Site-Wide Activity

  • Another study adds weight to findings that mental health declines as Facebook usage increases. The effect is thought mainly to result from involuntary judgments we make about ourselves in comparison with others […]

  • New Scientist article: Applying the mathematical field of topology to brain science suggests gaps in densely connected brain regions serve essential cognitive functions. Newly discovered densely connected neural […]

    • The brain topology “mind the gaps” article is a very good read.

      Probably the primary reason for segregation of specialized information processing units in the brain is to avoid confusing cross-talk, as stated in the article. Also mentioned briefly in the article, this separation makes it easier to control which brain areas are interacting at any given time. This in turn not only controls the direction of unconscious information processing, but greatly affects your moment-to-moment conscious reality, including felt sensations, felt emotions, and felt thoughts.

      Having limited and specific pathways linking neuronal functional groups that could, in principle, get involved in constructing your conscious reality of affect the outcome of unconscious information processing tasks makes managing the “inter-group” conference call easier to manage. And it must be managed, by default, by organs in the limbic system, that we know have massive ascending projections to all cortical areas, in ways that keep the cortex focused on solving fitness-limiting problems, including all manner of social navigation tactics and strategies.

      One more thing and this is sparked by a comment Mark makes elsewhere in the “Finding the seat of consciousness” thread. Consciousness is a whole brain process. So AI systems, to become increasingly self-aware, probably will need to integrate more and more information, in a way that Edelman refers to as “reentry” – where the activity of every neuronal functional group in on the conference call at any given affects the functioning of all other or many other groups. But note again that human self-awareness transparently waxes and wanes in an adaptive fashion. Again, this is controlled by the limbic system, which has an obsessive handle on our dynamic hierarchy of reproductive needs. It adaptively modulates what we sense, feel and think at any given moment to optimize our minds to solve reproductively relevant problems according to both environmentally determined opportunity and problem severity vis’a-vis our expected lifetime inclusive fitness.

      I wonder what an AI system would be like that was programmed to have “maximal and fair (unbiased) access to everything it could sense, feel, and know in a given moment. As if it had no limbic system. To my mind, that would be a system fully capable of the kind of objectivity that “spiritual” humans feebly struggle toward using reflective / contemplative practices. It typically would have very good, perhaps what we should regard as Wise answers to problems that we are often blocked from even momentarily considering, especially consciously. In a way, then, it would be God-like, or at least Guru-like, although why it would want to show we humans “The Way” I do not know….. We would seem like such hopeless fools…. ????

    • Interesting thoughts. I read alien-encounter sci-fi occasionally. One of the recurring notions is that any aliens capable of evading self-destruction and becoming galactic or universal would, by definition, be so alien to our limbic-driven ways of being that we would be unable to comprehend them. The same may apply to the sort of AI you’re envisioning. It seems it would need something like a limbic system to assign importance to information that’s more relevant to its utility functions (goals) so that it would give that information priority of attention. This would affect what the AI notices and remembers. Self-preservation (if that were a goal) would require effective risk perception and possibly something functionally equivalent to fear (though perhaps without the broader irrationality associated with our sort of fear). I’m very interested in how a mind with far fewer structural and cognitive biases would operate in comparison with the standard human mind.

  • In preparation for the March meeting topic, Your Political Brain, please recommend any resources you have found particularly enlightening about why humans evolved political thinking. Also, please share references […]

  • Brain imaging research indicates some aspects of individual political orientation correlate significantly with the mass and activity of particular brain structures including the right amygdala and the insula. This […]

  • “When something is memorable, it tends to be the thing you think of first, and then it has an outsize influence on your […]

  • “Until recently, scientists had thought that most synapses of a similar type and in a similar location in the brain behaved in a similar fashion with respect to how experience induces plasticity,” Friedlander […]

  • New scientific findings support the idea that different humans’ brains store and recall story scenes the same way, rather than each person developing unique memory patterns about stories. Also, people generally do […]

  • Mark H wrote a new post, MIT AI Primer 4 months ago

    Here’s a useful artificial intelligence introductory lesson from an MIT course: 

  • Cognitive bias article of the day: How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

    A concise, timely look at how worldview-driven cognitive dissonance leads people to double down on their misbeliefs in the face of […]

  • This NY Times article is worth your time, if you are interested in AI–especially if you are still under the impression AI has ossified or lost its way.

  • “MRI scans show that running may affect the structure and function of the brain in ways similar to complex tasks like playing a musical instrument”

  • Technology (in some labs, for now) enables gamers to see  their brain activity while they play.

  • Until now, gene editing has relied on cell division to propagate modifications made with techniques like CRISPR Cas9. Researchers at the Salk Institute have devised a new method that can modify the genes of […]

  • There will be no meeting in December, due to low availability of members.

    The next meeting will be on Tuesday, 17 January 2017. Three spots are left. You can sign up (RSVP “Yes”) at the following page:

    Mark […]

  • Google and others are developing neural networks that learn to recognize and imitate patterns present in works of art, including music. The path to autonomous creativity is unclear. Current systems can imitate […]

  • Studies find that people with higher numeracy and understanding of the scientific method and its tools are more likely to challenge or twist the results of scientific studies that challenge their ideologies. For […]

  • “the team investigated whether this brainstem-cortex network was functioning in another subset of patients with disorders of consciousness, including coma. Using a special type of MRI scan, the scientists found […]

    • Yes. But, I think it is misleading to talk abut a “seat of consciousness.” That’s just journalistic marketing. Consciousness arises from a dynamic set of neural processes that is pretty much a whole brain affair. But for sure, parts of the limbic system and brainstem are heavily and necessarily involved, not just the modern human “higher” corticothalamic network, as many might like to think.

      Part of the reason is just historical. As a weak metaphor, that fancy new computerized furnace / refrigerated air system you just installed at home is not going to work at all without the electrical system that was installed in you house decades ago, or the semi-antiquated electrical grid regulation systems PNM uses to get electricity to your house. More interesting, and less metaphorical, there is no reason to let our “higher” thinking centers operate (usually, it would be better to be asleep) if their activities are not being strictly regulated by systems “lower” in the brain (“value systems,” sensu Gerald Edelman) that keeps them doing computations that are aimed at cleverly solving basic fitness-limiting reproductive problems. The brain is a reproductive organ, just like any organ. The brain can keep you replicating your genes, via kin selection / indirect reproduction, even if the King has decided to remove your so-called “primary reproductive organs.

      I will be out of town 11/22 – 11/27, so I guess I will miss our November meeting, with regrets. Best to all. — Paul Watson

    • I like the furnace metaphor. If self-aware consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the entire evolved, embodied neural system, perhaps an AI would require equivalent circumstances for emergence of self-aware consciousness to become possible.

  • Elon Musk, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, IBM, and other leaders in AI development claim to support close examination of ethical, risk-related, and other factors affecting the public.

    • No, AI companies absolutely will NOT self-regulate. As goes equally for human genetic engineering enterprises, science-based governmental agencies with heavy enforcement powers (where are you, Jack Bauer? In custody, in Moscow, I guess) will be needed to shut down a plethora of overt and covert rogue operations, I believe. — Best, PJW

    • I agree, but the current direction (in the U.S.) appears to be the tearing down of regulatory entities and co-opting of government to increase corporatist power.

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