MIND

FIVE PROBLEMS IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF MIND

[8.6.09]

Since Descartes invested the Western mind with res cogitans and res extensa, the seemingly insurmountable philosophic and scientific questions his dualism posed have stalked us. Indeed, a friendly observer of the past 350 years of the philosophy of mind might be forgiven for saying that res cogitans and res extensa, despite all our efforts with Dualism, Materialism, Idealism, and now the Mind Brain Identity Theory, have held us at bay. I say 'at bay' because it is clear that there is no agreement that we have solved the mighty problems of consciousness and mind.

STUART A. KAUFFMAN is a professor at the University of Calgary with a shared appointment between biological sciences and physics and astronomy. He is also the leader of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics (IBI) which conducts leading-edge interdisciplinary research in systems biology.

Dr. Kauffman is also an emeritus professor of biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, a MacArthur Fellow and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He is the author of Reinventing the Sacred, The Origins of Order, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization, and Investigations.

Stuart A. Kauffman's Edge Bio Page

BRAIN TIME

[6.23.09]

Your brain, after all, is encased in darkness and silence in the vault of the skull. Its only contact with the outside world is via the electrical signals exiting and entering along the super-highways of nerve bundles. Because different types of sensory information (hearing, seeing, touch, and so on) are processed at different speeds by different neural architectures, your brain faces an enormous challenge: what is the best story that can be constructed about the outside world?

BRAIN TIME 
By David M. Eagleman

DAVID M. EAGLEMAN is director of Baylor College of Medicine's Laboratory for Perception and Action, whose long-range goal is to understand the neural mechanisms of time perception. He also directs BCM's Initiative on Law, Brains, and Behavior, which seeks to determine how new discoveries in neuroscience will change our laws and criminal justice system. He is the author of Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia.

David M. Eagleman's Edge Bio Page


From WHAT'S NEXT?
Dispatches on the Future of Science
Edited By Max Brockman 


THE SIMPLIFIER

Topic: 

  • MIND
http://vimeo.com/80908084

"We discovered a new vein of research — the relation between physical and social or psychological concepts — that we came to by taking evolutionary principles seriously and applying them to psychology. We weren't using evolutionary psychology, which has largely been focused on mating and reproduction. Our focus, rather, was in terms of evolutionary biology and the basic principles of natural selection: and that field makes clear that humans must have had these kinds of mechanisms or these processes to guide our behavior prior to evolution or emergence of consciousness."

THE SIMPLIFIER

[6.15.09]

We discovered a new vein of research — the relation between physical and social or psychological concepts — that we came to by taking evolutionary principles seriously and applying them to psychology. We weren't using evolutionary psychology, which has largely been focused on mating and reproduction. Our focus, rather, was in terms of evolutionary biology and the basic principles of natural selection: and that field makes clear that humans must have had these kinds of mechanisms or these processes to guide our behavior prior to evolution or emergence of consciousness.


[16:52 minutes]

Introduction

"They say that in science there are complicators and there are simplifiers," says John Bargh, Yale social psychologist known for his early work on the topic of automaticity, and more recently for bringing experimental methodology to the philosophical question of free will.

According to Bargh, the tension between the complicators and the simplifiers is a good thing in any field of ideas or science. "I've always been a simplifier." he says, "looking for the simple mechanisms that produce complex effect, instead of building a complicated model. Once we find one of these veins — one of these avenues of research — we just go for it and mine it and mine it until we run out of gold.

Bargh's lines of research all focus on unconscious mechanisms that underlie social perception, evaluation and preferences, and motivation and goal pursuit in realistic and complex social environments. That each of these basic psychological phenomena occur without the person's intention and awareness, yet have such strong effects on the person's decisions and behavior, has considerable implications for philosophical matters such as free will, and the nature and purpose of consciousness itself.

