Friday, December 30, 2022

The pitfalls of defining neural correlates of brain functions

Rust and Le Doux do a useful brief opinion piece from which I pass on two clips, and recommend you read the whole open source text.
...neuroscientists should avoid conflating circuits that control behavior with mental states, especially in the absence of evidence that the two map onto one another. These equivalencies need to be very carefully investigated rather than presumed.
Considerable evidence suggests that circuits involving the amygdala control behavioral and physiological responses to threats. In animal research labs, threats are often recapitulated by pairing a tone with an aversive stimulus such as a weak shock to elicit ‘fear-related behaviors’ such as freezing upon hearing the tone again. The neural circuits that learn the association between the tone and shock and produce freezing behavior are among the best understood in the brain. The problem lies in labeling these circuits with the term ‘fear’, because it presumes that the threat elicits a mental state, a subjective experience, of fear that is caused by activity in the amygdala. However, mounting evidence suggests that the amygdala is not required for the mental state of fear. Instead, the mental state of fear crucially depends, at least in part, on cortical circuits that interpret or conceptualize what is occurring in the social and physical environment and in one’s body. In this framework, amygdala circuits control nonconscious defense behaviors (such as freezing) as opposed to conscious experience. Should this framework be correct, the extensive ongoing efforts devoted to targeting amygdala circuits and rodent behaviors such as freezing and avoidance are unlikely to provide a direct route to treatments for human fear and anxiety disorders. These lines of research can help, but not without recognizing the centrality of subjective experience.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Wormholes in quanturm computers

I pass on this link to a YouTube video sent out by the Chaos and Complex Systems Discussion group at the University of Wisconsin. Totally fun to watch, but I don't think any of us understand it.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Rigorous study does not find that exercise and mindfulness training improve cognitive function in older adults.

Wow, here is a study by Lenze et al. - not confirming the results of numerous other less rigorous studies reported in MindBlog posts - that is unable to demonstrate that the use of mindfulness training, exercise, or a combination of both can significantly improving cognitive function in older adults with subjective cognitive concerns. In their randomized clinical trial that included 585 participants, mindfulness training, exercise, or both did not result in significant differences in improvement in episodic memory or executive function composite scores at 6 months. Gretchen Reynolds provides context and a summary of the work in a Washington Post article.

Friday, December 23, 2022

A smart phone intervention that enhances memory in older adults.

Martin et al.  offer an open source article that describes a smartphone intervention that enhances real-world memory and promotes differentiation of hippocampal activity in older adults.  I have downloaded the HippoCamera smartphone App described in the text from the Apple App Store, and found a research passcode is required, for which the following clip of text from the article is relevant: "As of the time of writing, this is a research-dedicated application that requires an access code that can be obtained from a corresponding author."


The ability to vividly recollect our past declines with age, a trend that negatively impacts overall well-being. We show that using smartphone technologies to record and replay brief but rich memory cues from daily life can improve older adults’ ability to reexperience the past. This enhancement was associated with corresponding changes in the way memories were stored in the brain. Functional neuroimaging showed that repeatedly replaying memory cues drove memories apart from one another in the hippocampus, a brain region with well-established links to memory function. This increase in differentiation likely facilitated behavior by strengthening memory and minimizing competition among different memories at retrieval. This work reveals an easy-to-use intervention that helps older adults better remember their personal past.
The act of remembering an everyday experience influences how we interpret the world, how we think about the future, and how we perceive ourselves. It also enhances long-term retention of the recalled content, increasing the likelihood that it will be recalled again. Unfortunately, the ability to recollect event-specific details and reexperience the past tends to decline with age. This decline in recollection may reflect a corresponding decrease in the distinctiveness of hippocampal memory representations. Despite these well-established changes, there are few effective cognitive behavioral interventions that target real-world episodic memory. We addressed this gap by developing a smartphone-based application called HippoCamera that allows participants to record labeled videos of everyday events and subsequently replay, high-fidelity autobiographical memory cues. In two experiments, we found that older adults were able to easily integrate this noninvasive intervention into their daily lives. Using HippoCamera to repeatedly reactivate memories for real-world events improved episodic recollection and it evoked more positive autobiographical sentiment at the time of retrieval. In both experiments, these benefits were observed shortly after the intervention and again after a 3-mo delay. Moreover, more detailed recollection was associated with more differentiated memory signals in the hippocampus. Thus, using this smartphone application to systematically reactivate memories for recent real-world experiences can help to maintain a bridge between the present and past in older adults.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Neurocomputational evidence that conflicting prosocial motives guide distributive justice

A fascinating perspective and analysis from Hu et al. who show that three prosocial motives (fairness, harm aversion, and rank reversal aversion) are encoded by separate neural systems, compete for representation in various brain areas processing equality and harm signals, and are integrated in the striatum, which functions as a crucial hub for translating the motives to behavior (see also the commentary by Armstrong and McKee).  


Resource allocation in human societies usually triggers discussions about fairness, but satisfactory solutions to distribution problems also involve other prosocial motives that may prescribe different actions. Here, we address how the human brain mitigates such conflicts between multiple prosocial motives (fairness, harm aversion, and rank reversal aversion) during wealth distribution. Combining a experimental paradigm with fMRI and integrated neurocomputational modeling, we show that different prosocial motives are separately represented and integrated into choices by neural activity in striatum and its interactions with different brain regions. These findings extend unidimensional economic theories of third-party social preferences, characterize biological bases for individual and contextual differences in resource distribution behavior, and have economic and political implications for the design of taxation policies.
In the history of humanity, most conflicts within and between societies have originated from perceived inequality in resource distribution. How humans achieve and maintain distributive justice has therefore been an intensely studied issue. However, most research on the corresponding psychological processes has focused on inequality aversion and has been largely agnostic of other motives that may either align or oppose this behavioral tendency. Here we provide behavioral, computational, and neuroimaging evidence that distribution decisions are guided by three distinct motives—inequality aversion, harm aversion, and rank reversal aversion—that interact with each other and can also deter individuals from pursuing equality. At the neural level, we show that these three motives are encoded by separate neural systems, compete for representation in various brain areas processing equality and harm signals, and are integrated in the striatum, which functions as a crucial hub for translating the motives to behavior. Our findings provide a comprehensive framework for understanding the cognitive and biological processes by which multiple prosocial motives are coordinated in the brain to guide redistribution behaviors. This framework enhances our understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying equality-related behavior, suggests possible neural origins of individual differences in social preferences, and provides a new pathway to understand the cognitive and neural basis of clinical disorders with impaired social functions.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Can we move beyond social media's current destruction of civil society?

