A Momentary Flow

Updating Worldviews one World at a time

A smile is a peculiar thing. The upper lip lifts to expose the teeth. The cheeks bunch upward. The skin around the eyes crinkles. The 19th-century neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne noticed that a cold, faked smile was often limited to the mouth, whereas a genuine, friendly one involved the eyes. That genuine smile is now called a Duchenne smile in his honour.

The origin of laughter, smiles and tears – Michael Graziano – Aeon

About four thousand years ago, somewhere in the Middle East — we don’t know where or when, exactly — a scribe drew a picture of an ox head. The picture was rather simple: just a face with two horns on top. It was used as part of an abjad, a set of characters that represent the consonants in a language. Over thousands of years, that ox-head icon gradually changed as it found its way into many different abjads and alphabets. It became more angular, then rotated to its side. Finally it turned upside down entirely, so that it was resting on its horns. Today it no longer represents an ox head or even a consonant. We know it as the capital letter A. The moral of this story is that symbols evolve.

The origin of laughter, smiles and tears – Michael Graziano – Aeon
Surgeons Say This Woman Became “Hyper Empathic” After They Removed Part of Her Brain
‘
Susan (not her real name) had suffered from epileptic seizures since the age of two. Localized to her right temporal lobe, they’d been successfully controlled with drugs until she was 17. After that, they became so severe and uncontrollable that neurosurgeons removed part of her temporal lobe. They hoped this would alleviate her seizures, and it did. But there was another unanticipated effect. Post-surgery, Susan said she developed an enhanced ability to read other people’s emotions. She also experienced heightened physical sensations, such as “spin at the heart”, when she herself was moved emotionally, or when she met friends or family, or encountered fictional characters. Now Susan is aged 37, a French team led by Aurélie Richard-Mornas has systematically tested her, and they confirm that she has “hyper empathy”. I’m skeptical about these claims, but I’ll get to that later. The researchers are careful to make some distinctions – they say there are two forms of understanding other people’s mental states (an ability known as Theory of Mind): a cognitive variety, which allows us to represent the beliefs and intentions of others; and an affective variety, which allows us to represent their feelings and emotions. They further explain that empathy is separate from Theory of Mind and is about feeling other people’s emotions. The finding from their tests is that Susan has heightened “Affective Theory of Mind” – that is, an enhanced ability to recognize the feelings and emotions of others; and heightened empathy, in the form of an intense response to other people’s emotions. (via Surgeons Say This Woman Became “Hyper Empathic” After They Removed Part of Her Brain | Science Blogs | WIRED)

Surgeons Say This Woman Became “Hyper Empathic” After They Removed Part of Her Brain

Susan (not her real name) had suffered from epileptic seizures since the age of two. Localized to her right temporal lobe, they’d been successfully controlled with drugs until she was 17. After that, they became so severe and uncontrollable that neurosurgeons removed part of her temporal lobe. They hoped this would alleviate her seizures, and it did. But there was another unanticipated effect. Post-surgery, Susan said she developed an enhanced ability to read other people’s emotions. She also experienced heightened physical sensations, such as “spin at the heart”, when she herself was moved emotionally, or when she met friends or family, or encountered fictional characters. Now Susan is aged 37, a French team led by Aurélie Richard-Mornas has systematically tested her, and they confirm that she has “hyper empathy”. I’m skeptical about these claims, but I’ll get to that later. The researchers are careful to make some distinctions – they say there are two forms of understanding other people’s mental states (an ability known as Theory of Mind): a cognitive variety, which allows us to represent the beliefs and intentions of others; and an affective variety, which allows us to represent their feelings and emotions. They further explain that empathy is separate from Theory of Mind and is about feeling other people’s emotions. The finding from their tests is that Susan has heightened “Affective Theory of Mind” – that is, an enhanced ability to recognize the feelings and emotions of others; and heightened empathy, in the form of an intense response to other people’s emotions. (via Surgeons Say This Woman Became “Hyper Empathic” After They Removed Part of Her Brain | Science Blogs | WIRED)

