Tag Archives | Neuroscience

What Will Your Virtual Afterlife Be Like?

Female Second Life avatarAccording to neuroscientist Michael Graziano writing at Aeon Magazine, “The question is not whether we can upload our brains onto a computer, but what will become of us when we do”:

Imagine a future in which your mind never dies. When your body begins to fail, a machine scans your brain in enough detail to capture its unique wiring. A computer system uses that data to simulate your brain. It won’t need to replicate every last detail. Like the phonograph, it will strip away the irrelevant physical structures, leaving only the essence of the patterns. And then there is a second you, with your memories, your emotions, your way of thinking and making decisions, translated onto computer hardware as easily as we copy a text file these days.

That second version of you could live in a simulated world and hardly know the difference. You could walk around a simulated city street, feel a cool breeze, eat at a café, talk to other simulated people, play games, watch movies, enjoy yourself.

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Study Suggests Mediumship May Be A Distinct Mental State

seanceAttempting to contact the dead puts people into a unique mental state, the Daily Grail reports:

A new study co-authored by Dean Radin and Julie Beischel has found that electrocortical activity during mediumistic ‘communication’ is distinctly different than during other contemplative moments such as thinking about living or imaginary people.

The research was done to explore two questions: possible correlations between the accuracy of mediums’ statements and the electrical activity in their brain; and the differences in mediums’ brain activity when they intentionally evoked four different subjective states.

To do so, the researchers collected psychometric and brain electrophysiology data from “six individuals who had previously reported accurate information about deceased individuals under double-blind conditions” (ie. mediums).

The researchers conclude[d] that the differences in electrocortical activity “suggest that the impression of communicating with the deceased may be a distinct mental state distinct from ordinary thinking or imagination”.

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Neurostimulation: The Next Mind-Expanding Idea

Visual cortical implant designed by Profesor Mohamad Sawan (CC)

Visual cortical implant designed by Profesor Mohamad Sawan (CC)

Amol Sarva expounds on the next frontier in the exploration of consciousness: neurostimulation (via Wired UK):

The idea of stimulating brain performance seemed very plausible when I first heard about it, taking my PhD in cognitive science at Stanford. Your brain operates with electricity; why couldn’t electric current or waves boost it a bit? Gentlemen physicists such as Volta and Galvani were fiddling with frogs’ legs and cadavers back around the late 18th century. Another Italian wrote about curing melancholia with electricity in 1804. And today, everyone knows about the power of shock therapy.

But what appeared on my radar in 2003 was different: a headset that sent weak electromagnetic waves into your head. Lawrence Osborne, in The New York Times Magazine, reported that after his brain was electrically stimulated, he suddenly produced some incredible cat drawings. Admittedly, this was no peer-reviewed journal: in fact, no lab had been able to reproduce the findings of the man behind this and similar experiments, a University of Sydney physicist named Allan Snyder.

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How Consciousness Arises From Networks

manwith2brainsmovieVia Wired, neuroscientist Christof Koch argues that there are consciousnesses that exist outside of biological entities:

Consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. All animals, from humans on down to earthworms, are conscious; even the internet could be.

My consciousness is an undeniable fact. I might be confused about the state of my consciousness, but I’m not confused about having it. Then, looking at the biology, all animals have complex physiology. There’s nothing exceptional about human brains. That consciousness extends to all these creatures, that it’s an imminent property of highly organized pieces of matter, such as brains.

It’s not that any physical system has consciousness. A black hole, a heap of sand, a bunch of isolated neurons in a dish, they’re not integrated. They have no consciousness. But complex systems do. And how much consciousness they have depends on how many connections they have and how they’re wired up.

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“My Brain Made Me Do It” Neuroscience Defense Increasingly Used In U.S. Criminal Courts

killerCan someone be punished for what their brain made them do? The Guardian on a growing trend in legal defense:

Criminal courts in the United States are facing a surge in the number of defendants arguing that their brains were to blame for their crimes and relying on questionable scans and other controversial, unproven neuroscience, a legal expert who has advised the president has warned.

Nita Farahany, a professor of law who sits on Barack Obama’s bioethics advisory panel, told a Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego that those on trial were mounting ever more sophisticated defences that drew on neurological evidence in an effort to show they were not fully responsible for murderous or other criminal actions.

“What is novel is the use by criminal defendants to say, essentially, that my brain made me do it,” Farahany said following an analysis of more than 1,500 judicial opinions from 2005 to 2012.