I strongly recommend that you read Ezra Klein's NYTimes essay on Twitter. He begins by noting that the metaphor of Twitter as a global town square is wrong on three levels. I pass on some clips:
First, there isn’t, can’t be and shouldn’t be a “global town square.” The world needs many town squares, not one. Public spaces are rooted in the communities and contexts in which they exist. This is true, too, for Twitter, which is less a singular entity than a digital multiverse. What Twitter is for activists in Zimbabwe is not what it is for gamers in Britain.
Second, town squares are public spaces, governed in some way by the public. That is what makes them a town square rather than a square in a town. They are not the playthings of whimsical billionaires. They do not exist, as Twitter did for so long, to provide returns to shareholders...A town square controlled by one man isn’t a town square. It’s a storefront, an art project or possibly a game preserve.
Third, what matters for a polity isn’t the mere existence of a town square but the condition the townspeople are in when they arrive. Town squares can host debates. They can host craft fairs. They can host brawls. They can host lynchings. Civilization does not depend on a place to gather. It depends on what happens when people gather.
Twitter has real strengths, many of which are the flip side of its weaknesses. It is as flat a medium as any that has existed. It is as fast a medium as has ever existed; that can be maddening, but it can also draw attention to something that is happening and has to change right now. It is an unusually confrontational medium, and that has permitted movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo to flower and for socialists to get a new hearing in American politics — and it has also, of course, given new succor and life to the racist right. Put simply, Twitter’s value is how easy it makes it to talk. Its cost is how hard it makes it to listen.
It is a failure of imagination to think that our choice is the social media platforms we have now or nothing. I keep thinking about something that Robin Sloan, a novelist and former Twitter employee, wrote this year: “There are so many ways people might relate to one another online, so many ways exchange and conviviality might be organized. Look at these screens, this wash of pixels, the liquid potential! What a colossal bummer that Twitter eked out a local maximum, that its network effect still (!) consumes the fuel for other possibilities, other explorations.”
What’s surprised me most as Twitter has convulsed in recent weeks is how threadbare the social media cupboard really is. So many are open to trying something new, but as of yet, there’s nothing that feels all that new to try. Everything feels like a take on Twitter. It may be faster or slower, more decentralized or more moderated, but they’re all variations on the same theme: experiments in how to capture attention rather than deepen it, platforms built to encourage us to speak rather than to help us listen or think.
We do not make our best decisions, as individuals or as a collective, when our minds are most active and fretful. And yet “active and fretful” is about as precise a description as I can imagine of the Twitter mind. And having put us in an active, fretful mental state, Twitter then encourages us to fire off declarative statements on the most divisive possible issues, always with one eye to how quickly they will rack up likes and retweets and thus viral power. It’s insane.
And it will get so much worse from here. OpenAI recently released ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence system that can be given requests in plain language and spit out remarkably passable results...What ChatGPT can do is a marvel. We are at the dawn of a new technological era. But it is easy to see how it could turn dark — and quickly. A.I. systems like this make the production and manipulation of text (and code and images and eventually audio and video) functionally costless. They will be deployed to produce whatever makes us most likely to click. But these systems do not and cannot know what they are producing. The cost of creating and optimizing content that grabs our attention is plummeting, but the cost of producing valuable and truthful work isn’t.
These are technologies that lend themselves to cacophony, not community. I fear a world in which the business models behind them run on our attention or profit off our anger. But other worlds and other models are possible.
In Taiwan, as described by Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s minister of digital affairs, key parts of digital infrastructure are managed at the level of what we sometimes call civil society — the layer of associations and organizations between the government and the market.. The PTT Bulletin Board System is still owned by the student group that started it. It was part of how Taiwan responded so early and so effectively to the coronavirus. “It has no shareholders,” Tang said. “No advertisers. It is entirely within the academic network. It’s entirely open source. It's entirely community governed. People can freely join it. It’s a public digital space.”
Wikipedia remains one of the most-visited sites on the web, and it is owned and managed by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation. It shows. Wikipedia has never tried to become more than it is. It never pivoted to video or remade itself around an algorithmic feed in order to harvest more of our attention. It is a commons but one that is governed so we may use it rather than so that it may use us. It gives so much more than it takes. It thrives, quietly and gently, as a reminder that a very different internet, governed in a very different way, intended for a very different purpose, is possible.
There are those who believe the social web is reaching its terminal point. I hope they’re right. Platform after platform was designed to make it easier and more addictive for us to share content with one another so the corporations behind them could sell ever more of our attention and data. In different ways, most of these platforms are now in decline.
What if the next turn of the media dial was measured not by how much attention we gave to a platform but by how much it gave to us? I am not sure what such a service would look like. But I am hungry for it, and I suspect a lot of other people are, too.

Friday, December 16, 2022

The dawn of mediocre computing.

This post is a followup on MindBlog's 12/07/22 post on OpenAI's ChatGPT essay generating system. It was mentioned in Venkatesh Rao's essay "The Dawn of Mediocre Computing" that my techie son, Jonathan Bownds,sent to me. After pasting in the first two paragraphs of Rao's article, I want to pass on some essential clips that Jon extracted from Rao's overly long text, the sort of logorrheic writing that is responsible for the TLDR (too long didn't read) acronym. 

Well, we all knew it was coming. Computers already easily overwhelm the best humans at chess and Go. Now they have done something far harder: achieved parity with David Brooks at writing.
OpenAI’s ChatGPT, released as a research beta two days ago, has done to the standard high-school essay what cameras did to photorealistic painting and pocket calculators did to basic arithmetic. It is open sign-up and free for now, but I suspect not for much longer, so go try it; and make sure to trawl social media for interesting and revealing examples being posted by people.


Mediocre computing is computing that aims for parity with mediocre human performance in a realish domains where notions of excellence are ill-posed.
Excellent computing is computing that aims to surpass the best-performing humans in stylized, closed-world domains where notions of excellence are well-posed.
Most of us spend most of our time in realish domains. The urban built environment, workplaces, shopping, and modern systems of roads are all examples of realish domains. But I want to focus on two big and important ones in particular: language and money. Vast numbers of mediocre humans make good livings producing words and/or moving money around. These activities are also the home domains of the two frontiers of computing today, Al and crypto. The Second and First Foundations of the mediocre future of computing.
Via seemingly unrelated computational pathways, these two realish domains have succumbed to computerized automation. Incompletely, imperfectly, and unreliably, to be sure, but they definitely have succumbed. And in ways that seem conceptually roughly right rather than not even wrong. Large language models (LLMs) are the right way for software to eat language. Blockchains are the right way for software to eat money. And the two together are the right way to eat everything from contracts to code.
This reeks of real yin-yangery that extends to the roots of computing somehow. It's not just me hallucinating patterns where there are none.
I'm not trying to be cute here. I sincerely believe mediocre computing in realish domains is not just harder than excellent computing in stylized domains, but constitutes a whole higher category of hardness. There is an element of Moravec's paradox in my reasoning here. Roughly, the paradox states that tasks that look simple, and which all humans can do, are harder for Als than tasks that look hard, and which seem like exceptional achievements among humans.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Individuals prefer to harm their own group rather than help an opposing group

