Tag neuroscience

My response on free will to a fellow philosophy group member

I have been having a long-standing argument with a relative newcomer to our pub philosophy group (The Tippling Philosophers) over free will. He believes in libertarian free will, though it does appear to be largely based on an argument from wishful thinking and being unwilling to confront the ramifications of not having it, rather than a robust understanding of the philosophical debate.

Steve Novella on consciousness: dualism is the new evolution for theists (Part 1)

I was listening to a Reasonable Doubts podcast from a few years ago, and it was, as ever, cracking. This one was about consciousness, its hard problem, dualism, and how it, and neuroscience, are being co-opted as a philosophical area to argue for the “God of the Gaps” style argument in the same vein as evolution in the creationist and intelligent design movements.

Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that’s not a joke (plus rebuttal)

Metaphysical thought processes are more deeply wired than hitherto suspected

WHILE MILITANT ATHEISTS like Richard Dawkins may be convinced God doesn’t exist, God, if he is around, may be amused to find that atheists might not exist.

Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged.

On editing memories

I reported in my Free Will? book that we can laser in memories to fruit flies, so it was only a matter of time before such procedures were contextualised to humans. Scientific American reports:

Whitman, tumours, the neurotypical and moral responsibility

There was a famous case of a terrible shooting in 1966. Charles Whitman, an otherwise intelligent (138 IQ), ‘normal’ man, did a very abnormal thing. Charles Joseph Whitman (June 24, 1941 – August 1, 1966) was an American engineering student and former U.S. Marine, who killed seventeen people and wounded thirty-two others in a mass shooting rampage located in and around the Tower of the University of Texas in Austin on the afternoon of August 1, 1966.

Psychology, neuroscience and a fundamental lack of free will

I am presently reading an absolutely superb book by David Eagleman called Incognito:

The book is a popular foray into psychology and neuroscience and synthesises a host of different studies into things brain. I wanted to just bring up a few fascinating studies which cast doubt upon the idea that we have fully fledged, or even remotely authored, conscious free will. It even talks about chicken sexers, which is nice. Rather than produce notes, I have tried to directly link the claims.

Computer Can Read Letters Directly from the Brain

By analysing MRI images of the brain with an elegant mathematical model, it is possible to reconstruct thoughts more accurately than ever before. In this way, researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen have succeeded in determining which letter a test subject was looking at.

The journal Neuroimage has accepted the article, which will be published soon.

Neuroscientists Plant False Memories in Mice: Location Where Brain Stores Memory Traces, Both False and Authentic, Pinpointed

This hit the news yesterday on radio and TV. Fascinating stuff. This reported from Science Daily:

July 25, 2013 — The phenomenon of false memory has been well-documented: In many court cases, defendants have been found guilty based on testimony from witnesses and victims who were sure of their recollections, but DNA evidence later overturned the conviction.

First interview with a dead man

New Scientist has started a new feature series on people with bizarre and rare mind / brain disorders and predicaments. This article looks at Cotard’s syndrome. What is fascinating about this article and syndrome is the interplay between brain, consciousness and self-awareness. That these conscious states arise from brian patterns:
“When I was in hospital I kept on telling them that the tablets weren’t going to do me any good ’cause my brain was dead. I lost my sense of smell and taste. I didn’t need to eat, or speak, or do anything. I ended up spending time in the graveyard because that was the closest I could get to death.”

Bad Decisions Arise from Faulty Information, Not Faulty Brain Circuits

Some research out seems to support an idea that ‘bad decisions’ that we make are as a result of the quality of the information coming in rather than the quality of the systems working on that information. Of course, this may call into question the quality of the systems actually responsible for collecting that data. The chicken and the egg scenario seems to persist here. Science Daily:
Apr. 15, 2013 — Making decisions involves a gradual accumulation of facts that support one choice or another. A person choosing a college might weigh factors such as course selection, institutional reputation and the quality of future job prospects.

New Studies Link Gene to Selfish Behavior in Kids, Find Other Children Natural Givers

Can’t believe I missed this one. Interesting, and something I will bring up in my talk tonight on free will at Southampton University to the Atheist Society. Research into prosocial (kind) behaviour is always interesting, and something I have documented here, here and here. there is a mix of genetic and environmental influences with this one. It seems that talking to children about giving, about kindness, is more important than role-modeling when measuring children’s kindness. Of course, children who do not have these environmental influences will be at a disadvantage to others who have, and these are variables outside of their control.

Rats’ brains linked together to pass information directly. Mental (well, yeah).

Wow. This is mind blowing. Determinists, or near-determinists (such that quantum indeterminism may be true, but that it does not affect the macro level, and certainly not free will issues), will find this Science Daily article particularly interesting. Rats, and even pairs over thousands of miles distance, have had their brains directly linked in communication to solve puzzles. This really does gie the impression that brains are simply very complex biological computers (do you like that oxymoron?).