Monday, 21 March 2016
Awareness as a Temporary Breakdown of the Brain’s Functional Networks
When you become consciously aware of something, what exactly is happening in your brain? Or stated differently, is there a geography of neuronal connections that is specific to becoming aware of a stimulus (for instance, a stimulus that is presented very briefly, so that you may or may not become aware of it)?
This is not a new question. It amounts to asking whether there are particular brain networks that are essential to awareness, or whether awareness instead emerges from the connectivity of large areas of our sensory and associative cortexes. This latter, global approach received support from a study published in March 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, entitled “Breakdown of the brain’s functional network modularity with awareness”, by Douglass Godwin and two collaborators. (more…)
Monday, 29 February 2016
When Advertisements Steal Our Attention
A New York Times article by Matthew B. Crawford, entitled “The Cost of Paying Attention” (first link below) analyzes the way that the public space is being invaded by advertising. First, he points out that attention is a limited cognitive resource. He shows how private businesses are waging a veritable war to appropriate our “private head space” with advertising messages, thus making it harder and harder for us to resist these constant, alienating “bottom-up” stimuli and exercise “top-down” control over our own thoughts. In this process, says Crawford, we are losing something vital: “Just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.” (more…)
Monday, 15 February 2016
Neural Reuse as a Way of Moving Beyond Phrenology
Michael Anderson’s book After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain, published in December 2014, offers a relatively new way of looking at the human brain. Phrenology, referred to in the the book’s title, was a pseudo-discipline developed by Franz Joseph Gall in the early 19th century. It postulated that the brain was composed of various modules corresponding to various functions or behaviours observable in human beings. It also postulated that the bumps in a person’s skull corresponded to the personality traits that were more or less developed in that individual, such as mirthfulness, benevolence, ambitiousness, or cautiousness. (more…)
Monday, 1 February 2016
Two Scientific Models Called into Question
Every scientific theory consists of models that can be used to generate hypotheses that can be tested by observation or experimentation. If the observations or experimental results are inconsistent with what the models predict, then the models themselves must be called into question. Recent developments in neuroscience provide two examples of models that are going to have to be adjusted to such “abnormal data”, as Thomas Kuhn has called them. (more…)
Tuesday, 19 January 2016
Device screens: tools of liberation, or enslavement?
As a parent, I sometimes find my patience sorely tried when my teen is so busy playing with his iPod that I have to call him 50 times for dinner. He’s not impressed when I tell him that what he’s doing with his gadget (usually, pressing some kind of button to score some kind of points) is no different from the laboratory rats who keep frantically pressing a lever because they have learned that that will get them a pellet of food. Such operant conditioning is a powerful mechanism, very well preserved in humans because of its obvious adaptive value, but it can easily hypnotize us if we do not realize its power.
The potential dangers of screen devices were the topic of a symposium held at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières in March 2015 (for the agenda, see the first link below). (more…)