Category Archives: brain structures

The info processing (IP) metaphor of the brain is wrong

Psychologist Robert Epstein, the former editor of Psychology Today, challenges anyone to show the brain processing information or data. The IP metaphor, he says, is so deeply embedded in thinking about thinking it prevents us from learning how the brain really works. Epstein also takes on popular luminaries including Ray Kurzweil and Henry Markram, seeing both exemplifying the extremes of wrongness we get into with the IP metaphor and the notion mental experience could persist outside the organic body.

The Empty Brain (Aeon article with audio)

From ecology to brain development

The above is the title to a new, free Frontiers book subtitled “Bridging separate evolutionary paradigms.” I thought it would be of interest to this group. I can be found here, then scrolling down. From the Introduction:

“The nervous system is the product of biological evolution and is shaped by the interplay between extrinsic factors determining the ecology of animals, and by intrinsic processes that dictate the developmental rules that give rise to adult functional structures. This special topic is oriented to develop an integrative view from behavior and ecology to neurodevelopmental processes. We address questions such as how do sensory systems evolve according to ecological conditions? How do neural networks organize to generate adaptive behavior? How does cognition and brain connectivity evolve? What are the developmental mechanisms that give rise to functional adaptation? Accordingly, the book is divided in three sections, (i) Evolution of sensorimotor systems; (ii) Cognitive computations and neural circuits, and (iii) Development and brain evolution. We hope that this initiative will support an interdisciplinary program that addresses the nervous system as a unified organ, subject to both functional and developmental constraints, where the final outcome results of a compromise between different parameters rather than being the result of several single variables acting independently of each other.”

Book discussion event on embodied cognition

Our discussions all, to some extent, relate to cognition. An important area of inquiry concerns whether some form of physical embodiment is required for a brain to support cognition in general and the self-aware sort of cognition we humans possess.


Philosophy In The Flesh: The Embodied Mind And Its Challenge To Western Thought, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Please note, while the title includes “Philosophy,” we are not a philosophy group and the book and discussion will revolve around scientific concepts and implications, not spiritualistic or metaphysical ideas.

Amazon (used copies in the $6 range, including shipping)

eBook (free PDF)


RSVP by email to if you plan to attend our discussion on the afternoon of Saturday, November 3, 2018.


While our group enjoys socializing and will plan other events to that end, this meeting is for focused discussion among people who invest the time in advance to inform themselves on the topic. As a courtesy to those who will do their ‘homework,’ before the meeting please read and consider Part 1 (the first eight chapters) of the book. As you read, jot down your thoughts and questions on the book’s claims, supporting evidence, and implications for our core topics–brain, mind, and artificial intelligence. If you are not able to invest this effort prior to the meeting, please do not attend. Thank you for your understanding.

If you are a visual systematic learner, try creating a concept map of the book’s core concepts and ideas.


Please see related resource links in the comments to this post. Also, you can search this site’s other relevant posts using the category and tag, ’embodied cognition.’


The location will be in the vicinity of UNM on Central Ave. When you RSVP to, you will be sent the address.

Elephant neural variation suggests a contemplative mind

An article in The Conversation explores the variety of neuron structures in the elephant brain.

Taken together, these morphological characteristics suggest that neurons in the elephant cortex may synthesize a wider variety of input than the cortical neurons in other mammals.

In terms of cognition, my colleagues and I believe that the integrative cortical circuitry in the elephant supports the idea that they are essentially contemplative animals. Primate brains, by comparison, seem specialized for rapid decision-making and quick reactions to environmental stimuli.

The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

Kurzweil builds and supports a persuasive vision of the emergence of a human-level engineered intelligence in the early-to-mid twenty-first century. In his own words,

With the reverse engineering of the human brain we will be able to apply the parallel, self-organizing, chaotic algorithms of  human intelligence to enormously powerful computational substrates. This intelligence will then be in a position to improve its own design, both hardware and software,  in a rapidly accelerating iterative process.

In Kurzweil's view, we must and will ensure we evade obsolescence by integrating emerging metabolic and cognitive technologies into our bodies and brains. Through self-augmentation with neurotechnological prostheses, the locus of human cognition and identity will gradually (but faster than we'll expect, due to exponential technological advancements) shift from the evolved substrate (the organic body) to the engineered substrate, ultimately freeing the human mind to develop along technology's exponential curve rather than evolution's much flatter trajectory.

