All posts by Edward Berge

Review of Damasio’s Self Comes to Mind

This is from a review/analysis of Damasio’s book Self Comes to Mind:

“On Page 8 he says, ‘I believe that conscious minds arise when a self process is added to a basic mind process.’ So, in Damasio’s view the difference between mind and consciousness is all about the self. He defines ‘mind’ as the process by which the brain creates images based on its maps, both of the body and of the world. But he says that the mind is unconscious until it has a sense of self.

“Now, based on Damasio’s definition, minds have existed for a long time, but they weren’t conscious. He says, ‘A mind unwitnessed is still a mind.’ The key idea is that mind developed independently of consciousness—or at least before it. But they’re both rooted in the physical processes of the brain, which itself evolved to maintain life.

“Damasio sees consciousness as being mind plus the self process. Thus consciousness is more than being awake; but of course, you have to be awake to be conscious.

“According to Damasio, consciousness requires that: 1. You are awake; 2. You have an operational mind, that is, one that makes images; and 3. You have what he calls an ‘automatic, unprompted, unreduced sense of self.’

“He has what he calls ‘core consciousness’—which he describes as having a sense of self in the here-and-now, without a sense of past or future—and ‘autobiographical consciousness,’ which includes both personhood and identity….this way of thinking about consciousness allows for consciousness to exist in many non-human species…. He emphasizes that ‘core consciousness does not require language.’

“After acknowledging the importance of consciousness, Damasio returns to his evolutionary perspective and says we need to acknowledge what came before consciousness—that is to say, much of what the brain and the mind does is unconscious. He rejects the Freudian unconscious, but he refers to ‘the large unconscious,’ which he says is made up of two ingredients: an active ingredient, which is the maps and images that are constantly being formed and updated (most of which never reach consciousness), and then the dormant ingredient, which is ‘the repository of coded records from which explicit images can be formed.’

“So, it’s a good thing most of this never reaches consciousness, or we’d drown in the din. The brain takes the overabundance of inputs and tries to compose a coherent narrative. This is another aspect of our limited attentional spotlight—that magicians exploit.

“But despite the importance of consciousness, it is important to remember that it’s built on unconscious processes that are in charge of life regulation. Damasio calls these processes ‘blind dispositions,’ and says that they deliver the rewards and punishments that promote drive, motivation, and emotions. The map-making process is also unconscious; so consciousness is what we would call ‘a late-comer to life management.’

“Damasio says that his position is ‘Consciousness offers a direct experience of mind, but the broker of the experience is a self, which is an internal and imperfectly instructed informer rather than an external reliable observer.’

“‘The brain constructs consciousness by generating a self process within an awake mind;’ the parts are the ‘mind’ and ‘wakefulness— which are indispensable—and the ‘self.’

“He also proposes that the self is built in stages. The first stage is the protoself. He says that the protoself is a neural description of relatively stable aspects of the organism. The main product of the protoself is spontaneous feelings of the living body, which he calls ‘primordial feelings.’

“The second stage is the core self. According to Damasio a pulse of core self is generated when the protoself is modified by an interaction between the organism and an object, and then as a result the images of the object get modified. The modified images of the object and the organism are momentarily linked in a coherent pattern. This is described in a narrative sequence of images, some of which are feelings.

“The third stage, the autobiographical self, occurs when objects in one’s biography generate pulses of core self that are subsequently momentarily linked in a large scale coherent pattern.

“Damasio points out that a lot of what’s in the unconscious is stuff that has been put there through training—learning. And it allows us to do things, because if we had to concentrate on everything—for example, walking—we wouldn’t be able to do anything more complicated. He emphasizes the importance of educating the unconscious so that we’re going to respond the way we want. For example, he says moral behavior is a skill set.”

Towards a cognitive neuroscience of self-awareness

Recall the anterior cingulate cortex’s (ACC) role in meditative states from the last post. This neuroscience article by the above name claims that “self-awareness is a pivotal component of conscious experience. It is correlated with a paralimbic network of medial prefrontal/anterior cingulate and medial parietal/posterior cingulate cortical ‘hubs’ and associated regions. Electromagnetic and transmitter manipulation have demonstrated that the network is not an epiphenomenon but instrumental in generation of self-awareness.”

Concerning meditation and this brain network: “The new understanding of the physiology and pathophysiology of self-awareness outlined in Section 4 may lead to the application of unconventional therapeutical strategies to increase dopaminergic activity and to improve paralimbic interaction. These strategies include relaxation meditation like yoga nidra or mindfulness meditation, which in independent studies have been shown to increase dopaminergic tone and induce growth in paralimbic structures.”

The neurocircuitry of awakening

See Dan Brown talking about it in this video. He is also co-author in the paper “Mapping complex mind states.” Some excerpts from the latter follow. Note that it does not differentiate the different aspect of ‘self’ as discussed by Damasio. It appears that what it means by ‘self’ is the autobiographical self-reference system. However Damasio would see some of these results as examples of the proto-self and core self. This neuroscience article compares Damasio’s different types of self to meditative states.

