity, and they see this as a threat that needs to be resisted vigorously. They are right. There is a real crisis, and it needs our attention now, before irreparable damage is done to the fragile environment of mutually shared beliefs and attitudes on which a precious conception of human dignity does indeed depend for its existence. I will try to show both that the problem is real and that the most widely favored responses to the problem are deeply misguided and bound to fail. There is a solution that has a good chance of success, however, and it employs principles that we already understand and accept in less momentous roles." (Dennett, PCBE: Human Dignity and Bioethics:Essays Commissioned by the President's Council on Bioethics)
"The multiple drafts model of consciousness (Dennett, 1991, 1996, 1998, Dennett and Kinsbourne, 1992) was developed as an alternative to the perennially attractive, but incoherent, model of conscious experience Dennett calls Cartesian materialism, the idea that after early unconscious processing occurs in various relatively peripheral brain structures "everything comes together" in some privileged central place in the brain?which Dennett calls the Cartesian Theater --for "presentation" to the inner self or homunculus. There is no such place in the brain, but many theories seem to presuppose that there must be something like it." (Dennet & Akins, Scholarpedia)
"The June 14 Episode of All in the Mind has a thoughtful discussion of the implications of using drugs to improve cognitive performance. Natasha Mitchell interviewed Barbara Sahakian, professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge (UK) and William Glannon, a bioethicist from the University of Calgary (Canada). Several important issues emerged including the fact that that it is unknown whether the drugs currently available are safe for long-term use. There is also the nagging question of whether the use by normal people of drugs originally intended to treat medical conditions (like ADHD) constitutes cheating? What do you think?"
"A conference is being held in Sydney soon about whether God is necessary for morality. I find that an almost incomprehensible question. Of course humans are moral without gods to back up their moral systems. They can't help it. It's what humans do. We are social apes that follow rules. Sometimes the sanctions for following rules (which turn out to be sanctions for potential defectors rather than the majority, who will tend to follow rules with or without promises of reward or punishment) rely on a god. Mostly, they don't." (Evolving Thoughts)
"If confabulation occurs following damage to the ventromedial cortex, what functions might this part of the brain be involved in? Some researchers have suggested that it normally suppresses memories that are not relevant to the current situation, while others argue that it acts as a monitoring system which normally rejects false memories that don't "feel right"." (Neurophilosophy)
"Over the past few years I?ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn?t going?so far as I can tell?but it?s changing. I?m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I?m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I?d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That?s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I?m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle."
"I write a column on evolutionary concepts and questions, that appears in each issue of the journal Evolutionary Anthropology (this is a good journal to subscribe to if you want to keep up with various aspects of the subject. It has lively and informative articles -- not just mine! -- on a variety of subjects). " Evolutionary and Developmental Genetics
"Localization studies of morality (see Dolan, 1999 on the "neurology of morals") date back to the days of Franz Joseph Gall and John M. Harlow, the doctor who treated Phineas Gage1. Gall's phrenology was largely discredited by the mid-19th century. That didn't stop Moritz Benedikt, however, from postulating that morality was located in the occipital lobes! (Verplaetse, 2004). " (The Neurocritic)
"What's new is that the researchers were able to determine that an emotion-related region called the insula was responsible for encoding the equity of each option, whilst a reward-based region called the putamen was involved in encoding efficiency. In fact, differences in how sensitive each participant was to these two concerns was reflected in their levels of brain activity in these two regions.
