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Posts Tagged ‘Brain

“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind”*…

 

mind internet

 

Imagine that a person’s brain could be scanned in great detail and recreated in a computer simulation. The person’s mind and memories, emotions and personality would be duplicated. In effect, a new and equally valid version of that person would now exist, in a potentially immortal, digital form. This futuristic possibility is called mind uploading. The science of the brain and of consciousness increasingly suggests that mind uploading is possible – there are no laws of physics to prevent it. The technology is likely to be far in our future; it may be centuries before the details are fully worked out – and yet given how much interest and effort is already directed towards that goal, mind uploading seems inevitable. Of course we can’t be certain how it might affect our culture but as the technology of simulation and artificial neural networks shapes up, we can guess what that mind uploading future might be like.

Suppose one day you go into an uploading clinic to have your brain scanned. Let’s be generous and pretend the technology works perfectly. It’s been tested and debugged. It captures all your synapses in sufficient detail to recreate your unique mind. It gives that mind a standard-issue, virtual body that’s reasonably comfortable, with your face and voice attached, in a virtual environment like a high-quality video game. Let’s pretend all of this has come true.

Who is that second you?

Princeton neuroscientist, psychologist, and philosopher Michael Graziano explores: “What happens if your mind lives forever on the internet?

* Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

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As we ponder presence, we might spare a thought for William “Willy” A. Higinbotham; he died on this date in 1994.  A physicist who was a member of the team that developed the first atomic bomb, he later became a leader in the nuclear non-proliferation movement.

But Higinbotham may be better remembered as the creator of Tennis for Two— the first interactive analog computer game, one of the first electronic games to use a graphical display, and the first to be created as entertainment (as opposed to as a demonstration of a computer’s capabilities).  He built it for the 1958 visitor day at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

It used a small analogue computer with ten direct-connected operational amplifiers and output a side view of the curved flight of the tennis ball on an oscilloscope only five inches in diameter. Each player had a control knob and a button.

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The 1958 Tennis for Two exhibit

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Written by LW

November 10, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Neuroscience for the last couple hundred years has been on the wrong track”*…

 

In 2009, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara performed a curious experiment. In many ways, it was routine — they placed a subject in the brain scanner, displayed some images, and monitored how the subject’s brain responded. The measured brain activity showed up on the scans as red hot spots, like many other neuroimaging studies.

Except that this time, the subject was an Atlantic salmon, and it was dead.

Dead fish do not normally exhibit any kind of brain activity, of course. The study was a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the problems with brain scanning studies…

More on why we should be cautious of the “breakthrough insights” in neuroeconomics, neuromarketing, et al. at “BOLD Assumptions: Why Brain Scans Are Not Always What They Seem.”

Pair with “Electrified- Adventures in transcranial direct-current stimulation.”

* Noam Chomsky

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As we practice phrenology, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to John Hughlings Jackson; he was born on this date in 1835.  A neurologist, he was one of the first to observe that abnormal mental states may result from structural brain damage; and his studies of epilepsy, speech defects, and nervous-system disorders arising from injury to the brain and spinal cord remain among the most useful and highly documented in the field.  Jackson’s definition (in 1873) of epilepsy as “a sudden, excessive, and rapid discharge” of brain cells has been confirmed by electroencephalography; his epilepsy studies initiated the development of modern methods of clinical localization of brain lesions and the investigation of localized brain functions.

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Written by LW

April 4, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”*…

 

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The wonders of modern millinery…

Caffeine-fueled cram sessions are routine occurrences on any college campus. But what if there was a better, safer way to learn new or difficult material more quickly? What if “thinking caps” were real?

In a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Vanderbilt psychologists Robert Reinhart, a Ph.D. candidate, and Geoffrey Woodman, assistant professor of psychology, show that it is possible to selectively manipulate our ability to learn through the application of a mild electrical current to the brain, and that this effect can be enhanced or depressed depending on the direction of the current…

The success rate is far better than that observed in studies of pharmaceuticals or other types of psychological therapy,” said Woodman. The researchers found that the effects of a 20-minute stimulation did transfer to other tasks and lasted about five hours.

The implications of the findings extend beyond the potential to improve learning. It may also have clinical benefits in the treatment of conditions like schizophrenia and ADHD, which are associated with performance-monitoring deficits.

Read more at “Electric ‘thinking cap’ controls learning speed” in ScienceBlog.