From Gershon and Fridman:  


Understanding the principles guiding decisions in intergroup conflicts is essential to recognizing the psychological barriers to compromise and cooperation. We introduce a novel paradigm for studying group decision-making, demonstrating that individuals are so averse to supporting opposing groups that they prefer equivalent or greater harm to their own group instead. While previous models of group decision-making claim that group members are driven by a desire to benefit their in-group (“in-group love”) rather than harm their out-group, our results cannot be explained by in-group love or by a harm minimizing strategy. Instead, we propose that identity concerns drive this behavior. Our theorizing speaks to research in psychology, political theory, and negotiations by examining how group members navigate trade-offs among competing priorities.
Group-based conflict enacts a severe toll on society, yet the psychological factors governing behavior in group conflicts remain unclear. Past work finds that group members seek to maximize relative differences between their in-group and out-group (“in-group favoritism”) and are driven by a desire to benefit in-groups rather than harm out-groups (the “in-group love” hypothesis). This prior research studies how decision-makers approach trade-offs between two net-positive outcomes for their in-group. However, in the real world, group members often face trade-offs between net-negative options, entailing either losses to their group or gains for the opposition. Anecdotally, under such conditions, individuals may avoid supporting their opponents even if this harms their own group, seemingly inconsistent with “in-group love” or a harm minimizing strategy. Yet, to the best of our knowledge, these circumstances have not been investigated. In six pre-registered studies, we find consistent evidence that individuals prefer to harm their own group rather than provide even minimal support to an opposing group across polarized issues (abortion access, political party, gun rights). Strikingly, in an incentive-compatible experiment, individuals preferred to subtract more than three times as much from their own group rather than support an opposing group, despite believing that their in-group is more effective with funds. We find that identity concerns drive preferences in group decision-making, and individuals believe that supporting an opposing group is less value-compatible than harming their own group. Our results hold valuable insights for the psychology of decision-making in intergroup conflict as well as potential interventions for conflict resolution.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Autism attenuates the perception of the mind-body divide

A fascinating piece of work from Berent et al.:  


Across cultures, people consider the mind as ethereal, distinct from the body. But whether Dualism arises only from culture (nurture) or also spontaneously (from human nature) is unknown. To address this question, here, we turn to autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—a congenital disorder that compromises intuitive reasoning about the minds of others (theory of mind, ToM). If ToM promotes Dualist reasoning, then Dualist reasoning ought to be attenuated in ASD. Our results show that, compared to controls, people with ASD are more likely to view bodies and minds alike (in line with Physicalism). Moreover, a Physicalist stance is linked to difficulties with ToM. These results shed light on ASD and on the mind-body distinction in humans.
People are intuitive Dualists—they tacitly consider the mind as ethereal, distinct from the body. Here we ask whether Dualism emerges naturally from the conflicting core principles that guide reasoning about objects, on the one hand, and about the minds of agents (theory of mind, ToM), on the other. To address this question, we explore Dualist reasoning in autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—a congenital disorder known to compromise ToM. If Dualism arises from ToM, then ASD ought to attenuate Dualism and promote Physicalism. In line with this prediction, Experiment 1 shows that, compared to controls, people with ASD are more likely to view psychological traits as embodied—as likely to manifest in a replica of one’s body. Experiment 2 demonstrates that, unlike controls, people with ASD do not consider thoughts as disembodied—as persistent in the afterlife (upon the body’s demise). If ASD promotes the perception of the psyche as embodied, and if (per Essentialism) embodiment suggests innateness, then ASD should further promote Nativism—this bias is shown in Experiment 3. Finally, Experiment 4 demonstrates that, in neurotypical (NT) participants, difficulties with ToM correlate with Physicalism. These results are the first to show that ASD attenuates Dualist reasoning and to link Dualism to ToM. These conclusions suggest that the mind-body distinction might be natural for people to entertain.

Friday, December 09, 2022

How modern human brains are different from those of other hominids and chimps.

Work pointed to in the previous post continues to add to the list of behaviors once presumed to be unique to humans that have now been found in other animals (morality, having a ‘self’, etc.) Previous MindBlog posts (list, von Economo neurons etc. do search..) have noted emerging evidence for brain features unique to - or much more pronounced in - humans than other primates. Now Pinson et al. have found that a single amino acid change in the transketolase-like 1 (TKTL1) protein on production of basal radial glia, the workhorses that generate much of the neocortex, appears that the modern human has more neocortex to work with than the ancient Neanderthal did. Here is their abstract:
Neanderthal brains were similar in size to those of modern humans. We sought to investigate potential differences in neurogenesis during neocortex development. Modern human transketolase-like 1 (TKTL1) differs from Neanderthal TKTL1 by a lysine-to-arginine amino acid substitution. Using overexpression in developing mouse and ferret neocortex, knockout in fetal human neocortical tissue, and genome-edited cerebral organoids, we found that the modern human variant, hTKTL1, but not the Neanderthal variant, increases the abundance of basal radial glia (bRG) but not that of intermediate progenitors (bIPs). bRG generate more neocortical neurons than bIPs. The hTKTL1 effect requires the pentose phosphate pathway and fatty acid synthesis. Inhibition of these metabolic pathways reduces bRG abundance in fetal human neocortical tissue. Our data suggest that neocortical neurogenesis in modern humans differs from that in Neanderthals.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

OpenAI’s ChatGPT answers some questions from MindBlog

Given a recent posting in which I played with the DALL-E 2 A.I. system that generates images when you tell it what you want to see, I was motivated by a Venkatesh Rao essay "The Dawn of Mediocre Computing" to try out an essay generating system - OpenAI's ChatGPT, released as a research beta several days ago. After puttering through a number of references and joining the OpenAI Discord Server, I fundamentally don't get it and have nothing original to pass on in this post, but I thought some MindBlog readers might enjoy spending some time in the rabbit hole I am just now exiting. I pass on the following MindBlog queries and ChatGPT's rather remarkable replies: 

Question: what is the predictive processing model for brain function? 