The findings provide a biological perspective on age-old philosophical questions about distributive justice, and appear to support the view of thinkers such as David Hume and Adam Smith who argued that emotions play a fundamental role in moral decisions of this kind." (BPS RESEARCH DIGEST)
'"The fact that Hitchcock was able to orchestrate the responses of so many different brain regions," they wrote, "turning them on and off at the same time across all viewers, may provide neuroscientific evidence for his notoriously famous ability to master and manipulate viewers' minds. Hitchcock often liked to tell interviewers that for him 'creation is based on an exact science of audience reactions'."' (guardian.co.uk)
"Boundary extension -- misremembering the boundaries of a scene as wider than they really are -- has been observed in adults as old as 84 and children as young as 6. But for kids much younger than 6, the phenomenon becomes quite difficult to study. How do you ask a 6-month-old whether the picture they're looking at has the same borders as one they saw a few minutes ago? You can't ask them to draw the picture for you -- they can barely sit up, let alone hold a pencil." (Cognitive Daily)
"Susan Blackmore, the noted parapsychologist and author of The Meme Machine, gave an interesting talk on memetics at this year's TED conference. (The video is embedded below, click here to go directly to the video at the TED website). While I found her talk interesting and stimulating, overall, I must say I wasn't all that impressed." (Ionian Enchantment)
"So, why do I hate the concept of ?ideas replicating from brain to brain.? After all, I work on physical education and imitative learning; shouldn?t I be happy that memetic theory places such a premium on imitative learning? What is my problem!? Ah, let me count the problems? I?ll just give you 10 Problems with Memetics to keep it manageable." (Neuroanthropology)
"A new study presents evidence of symbolic reasoning in tufted capuchin monkeys, a South-American species that diverged from humans about 35 million years ago. In the experiment, five capuchins engaged in "economic choice" behavior. Each monkey chose between three different foods (conventionally referred to A, B and C), offered in variable amounts. Choices were made in two different contexts. In the "real" context, monkeys chose between the actual foods. In the "symbolic" context, monkeys chose between "tokens" (intrinsically valueless objects such as poker chips) that represented the actual foods. After choosing one of the two token options, monkeys could exchange their token with the corresponding food." (Science Daily)
"The researchers say that this demonstrates that viewers cannot be using global information to determine whether a motion is biological. Other research has found that the motion of the ankle appears to be a key in identifying biological motion. This may be because nearly all walking vertebrates swing their legs forward in a similar manner: they don't actually use their muscles, but instead simply rely on gravity, thus conserving energy. Chang and Troje speculate that perhaps it is this distinctive arc that viewers focus in on when they identify biological motion." (Cognitive Daily)
"Recent advances in neuroscience and brain-imaging technology have offered researchers a look into the physiology of religious experiences. In observing Buddhist monks as they meditate, Franciscan nuns as they pray and Pentecostals as they speak in tongues, Dr. Andrew Newberg, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has found that measurable brain activity matches up with the religious experiences described by worshippers. The social, political and religious implications of these and other findings are just beginning to permeate the broader culture, according to New York Times columnist David Brooks, who has been tracking new developments in the field. " (PEW Forum)
The trends expressed in the article are certainly reflected at my own university. We've even stopped talking about our vision for liberal education and now refer to the "business plan." We dropped the expression "learner-centered" and now strive to "develop talent." And non-tenured faculty dramatically outnumber tenured/tenure-track faculty.
"Humans, as I have described, evolved to live in small isolated groups and are finely tuned to seek people of common values. Like it or not, common culture (common practices, expectations, and beliefs) correlates, even if imperfectly, with common biological ancestry. This means that markers of race and ethnicity come to be taken as markers of common values." (Mark Pagel | Prospect Magazine June 2008 issue 147)
"In the current issue of the journal Cognitive Science, researchers at the California Institute of Technology and the University of Sussex argue that the brain?s adaptive ability to see into the near future creates many common illusions." (NYTimes.com)
"The research in the journal Nature Neuroscience by Professor Seth Grant, Head of the Genes to Cognition Programme at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, suggests that it is not size alone that gives more brain power.
Instead, he found that, during evolution, increasingly sophisticated molecular processing of nerve impulses - notably by providing more connections in the brain - allowed development of animals with more complex behaviours. " (Telegraph)
"Imagine that mad scientists defied nature and violated the barriers between species. They injected human DNA into non-human creatures, altering their genomes into chimeras--unnatural fusions of man and beast. The goal of the scientists was to enslave these creatures, to exploit their cellular machinery for human gain. The creatures began to produce human proteins, so many of them that they become sick, in some cases even dying. The scientists harvest the proteins, and then, breaching the sacred barrier between species yet again, people injected the unnatural molecules into their own bodies." (Carl Zimmer)
"I swear, some people must just have a hard time getting their head around germline and somatic genetic engineering at the same time. It is often common to hear, in a discussion about inheritable genetic modifications, that such changes would be ?permanent changes? to the human germline." ( Human Enhancement and Biopolitics)
"Dr. Kurzweil has other graphs showing a century of exponential growth in the number of patents issued, the spread of telephones, the money spent on education. One graph of technological changes goes back millions of years, starting with stone tools and accelerating through the development of agriculture, writing, the Industrial Revolution and computers. (For details, see nytimes.com/tierneylab.)