Come Climb a Jungle Gym of the Mind - Your brain is always changing. That’s the message of Your Brain, a new exhibition at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Covering topics ranging from basic neuroscience to cognitive psychology, Your Brain creates fun, hands-on experiences to look inside your own head. In this exhibition, this approach of personal discovery serves as a gateway to core scientific concepts and emerging research. The intense personal relevance of the brain has, throughout history, placed it in the focus of both scientific research and popular culture. Today those dual lenses are stronger than ever, with major international research initiatives advancing in parallel with Hollywood blockbusters playing on the brain as a rich source of mystery and curiosity. Yet there are surprisingly few opportunities where these parallel worlds of science and culture actually intersect for the public. Your Brain aims to bridge this gap. Early in the exhibition development process, we found that interest in the brain was uniformly high among children, adults, and educators–driven both by its inherent personal relevance as well as awareness from mass media and popular culture, as expected. We also found that understanding of brain science was also consistent across all groups–but at the level of a middle school student. In retrospect, this is probably not surprising. Many major research advances have occurred since most adults finished their formal education, and hardly any topics in brain science are explicitly addressed in current K-12 science education standards. Given this combination of rapidly advancing research, high public interest, but relatively low public understanding, an exhibition about the human brain is, well, a no-brainer. Your Brain immerses you in learning about the brain, creating environments that take you from the complex web of a neural network, through the incongruities of sensory illusions, to the every day situations where you take your brain for granted. You learn how your brain is constantly signaling, changing, and carrying out every function that creates your unique world. For example, watch the following video, which illustrates the relationship between sight and sound: (via Come Climb a Jungle Gym of the Mind | MIND Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network)

Come Climb a Jungle Gym of the Mind
-
Your brain is always changing. That’s the message of Your Brain, a new exhibition at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Covering topics ranging from basic neuroscience to cognitive psychology, Your Brain creates fun, hands-on experiences to look inside your own head. In this exhibition, this approach of personal discovery serves as a gateway to core scientific concepts and emerging research. The intense personal relevance of the brain has, throughout history, placed it in the focus of both scientific research and popular culture. Today those dual lenses are stronger than ever, with major international research initiatives advancing in parallel with Hollywood blockbusters playing on the brain as a rich source of mystery and curiosity. Yet there are surprisingly few opportunities where these parallel worlds of science and culture actually intersect for the public. Your Brain aims to bridge this gap. Early in the exhibition development process, we found that interest in the brain was uniformly high among children, adults, and educators–driven both by its inherent personal relevance as well as awareness from mass media and popular culture, as expected. We also found that understanding of brain science was also consistent across all groups–but at the level of a middle school student. In retrospect, this is probably not surprising. Many major research advances have occurred since most adults finished their formal education, and hardly any topics in brain science are explicitly addressed in current K-12 science education standards. Given this combination of rapidly advancing research, high public interest, but relatively low public understanding, an exhibition about the human brain is, well, a no-brainer. Your Brain immerses you in learning about the brain, creating environments that take you from the complex web of a neural network, through the incongruities of sensory illusions, to the every day situations where you take your brain for granted. You learn how your brain is constantly signaling, changing, and carrying out every function that creates your unique world. For example, watch the following video, which illustrates the relationship between sight and sound: (via Come Climb a Jungle Gym of the Mind | MIND Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network)

read of the day: Smart and smarter drugs -Are we asking the right questions about smart drugs? Marek Kohn looks at what they can do for us – and what they can’t.
- “You know how they say that we can only access 20 per cent of our brain?” says the man who offers stressed-out, blank-screened ‘writer’ Eddie Morra a fateful pill in the 2011 film Limitless. “Well, what this does, it lets you access all of it.” Morra, played by Bradley Cooper, is instantly transformed into a superhuman by the fictitious drug NZT-48. Granted access to all cognitive areas, he learns to play the piano in three days, finishes writing his book in four, and swiftly makes himself a millionaire. Limitless is what you get when you flatter yourself that your head houses the most complex known object in the universe, and run away with the notion that it must have powers to match. More down to earth is the idea that we always have untapped cognitive potential, but that life gets between us and the best we could possibly manage. Most people’s best days still leave them wondering what might have been. Life is interference, acute and chronic: the broken night’s sleep, the replayed arguments with our nearest and dearest, the suspected slight from a colleague, the mortgage, middle age, the buzzing fly. This is what preoccupation means. Noise, alarms and gnawing unease all occupy the cortex and commandeer its resources, leaving the brain short of space for other demands. Even small differences in cognitive performance can make a world of difference – between a good CV and an outstanding one, between a second-class degree and a first, and between a winner and an also-ran. According to widespread reports, some students recognise this by using drugs to enhance their performance, particularly ahead of exams or coursework deadlines. How many of them are doing so is unknown: it may be fewer than you would think from reading both mainstream media coverage and scientific journals, but it’s undoubtedly going on.
worthwhile reading..
(via Smart and smarter drugs | Mosaic)