The predictive processing model is a framework for understanding how the brain works. It proposes that the brain is constantly generating predictions about the world around us and that these predictions are used to inform our perception, behavior, and action. According to this model, the brain is always trying to make sense of the sensory information it receives by comparing it to its internal models and predictions. If there is a mismatch between the sensory information and the brain's predictions, this can lead to the experience of surprise or prediction error. The brain then uses this prediction error to update its internal models and make more accurate predictions in the future. This process is thought to be the basis for how we learn and adapt to our environment. 

Question: What are the main models for brain function? 

There are many different models or frameworks for understanding how the brain works, each of which offers a different perspective on brain function. Some of the most prominent and well-known models include the following:

The neural network model, which proposes that the brain is composed of interconnected networks of neurons that communicate with each other through electrical and chemical signals.
The cognitive model, which emphasizes the role of higher-level cognitive processes such as attention, memory, and decision-making in brain function.
The computational model, which views the brain as a biological computer that processes information using algorithms and rules.
The systems model, which focuses on the ways in which different brain regions and systems interact to produce complex behaviors and mental states.
The evolutionary model, which emphasizes the role of natural selection in shaping the brain and its functions.
The dynamic systems model, which proposes that the brain is a complex, self-organizing system that is constantly adapting and changing in response to experience. 

Each of these models offers a different perspective on brain function and can be used to help understand different aspects of the brain and its behavior.

Question: Explain critical race theory 

Critical race theory is a school of thought that explores the ways in which race and racism affect and are embedded in the laws, policies, and social structures of society. It is a framework for understanding how society and its institutions can perpetuate inequality along racial lines, and it emphasizes the importance of examining the interplay between race, power, and the law. Critical race theory is often used as a lens for analyzing issues related to inequality and social justice. It is a critical approach to the study of race and racism that seeks to challenge and dismantle the ways in which race and racism operate in society. 

ADDENDUM: I suggest readers have a look at this article on "Sentience and Sensibility"

Monday, December 05, 2022

A collection of animal stories

I've accumulated several items on animal behaviors in my list of potential post subjects, and have decided to simply pass them on to allow animal curious MindBlog readers to have a look. 

Farad Manjoo notes that ants, not humans, own the world. 

Not only land animals like humans toss objects at irritating neighbors, octopuses who gather at feeding sites with abundant food and competition for it sometimes throw silt at each other.

Crows understand the concept of recursion as well as children, and better than macaque monkeys. 

Wild Chimpanzees display declarative referential gesturing.








Friday, December 02, 2022

The Z-Library Kerfuffle and the whack-a-mole problem

Several months ago a friend told me about the Z-Library that he was using to download recently published fiction to evaluate candidates for book club reading. He thought it was sanctioned by publishers. I checked it out, decided to download a book, the book looked promising, so I bought the Amazon Kindle version. As this New York Daily News article makes clear in its description of the seizing of many Z-Library domains by the FBI, it is a pirate site, a file sharing service that evades copyright restrictions. I asked Wikipedia about Z-Library, and brought up a page with a description not only of Z-Library and its recent shut down in the U.S., but learned about the existence of many shadow libraries scattered over many different countries accessed by several metasearch engines. A box on this page, partly shown in the screen clip below, indicates it is part of a series on file sharing. I went to Anna's Archive, one of sites mentioned under the heading of Academic file sharing, and was able to easily download the entire text of a copyrighted Amazon Kindle Book I had purchased. Given the thousands of motivated individuals around the world who can't afford or don't have access to publications they need or want, there seems little prospect of denting the anarchy that prevails. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Intuitive physics learning in a deep-learning A.I. model

A fascinating open source article from Piloto et al. in Nature Human Behaviour that addresses a major shortcoming of current artifician intelligence systems:
‘Intuitive physics’ enables our pragmatic engagement with the physical world and forms a key component of ‘common sense’ aspects of thought. Current artificial intelligence systems pale in their understanding of intuitive physics, in comparison to even very young children. Here we address this gap between humans and machines by drawing on the field of developmental psychology. First, we introduce and open-source a machine-learning dataset designed to evaluate conceptual understanding of intuitive physics, adopting the violation-of-expectation (VoE) paradigm from developmental psychology. Second, we build a deep-learning system that learns intuitive physics directly from visual data, inspired by studies of visual cognition in children. We demonstrate that our model can learn a diverse set of physical concepts, which depends critically on object-level representations, consistent with findings from developmental psychology. We consider the implications of these results both for AI and for research on human cognition.

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Computational Society

The most recent issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences presents a forum in its 25th Anniversary Series: Looking Forward. Several of the contribution are open source (you can email me to request access to those that are not), and I would like to point to Nick Charter's brief article "The computational society," passing on his initial and final comments. I suggest you read through his descriptions of what he thinks are four promising lines of work.
How do individual human minds create languages, legal systems, scientific theories, and technologies? From a cognitive science viewpoint, such collective phenomena may be considered a type of distributed computation in which human minds together solve computational problems beyond any individual. This viewpoint may also shift our perspective on individual minds.
To make the computational society more than a metaphor, we need conceptual tools and methods to understand social phenomena in information-processing terms. Fortunately, several different, yet complementary, approaches have emerged in recent years. Here I highlight four promising lines of work: (i) social interaction as computation, (ii) the computational Leviathan, (iii) collective self-correction and rationality, and (iv) computation through spontaneous order.
Cognitive science may stand on the brink of a new revolution, seeing social, organizational, and cultural processes as distributed computation. If so, we will need to look afresh at the computational role of individual minds. For example, rather than seeing each developing child as a lone minilinguist or a scientist-in-the-crib, we may, following Adam Ferguson, see humans as primarily learning to contribute to collective computations beyond the understanding of individual understanding.

Friday, November 25, 2022

The non-duality industry as a panacea for the anxieties of our times?

One of MindBlog's subject threads is meditation, and some recent posts have dealt with characterizing non-dual awareness (to find these, look in the right column of this blog, under "Selected Blog Categories, and click on 'meditation.') One of the descriptions I have pointed to is given by James Low, who has training in several lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, and has been teaching the principles of Dzogchen in Europe for over 20 years. Low's website links to an array of audio and video (YouTube and Vimeo) presentations he has done. One of the participants in a recent discussion at my house urged me to check out YouTube snippets recorded by Rupert Spiro, also British, whose YouTube videos and personal wesite (The Essence of Non-Duality) offer his teachings. 

After finding the YouTube outlets for these two meditation gurus, I googled 'non duality websites' and was rewarded with an array of rabbit holes to jump into...further teachers, and a "Nonduality Institute" that engages scientific studies of non-dual awareness. 

