Category Archives: brain structures

Downward mental causation and free will

I know, to free will or not to free will, that is the hackneyed question debated in philosophical circles since we learned how to talk. But here’s a cognitive neuroscientist’s research on “how neuronal code underlies top-down mental causation.” It’s a long video, over 2 hours, and I have yet to complete it. Here is Peter Tse’s CV.  Here is his book on the topic is. Here is a good summary of Tse’s work on the topic.

Future discussion topic recommendations

Several of us met on Labor Day with the goal of identifying topics for at least five future monthly meetings. (Thanks, Dave N, for hosting!) Being the overachievers we are, we pushed beyond the goal. Following are the resulting topics, which will each have its own article on this site where we can begin organizing references for the discussion:

  • sex-related influences on emotional memory
    • gross and subtle brain differences (e.g., “walls of the third ventricle – sexual nuclei”)
    • “Are there gender-based brain differences that influence differences in perceptions and experience?”
    • epigenetic factors (may need an overview of epigenetics)
  • embodied cognition
    • computational grounded cognition (possibly the overview and lead-in topic)
    • neuro-reductionist theory vs. enacted theory of mind
    • “Could embodied cognition influence brain differences?” (Whoever suggested this, please clarify.)
  • brain-gut connection (relates to embodied cognition, but can stand on its own as a topic)
  • behavioral priming (one or multiple discussions)
  • neuroscience of empathy – effects on the brain, including on neuroplasticity
  • comparative effects of various meditative practices on the brain
  • comparative effects of various psychedelics on the brain
  • effects of childhood poverty on the brain

If I missed anything, please edit the list (I used HTML in the ‘Text’ view to get sub-bullets). If you’re worried about the formatting, you can email your edits to and Mark will post your changes.

Giant neuron found encircling and intraconnecting mouse brain

A neuron that encircles the mouse brain emanates from the claustrum (an on/off switch for awareness) and has dense links with both brain hemispheres. Scientists including Francis Crick and Christoph Koch have speculated that the claustrum may play a role in enabling conscious thought. (Crick and Koch academic article)

We’ve frequently discussed how self-aware consciousness likely arises not from any single brain structure or signal, but from complex, recursive (reentrant), synchronized signaling among many structures organized into functional regions. (Did I get close to accurate there?) That a giant neuron provides another connection path among such regions can be taken to align with the reentrant signaling and coordination view of consciousness (ala Edelman and Tononi).

Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

The Journal of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience is here and it’s open access. This Wikipedia article gives a good overview of this developing field.  And here‘s a Psychology Today article applying it to healthy adult development.  From the latter:

“The first guiding principle is that it is necessary to ‘quiet the limbic system’ (van der Kolk et al., 2005) to help emerging adults achieve a greater sense of safety. Quieting techniques facilitate attachments by promoting self-soothing and regulation. This is especially relevant when challenges are associated with trauma, anxiety disorders, and emotional/self-inhibitio­n. Emotional and cognitive learning cannot take place in a state of fear. This also includes protecting the brain from the neurotoxic effects of excess alcohol and substances, lack of sleep or nutrition, and the distorting effects of untreated psychiatric symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or psychosis.

“The second guiding principle is the belief that it is essential to support the psycho-neurobiological development of a coherent self, an organized self, and a self-regulated self (Schore, 2008; Siegel, 1999; Gedo & Goldberg, 1973). This principle puts an emphasis on the processes of self-informed agency, self-directed empowerment, and an adaptive balance of vulnerability, collaboration, and boundaries for self-protection. This second pillar emphasizes the self-actualizing and motivational patterns of the developing individual.

“The third and last precept is drawn from neurocognitive modes of decision-making (Noel et al., 2006); therapeutic experiences of processing and problem-solving through emotional states of activation that occur in real-time within meaningful relationships are essential for achieving growth and change. Such experiences exercise and grow the networking between the limbic system and pre-frontal cortex which are naturally primed to sprout through emerging adulthood. Using mindfulness techniques such as “Reaction & Reflection,” while in relation, promote neurocognitive growth and, in turn, facilitate the further development of mindfulness, cognitive and executive functions, and competent self-governance.”

Computer metaphor not accurate for brain’s embodied cognition

It’s common for brain functions to be described in terms of digital computing, but this metaphor does not hold up in brain research. Unlike computers, in which hardware and software are separate, organic brains’ structures embody memories and brain functions. Form and function are entangled.

Rather than finding brains to work like computers, we are beginning to design computers–artificial intelligence systems–to work more like brains.