The book is extensively noted and indexed, making the deep-diving reader's work a bit easier.

If you have read it, feel free to post your observations in the comments below. (We've had a problem with the comments section not appearing. It may require more troubleshooting.)

Affective neuroscience of self-generated thought

By Fox et al. (2018), Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 12 May, pp. 1 – 27. The abstract:

“Despite increasing scientific interest in self-generated thought—mental content largely independent of the immediate environment—there has yet to be any comprehensive synthesis of the subjective experience and neural correlates of affect in these forms of thinking. Here, we aim to develop an integrated affective neuroscience encompassing many forms of self-generated thought—normal and pathological, moderate and excessive, in waking and in sleep. In synthesizing existing literature on this topic, we reveal consistent findings pertaining to the prevalence, valence, and variability of emotion in self-generated thought, and highlight how these factors might interact with self-generated thought to influence general well-being. We integrate these psychological findings with recent neuroimaging research, bringing attention to the neural correlates of affect in self-generated thought. We show that affect in self-generated thought is prevalent, positively biased, highly variable (both within and across individuals), and consistently recruits many brain areas implicated in emotional processing, including the orbitofrontalcortex amygdala, insula, and medial prefrontal cortex. Many factors modulate these typical psychological and neural patterns, however; the emerging affective neuroscience of self-generated thought must endeavor to link brain function and subjective experience in both everyday self-generated thought as well as its dysfunctions in mental illness.”

Consciousness Regained:

Disentangling mechanisms, brain systems, and behavioral responses” by Johan F. Storm et al., J

“How consciousness (experience) arises from and relates to material brain processes (the “mind-body problem”) has been pondered by thinkers for centuries, and is regarded as among the deepest unsolved problems in science, with wide-ranging theoretical, clinical, and ethical implications. Until the last few decades, this was largely seen as a philosophical topic, but not widely accepted in mainstream neuroscience. Since the 1980s, however, novel methods and theoretical advances have yielded remarkable results, opening up the field for scientific and clinical progress. Since a seminal paper by Crick and Koch (1998) claimed that a science of consciousness should first search for its neural correlates (NCC), a variety of correlates have been suggested, including both content-specific NCCs, determining particular phenomenal components within an experience, and the full NCC, the neural substrates supporting entire conscious experiences. In this review, we present recent progress on theoretical, experimental, and clinical issues. Specifically, we (1) review methodological advances that are important for dissociating conscious experience from related enabling and executive functions, (2) suggest how critically reconsidering the role of the frontal cortex may further delineate NCCs, (3) advocate the need for general, objective, brain-based measures of the capacity for consciousness that are independent of sensory processing and executive functions, and (4) show how animal studies can reveal population and network phenomena of relevance for understanding mechanisms of consciousness.”:

Neuroscience of Consciousness Journal

Their blurb:

Neuroscience of Consciousness is an open access journal which publishes papers on the biological basis of consciousness, with an emphasis on empirical neuroscience studies in healthy populations and clinical settings. The journal also publishes empirically and neuroscientifically relevant psychological, methodological, theoretical, and philosophical papers. As well as the primary phenomenon of consciousness itself, relevant topics include interactions between conscious and unconscious processes; selfhood; metacognition and higher-order consciousness; intention, volition, and agency; individual differences in consciousness; altered states of consciousness; disorders of consciousness in psychiatry and neurology; and consciousness in infants and non-human animals.

The journal publishes research articles, review articles, brief communications, opinions, and ‘spotlight’ commentaries. See instructions to authors for more information on article types. Neuroscience of Consciousness is partnered with the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC).”