Perhaps an increasing number of people who engage techniques for facilitating non-dual awareness find themselves seeing and experiencing the "I" or self that feels threatened by our anxious times from a more useful perspective - an inclusive expanded awareness that includes the reporting "I" or self as just one of its many contents that include passing thoughts, perceptions, actions, and feelings.  A calm can be found in this expanded awareness that permits a  dis-association of the experienced breathing visceral center of gravity of our animal body from the emotional and linguistic veneer of politics and conflict. This does not remove the necessity of facing various societal dysfunctions, but offers the prospect of doing so without debilitating the organic physiological core from which everything we experience rises. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Huberman Lab Cornucopia

A friend mentioned enjoying a podcast on meditation from, so I listened to it, and decided to look a bit further into who Andrew Huberman is and what he does. Regarding his "How and Why to Meditate" podcast, I think his pedagogy is good. He does some very effective chunking of just a few core ideas and repeats them over and over again. Starting about a year ago he began to generate - completely separate from his lab research as an associate professor in the Standford University Medical School Neurobiology department - podcasts, interviews, and writing (see The Neural Network Newsletter). at an amazing rate, a veritable orgy of self-optimization nuggets ideally suited for his age cohort of 40- to 50-somethings. He has a rapid, logorrheic and rambling speaking style that, at least to me, detracts from the effectiveness of his presentations. I think MindBlog readers might enjoy clicking some of the above links and grazing through his material. Before his social media with thousands of followers persona burst on the scene, his publication list shows him puttering along the conventional academic research route, with his laboratory generating 1-4 papers a year on brain plasticity and repair, split roughly equally between laboratory research and commentary/review articles.

Monday, November 21, 2022

MindBlog in Crypto-Land Part II - Is the crypto industry headed for oblivion?

In late spring of this year, I was seduced by my son's having made a six hundred-fold return on an investment by virtue of being one of the first cohort to stick little black boxs (Helium miners costing ~$1,000) on their window sills earning HNT (Helium blockchain tokens) for transmitting and receiving signals in an 'Internet of Things" that piggybacks on existing wireless systems of cell towers and cable providers. I decided to take a sip of the koolaid and set up two Helium miners which to date have earned ~ $10 for a 0.01 % return on investment! Fortunately I decided not actually own a significant amount of any of the cryptocurrencies such as BitCoin or Etherium, and didn't face financial damage of the sort mentioned below.  I persist in liking the idea that block chain ledgers and their associated cryptocurrencies offer the promise of being a monetary system that doesn't require trust in financial institutions that are potentially intrusive or corruptible.

Krugman does not agree, and has issued his latest screed against the whole crypto context in a NYTimes Op-Ed occasioned by the recent implosion of Sam Bankman-Fried and his cryptocurrency exchange FTX:

Crypto reached its peak of public prominence last year, when Matt Damon’s “Fortune favors the brave” commercial — sponsored by the Singapore-based exchange — first aired...people who bought after watching the Damon ad have lost more than 70 percent of their investment.,,falling prices needn’t mean that cryptocurrencies are doomed...More telling than prices has been the collapse of crypto institutions...Most recently, FTX, one of the biggest crypto exchanges, filed for bankruptcy — and it appears that the people running it simply made off with billions of depositors’ dollars, probably using the funds in a failed effort to prop up Alameda Research, its sister firm.
After 14 years, however, cryptocurrencies have made almost no inroads into the traditional role of money. They’re too awkward to use for ordinary transactions...[they] are largely purchased through exchanges like Coinbase and, yes, FTX, which take your money and hold crypto tokens in your name...These exchanges are — wait for it — financial institutions, whose ability to attract investors depends on — wait for it again — those investors’ trust. In other words, the crypto ecosystem has basically evolved into exactly what it was supposed to replace: a system of financial intermediaries whose ability to operate depends on their perceived trustworthiness.
But if the government finally moves in to regulate crypto firms, which would, among other things, prevent them from promising impossible-to-deliver returns, it’s hard to see what advantage these firms would have over ordinary banks. Even if the value of Bitcoin doesn’t go to zero (which it still might), there’s a strong case that the crypto industry, which loomed so large just a few months ago, is headed for oblivion.

Friday, November 18, 2022

How focusing on individual-level solutions has led behavioral public policy astray

MindBlog has been staying out of politics lately, but I think it worthwhile to pass on the abstract of a forthcoming article in Behavioral and Brain Science by Chater and Loewenstein, who argue that focusing on individual rather than systemic causes of social problems has yielded disappointing results, and promotes the interests of corporate opponents of systemic change. (Motivated readers can obtain the full text by emailing me.)
An influential line of thinking in behavioral science, to which the two authors have long subscribed, is that many of society’s most pressing problems can be addressed cheaply and effectively at the level of the individual, without modifying the system in which the individual operates. We now believe this was a mistake, along with, we suspect, many colleagues in both the academic and policy communities. Results from such interventions have been disappointingly modest. But more importantly, they have guided many (though by no means all) behavioral scientists to frame policy problems in individual, not systemic, terms: to adopt what we call the “i-frame,” rather than the “s-frame.” The difference may be more consequential than i-frame advocates have realized, by deflecting attention and support away from s-frame policies. Indeed, highlighting the i-frame is a long-established objective of corporate opponents of concerted systemic action such as regulation and taxation. We illustrate our argument briefly for six policy problems, and in depth with the examples of climate change, obesity, retirement savings, and pollution from plastic waste. We argue that the most important way in which behavioral scientists can contributed to public policy is by employing their skills to develop and implement value- creating system-level change.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The neurophysiology of consciousness - neural correlates of qualia

This is a post for consciousness mavens.Tucker, Luu, and Johnson have offered a neurophyiological model of consciousness, Neurophysiological mechanisms of implicit and explicit memory in the process of consciousness. The open source article has useful summary graphics, and embraces the 'Hard Problem' of consciousness - the nature of 'qualia' (how it feels to see red, eat an apple, etc.) Here I pass on brief, and then more lengthy, paragraphs on what the authors think is new and noteworthy about their ideas.
The process of consciousness, generating the qualia that may appear to be irreducible qualities of experience, can be understood to arise from neurophysiological mechanisms of memory. Implicit memory, organized by the lemnothalamic brain stem projections and dorsal limbic consolidation in REM sleep, supports the unconscious field and the quasi-conscious fringe of current awareness. Explicit memory, organized by the collothalamic midbrain projections and ventral limbic consolidation of NREM sleep, supports the focal objects of consciousness.
Neurophysiological mechanisms are increasingly understood to constitute the foundations of human conscious experience. These include the capacity for ongoing memory, achieved through a hierarchy of reentrant cross-laminar connections across limbic, heteromodal, unimodal, and primary cortices. The neurophysiological mechanisms of consciousness also include the capacity for volitional direction of attention to the ongoing cognitive process, through a reentrant fronto-thalamo-cortical network regulation of the inhibitory thalamic reticular nucleus. More elusive is the way that discrete objects of subjective experience, such as the color of deep blue or the sound of middle C, could be generated by neural mechanisms. Explaining such ineffable qualities of subjective experience is what Chalmers has called “the hard problem of consciousness,” which has divided modern neuroscientists and philosophers alike. We propose that insight into the appearance of the hard problem can be gained through integrating classical phenomenological studies of experience with recent progress in the differential neurophysiology of consolidating explicit versus implicit memory. Although the achievement of consciousness, once it is reflected upon, becomes explicit, the underlying process of generating consciousness, through neurophysiological mechanisms, is largely implicit. Studying the neurophysiological mechanisms of adaptive implicit memory, including brain stem, limbic, and thalamic regulation of neocortical representations, may lead to a more extended phenomenological understanding of both the neurophysiological process and the subjective experience of consciousness.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Poisoned by Twitter - Trump, Musk and Kanye

Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist whose writing is always worth reading, has done a succinct must-read kind of piece in the NYTimes. I think you should read the whole brief essay, but will paste in a few clips:
When I compare Mr. Musk, Mr. Trump and Kayne West, I see a convergence of personalities that were once distinct. The garish celebrity playboy, the obsessive engineer and the young artist, as different from one another as they could be, have all veered not in the direction of becoming grumpy old men, but into being bratty little boys in a schoolyard. Maybe we should look at what social media has done to these men.
I believe “Twitter poisoning” is a real thing. It is a side effect that appears when people are acting under an algorithmic system that is designed to engage them to the max. It’s a symptom of being part of a behavior-modification scheme.
The human brain did not evolve to handle modern chemicals or modern media technology and is vulnerable to addiction. That is true for me and for us all.
Behavioral changes occur as a side effect of something called operant conditioning, which is the underlying mechanism of social media addiction. This is the core mechanism analogous to the role alcohol plays in alcoholism...What happened was that the algorithms that optimized the individualized advertising model found their way into it automatically, unintentionally rediscovering methods that had been tested on dogs and pigeons.
What do I think are the symptoms of Twitter poisoning? There is a childish insecurity, where before there was pride. Instead of being above it all, like traditional strongmen throughout history, the modern social media-poisoned alpha male whines and frets. This works because his followers are similarly poisoned and can relate so well.
I’ll suggest a hypothesis about the childishness that comes to the surface in social media addicts. When we were children, we all had to negotiate our way through the jungle of human power relationships at the playground. When we feel those old humiliations, anxieties and sadisms again as adults — over and over, because the algorithm has settled on that pattern as a powerful way to engage us — habit formation restimulates old patterns that had been dormant. We become children again, not in a positive, imaginative sense, but in a pathetic way.
Modern techies have revived a technocratic sensibility: a belief that great engineers can and should guide society. Whether that idea appeals or not, when technology degrades the minds of those same engineers, then the result can only be dysfunction.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Sleep preferentially consolidates negative aspects of human emotional memory

The Nov. 1, 2022 issue of PNAS has a special feature on Sleep, Brain, and Cognition. A large body of research suggests that sleep benefits memory, and I want to point in particular to an article by Denis et al. showing that sleep preferentially consolidates negative aspect of emotional memory. They also found that while research participants demonstrated better memory for positive objects compared to their neutral backgrounds, sleep did not modulate this effect.  


Recent research has called into question whether sleep improves memory, especially for emotional information. However, many of these studies used a relatively small number of participants and focused only on college student samples, limiting both the power of these findings and their generalizability to the wider population. Here, using the well-established emotional memory trade-off task, we investigated sleep’s impact on memory for emotional components of scenes in a large online sample of adults ranging in age from 18 to 59 y. Despite the limitations inherent in using online samples, this well-powered study provides strong evidence that sleep selectively consolidates negative emotional aspects of memory and that this effect generalizes to participants across young adulthood and middle age.
Research suggests that sleep benefits memory. Moreover, it is often claimed that sleep selectively benefits memory for emotionally salient information over neutral information. However, not all scientists are convinced by this relationship [e.g., J. M. Siegel. Curr. Sleep Med. Rep., 7, 15–18 (2021)]. One criticism of the overall sleep and memory literature—like other literature—is that many studies are underpowered and lacking in generalizability [M. J. Cordi, B. Rasch. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol., 67, 1–7 (2021)], thus leaving the evidence mixed and confusing to interpret. Because large replication studies are sorely needed, we recruited over 250 participants spanning various age ranges and backgrounds in an effort to confirm sleep’s preferential emotional memory consolidation benefit using a well-established task. We found that sleep selectively benefits memory for negative emotional objects at the expense of their paired neutral backgrounds, confirming our prior work and clearly demonstrating a role for sleep in emotional memory formation. In a second experiment also using a large sample, we examined whether this effect generalized to positive emotional memory. We found that while participants demonstrated better memory for positive objects compared to their neutral backgrounds, sleep did not modulate this effect. This research provides strong support for a sleep-specific benefit on memory consolidation for specifically negative information and more broadly affirms the benefit of sleep for cognition.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

The Neurobiology of long COVID

A number of my friends have reported, having caught break thru Covid even after 3-5 vaccinations, and are having symptoms of long Covid such as brain fog, anosmia, and cognitive impairment. (I am extremely grateful, after five vaccinations, to still be Covid free.) For these friends as well as Mind Blog readers, I want to point to a special issue of Neuron and in particular one open source article "The neurobiology of long Covid," which describes the array of neurological symptoms and their possible causes.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Sadder but Wiser? Maybe Not.

It looks like another universally accepted result of psychological research may be wrong - that depressed people have a more accurate reading of their ability to affect outcomes. Barry points to work by Dev et al. that fails to replicate experiments of Alloy and Abramson done 43 years ago that led to the hypothesis of “depressive realism,” that depressed people having a more realistic view of their conditions because they are free of the optimistic bias of their cheerful peers. The new research was unable to find any association between depressive symptoms and outcome bias. While Barry's review notes debate over whether differences in the design of the older and newer experiments may account for the variance in results, there now is certainly less confidence in the original findings.

Friday, November 04, 2022

Senescent cells targeted by anti-aging therapies may not be all bad

Michael Irving does a brief article in New Atlas that points to work by Reyes et al. showing that some senescent od the sort that accumulate with aging not only secrete inflammatory compounds that can be damaging to tisse around them, but also can play a positive role in repairing tissue damage. This suggests that senolytics research should focus on developing drugs that will target specific subsets of senescent cells that are implicated in disease rather than in regeneration.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Well being increases with diversity of social connections.