He maintains that the resulting findings "are very consistent and in harmony with evolutionary biology. And this is very unlike psychology, which has always presumed a kind of consciousness bottle-neck or a self, some kind of a homunculus type of self sitting there, making all the decisions and deciding without any explanation of where they comes from or what's causing the self or what's causing the conscious choices. Emphasizing what our unconscious systems do for us, in turn, links us very strongly to other organisms and other animals very closely. Recent primate research is showing that primates are closer to us than we thought. They fall for the same kind of economic fallacies that Kahneman and Tversky talked about in humans 30 years ago."

— Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher, Edge

 

JOHN A. BARGH is professor of social psychology at Yale University and director of the ACME (Automaticity in Cognition, Motivation and Evaluation) Lab.

John Bargh's Edge Bio Page

HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK?

[6.11.09]

For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. Research in my labs at Stanford University and at MIT has helped reopen this question. We have collected data around the world: from China, Greece, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, and Aboriginal Australia. What we have learned is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.

HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? 
By Lera Boroditsky

LERA BORODITSKY is an assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems at Stanford University, who looks at how the languages we speak shape the way we think.

Lera Boroditsky's Edge Bio Page


From WHAT'S NEXT?
Dispatches on the Future of Science
Edited By Max Brockman
 

CHIMERAS OF EXPERIENCE

Topic: 

  • MIND
http://vimeo.com/80905220

"The paradox of modern neuroscience is that the one reality you can't describe as it is presently conceived is the only reality we'll ever know, which is the subjective first person view of things. Even if you can find the circuit of cells that gives rise to that, and you can construct a good causal demonstration that you knock out these circuit of cells, and you create a zombie; even if you do that... and I know Dennett could dismantle this argument very, very quickly ...

CHIMERAS OF EXPERIENCE

[5.21.09]

 

The paradox of modern neuroscience is that the one reality you can't describe as it is presently conceived is the only reality we'll ever know, which is the subjective first person view of things. Even if you can find the circuit of cells that gives rise to that, and you can construct a good causal demonstration that you knock out these circuit of cells, and you create a zombie; even if you do that... and I know Dennett could dismantle this argument very, very quickly ... there's still a mystery that persists, and this is the old brain-body, mind-body problem, and we don't simply feel like three pounds of meat.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

"I always thought of myself as a scientist," says Jonah Lehrer "and then I had the privilege of working for several years in the lab of Eric Kandel as a technician, doing the manual labor of science, and what I discovered there was that I was a terrible scientist. As much as I loved the ideas, I excelled at experimental failure, I found new ways to make experiments not work. I would mess up PCRs, add the wrong buffers, northerns, westerns, southerns. I would make them not work in quite ingenious ways, and I realized slowly, over the course of those years, that the secret to being a great scientist is to love the manual labor of it." But there are many ways to contribute to the conversation that is science, and Lehrer is making important contributions as a writer who has internalized the process of the scientific method in asking interesting questions about ourselves and the world around us.

"Neuroscience has contributed so much in just a few decades to how we think about human nature and how we know ourselves," he says. "But how can we take that same rigor, which has made this research so valuable and, at the same time, make it a more realistic representation of what it's actually like to be a human. After all, we're a brain embedded in this larger set of structures." 

"You can call it culture, call it society, call it your family, call it your friend, call it whatever it is. It's the stuff that makes people sign onto their Facebook a thousand times a day. It's the reason Twitter exists. We have got all these systems now that really make us fully aware of just how important social interactions are to what it is to be human. The question is, how can we study that? Because that, in essence, is a huge part of what's actually driving these enzymatic pathways in your brain. What's triggering these synaptic transmissions and these squirts of neurotransmitter back and forth is thoughts of other people, what other people say to us, interacting with the world at large. " Read on...

John Brockman

JONAH LEHRER, Contributing Editor at Wired and the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist, has written for The New Yorker, Nature, Seed, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe.

Jonah Lehrer's Edge Bio Page

SELF AWARENESS: THE LAST FRONTIER

An Edge Original Essay
[1.1.09]

 

One of the last remaining problems in science is the riddle of consciousness. The human brain—a mere lump of jelly inside your cranial vault—can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space and grapple with concepts such as zero and infinity. Even more remarkably it can ask disquieting questions about the meaning of its own existence. "Who am I" is arguably the most fundamental of all questions.