Now, he sees biology, medicine, energy and other fields being revolutionized by information technology. His graphs already show the beginning of exponential progress in nanotechnology, in the ease of gene sequencing, in the resolution of brain scans. With these new tools, he says, by the 2020s we?ll be adding computers to our brains and building machines as smart as ourselves. " (John Tierney, NYTimes.com)
"One of the great scientific challenges is to understand the design principles and origins of the human brain. New research has shed light on the evolutionary origins of the brain and how it evolved into the remarkably complex structure found in humans." Science Daily
"I?m not as confident those graphs are going to hold up for fields besides computer science, so I?d be leery of betting on a date. But if I had to take sides in the 2029 wager, I?d put my money on Dr. Kurzweil. He could be right once again about a revolution coming sooner than expected. And I?d hate to bet against the chance to be around for this one." NYTimes.com
"Inventor, entrepreneur and visionary Ray Kurzweil explains in abundant, grounded detail why, by the 2020s, we will have reverse-engineered the human brain and nanobots will be operating your consciousness." TED | Talks
'...as these differing views show, while we are still far from a full understanding of the nature of memory, perception, and meaning, it is nonetheless because of the work of scientists such as Changeux, Edelman, and Rizzolatti that we have a better grasp of the complexity of subjective experiences. Perhaps in the future, questions about higher brain functions will be better understood because of new genetic and neurophysiological discoveries and brain imaging. An unexpected scientific discovery can give us a new insight into something we thought we had always known: mirror neurons, Rizzolatti tells us, "show how strong and deeply rooted is the bond that ties us to others, or in other words, how bizarre it would be to conceive of an I without an us."' (The New York Review of Books)
"I become increasingly convinced over time that much of what runs our behavior is is the same stuff that runs a macaque monkey, with the human self conscious rationalizing overlay mainly being a window dressing. This is why I find numerous bits of work that have emerged from Yerkes Primate Research group (the subject of this and other previous posts) so fascinating." (Deric Bownds' MindBlog)
"In relation to our previous and well-visited post about oxytocin, we should mention a new study that uses this very substance in a neuroeconomic set-up. In the study, recently published by Neuron, and headed by Baumgartner et al., it was found that the administration of oxytocin affected subjects? in a trust game. In particular, it was found that subjects that received oxytocin were not affected by information about co-players that cheated." (BRAINETHICS)
"I've just noticed that the month slipped past without me realising that the May edition of Nature's NeuroPod show hit the net, covering musical neuroscience, the vagaries of free will and Huntingdon's disease. One highlight is neuroscientist John Dylan Haynes arguing that free will is dead, and while we're still waiting for the conclusive scientific data, we can probably bank on it being an illusion." (Mind Hacks)
"Cloutier et al use fMRI to examine the possibility that attractive faces of the opposite sex simply have different reward value for men and women. They show that brain reward circuits (nucleus accumbens [NAcc], orbito-frontal cortex [OFC]) exhibit a linear increase in activation with increased judgments of attractiveness. Their analysis further reveals sex differences in the recruitment of OFC, which distinguished attractive and unattractive faces only for male participants. In short, brain regions involved in identifying the potential reward value of a stimulus are more active when men view attractive women than when women view attractive men." (Deric Bownds' MindBlog: )
"The application of natural selection to culture has been called 'memetics'. This is the theory that, like living things, ideas - or 'memes' - naturally vary and that (generally) the 'fittest' ideas survive and are replicated across generations." (PsyBlog)
"A star-studded panel of scientists gathered to discuss those heady themes last night at the World Science Festival in New York City. Here are their answers in convenient nutshell form. (Wired Science from Wired.com)
"In Enhancing Me, Pete Moore examines the ways in which technology can change our bodies, our brains, our emotions, and how long we live. He talks to people who have actually been 'enhanced' to find out what it's like and how beneficial it is; and to the experts to find out what the future holds - including a look at some of the more controversial, headline-grabbing claims. He also looks at what drives us to want to be 'superhuman', and the consequences for the individual and society alike" (Question Technology: New Book)
"Call and Tomasello offer a review in the May issue of Trends in Neuroscience on the controversial question of how much our nearest relatives understand about the minds of others" (Deric Bownds' MindBlog)
"...rules and particular inferences alike are justified by being brought into agreement with each other. A rule is ammended if it yields an inference we are unwilling to accept; an inference is rejected if it violates a rule we are unwilling to amend. The process of justification is the delicate one of making mutual adjustments between rules and accepted inferences...." (Nelson Goodman, Fact, Fiction and Forecast)