From Collins et al.


The link between social connection and well-being is well-documented: Happier people tend to spend more time with others, and people experience greater happiness while socially engaged. But, over and above people’s total amount of social interaction, which set of interactions—with which types of relationship partners (e.g., family members, close friends, acquaintances, strangers), and how many interactions with each type—is most predictive of well-being? Building on research showing the benefits of variety—in activities, experiences, and emotions—for well-being, we document a link between the relational diversity of people’s social portfolios and well-being. Assessing the social interactions and happiness of over 50,000 people reveals that interacting with a more diverse set of relationship types predicts higher well-being.
We document a link between the relational diversity of one’s social portfolio—the richness and evenness of relationship types across one’s social interactions—and well-being. Across four distinct samples, respondents from the United States who completed a preregistered survey (n = 578), respondents to the American Time Use Survey (n = 19,197), respondents to the World Health Organization’s Study on Global Aging and Adult Health (n = 10,447), and users of a French mobile application (n = 21,644), specification curve analyses show that the positive relationship between social portfolio diversity and well-being is robust across different metrics of well-being, different categorizations of relationship types, and the inclusion of a wide range of covariates. Over and above people’s total amount of social interaction and the diversity of activities they engage in, the relational diversity of their social portfolio is a unique predictor of well-being, both between individuals and within individuals over time.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Molecular markers of eventual chronic diseases of aging are higher in young adults of lower socioeconomic status.

Sobering work from Shanahan et al.:  


The analysis of gene expression in peripheral whole blood of US young adults in their late 30s revealed socioeconomic status-based inequalities in the molecular underpinnings of the most common chronic conditions of aging. Associations involved immune, inflammatory, ribosomal, and metabolic pathways, and extra- and intra-cellular signaling. Body mass index was a plausible, sizable mediator of many associations. Results point to new ways of thinking about how social inequalities “get under the skin” and also call for renewed efforts to prevent chronic conditions of aging decades before diagnoses.
Many common chronic diseases of aging are negatively associated with socioeconomic status (SES). This study examines whether inequalities can already be observed in the molecular underpinnings of such diseases in the 30s, before many of them become prevalent. Data come from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), a large, nationally representative sample of US subjects who were followed for over two decades beginning in adolescence. We now have transcriptomic data (mRNA-seq) from a random subset of 4,543 of these young adults. SES in the household-of-origin and in young adulthood were examined as covariates of a priori-defined mRNA-based disease signatures and of specific gene transcripts identified de novo. An SES composite from young adulthood predicted many disease signatures, as did income and subjective status. Analyses highlighted SES-based inequalities in immune, inflammatory, ribosomal, and metabolic pathways, several of which play central roles in senescence. Many genes are also involved in transcription, translation, and diverse signaling mechanisms. Average causal-mediated effect models suggest that body mass index plays a key role in accounting for these relationships. Overall, the results reveal inequalities in molecular risk factors for chronic diseases often decades before diagnoses and suggest future directions for social signal transduction models that trace how social circumstances regulate the human genome.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Observing the activity of our prosocial brains

Interesting work from Lockwood et al., open source with nice graphics:  


• Prosocial behaviors frequently involve exerting effort 
• Human participants completed an effort-based decision-making task during fMRI 
• The anterior cingulate gyrus represented the effort costs of prosocial acts 
• Ventral tegmental area and ventral insula represented value for oneself
Prosocial behaviors—actions that benefit others—are central to individual and societal well-being. Although the mechanisms underlying the financial and moral costs of prosocial behaviors are increasingly understood, this work has often ignored a key influence on behavior: effort. Many prosocial acts are effortful, and people are averse to the costs of exerting them. However, how the brain encodes effort costs when actions benefit others is unknown. During fMRI, participants completed a decision-making task where they chose in each trial whether to “work” and exert force (30%–70% of maximum grip strength) or “rest” (no effort) for rewards (2–10 credits). Crucially, on separate trials, they made these decisions either to benefit another person or themselves. We used a combination of multivariate representational similarity analysis and model-based univariate analysis to reveal how the costs of prosocial and self-benefiting efforts are processed. Strikingly, we identified a unique neural signature of effort in the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACCg) for prosocial acts, both when choosing to help others and when exerting force to benefit them. This pattern was absent for self-benefiting behaviors. Moreover, stronger, specific representations of prosocial effort in the ACCg were linked to higher levels of empathy and higher subsequent exerted force to benefit others. In contrast, the ventral tegmental area and ventral insula represented value preferentially when choosing for oneself and not for prosocial acts. These findings advance our understanding of the neural mechanisms of prosocial behavior, highlighting the critical role that effort has in the brain circuits that guide helping others.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A lucid exposition on non-dual awareness by James Low

The ‘Waking Up’ app by Sam Harris has posted a series of lectures by James Low that “makes the esoteric teachings of Dzogchen—a non-dual contemplative tradition from Tibet—profoundly accessible.”   I want to pass on to MindBlog readers the following paragraph made up of small clips of text  I have taken from his lecture #4 “The Field of Experience.” Low’s website points to his lectures, writing, and videos of his lectures.
If you want stability, if you want real peace, you already have that in the nature of awareness. But if you look to manifestation, to patterning of yourself, to thinking you could establish a stable personalty, to live a life in which you were happy all the time, or in which you were your own person, that way madness lies. To find our original face, to find the ground of our primordial being, we need to release our fixation on the dialogic movement of subject and object, and allow ourselves to be the space within which the movement of experience is occurring. Awareness means being aware that we are present without being something as such. This is a great mystery. When we look at phenomena the world, things exist as something. A car is not a cow, an apple is not an orange, compare and contrast, category allocation. That’s how our cognition, our conceptual elaboration functions to give a seemingly enduring structure to identifications. But awareness can’t be caught. It’s not a thing. You can’t pin a tail on the donkey, there is no donkey there. The mind is not an object for itself, it is self luminous awareness, but you can’t catch it. You can never know your mind but you can be your mind. We are awareness and that’s a very important distinction.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Generative A.I. - more sociopathic than FaceBook and Twitter?

Have a look at this article on how the sociopathic effects of Facebook and Twitter could be dwarfed by what open source generative A.I. could do. I just played with the DALL-E 2 A.I. system that generates an image when you tell it what you want to see. In response to my request to show "Two abyssinian cats sitting in a window looking out at trees" the following spooky and accurate image appeared.