read of the day: Smart and smarter drugs
-
Are we asking the right questions about smart drugs? Marek Kohn looks at what they can do for us – and what they can’t.

-
“You know how they say that we can only access 20 per cent of our brain?” says the man who offers stressed-out, blank-screened ‘writer’ Eddie Morra a fateful pill in the 2011 film Limitless. “Well, what this does, it lets you access all of it.” Morra, played by Bradley Cooper, is instantly transformed into a superhuman by the fictitious drug NZT-48. Granted access to all cognitive areas, he learns to play the piano in three days, finishes writing his book in four, and swiftly makes himself a millionaire. Limitless is what you get when you flatter yourself that your head houses the most complex known object in the universe, and run away with the notion that it must have powers to match. More down to earth is the idea that we always have untapped cognitive potential, but that life gets between us and the best we could possibly manage. Most people’s best days still leave them wondering what might have been. Life is interference, acute and chronic: the broken night’s sleep, the replayed arguments with our nearest and dearest, the suspected slight from a colleague, the mortgage, middle age, the buzzing fly. This is what preoccupation means. Noise, alarms and gnawing unease all occupy the cortex and commandeer its resources, leaving the brain short of space for other demands. Even small differences in cognitive performance can make a world of difference – between a good CV and an outstanding one, between a second-class degree and a first, and between a winner and an also-ran. According to widespread reports, some students recognise this by using drugs to enhance their performance, particularly ahead of exams or coursework deadlines. How many of them are doing so is unknown: it may be fewer than you would think from reading both mainstream media coverage and scientific journals, but it’s undoubtedly going on.

worthwhile reading..

(via Smart and smarter drugs | Mosaic)

Integrated information Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed one of the most promising theories for consciousness, known as integrated information theory. Understanding how the material brain produces subjective experiences, such as the color green or the sound of ocean waves, is what Australian philosopher David Chalmers calls the “hard problem” of consciousness. Traditionally, scientists have tried to solve this problem with a bottom-up approach. As Koch put it, “You take a piece of the brain and try to press the juice of consciousness out of [it].” But this is almost impossible, he said. In contrast, integrated information theory starts with consciousness itself, and tries to work backward to understand the physical processes that give rise to the phenomenon, said Koch, who has worked with Tononi on the theory. The basic idea is that conscious experience represents the integration of a wide variety of information, and that this experience is irreducible. This means that when you open your eyes (assuming you have normal vision), you can’t simply choose to see everything in black and white, or to see only the left side of your field of view.
Instead, your brain seamlessly weaves together a complex web of information from sensory systems and cognitive processes. Several studies have shown that you can measure the extent of integration using brain stimulation and recording techniques.

The integrated information theory assigns a numerical value, “phi,” to the degree of irreducibility. If phi is zero, the system is reducible to its individual parts, but if phi is large, the system is more than just the sum of its parts.

This system explains how consciousness can exist to varying degrees among humans and other animals. The theory incorporates some elements of panpsychism, the philosophy that the mind is not only present in humans, but in all things.

An interesting corollary of integrated information theory is that no computer simulation, no matter how faithfully it replicates a human mind, could ever become conscious. Koch put it this way: “You can simulate weather in a computer, but it will never be ‘wet.’”

Scientists Closing in on Theory of Consciousness