Monday, 20 January 2014
The Continuum Between Life and Mind
Neurophysiologist Walter J. Freeman once made the provocative statement that there is: “no deeper prison of the modern mind than the Cartesian legacy that splits mind from life.” He then added that Evan Thompson, in his book Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind, published in 2007, had recognized this impasse and helped to overcome it. In the October 2012 Brain Science Podcast, Dr. Ginger Campbell interviews Thompson about this book, which synthesizes knowledge from multiple disciplines.
In Mind in Life, Thompson successfully shows the profound continuity between life and mind, between the first living systems (such as bacteria) and cognition, the process by which we assign meaning to the attributes of our environment. In other words, he shows that cognition is embodied. This was the subject of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, the landmark work that Thompson co-authored with Francisco Varela and Eleanor Rosch in 1991 and to which Mind in Life constitutes a sort of sequel. (more…)
Tuesday, 7 January 2014
Human Frontal Cortex Differs Even Genetically
The basic goal of many neuroscientific studies is to determine what makes human brains so different from those of other animal species, and in particular those of our cousins, the great apes. One such study was conducted recently by geneticist Genevieve Konopka and her team, and it yielded some very interesting findings about the frontal lobe of the brain.
One difference that scientists already knew about was that the frontal lobe accounts for a greater proportion of the total surface area of the cortex in humans than in other species (29%, compared with 17% in rhesus monkeys, 7% in dogs, and 3.5% in cats). But Konopka and her team studied differences in the expression of the genes for the various neurons that compose the frontal cortex. Specifically, the team compared the genes that are expressed (and therefore, active) in the frontal cortex of humans with those expressed in the frontal cortex of chimpanzees and macaques. The geneticists found that many of these genes are expressed differently in humans compared with these two other primate species. (more…)