167 posts tagged Mind
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)
I suggest that if we want to determine whether the laws of physics might change over time, we should start with biology rather than with physics itself. Why? Because the laws of physics are a product of biology. No matter at what scale we choose to explore the cosmos, the object of our study will be both real and imagined. The laws of physics are overt expressions of human imagination and human imagination is a particular kind of biological activity that happens somewhere in the brain. The overwhelming weight of evidence suggests that the cosmos has existed far beyond the span of our current reckoning and that the duration of conscious experience of the world around us, as an object of scientific inquiry, is just the most recent and infinitesimal pip on the time-line of the universe.
Psychologist, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Author, The Cognitive Brain
A new brain region that appears to help humans identify whether they have made bad decisions has been discovered by researchers. The size and shape of a large Brussels sprout, the ball of neural tissue seems to be crucial for the kind of flexible thought that allows us to consider switching to a more promising course of action. While other brain parts keep track of how well, or not, our decisions are working for us, the new structure is more outward-looking, and mulls over what we might have done instead. Scientists spotted the region, named the lateral frontal pole, after scanning the brains of healthy humans in two different ways. Further scans failed to find any comparable region in monkeys, suggesting the area is exclusive to humans. “We know there are differences between humans and monkeys. But it is surprising how many similarities there can be, and how a couple of differences can mean our behaviour is so far removed from them,” said Matthew Rushworth, a professor of cognitive neuroscience, who led the study at Oxford University. “There are a few brain areas that monitor how good our choices are, and that is a very sensible thing to have. But this region monitors how good the choices are that we didn’t take. It tells us how green the grass is on the other side of the fence.” The remarkable finding highlights how much scientists have to learn about the human brain and how cutting-edge lab techniques are redrawing the map of the most complex organ in the known universe. One expert who spoke to the Guardian said the work was “stunning” and could pave the way for fresh advances in understanding psychiatric diseases. Details of the work are published in the Neuron journal.
What you think is right may actually be wrong – here’s why
We like to think that we reach conclusions by reviewing facts, weighing evidence and analysing arguments. But this is not how humans usually operate, particularly when decisions are important or need to be made quickly. What we usually do is arrive at a conclusion independently of conscious reasoning and then, and only if required, search for reasons as to why we might be right. The first process, drawing a conclusion from evidence or facts, is called inferring; the second process, searching for reasons as to why we might believe something to be true, is called rationalising. Rationalise vs infer That we rationalise more than we infer seems counter-intuitive, or at least uncomfortable, to a species that prides itself on its ability to reason, but it is borne out by the work of many researchers, including the US psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman (most recently in his book Thinking Fast and Slow). We tend to prefer conclusions that fit our existing world-view, and that don’t require us to change a pleasant and familiar narrative. We are also more inclined to accept these conclusions, intuitively leaping to them when they are presented, and to offer resistance to conclusions that require us to change or seriously examine existing beliefs. There are many ways in which our brains help us to do this. (via What you think is right may actually be wrong – here’s why)
There’s a quiet revolution underway in theoretical physics. For as long as the discipline has existed, physicists have been reluctant to discuss consciousness, considering it a topic for quacks and charlatans. Indeed, the mere mention of the ‘c’ word could ruin careers. That’s finally beginning to change thanks to a fundamentally new way of thinking about consciousness that is spreading like wildfire through the theoretical physics community. And while the problem of consciousness is far from being solved, it is finally being formulated mathematically as a set of problems that researchers can understand, explore and discuss. Today, Max Tegmark, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, sets out the fundamental problems that this new way of thinking raises. He shows how these problems can be formulated in terms of quantum mechanics and information theory. And he explains how thinking about consciousness in this way leads to precise questions about the nature of reality that the scientific process of experiment might help to tease apart. Tegmark’s approach is to think of consciousness as a state of matter, like a solid, a liquid or a gas. “I conjecture that consciousness can be understood as yet another state of matter. Just as there are many types of liquids, there are many types of consciousness,” he says. He goes on to show how the particular properties of consciousness might arise from the physical laws that govern our universe. And he explains how these properties allow physicists to reason about the conditions under which consciousness arises and how we might exploit it to better understand why the world around us appears as it does.
"It’s like having my own internal iPod," says Sylvia. While she goes about her daily life she hears music. It may sound to her as if a radio is playing, but it is entirely in her own head. Sylvia calls the hallucinations a nuisance, but they can be turned off, which has allowed researchers to work out what might cause them. The discovery paves the way for new treatments and hints at the cause of more common hallucinations, such as those associated with schizophrenia. Eleven years ago, Sylvia experienced sudden, acute hearing loss. About a year later, she began to hear the constant repetition of two notes. Gradually these built into musical phrases and, over time, into full melodies. "They sound like a cross between a wind instrument and a bell," she says.
Mapping How Emotions Manifest in the Body
Many years ago, I was in Brussels, Belgium, spending a day interviewing with a series of prospective internships. I frantically rehearsed my resume bullet points—in English and French—as I tried to navigate my way through the unfamiliar city to make four different appointments. Just as I was mouthing sciences politiques to myself for the hundredth time on the metro, I realized that my hands and feet had begun to sweat uncontrollably. Soon, I was sliding around in my sensible, black “grown person” shoes as I dashed through the cobblestoned streets. Each new potential internship boss was met with a shaky bonjour and an outstretched hand that felt like a cold sponge. I hadn’t contracted some rare, waffle-induced glandular disorder. Emotions (anxiety, in my case) can activate nervous system, endocrine, and musculoskeletal responses, giving us tingles down the spine, flushed faces, and other classic physical manifestations. The question is, do certain sentiments generate similar responses in all of us? Do we all get glowy cheeks when we’re feeling amorous, for example, or butterflies when we’re feeling nervous? A new study by Finnish researchers published today in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, suggests that our emotions do indeed tend to influence our bodies in consistent ways. Across five experiments, 701 participants “were shown two silhouettes of bodies alongside emotional words, stories, movies, or facial expressions. They were asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing while viewing each stimulus.” The emotions were generated by having the subjects read short stories or watch movies. On a blank, computerized figurine, they were then asked to color in the areas of their body where sensations became stronger (the red and yellow) or weaker (blue and black) when they felt a certain way. (via Mapping How Emotions Manifest in the Body - Olga Khazan - The Atlantic)