14 March 2010

A Better World Requires Better Brains

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The brain is a dangerous weapon, when utilised to its potential. But unless we understand how the brain works -- what its potential is under ordinary circumstances -- we will not know how to reach our potential under truly extra-ordinary circumstances.
Conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Minnesota Medical School, the study of rats navigating a maze found that replays occurring in the hippocampus were not necessarily recent or frequent paths through the maze, as would be expected if the event was being added to memory.

On the other hand, the replays often were paths that the rats had rarely taken or, in some cases, had never taken, as if the rats were trying to build maps to help them make better navigation decisions.

Dr. Anoopum Gupta, and his colleagues said that their findings suggest replays in the hippocampus are not merely passive echoes of past events, but part of a complex, active process of decision-making. _TOI
Building maps to assist in decision making. Testing hypotheses on the run. Remembering just enough to know what is likely to work and what is not likely to work.

Now, a new scientific collaboration, featuring German researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, in Frankfurt, and UK experts from the University of Glasgow...has shown that the brain understands predictable images much faster than it does unpredictable ones. In fact, the team says, it would appear that it is the job of the brain to formulate predictions as to what will happen to the external world. For example, imagine going to work each day and seeing one of your colleagues always on the same chair, and always there before you arrive. The brain is used to this, and it takes very little effort for it to understand what is going on. However, if you see your father, or a cousin, on the same chair, then the brain will get jammed. This reaction is natural, as the cortex realizes that it interprets the world around poorly, and that it needs to improve its prediction skills.

This investigation is tremendously important for neuroscience, as it gives researchers an extra way of understanding how the visual cortex is supported by the rest of the brain. But the team reveals that the new study also hints at the fact that visual perception is directly related to the accuracy of predictions that the brain makes of the outside world. If the hypothesis the cortex makes does not come true, then it takes longer for you to process the same image. _Softpedia
Always mapping. Always making predictions. Always testing predictions against the internal map. Always revising the map -- if the brain is healthy.

You may be under the impression that your awareness of the world around you is voluntary and intentional, continuous. But there are really a lot of blind spots and gaps in a person's observations. When a person's train of thought is interrupted, the train can go off the tracks. Voluntary attention can be hijacked by "involuntary attention" when someone jumps out and says "BOO!"

New research [looking at how attention can be derailed] from Vanderbilt University...was published March 7, 2010, in Nature Neuroscience.

"The simple example of having your reading interrupted by a fire alarm illustrates a fundamental aspect of attention: what ultimately reaches our awareness and guides our behavior depends on the interaction between goal-directed and stimulus-driven attention. For coherent behavior to emerge, you need these two forms of attention to be coordinated," René Marois, associate professor of psychology and co-author of the new study, said. "We found a brain area, the inferior frontal junction, that may play a primary role in coordinating these two forms of attention."
The researchers were also interested in what happens to us when our attention is captured by an unexpected event. _SD
When our predictions are wrong -- when something really, really unexpected happens -- that "something" tends to grab our attention. Novelists, advertisers, hypnotists, and politicians all know something about this phenomenon. Ordinary people need to understand how it works.

Still, despite not understanding how our attention is controlled, we somehow hold the belief that we are largely in control of our own minds. Research from Sweden concerning the voluntary and involuntary retrieval of memories may make us think again.

Efforts to retrieve a specific memory are dealt with by the upper part of the frontal lobe. This area of the brain is activated not only in connection with memory-related efforts but also in all types of mental efforts and intentions, according to the dissertation. This part of the brain is not involved in the beginning of the process of unintentionally remembering something as a response to external stimuli. Instead, such memories are activated by specific signals from other parts of the brain, namely those that deal with perceived stimuli like smells, pictures, and words. Sometimes such memories are thought to be more vivid and emotional; otherwise they would not be activated in this way. But Kristiina Kompus's dissertation shows that this is not the case -- memories do not need to be emotionally charged to be revived spontaneously, unintentionally. Nor do memories that are revived spontaneously activate the brain more than other memories...

...The dissertation uses a combination of two imaging methods for the brain: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). The methods yield different information about the function of the brain. By combining them, Kristiina Kompus has been able both to determine what part of the brain is activated and how the activation proceeds over extremely brief time intervals, on the order of milliseconds. _SD

Brain scientists want to understand all of the brain's connections. They want to understand all brain connections at the microscopic and molecular level. And they want to understand brain connections at the macroscopic level observable by the human eye. Some researchers want to take the level of dynamic understanding of the brain's connections all the way down to the ion channels in neuronal membranes.

These studies are all useful. They are all science, and all have the potential to overturn misconceptions and false beliefs about how our brains work. But none of them will re-create a functioning human brain. Not even a monkey's brain.

Since what we want -- what we need -- is better human brains, something more is needed. Something which can tie all of this important new knowledge together, and do something wonderful with it. That is a threatening possibility, if you are part of the power structure. Just when your elaborate plans are working out the way you wanted, something disruptive comes along.

Science -- like capitalism -- is incredibly disruptive. And politically incorrect, when practised properly. That is why so much time, energy, and funding is devoted to the obfuscation and perversion of science. And as you can see from looking at brief glimpses of brain research above, if you pervert and obfuscate science, you also pervert and obfuscate the human brain.

We want better brains, set free to do wonderful things. The powers that be, in contrast, wish to stunt, pervert, obfuscate, and hobble the brain. It is in the way children are taught in lower education -- hell, it is in the way the people who become teachers of children are taught in university schools of education. It is in the way university students' brains are academically lobotomised and indoctrinated to the point of view of the professor -- all other points of view dismissed and demonised in much the same way as would happen in a mosque or re-education camp.

You can either go along or you can wake up.

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Blogger Sojka's Call said...

This post made me think of the power of awareness. By being aware moment-by-moment of micro and macro activities and objects around us, we challenge the brain and its' predictions constantly.

Hence, I like the last two words of and how you ended your post

Sunday, 14 March, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

Waking people up is not without risk.

Sunday, 14 March, 2010  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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