After providing all the funding for The Brain from Top to Bottom for over 10 years, the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction informed us that because of budget cuts, they were going to be forced to stop sponsoring us as of March 31st, 2013.

We have approached a number of organizations, all of which have recognized the value of our work. But we have not managed to find the funding we need. We must therefore ask our readers for donations so that we can continue updating and adding new content to The Brain from Top to Bottom web site and blog.

Please, rest assured that we are doing our utmost to continue our mission of providing the general public with the best possible information about the brain and neuroscience in the original spirit of the Internet: the desire to share information free of charge and with no adverstising.

Whether your support is moral, financial, or both, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Bruno Dubuc, Patrick Robert, Denis Paquet, and Al Daigen

Thursday, 24 July 2014
Daniel Wegner: An Unforgettable Scientific Contribution

For many people, the name of pioneering social psychologist Daniel Wegner will always be associated with a polar bear, because he famously used an image of this animal to demonstrate how hard it is to suppress a thought if someone simply asks you not to think about it.

Wegner died on July 5, 2013 at the age of 65 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease characterized by degeneration of the motor neurons of the spinal cord. Acknowledging his passing, the scientific community saluted him as one of the most original thinkers in his field. His friend and fellow psychologist Daniel Gilbert recalled the many paradigm shifts that Wegner brought about in his discipline: “He opened doors in walls that we didn’t know had doors in them.”

Wegner’s work transformed many questions that lie at the very heart of human experience. For example, in 1985, he proposed the concept of transactive memory to designate the form of memories that are shared among the various individuals in a group. One good example is the way that the members of a couple or a family specialize in different skills—for example, the family teenager might do all the computer troubleshooting. A group that knows “who is good at what” has a valuable asset, because it can delegate the appropriate problem to the appropriate member of the group.

Wegner also did much to undermine our feeling that we are responsible for our own actions. Instead, he posited, our actions are more likely the result of a posteriori attributions, conscious impressions that we construct after we have taken these actions. This “theory of apparent mental causation” was based on experiments in which Wegner was able to distinguish at least three main principles that can alter this subjective impression of being the conscious cause of our own actions: priority, consistency, and exclusivity. Somewhat oversimplified, this theory states that if you have a thought that is related to an action and arises just before you take this action and this action does not seem to have originated from any other, external cause, then you have the strong impression of being the author of this action—the person responsible for it.

All of this of course has direct implications for the concept of free will, because Wegner showed that it is relatively easy to play with these parameters to alter this impression of voluntary action. For him, this shows that in our everyday life, our actions are far less chosen by free, conscious processes than we think. Both our intentions and our actual behaviour are much more the result of unconscious processes, said Wegner, a researcher with a legendary sense of humour who, as Daniel Gilbert put it, understood that “humor is the place where intelligence and joy meet.”

i_rec Daniel Wegner, 65; psychologist studied life’s obsessions
i_rec Daniel M. Wegner famous for “thought suppression”
i_rec In Memoriam: Dan Wegner
a_rec Daniel M. Wegner

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