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DARPA To Spend $70 Million Investigating Brain Implants

alzheimersThe ostensible purpose is to better treat mental illness, but I think we all know what the experimental research wing of the military’s real motives are. As reported by the Boston Globe:

The federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, announced Thursday that it intended to spend more than $70 million over five years to jump to the next level of brain implants, either by improving deep brain stimulation or by developing new technology.

The new program, called Systems-Based Neurotechnology and Understanding for the Treatment of Neuropsychological Illnesses, is part of an Obama administration brain initiative that is intended to promote innovative basic neuroscience. Participants in the initiative include DARPA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

DARPA’s project is partly inspired by the needs of combat veterans who suffer from mental and physical conditions, and is the first to directly invest in researching human illness as part of the brain initiative.

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Torture Permanently Damages Perception of Pain

Goya_-_La_seguridad_de_un_reo_no_exige_tormento_(The_Custody_of_a_Criminal_Does_Not_Call_for_Torture)A study of Israeli soldiers captured and tortured during the 1973 Yom Kippur war revealed that their perception of pain has been changed permanently.

Via NeuroScience News:

Forty years later, research by Prof. Ruth Defrin of the Department of Physical Therapy in the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University shows that the ex-prisoners of war (POWs), continue to suffer from dysfunctional pain perception and regulation, likely as a result of their torture. The study — conducted in collaboration with Prof. Zahava Solomon and Prof. Karni Ginzburg of TAU’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work and Prof. Mario Mikulincer of the School of Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya — was published in the European Journal of Pain.

“The human body’s pain system can either inhibit or excite pain. It’s two sides of the same coin,” says Prof. Defrin. “Usually, when it does more of one, it does less of the other.

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Brains ‘Learn Addiction’ Via Cocaine

Cocaine3Scientists are hailing a new study that shows how the brain learns addiction as soon as cocaine enters the system. Via BBC News:

Taking cocaine can change the structure of the brain within hours in what could be the first steps of drug addiction, according to US researchers.

Animal tests, reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, showed new structures linked to learning and memory began to grow soon after the drug was taken.

Mice with the most brain changes showed a greater preference for cocaine.

Experts described it as the brain “learning addiction”.

The team at University of California, Berkeley and UC San Francisco looked for tiny protrusions from brain cells called dendritic spines. They are heavily implicated in memory formation.

Cocaine hunting

The place or environment that drugs are taken plays an important role in addiction.

In the experiments, the mice were allowed to explore freely two very different chambers – each with a different smell and surface texture.

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How The Human Brain Creates Consciousness

optimized_brainMichael Graziano, professor of neuroscience at Princeton University and author of Consciousness and the Social Brain, thinks neuroscience has discovered how consciousness comes about. He explains at Aeon:

Scientific talks can get a little dry, so I try to mix it up. I take out my giant hairy orangutan puppet, do some ventriloquism and quickly become entangled in an argument. I’ll be explaining my theory about how the brain — a biological machine — generates consciousness. Kevin, the orangutan, starts heckling me. ‘Yeah, well, I don’t have a brain. But I’m still conscious. What does that do to your theory?’

Kevin is the perfect introduction. Intellectually, nobody is fooled: we all know that there’s nothing inside. But everyone in the audience experiences an illusion of sentience emanating from his hairy head. The effect is automatic: being social animals, we project awareness onto the puppet. Indeed, part of the fun of ventriloquism isexperiencing the illusion while knowing, on an intellectual level, that it isn’t real.

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Amygdala Myths Revealed: It’s Not All About the Fear

1959_1028_tinglerNeurology has always interested me, and I still remember learning in my undergrad neuropsychology class  that the almond-shaped portion of the brain know as the amygdala was responsible for the emotion of fear. Like so many things we grow up hearing, the truth is a little more complicated, as BoingBoing science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker learns in her interview with scientist Paul Whalen. It turns out that fear is just easier to study.

BoingBoing:

Maggie Koerth-Baker: Your research shows that the amygdala does a lot more than just make us afraid. In fact, your research suggests that the idea of “fear” involves a lot more than just reacting to something scary. But where did these ideas come from, to begin with? Why do we think of the amygdala as a “fear center”?

Paul Whalen: In the early 1980s, the psychologists who wanted to study emotion had to pick one, and fear is the easiest to study in a human or animal.

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