Category Archives: neural networks

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)

Neuroscience: Deep breathing changes your brain

Humans have some intentional control over our brains (and minds and bodies) and focused breathing is one of those control mechanisms.

“This recent study finally answers these questions by showing that volitionally controlling our respirational, even merely focusing on one’s breathing, yield additional access and synchrony between brain areas. This understanding may lead to greater control, focus, calmness, and emotional control.”

Vibration: A new theory of consciousness

Article in Scientific American. One point. The article sees energetic fields underlying matter as if they are separate things, one the cause of the other. Whereas a naturalistic, postmetaphysical view might be that they mutually entail and co-generate each other within an ecological frame. The cause/effect frame still clings to a form of dualism.

Musk: merging of humans and technology essential to survival

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From Axios interview with Elon Musk:

Musk said his neuroscience company, Neuralink, has about 85 of “the highest per capita intelligence” group of engineers he has ever assembled — with the mission of building a hard drive for your brain.

  • “The long-term aspiration with Neuralink would be to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”
  • Wait. What? “To achieve a sort of democratization of intelligence, such that it is not monopolistically held in a purely digital form by governments and large corporations.”

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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.

Gaps in our focused attention

Two papers released in the journal Neuron discuss these gaps, which happen 4 times every second. Hence the object of our focus only gets these quick snapshots and we have to piece them together to create the appearance of continual attention. The reason our focused attention is diverted so frequently is due to evolutionary selection pressures to remain vigilant to dangers in the environment around us. Thus any environmental distraction will interrupt our focus with this frequency.

This reminds me of what I wrote in my review of Thompson’s book, chapter 2:

Consciousness appears to be in a continuous stream, yet it is in fact broken into discontinuous, discrete moments, each of which is conditioned on a variety of contextual factors. […] Thompson wonders if we can measure the gaps between these discrete, phasic moments. […] The referenced experiments showed that we tend to perceive a stimulus when there is a peak in a brain wave cycle, and not so when it hits a trough. That is, much like the longer waking and sleeping cycle, brain wave cycles that happen in milliseconds have a similar effect on perception. These experiments support the hypothesis of discrete, phasic moments. This holds true even for sustained attention of the meditative type. It’s true that such meditative focus increases our ability to sustain attention, yet it is not continuous and alternates in millisecond intervals consistent with brain wave function.

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 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.”


Algorithm brings whole-brain simulation within reach

An improvement to the Neural Simulation Tool (NEST) algorithm, the primary tool of the Human Brain Project, expanded the scope of brain neural data management (for simulations) from the current 1% of discrete neurons (about the number in the cerebellum) to 10%. The NEST algorithm can scale to store 100% of BCI-derived or simulated neural data within near-term reach as supercomputing capacity increases. The algorithm achieves its massive efficiency boost by eliminating the need to explicitly store as much data about each neuron’s state.

Abstract of Extremely Scalable Spiking Neuronal Network Simulation Code: From Laptops to Exascale Computers

State-of-the-art software tools for neuronal network simulations scale to the largest computing systems available today and enable investigations of large-scale networks of up to 10 % of the human cortex at a resolution of individual neurons and synapses. Due to an upper limit on the number of incoming connections of a single neuron, network connectivity becomes extremely sparse at this scale. To manage computational costs, simulation software ultimately targeting the brain scale needs to fully exploit this sparsity. Here we present a two-tier connection infrastructure and a framework for directed communication among compute nodes accounting for the sparsity of brain-scale networks. We demonstrate the feasibility of this approach by implementing the technology in the NEST simulation code and we investigate its performance in different scaling scenarios of typical network simulations. Our results show that the new data structures and communication scheme prepare the simulation kernel for post-petascale high-performance computing facilities without sacrificing performance in smaller systems.