Category Archives: brain functions

The geometry of space

Following up on this cogsci article, this new article in Nautilus supports the previous work about how spatial motor schemas extend into abstract conceptual mapping. Excerpts:

“We, unlike our computers, represent information in geometrical space.[…] The brain represents concepts in the same way that it represents space and your location, by using the same neural circuitry for the brain’s ‘inner GPS.’ […] The hippocampus’ place and grid cells, in other words, map not only physical space but conceptual space. It appears that our representation of objects and concepts is very tightly linked with our representation of space.”

“One of the ways these cognitive spaces can benefit our behavior is when we encounter something we have never seen before. Based on the features of the new object we can position it in our cognitive space. We can then use our old knowledge to infer how to behave in this novel situation. […] Cognitive spaces are a domain-general format for human thinking, an overarching framework.”

The Cognitive Bias Codex

Many (all?) cognitive biases are built-in features of the human attention-sensation-perception-memory-cognition chain of sense making processes. It would not be surprising to learn many of these biases have effects that are relevant to questions regarding how natural selection shaped humans for particular embodied functions in a particular environment. Much has been said and written about how the pre-modern environment evolution calibrated us to function within is in many respects quite different from our modern environment.

Living in the future’s past

I watched a good documentary last night titled, Living in the Future’s Past, a project organized, produced, and narrated by Jeff Bridges. It’s available through your Albuquerque Public Library account’s access to Hoopla Digital, Amazon Prime video, and other services. It lays out the modern dilemma of having a pre-neolithic brain in a Neolithic era and posits several questions that align closely with the theme of our current discussion . The film has commentary from diverse scientific experts, including Daniel Goldman (emotional and social intelligence and mindfulness). The upshot is a recurring suggestion our current brain functionality is capable of reframing our perspective and modulating our perceptions and behaviors around carefully constructed focal questions that get at what sort of future(s) we desire. I like this approach—so well in fact that I Had reserved some web domains months ago:,,, and These domains are not active yet. They will relate to the novel I’m writing and to a related non-fiction project. Edward is onto an important approach in looking to semantics (framing, etc.).

Also, on a short-term level, cultural evolution (including language and semantics) appears much more potent a driver than physiological evolution. Given that, I recently purchased a book by an author who goes into great depth on cultural evolution. The book is Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking, by Cecelia Heyes. I may put it forward for a future discussion.

The Neural Basis of Human prosocial behavior

A new Frontiers in Science ebook here. The blurb:

With the rise of laboratory and field experimental economics, the famous prisoner’s dilemma, public good, dictator, ultimatum, and trust games have become the classical paradigms of studying prosocial behavior. Due to the increasing use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) with human subjects playing economic games, the neural basis of prosocial behavior has been uncovered by a large amount of neural imaging and stimulating research. A wide range of brain areas including, but not limited to the prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, striatum and amygdale have been revealed highly correlated or causally related with prosocial behaviors.

A number of hypotheses such as empathy, altruism, reciprocity, inequality aversion, or guilt aversion preferences have been considered as motives promoting prosocial behavior. However, the neural bases of these different preferences have seldom been revealed and the mechanisms of how these preferences influence prosocial behavior have rarely been discussed. Moreover, since prosocial behavior may be due to the cooperative work of several brain areas (neural network), it is essential to integrate findings from difference disciplines including psychology, economics, neuroscience, and to nearly all the social and behavioral sciences.

The present Research Topic of Frontiers in Psychology aims to bring a collection of research revealing the neural basis of human prosocial behavior. Interdisciplinary research investigating brain areas influencing prosocial behaviors is highly encouraged. We believe sharing relevant brain imaging and stimulation findings can promote a better understanding of neural basis of prosocial behavior. 

Winter 2020 discussion prompts

  • What is humanity’s situation with respect to surviving long-term with a good quality of life? (Frame the core opportunities and obstacles.)
  • What attributes of our evolved, experientially programmed brains contribute to this situation? (What are the potential leverage points for positive change within our body-brain-mind system?)
  • What courses of research and action (including currently available systems, tools, and practices and current and possible lines of R&D) have the potential to improve our (and the planetary life system’s) near- and long-term prospects?

Following is a list of (only some!) of the resources some of us have consumed and discussed online, in emails, or face-to-face in 2019. Sample a few to jog your thoughts and provoke deeper dives. Please add your own additional references in the comments below this post. For each, give a short (one line is fine) description, if possible.

‘Neurosexism’ debated

Neuroscientist Larry Cahill takes issue with a Feb 2019 Nature favorable book review of Gina Rippon’s The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience That Shatters The Myth Of The Female Brain.

Cahill’s response prompted an interview by Medium Neuroscience writer Meghan Daum.

Scientific findings have a way of upsetting apple carts, especially when we consider our oft-demonstrated human capacity to bend science to advantage some power-coveting groups over others.

Valid research amply shows there are real differences in male and female neuroanatomy and functions. Honest science must follow the evidence where it leads. Clearly, any discovered differences cannot be allowed to justify unequal social or economic opportunities or treatment. Cahill compares the situation to genetics. That people differ genetically in a vast number of ways cannot be taken as cause to misstate scientific findings or preclude further learning about genetics.

There are times and circumstances in which certain research approaches must be blocked for humane or other reasons but that is a different argument than denying the findings of a body of research because they are uncomfortable or inconvenient.


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)

Recontextualizing decenterd cognition

New issue of Contructivist Foundations on e-cognition. E.g.:

“Such considerations motivate the need to re-think our understanding of how the brain itself works. They suggest that the best explanation of brain function may be found in the mixed vocabularies of embodied and situated cognition, developmental psychology, ecological psychology, dynamic systems theory, applied linguistics, the theory of affordances and material engagement, rather than the narrow vocabulary of computational neuroscience.”

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.”