“Modulation within the anterior cingulate (ACC) executive hub was observed in the gamma band range. […] The ACC represents a core brain structure in terms of centralized executive functioning. […] An overarching theory proposes the key interplay of the ACC in ‘self-regulatory’ processes, broadly defined. […] These findings suggest enhanced executive control extending to challenging cognitive, emotional, and physical processing demands, largely observed during periods of sustained attention. Furthermore, enhanced current density within the ACC, d[orsal]ACC, and v[entral]ACC, was exclusive to the gamma-band frequency range, whereby modulation of gamma activity has been associated with increasing complexity of experimental tasks, task difficulty, and mental effort” (49).

“Within this shifted tonic brain meditative state (S1 onwards), collectively, enhanced ACC and parietal cortex current density vector magnitudes in concert with increased activation within the insula, suggest the onset of executive brain networks involved in saliency, conflict monitoring, emotion control and shifts in perspective-taking. We may infer that such neural activity contributed to the cultivation and sustainment of intricate internal states encompassing experiences of non-duality, and having no reference point (thus non-preference). Furthermore, decreases in cortical networks involved with self-referential processing, such as the PCC [posterior cingulate cortex], support the down-regulation of self-orientation, while the continued attenuation of these regions with a simultaneous increase in executive network activity between meditative states provides initial evidence of a dissociability of these networks within an active, ongoing movement towards non-dual states. Such complex functioning is consistent with selfless (and thus effortless), yet active meditation in line with the construct of non-localized awakened awareness and its expression as ‘unified compassion'” (51).

The Neurohacker Collective

Good article discussing an interview except with Jordan Greenhall on global collapse, with that excerpt also provided. We are headed for collapse unless we as a species upgrade our decision making by “becoming much better at self-organizing into large-scale manifestations of collective intelligence.”

Greenhall is co-founder of Neurohacker Collective. Their mission statement: “Our mission is to use the best of what we know about how the brain and mind work from all fields and disciplines in the service of realizing humanity’s deepest potentials as a species, starting with the self and moving outward.”

Why economics needs a new invisible hand

In this clip Hartmann interviews David Sloan Wilson on his new article by the above name. A new economics needs a new foundation from the typical and shopworn invisible hand proposed by Adam Smith. That new hand is applying evolutionary theory to the topic. David S. Wilson is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University and Arne Næss Chair in Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo. His most recent book is Does Altruism Exist?

Dumpsters are the biggest consumers and promoters of fake news

Continuing this prior post,  this new study by Oxford University confirms the phenomenon. And no, this study is not confirmation bias but scientific reality.  The abstract:

“What kinds of social media users read junk news? We examine the distribution of the most significant sources of junk news in the three months before President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address. Drawing on a list of sources that consistently publish political news and information that is extremist, sensationalist, conspiratorial, masked commentary, fake news and other forms of junk news, we find that the distribution of such content is unevenly spread across the ideological spectrum. We demonstrate that (1) on Twitter, a network of Trump supporters shares the widest range of known junk news sources and circulates more junk news than all the other groups put together; (2) on Facebook, extreme hard right pages—distinct from Republican pages—share the widest range of known junk news sources and circulate more junk news than all the other audiences put together; (3) on average, the audiences for junk news on Twitter share a wider range of known junk news sources than audiences on Facebook’s public pages.”

Dancing or fitness sport?

The title of a recent article in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience. Parts of the abstract:

“Age-related degenerations in brain structure are associated with balance disturbances and cognitive impairment. However, neuroplasticity is known to be preserved throughout lifespan and physical training studies with seniors could reveal volume increases in the hippocampus (HC), a region crucial for memory consolidation, learning and navigation in space, which were related to improvements in aerobic fitness. Moreover, a positive correlation between left HC volume and balance performance was observed. Dancing seems a promising intervention for both improving balance and brain structure in the elderly. It combines aerobic fitness, sensorimotor skills and cognitive demands while at the same time the risk of injuries is low. Hence, the present investigation compared the effects of an 18-month dancing intervention and traditional health fitness training on volumes of hippocampal subfields and balance abilities.  […] Both groups revealed hippocampal volume increases mainly in the left HC (CA1, CA2, subiculum). The dancers showed additional increases in the left dentate gyrus and the right subiculum. Moreover, only the dancers achieved a significant increase in the balance composite score. Hence, dancing constitutes a promising candidate in counteracting the age-related decline in physical and mental abilities.”

Roger McNamee on brain hacking and Facebook

Brain hacking is using social media and your smart phone to addict people and implant ideas. The advertisers put us in filter groups to feed addiction to our ‘likes,’ giving us a dopamine rush. It creates a sense of belonging with others who agree with us while further isolating human relations in real life. These filter groups are also geared to feed our fear and anger, which makes us more receptive to notice the ads and buy their products. While social media networking can be a positive thing it’s basically the ad companies and Facebook that use it to create the above quagmire.

McNamee is a venture capitalist and an early investor in Facebook but became critical of it due to the above.

Altered states and altered traits

Good, brief clip on the difference between the above, and how meditation can turn altered states into lasting traits that one carries in their daily life. Aside from the physiological benefits, if we can just dump the metaphysical mumbo jumbo that accompanies traditional interpretations of what these states and traits mean then we’ll have made progress toward a postmetaphysical cultural metaphor.

The evolution of synergy

Very interesting, short video on how evolution relies on synergy, the forming of new organisms by teaming up with others. It also applies to how synergy leads to social organization. An enticing quote: “It outlines a path for completely new organisms to evolve which does not rely on natural selection for increased complexity. In fact, just the opposite. It relies on relaxed selection and degradation” (9:15).