Category Archives: neuroscience

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 His bottom line and with which I agree, is that the IP model is outdated, that our mind/brains do not process and store information like a computer, and it’s time to move on to the interactive mind/brain/body/environment metaphor,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.

More on Haidt

Continuing this previous post:

I’m looking at the section “conclusion and critique” of Haidt starting on p. 31. Gibbs appreciates that we should account for our earlier human history and more primitive brain centers in describing morality. But to limit it to these structures and history at the expense of later brain structures and evolutionary development is another thing.

“The negative skew in Haidt’s descriptive work discourages study in moral psychology of higher reaches of morality such as rational moral reflection, empathy for the plight of entire out-groups, moral courage, and the cultivation of responsible, mature moral agency —broadly, study of ‘the scope of human possibilities, of what people can do morally, if they are prepared, through development and education, to approach life’s important issues in a thoughtful way’” (34).

Several neuroscientific studies make clear which parts of the brain are emphasized in liberals and conservatives. The amygdala (indicative of fight or flight fear) is a much older evolutionary brain structure, while the anterior cingulate cortex (higher thinking functions) much newer. Hence there is neuroscientific brain evidence for the evolution of morality per Kohlberg. Haidt admits that conservative morality is rooted in these more evolutionary earlier brain structures, and liberal morality in the newer structures.

The newer neocortex then coordinates and integrates the older brain functions so that the latter do not dominate and send us backward in evolution. It’s not that liberals don’t have the conservative moral traits like Haidt claims; it’s that those earlier evolutionary traits are now modified under neocortex control. Yes, there is a value judgment involved here, but it’s supported by evolutionary science, not ideology.

The abstract from “Neural correlates or post-conventional moral reasoning”:

“Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.”

From Mendez, M. (2017). “A neurology of the conservative-liberal dimension of political ideology.” The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

“Differences in political ideology are a major source of human disagreement and conflict. There is increasing evidence that neurobiological mechanisms mediate individual differences in political ideology through effects on a conservative-liberal axis. This review summarizes personality, evolutionary and genetic, cognitive, neuroimaging, and neurological studies of conservatism-liberalism and discusses how they might affect political ideology. What emerges from this highly variable literature is evidence for a normal right-sided cconservative-complex’ involving structures sensitive to negativity bias, threat, disgust, and avoidance.”

The neuroscience of creativity

Since this came up in our book discussion or Range yesterday,  something relevant from this article. It’s interesting how the salience network mediates between and integrates two normally one on, one off networks.  And how it is the connections between networks that seems to do the trick akin to the book’s description of how those with range make analogous connections between ideas and domains.

“Three of these distinct brain networks — the default mode, the executive control network and the salience network — have been identified by Dr Beaty and colleagues as being associated with creativity.

“The default mode network is activated when people are relaxed and their mind is wandering to different topics or experiences, associated with remembering past experiences, thinking about possible future experience and daydreaming.

“The executive control network comes into play when you need to pay close attention and focus on something in the environment. It comes online when we have to focus our attention and cognitive resources on more demanding tasks that require us to hone our attention and manage multiple things in our mind at one time, directing the content of our thoughts.

“The salience network plays a significant role in detecting and filtering important — or salient — information. It’s called salience because it helps us to pick up on salient information in the environment or internally. Interestingly, the default mode and the executive control networks don’t typically work together — when one network is activated, the other tends to be deactivated. One thing that we think the salience network might be doing is switching between an idea-generation mode, which is more of a default process, and the idea-evaluation mode, which is more of a control way of thinking. […] More creative people tended to have more network connections.”

Consciousness in Humanoid Robots

New ebook from Frontiers in Science. The blurb:

Building a conscious robot is a grand scientific and technological challenge. Debates about the possibility of conscious robots and the related positive outcomes and hazards for human beings are today no more confined to philosophical circles. Robot consciousness is a research field aimed to a unified view of approaches as cognitive robotics, epigenetic and affective robotics, situated and embodied robotics, developmental robotics, anticipatory systems, biomimetic robotics. Scholars agree that a conscious robot would completely change the current views on technology: it would not be an “intelligent companion” but a complete novel kind of artifact. Notably, many neuroscientists involved in the study of consciousness do not exclude this possibility. Moreover, facing the problem of consciousness in robots may be a major move on the study of consciousness in humans and animals.

