174 posts tagged Mind
At the quantum level of analysis, the brain is made up of 99.999 etc% empty space, plus a system of molecules, atoms and so on. But these atomic constituents, as Stapp points out, do not exist as independent self-contained material entities. Ultimately they emerge out of the quantum field of potentiality; and their emergence in some way depends upon consciousness. When we know all this (and all this is known), then the materialists’ picture of mind-independent jiggling molecules in a materially substantial brain dissolves. As Stapp says, “no such brain exists; no brain, body, or anything else in the real world is composed of those tiny bits of matter that Newton imagined the universe to be made of” (Mindful Universe, 2007, p.139). Rather, the physical grounds in the brain of the experience of the seeing of a yellow wall reduces to a jiggling of an insubstantial quantum field, as the illustration illustrates.
Tips on “resting your mind” are increasingly prominent in western culture’s non-stop barrage of lifestyle instructions. We are exhorted to give our brains downtime, and reminded of the benefits of yoga, mindfulness and transcendental meditation. In an economic system preoccupied with squeezing value from employees’ minds as well as bodies, rest, we are told, can promote creative insights rather than be purely a sign of lost productivity. But what are the criteria for judging if a mind is at rest? What accounts for the unevenness in people’s experiences of mental “rest”? And can we broaden the repertoire of practices that people use – beyond mindfulness training and yoga – to find rest in their everyday lives? One arena in which debates over what “rest” means for the mind have been particularly lively is neuroscience. Until recently, if you were to volunteer for a cognitive neuroscience experiment, the chances are you would be slid, supine, into a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, would come face to face with a simple cross-hair – and would be told to “do nothing” in between the psychological tasks you would be asked to carry out. This cross-hair is the way that cognitive neuroscientists traditionally access the brain and mind’s state of rest. Little over a decade ago, mental activity during a phase of cross-hair fixation was treated simply as the baseline. The assumption was that the mind would rev up and out of its idling state in order to complete the tasks it was being set, and its activity could then be measured against this dormant “baseline” state.
But in the past decade this view of the resting state has undergone a profound transformation. Neuroscientists have demonstrated that different parts of the brain display remarkably co-ordinated patterns of activity “at rest”, and that disparate regions in the brain are consistently more, rather than less, active when people are told to “do nothing”. Data and visualisation techniques from resting-state cognitive neuroscientists, such as my collaborator, Daniel Margulies, have allowed the slow rhythms of these highly organised brain dynamics to be made visible and displayed as maps of brain connectivity. In a few short years, a brain that is “doing nothing” has become, for neuroscientists, a whole lot more complicated, interesting and, frankly, busy. Rest, at least in relation to the space inside our skulls, isn’t what it used to be.
“Mental toughness” is a phrase that is commonly used in sports to describe the superior mental qualities of the competitor. Most elite athletes report that at least 50% of superior athletic performance is the result of mental or psychological factors, and a whopping 83% of coaches rate mental toughness as the most important set of psychological characteristics for determining competitive success. One of the first descriptions of mental toughness was made by sports psychologist James Loeher. Based on his extensive work with elite athletes and coaches, he proposed seven dimensions of mental toughness that he argued are developed: self-confidence, attention control, minimizing negative energy, increasing positive energy, maintaining motivation levels, attitude control, and visual and imagery control.
Let’s say Martians land on the Earth and wish to understand more about humans. Someone hands them a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare and says: “When you understand what’s in there, you will understand everything important about us.” The Martians set to work – they allocate vast resources to recording every detail of this great tome until eventually they know where every “e”, every “a”, every “t” is on every page. They remain puzzled, and return to Earth. “We have completely characterised this book,” they say, “but we still aren’t sure we really understand you people at all.” The problem is that characterising a language is not the same as understanding it, and this is the problem faced by brain researchers too. Neurons (brain cells) use language of a kind, a “code”, to communicate with each other, and we can tap into that code by listening to their “chatter” as they fire off tiny bursts of electricity (nerve impulses). We can record this chatter and document all its properties. We can also determine the location of every single neuron and all of its connections and its chemical messengers. Having done this, though, we still will not understand how the brain works. To understand a code we need to anchor that code to the real world.
Dim the lights if you need to make a big decision
The next time you want to turn down the emotional intensity before making an important decision, you may want to dim the lights first. A new study shows that human emotions, whether they are positive or negative, are felt more intensely under bright lights. “Other evidence shows that on sunny days people are more optimistic about the stock market, report higher wellbeing, and are more helpful while extended exposure to dark, gloomy days can result in seasonal affective disorder,” says Alison Jing Xu, assistant professor of management at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
“Contrary to these results, we found that on sunny days depression-prone people actually become more depressed,” she says, pointing to peaks in suicide rates during late spring and summer when sunshine is abundant. (via Dim the lights if you need to make a big decision | Futurity)
Monkey uses its mind to control another primate, in tests scientists hope could help paralysed people
Scientists have developed a way for monkeys to control “avatars” that could be used to help paralysed people move their bodies. In the tests scientists found that brain signals from the master monkey’s mind could be used to stimulate an avatar’s spinal cord to control its movements. The findings published in the Natural Communications journal have been called a “key step forward” and could help people who have damaged their spinal cord to the extent that its stops information flowing from the brain to the body. People with such damage are often left unable to walk or feed themselves, and researchers say that even the smallest amount of movement could dramatically improve a person’s life, the BBC reported. The scientists from Harvard Medical School in the US envisage their findings could go towards creating machinery to help patients. As researchers said they could not justify paralysing a monkey for the study, they used a conscious monkey with an implanted brain chip, and an unconscious avatar to be controlled. During the experiment, the conscious monkey’s movements were mapped according to patterns of electrical activity in its neurons. The scientists then hooked the avatar’s spinal cord up to 36 electrodes to measure how it moved according to different combinations of stimulation. In a different test, as the sedated monkey held a joystick, the master thought about moving a cursor up and down. In 98 per cent of tests, the master could correctly control the avatar’s arm. (via Monkey uses its mind to control another primate, in tests scientists hope could help paralysed people - Science - News - The Independent)