* Shakespeare, Hamlet Act II, Scene 2

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As we crank up our crania, we might recall that it was on this date in 1747 that Benjamin Franklin sent a thank you note to British scientist Peter Collinson:

 Your kind present of an electric tube, with directions for using it, has put several of us on making electrical experiments, in which we have observed some particular phenomena that we look upon to be new. I was never before engaged in any study that so totally engrossed my attention and time.

As the Franklin Tercentenary notes:

The study of electricity was the most spectacular and fashionable branch of Enlightenment natural philosophy. Franklin was immediately hooked when the Library Company’s British agent, Peter Collinson, sent him a glass tube used to generate static electricity. Franklin taught himself to perform basic electrical “tricks” with it and was soon immersed in trying to understand how this surprising phenomenon worked.

Through his electrical investigations, Franklin developed important new theories, complete with new terms and instruments to describe and demonstrate them. As usual, his concern centered on developing useful applications for his discoveries: the result was a lightning protection system that is still in use today, notably on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Franklin’s experiments were known all over Europe, initially through his personal correspondence and then through publications initiated by colleagues abroad. Later, Franklin’s international fame as a scientist would give him the status and political access to succeed as America’s premier diplomat.

Franklin at work on his most famous experiment

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Maps of the Mind…

Mo Costandi, the Neurophilosophy blogger for The Guardian, has created a wonderful side-site, Neuro Images, a collection of pictures of the brain.  From the scientific (like the image above) through the historical…

… to the fanciful…

… readers will find a treasure trove at Neuro Images.

[The title of this post is borrowed from the title of Charles Hampden-Turner’s extraordinary survey of theories of consciousness and mind through the ages.  It’s sadly out of print at the moment, but readily available used (e.g., here)– and well worth the effort.]

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As we wrestle with mental maps, we might spare an incisive thought for William Williams Keen; he died on this date in 1932.  A pioneering physician, Keen was the first “brain surgeon” in the U.S.; he successfully removed a brain tumor from a patient in 1887.  He was the first physician to perform a decompression of the skull and the first physician in Philadelphia to use Lister’s antiseptic surgical practices.  Indeed, in 1892 Keen, with James White, wrote the first American surgery text based on Listerian principles.It was later superseded by Keen’s Surgery its Principles and Practices, which became the “Bible” of American surgeons.  Keen is also remembered for having assisted in the now famous secret operation performed on then-President Grover Cleveland in 1893, in which was the Commander-in-Chief’s upper left jaw was removed to rid him of a malignant tumor.

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Written by LW

June 7, 2012 at 1:01 am

Are you a man or a…

From the BBC, “Sex I.D.: The Brain-Sex Test“– complete a series of exercises, and discover whether your brain functions more like most men’s or most women’s.

As we ponder the mysteries of gender, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that South Carolina became the first American colony to declare its independence from Great Britain and set up its own government.

The Palmetto State clearly has an itchy trigger finger:  your correspondent’s ancestral seat was also the first state to declare its secession from the Union. On April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries began shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, and the American Civil War began.

Revolutionaries fighting the forces of the Crown, Charleston, 1776
(U.S. Army Center for Military History)

It’s true of desk tops and bedrooms too…

Chaos drives the brain…

Have you ever experienced that eerie feeling of a thought popping into your head as if from nowhere, with no clue as to why you had that particular idea at that particular time? You may think that such fleeting thoughts, however random they seem, must be the product of predictable and rational processes. After all, the brain cannot be random, can it? Surely it processes information using ordered, logical operations, like a powerful computer?

Actually, no. In reality, your brain operates on the edge of chaos. Though much of the time it runs in an orderly and stable way, every now and again it suddenly and unpredictably lurches into a blizzard of noise.

<snip…  read the rest of the New Scientist article here>

As we feel an odd but satisfying rush of reassurance, we might recall that it was exactly 40 years ago– at 2:56 UTC July 21, 1969– that Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he planted his foot on the surface of the moon for the first time.

The statement prepared for Armstrong was “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”…  but the astronaut accidentally dropped the “a,” from his remark, rendering the phrase a contradiction (as “man” in such use is of course synonymous with “mankind”). Armstrong later said that he “would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it was not said – although it might actually have been.” (And to his latter point, disputed audio analyses of the tapes of the radio message suggest that Armstrong did include the “a,” but that the limitations of the broadcast masked it…)

Armstrong, about to step onto the moon

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Written by LW

July 21, 2009 at 12:01 am

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