The Frontiers Research Topic on consciousness in humanoid robots concerns the theoretical studies, the models and the case studies of consciousness in humanoid robots. Topics related to this argument are:
– the needs of a body for robot consciousness;
– robot self-consciousness;
– the capability of a robot to reason about itself, its body and skills;
– the episodic memory in a robot, i.e., the ability to take into account its operational life;
– design strategies versus developmental approaches in assessing consciousness in a robot;
– robot architectures candidates for consciousness;
– symbolic versus neural networks representations in robot consciousness;
– consciousness, theory of mind and emotions in a humanoid robot;
– measurements and assessments of consciousness and self-consciousness in a robot;
– ethical and trust issues in a conscious humanoid robot.

Book: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

In his new book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David J. Epstein investigates the significant advantages of generalized cognitive skills for success in a complex world. We’ve heard and read many praises for narrow expertise in both humans and AIs (Watson, Alpha Go, etc.). In both humans and AIs, however, narrow+deep expertise does not translate to adaptiveness when reality presents novel challenges, as it does constantly. 

As you ingest this highly readable, non-technical book, please add your observations to the comments below. 

Philosophy and the Mind Sciences

New open access journal, the blurb from their home page.

Aims and scope

Philosophy and the Mind Sciences (PhiMiSci) focuses on the interface between philosophy of mind, psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. PhiMiSci is a peer-reviewed, not-for-profit open-access journal that is free for authors and readers.
 
Editorial policy
 
The inaugural issue of PhiMiSci will be a Special Topic on Radical Disruptions of Self-Consciousness, edited by Thomas Metzinger (Mainz) and Raphaël Millière (Oxford). Manuscripts submitted to this issue are currently under review.
 
Independently of this Special Topic, PhiMiSci is now open for submission of stand-alone articles. The first stand-alone-articles will only be published after the inaugural issue on Radical Disruptions of Self-Consciousness (publication of this issue is planned for late 2019). After this point, accepted articles will be published whenever peer-review and revisions have been successfully completed. If you would like to propose a Special Topic for PhiMiSci, please take a look at our guidelines for special topics.
 
PhiMiSci is an independent publication, but builds on the success and experience of the Open MIND project (2015; Metzinger & Windt, eds.; also published by MIT Press) and the PPP project (2017; Metzinger & Wiese, eds.). Both were peer-reviewed, open-access edited collections published independently of commercial publishers.
 
Editorial team
 
The editors-in-chief of PhiMiSci are Sascha Benjamin Fink (Magdeburg), Wanja Wiese (Mainz), and Jennifer Windt (Monash).
The editorial board includes Michael Anderson (Western), Ned Block (NYU), Tyler Burge (UCLA), Olivia Carter (Melbourne), Monima Chadha (Monash), David Chalmers (NYU), Andy Clark (Sussex), Daniel Dennett (Tufts), Ophelia Deroy (LMU), Martin Dresler (Donders), Frances Egan (Rutgers), Steve Fleming (UCL), Karl Friston (UCL), Philip Gerrans (Adelaide), Jakob Hohwy (Monash), Bigna Lenggenhager (UZH), Edouard Machery (Pittsburgh), Fiona Macpherson (Glasgow), Thomas Metzinger (JGU Mainz), Laurie Paul (Yale), Antti Revonsuo (Turku, Skövde), Anil Seth (Sussex), Peter Singer (Princeton, Melbourne), Heleen Slagter (UvA Amsterdam), Evan Thompson (UBC), Dan Zahavi (Copenhagen, Oxford).
 
Open access policy
 
We are dedicated to publishing high-quality articles with maximum accessibility and visibility. We believe that the results of academic research should be made available to the public for free, with no costs for readers or authors, especially as in most cases, the research is already supported by public funding. PhiMiSci encourages authors to publish their papers under a CC-BY license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided appropriate credit is given to the original author(s), and the original source and a link to the Creative Commons license are provided. If a different Creative Commons license is preferred by an author, they must indicate this during the submission of their manuscript. Other suitable Creative Commons license additions include that any repurpose must be non-commercial (NC) or that it must not be cut or altered (ND). PhiMiSci does not publish under anything but a Creative Commons license.
 
Commercial publishers provide an important service to the academic community, but they also aim to maximize profits. In practice, this means that many scientific books are exorbitantly expensive and subscription fees for scientific journals as well as publication fees for open-access articles are excessively high. Big academic institutions in industrialized countries can afford to cover such costs and fees. However, a large number of traditionally published scientific works remains inaccessible for many and options for publishing work open access are limited. PhiMiSci offers an alternative: Fully free, open-access peer-reviewed science.
 
Archiving and long-term availability
 
All papers published in PhiMiSci are stored on servers in Germany. Long-term availability is guaranteed through additional archiving at the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library), which also has the task of collecting, cataloguing, indexing and archiving online publications.