On the evolution of the mammalian brain

Torday and Miller, Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 19 April 2016. The abstract:

“Hobson and Friston have hypothesized that the brain must actively dissipate heat in order to process information (Hobson et al., 2014). This physiologic trait is functionally homologous with the first instantation of life formed by lipids suspended in water forming micelles- allowing the reduction in entropy (heat dissipation). This circumvents the Second Law of Thermodynamics permitting the transfer of information between living entities, enabling them to perpetually glean information from the environment, that is felt by many to correspond to evolution per se. The next evolutionary milestone was the advent of cholesterol, embedded in the cell membranes of primordial eukaryotes, facilitating metabolism, oxygenation and locomotion, the triadic basis for vertebrate evolution. Lipids were key to homeostatic regulation of calcium, forming calcium channels. Cell membrane cholesterol also fostered metazoan evolution by forming lipid rafts for receptor-mediated cell-cell signaling, the origin of the endocrine system. The eukaryotic cell membrane exapted to all complex physiologic traits, including the lung and brain, which are molecularly homologous through the function of neuregulin, mediating both lung development and myelinization of neurons. That cooption later exapted as endothermy during the water-land transition (Torday, 2015a), perhaps being the functional homolog for brain heat dissipation and conscious/mindful information processing. The skin and brain similarly share molecular homologies through the “skin-brain” hypothesis, giving insight to the cellular-molecular “arc” of consciousness from its unicellular origins to integrated physiology. This perspective on the evolution of the central nervous system clarifies self-organization, reconciling thermodynamic and informational definitions of the underlying biophysical mechanisms, thereby elucidating relations between the predictive capabilities of the brain and self-organizational processes.”

Consciousness and the brain

Book title by Stanislas Dehaene (New York: Viking 2014), a copy of which can be downloaded here. (Note it is in EPUB format. EPUB readers can be downloaded free on the internet.) From the Introduction, the section “Cracking consciousness”:

“The word consciousness, as we use it in everyday speech, is loaded with fuzzy meanings, covering a broad range of complex phenomena. Our first task, then, will be to bring order to this confused state of affairs. We will have to narrow our subject matter to a definite point that can be subjected to precise experiments. As we will see, the contemporary science of consciousness distinguishes a minimum of three concepts: vigilance—the state of wakefulness, which varies when we fall asleep or wake up; attention—the focusing of our mental resources onto a specific piece of information; and conscious access—the fact that some of the attended information eventually enters our awareness and becomes reportable to others.

“What counts as genuine consciousness, I will argue, is conscious access—the simple fact that usually, whenever we are awake, whatever we decide to focus on may become conscious. Neither vigilance nor attention alone is sufficient. When we are fully awake and attentive, sometimes we can see an object and describe our perception to others, but sometimes we cannot—perhaps the object was too faint, or it was flashed too briefly to be visible. In the first case, we are said to enjoy conscious access, and in the second we are not (and yet as we shall see, our brain may be processing the information unconsciously).

“In the new science of consciousness, conscious access is a well-defined phenomenon, distinct from vigilance and attention. Furthermore, it can be easily studied in the laboratory. We now know of dozens of ways in which a stimulus can cross the border between unperceived and perceived, between invisible and visible, allowing us to probe what this crossing changes in the brain.

“Conscious access is also the gateway to more complex forms of conscious experience. In everyday language, we often conflate our consciousness with our sense of self—how the brain creates a point of view, an “I” that looks at its surroundings from a specific vantage point. Consciousness can also be recursive: our “I” can look down at itself, comment on its own performance, and even know when it does not know something. The good news is that even these higher-order meanings of consciousness are no longer inaccessible to experimentation. In our laboratories, we have learned to quantify what the “I” feels and reports, both about the external environment and about itself. We can even manipulate the sense of self, so that people may have an out-of-body experience while they lie inside a magnetic resonance imager.

“Some philosophers still think that none of the above ideas will suffice to solve the problem. The heart of the problem, they believe, lies in another sense of consciousness, which they call “phenomenal awareness”: the intuitive feeling, present in all of us, that our internal experiences possess exclusive qualities, unique qualia such as the exquisite sharpness of tooth pain or the inimitable greenness of a fresh leaf. These inner qualities, they argue, can never be reduced to a scientific neuronal description; by nature, they are personal and subjective, and thus they defy any exhaustive verbal communication to others. But I disagree, and I will argue that the notion of a phenomenal consciousness that is distinct from conscious access is highly misleading and leads down a slippery slope to dualism. We should start simple and first study conscious access. Once we clarify how any piece of sensory information can gain access to our mind and become reportable, then the insurmountable problem of our ineffable experiences will disappear.”