Category Archives: neuroscience

The story of our reality

Interesting article on how what we perceive isn’t always the reality. We make up stories that shape our perceptions.

“‘It’s really important to understand we’re not seeing reality,’ says neuroscientist Patrick Cavanagh, a research professor at Dartmouth College and a senior fellow at Glendon College in Canada. ‘We’re seeing a story that’s being created for us.’ Most of the time, the story our brains generate matches the real, physical world — but not always. Our brains also unconsciously bend our perception of reality to meet our desires or expectations. And they fill in gaps using our past experiences.”

“Why are we seeing a story about the world — a story — and not the real deal? It’s not because evolution made our minds flawed. It’s actually an adaptation.”

“‘The dirty little secret about sensory systems is that they’re slow, they’re lagged, they’re not about what’s happening right now but what’s happening 50 milliseconds ago, or, in the case for vision, hundreds of milliseconds ago.’ If we relied solely on this outdated information, though, we wouldn’t be able to hit baseballs with bats, or swat annoying flies away from our faces. We’d be less coordinated, and possibly get hurt more often.So the brain predicts the path of motion before it happens. It tells us a story about where the object is heading, and this story becomes our reality.

“What we experience as consciousness is primarily the prediction, not the real-time feed. The actual sensory information, he explains, just serves as error correction. ‘If you were always using sensory information, errors would accumulate in ways that would lead to quite catastrophic effects on your motor control,’ Hantman says. Our brains like to predict as much as possible, then use our senses to course-correct when the predictions go wrong. This is true not only for our perception of motion but also for so much of our conscious experience.”

“The big principles that underlie how our brains process what we see also underlie most of our thinking. Illusions are ‘the basis of superstition, the basis of magical thinking,’ Martinez-Conde says. ‘It’s the basis for a lot of erroneous beliefs. We’re very uncomfortable with uncertainty. The ambiguity is going to be resolved one way or another, and sometimes in a way that does not match reality.’ Just as we can look at an image and see things that aren’t really there, we can look out into the world with skewed perceptions of reality. Political scientists and psychologists have long documented how political partisans perceive the facts of current events differently depending on their political beliefs. The illusions and political thinking don’t involve the same brain processes, but they follow the similar overarching way the brain works.”

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.”

Dual-System theory and the role of consciousness in intentional action

Book chapter by Marcus Schlosser in Free Will, Causality and Neuroscience (2020). From the Introduction:

“I will propose a revised version of the standard view according to which automatic action (or so-called automatic goal pursuit) can qualify as derivatively intentional if it has appropriate history of habit formation” (36).

Consciousness goes deeper than you think

We’ve investigated Damasio‘s various forms of consciousness, from proto to core to narrative, as well as Dehaene‘s 2 forms. This Scientific American article reiterates at least the 2 different kinds.

“Jonathan Schooler has established a clear distinction between conscious and meta-conscious processes. Whereas both types entail the qualities of experience, meta-conscious processes also entail what he called re-representation. […] Attention plays an important role is in re-representation; that is, the conscious knowledge of an experience, which underlies introspection. Subjects cannot report—not even to themselves—experiences that aren’t re-represented. Nothing, however, stops conscious experience from occurring without re-representation. […] Clearly, the assumption that consciousness is limited to re-represented mental contents under the focus of attention mistakenly conflates meta-consciousness with consciousness proper.”

The Political Mind

By George Lakoff.  A copy can be found at academia.edu here. An excerpt:

“One can see in scripts the link between frames and narratives.
Narratives are frames that tell a story. They have semantic roles,
properties of the role, relations among roles, and scenarios. What
makes it a narrative-a story-and not just a mere frame? A narrative
has a point to it, a moral. It is about how you should live
your life-or how you shouldn’t. It has emotional content: events
that make you sad or angry or in awe” (250).

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: WorldIChoose.org, WorldIChoose.com, ChooseMyWorld.org, and ChooseMyWorld.com. 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. 

The empty brain

Article by Robert Epstein. He begins by noting the various metaphors we’ve used throughout the ages to describe the workings of our mind/brain: clay infused with spirit; the hydraulic model; springs and gears; and now the information processor (IP). While the author claims we can get to a real model without metaphor, he suggests the embodied model in direct interaction with the world. But that too is a metaphor, for we cannot escape using them to frame our minds, or anything, for that matter. His bottom line and with which I agree, is that the IP model is outdated, that our mind/brains do not process and store information like a computer, and it’s time to move on to the interactive mind/brain/body/environment metaphor, what we could just called the ecological metaphor. As a species we do seem to be making progress with our understanding, and this appears to be our next best guess.

Robert Epstein is a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in California. He is the author of 15 books, and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today.