Category Archives: brain structures

Communication between brain areas based on nested oscillations

eNeuro, 10 March 2017, 4(2). This might be neuroscientific evidence for my speculations on the syntegration of consciousness states and stages via meditative discipline. To be determined. The abstract:

“Unraveling how brain regions communicate is crucial for understanding how the brain processes external and internal information. Neuronal oscillations within and across brain regions have been proposed to play a crucial role in this process. Two main hypotheses have been suggested for routing of information based on oscillations, namely communication through coherence and gating by inhibition. Here, we propose a framework unifying these two hypotheses that is based on recent empirical findings. We discuss a theory in which communication between two regions is established by phase synchronization of oscillations at lower frequencies, which serve as temporal reference frame for information carried by higher frequency activity. Our framework, consistent with numerous recent empirical findings, posits that cross-frequency interactions are essential for understanding how large-scale cognitive and perceptual networks operate.”

The real problem of consciousness

See this article. A few excerpts:

“A new picture is taking shape in which conscious experience is seen as deeply grounded in how brains and bodies work together to maintain physiological integrity – to stay alive.”

“The brain is locked inside a bony skull. All it receives are ambiguous and noisy sensory signals that are only indirectly related to objects in the world. Perception must therefore be a process of inference, in which indeterminate sensory signals are combined with prior expectations or ‘beliefs’ about the way the world is, to form the brain’s optimal hypotheses of the causes of these sensory signals.”

“A number of experiments are now indicating that consciousness depends more on perceptual predictions, than on prediction errors. […] We’ve found that people consciously see what they expect, rather than what violates their expectations.”

Neuroscience of Empathy

(This is copied from the Meetup site. Thanks again to Brent for hosting.)


Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and understand how they feel- to be them, even for a second. It’s the link between self and others: how we connect, heal, and relate. Considering its importance in every aspect of our lives, we are taking a deeper look at the neuroscience behind empathy.

Recommended Preparation Info.

The Neuroscience of Empathy | Article | 5 minutes (

The Neuroscience of Compassion | Video | 20 min (

Jeremy Rifkin: The empathic civilization | Video | 10 min (


Empathy for others’ pain rooted in cognition rather than sensation | Article | 5 min (

Thomas Lewis: “The Neuroscience of Empathy” | Video | 60 min (

Suggested Additional Info.

Feeling Others’ Pain: Transforming Empathy into Compassion | Article | 5 min (

Structural basis of empathy and the domain general region in the anterior insular cortex | Study | 20 min (

Neurobiology of Empathy and Callousness: Implications for the Development of Antisocial Behavior | Study | 20 min (

The Science Behind Empathy and Empaths | Article | 5 min (

Study challenges perception that empathy erodes during medical school | Article | 5 min (


  • Mark Harris

    Rifkin’s book, The Empathic Civilization, is excellent.

    29 days ago
  • John

    Here is a link to an excellent article arguing against a myopic focus on empathy.

    23 days ago
  • John

    Here is a link to a free ebook that is entitled Compassion: Bridging Science and Practice. The book is the culmination of research findings in social neuroscience studies conducted by Tania Singer and others. There are multiple formats for download.

    23 days ago
  • John

    Here is a link to an article about Tania Singer’s research in Science Magazine.

    23 days ago
  • Edward

    From the link: “Patterns associated with empathic care, for instance, overlapped with systems in the brain associated with value and reward, such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the medial orbitofrontal cortex. In contrast, patterns of empathic distress overlapped with systems in the brain known for mirroring, such as the premotor cortex and the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices, which help an individual simulate or imagine what another person is feeling or thinking.”

    23 days ago
  • Edward

    Here’s another one I just read: “Brain imaging reveals neural roots of caring.

    23 days ago
  • Edward

    From the conclusion: “Shared representations of affective states are activated from the top down in more  cognitive forms of empathy, which recruit additional executive and visuospatial processes. However, the literature overestimates distinctions between emotional and cognitive empathy, following traditional practices to dichotomize in science and philosophy. Despite each
    having unique features, affective and cognitive empathy both require access to the shared representations of emotion that provide simulations with content and an
    embodied meaning.”

    23 days ago
  • Edward

    The entire article can be read here:

    23 days ago
  • Edward

    And this article. Abstract: “Recent research on empathy in humans and other mammals seeks to dissociate emotional and cognitive empathy. These forms, however, remain interconnected in evolution, across species and at the level of neural mechanisms. New data have facilitated the development of empathy models such as the perception–action model (PAM) and mirror-neuron theories. According to the PAM, the emotional states of others are understood through personal, embodied representations that allow empathy and accuracy to increase based on the observer’s past experiences. In this Review, we discuss the latest evidence from studies carried out across a wide range of species, including studies on yawn contagion, consolation, aid-giving and contagious physiological affect, and we summarize neuroscientific data on representations related to another’s state.”

    23 days ago
  • John

    Here is a link to an excellent video of 4 researchers giving talks at the Stanford CCARE conference. The video is 75 minutes.
    CCARE Science of Compassion 2014: Introduction to the Science of Empathy, Altruism, and Compassion

    22 days ago
  • Edward

    Jimmy Kimmel in this video highlights a lot of what we talked about tonight. Yes, we need to feel empathy for those killed an injured in the Las Vegas shooting, but we also need to DO something about it. Meaning gun legislation. He highlights those in Congress who are making it easier instead of harder to obtain the kind of automatic weapons used in this mass murder. The reality is we must make such guns illegal, for it acts on our empathy and morality in a way that protects and serves us.

    21 days ago

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 and subliminal stimuli (effects on later behavior)
  • incremental theory – “The Dark Side of Malleability”
  • creative flow as a unique cognitive process
  • Eastern philosophies and psychology – a psychology of self-cultivation
  • neuroscience of empathy – effects on the brain, including on neuroplasticity (discussed October 2017)
  • comparative effects of various meditative practices on the brain
  • comparative effects of various psychedelics on the brain
  • effects of childhood poverty on the brain
  • neurocognitive bases of racism

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.