It really breaks down into two problems—the problem of qualia and the problem of the self. My colleagues, the late Francis Crick and Christof Koch have done a valuable service in pointing out that consciousness might be an empirical rather than philosophical problem, and have offered some ingenious suggestions. But I would disagree with their position that the qualia problem is simpler and should be addressed first before we tackle the "Self." I think the very opposite is true. I have every confidence that the problem of self will be solved within the lifetimes of most people reading this column. But not qualia.

.

V.S. RAMACHANDRAN, a neuroscientist, is Director, Center for Brain and Cognition, University of California, San Diego; Author, A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness, and coauthor, Phantoms in the Brain. 

V.S. Ramachandran's Edge Bio Page

SOCIAL NETWORKS AND HAPPINESS

[12.4.08]

We found that social networks have clusters of happy and unhappy people within them that reach out to three degrees of separation. A person's happiness is related to the happiness of their friends, their friends' friends, and their friends' friends' friends—that is, to people well beyond their social horizon. We found that happy people tend to be located in the center of their social networks and to be located in large clusters of other happy people. And we found that each additional happy friend increases a person's probability of being happy by about 9%.

NICHOLAS A. CHRISTAKIS, a physician and sociologist, is a Professor at Harvard University with joint appointments in the Departments of Health Care Policy, Sociology, and Medicine. For the last ten years, he has been studying social networks. Nicholas Christakis's Edge Bio Page.

JAMES H. FOLWER is an internationally recognized political scientist who specializes in the study of social networks, human cooperation, and political participation. He is currently an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego.James Fowler's Edge Bio Page.


THE IMPRINTED BRAIN THEORY

[11.19.08]

According to the so-called imprinted brain theory, the paradoxes can be explained in terms of the expression of genes, and not simply their inheritance. Imprinted genes are those which are only expressed when they are inherited from one parent rather than the other. The classic example is IGF2, a growth factor gene only normally expressed when inherited from the father, but silent when inherited from the mother. According to the most widely-accepted theory, genes like IGF2 are silenced by mammalian mothers because only the mother has to pay the costs associated with gestating and giving birth to a large offspring. The father, on the other hand, gets all the benefit of larger offspring, but pays none of the costs. Therefore his copy is activated. The symbolism of a tug-of-war represents the mother's genetic self-interest in countering the growth-enhancing demands of the father's genes expressed in the foetus—the mother, after all, has to gestate and give birth to the baby at enormous cost to herself.

Introduction

According to a recent New York Times Science Times article ("In a Novel Theory of Mental Disorders, Parents’ Genes Are in Competition" by Benedict Carey, November 10, 2008) Christopher Badcock and Bernard Crespi have presented a new theory that purports to resolve some long-standing contradictions in explaining mental illness.

Edge wrote to Badcock, an early member of the Edge community, to ask him for a summary of his new theory for our readers.

"At first sight," he wrote back in an email, "it would seem that no single theory could explain these seemingly contradictory facts—and certainly not an evolutionary or genetic one—but an attempt is underway to do exactly that which has just passed its first major test. In 2006 Bernard Crespi (Killam Research Professor in the Department of Biosciences, Simon Fraser University) and I published a paper in The Journal of Evolutionary Biology setting out the theory in relation to autism. Earlier this year Behavioral and Brain Sciences published a second paper along with 23 expert commentaries and the authors' replies which extends the idea to psychoses like schizophrenia. More recently still, Nature has published our essay on the theory ("Battle of Sexes May Set The Brain", 28 August 2008)."

Read on.

— John Brockman

CHRISTOPHER BADCOCK is a Reader in Sociology at the London School of Economics and the author of PsychoDarwinism and Evolutionary Psychology: A Clinical Introduction.

Christopher Badcock's Edge Bio Page

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