Saturday, October 22, 2022

New Perspectives on how our Minds Work

I want to pass on to MindBlog readers this link to a lecture I gave this past Friday (10/21/22) to the Univ. of Texas OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) UT FORUM group on Oct. 21, 2022. Here is the brief description of the talk:  


Recent research shows that much of what we thought we knew about how our minds work is wrong. Rather than rising from our essential natures, our emotional and social realities are mainly invented by each of us. Modern and ancient perspectives allow us to have some insight into what we have made.
This talk offers a description of how our predictive brains work to generate our perceptions, actions, emotions, concepts, language, and social structures. Our experience that a self or "I" inside our heads is responsible for these behaviors is a useful illusion, but there is in fact no homunculus or discrete place inside our heads where “It all comes together.” Starting before we are born diffuse networks of brain cells begin generating actions and perceiving their consequences to build an internal library of sensing and acting correlations that keep us alive and well, a library that is the source of predictions about what we might expect to happen next in our worlds. Insights from both modern neuroscience research and ancient meditative traditions allow us to partially access and sometimes change this archive that manages our behaviors.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Anxiety - What is it, when is it useful, when is it not?

The title of this post is the discussion topic for the Nov. 6 Austin Rainbow Forum, a monthly discussion group of LGBT seniors that first met in Austin Tx in Jan. 2018. I am using this post to pass on links to some optional background reading:
Martin Seligman and learned helplessness versus helpfulness
Eustress - beneficial stress
Bruce McEwen on good and bad stress
Robert Sapolsky on chronic stress
A deeper look into what our bodies are doing during arousal and calm (click on the arrows at bottom left of presentation frame to expand to full screen)

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Facebook has no idea where it keeps our personal data.

A fascinating article from Biddle describing the situation that occured when a court ordered Facebook to turn over information it had collected about a lawsuit’s plaintiffs. Facebook...
...has amassed so much data on so many billions of people and organized it so confusingly that full transparency is impossible on a technical level. In the March 2022 hearing, Zarashaw and Steven Elia, a software engineering manager, described Facebook as a data-processing apparatus so complex that it defies understanding from within. The hearing amounted to two high-ranking engineers at one of the most powerful and resource-flush engineering outfits in history describing their product as an unknowable machine.
The special master at times seemed in disbelief, as when he questioned the engineers over whether any documentation existed for a particular Facebook subsystem. “Someone must have a diagram that says this is where this data is stored,” he said, according to the transcript. Zarashaw responded: “We have a somewhat strange engineering culture compared to most where we don’t generate a lot of artifacts during the engineering process. Effectively the code is its own design document often.” He quickly added, “For what it’s worth, this is terrifying to me when I first joined as well.”
The fundamental problem, according to the engineers in the hearing, is that Facebook’s sprawl has made it impossible to know what it consists of anymore; the company never bothered to cultivate institutional knowledge of how each of these component systems works, what they do, or who’s using them. There is no documentation of what happens to your data once it’s uploaded, because that’s just never been something the company does, the two explained. “It is rare for there to exist artifacts and diagrams on how those systems are then used and what data actually flows through them,”

Monday, October 17, 2022

Musical rhythm training improves short-term memory for faces

From Zanto et al:  


Musical training can improve numerous cognitive functions associated with musical performance. Yet, there is limited evidence that musical training may benefit nonmusical tasks and it is unclear how the brain may enable such a transfer of benefit. To address this, nonmusicians were randomized to receive 8 wk of either musical rhythm training or word search training. Memory for faces was assessed pre- and post-training while electroencephalography data were recorded to assess changes in brain activity. Results showed that only musical rhythm training improved face memory, which was associated with increased activity in the superior parietal region of the brain when encoding and maintaining faces. Thus, musical rhythm training can improve face memory by facilitating how the brain encodes and maintains memories.
Playing a musical instrument engages numerous cognitive abilities, including sensory perception, selective attention, and short-term memory. Mounting evidence indicates that engaging these cognitive functions during musical training will improve performance of these same functions. Yet, it remains unclear the extent these benefits may extend to nonmusical tasks, and what neural mechanisms may enable such transfer. Here, we conducted a preregistered randomized clinical trial where nonmusicians underwent 8 wk of either digital musical rhythm training or word search as control. Only musical rhythm training placed demands on short-term memory, as well as demands on visual perception and selective attention, which are known to facilitate short-term memory. As hypothesized, only the rhythm training group exhibited improved short-term memory on a face recognition task, thereby providing important evidence that musical rhythm training can benefit performance on a nonmusical task. Analysis of electroencephalography data showed that neural activity associated with sensory processing and selective attention were unchanged by training. Rather, rhythm training facilitated neural activity associated with short-term memory encoding, as indexed by an increased P3 of the event-related potential to face stimuli. Moreover, short-term memory maintenance was enhanced, as evidenced by increased two-class (face/scene) decoding accuracy. Activity from both the encoding and maintenance periods each highlight the right superior parietal lobule (SPL) as a source for training-related changes. Together, these results suggest musical rhythm training may improve memory for faces by facilitating activity within the SPL to promote how memories are encoded and maintained, which can be used in a domain-general manner to enhance performance on a nonmusical task.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Sleepless and unhelpful

Simon et al. demonstrate that sleep loss leads to the withdrawal of human helping across individuals, groups, and large-scale societies:
Humans help each other. This fundamental feature of homo sapiens has been one of the most powerful forces sculpting the advent of modern civilizations. But what determines whether humans choose to help one another? Across 3 replicating studies, here, we demonstrate that sleep loss represents one previously unrecognized factor dictating whether humans choose to help each other, observed at 3 different scales (within individuals, across individuals, and across societies). First, at an individual level, 1 night of sleep loss triggers the withdrawal of help from one individual to another. Moreover, fMRI findings revealed that the withdrawal of human helping is associated with deactivation of key nodes within the social cognition brain network that facilitates prosociality. Second, at a group level, ecological night-to-night reductions in sleep across several nights predict corresponding next-day reductions in the choice to help others during day-to-day interactions. Third, at a large-scale national level, we demonstrate that 1 h of lost sleep opportunity, inflicted by the transition to Daylight Saving Time, reduces real-world altruistic helping through the act of donation giving, established through the analysis of over 3 million charitable donations. Therefore, inadequate sleep represents a significant influential force determining whether humans choose to help one another, observable across micro- and macroscopic levels of civilized interaction. The implications of this effect may be non-trivial when considering the essentiality of human helping in the maintenance of cooperative, civil society, combined with the reported decline in sufficient sleep in many first-world nations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Third-party punishment by preverbal infants

From Kanakogi et al.:
Third-party punishment of antisocial others is unique to humans and seems to be universal across cultures. However, its emergence in ontogeny remains unknown. We developed a participatory cognitive paradigm using gaze-contingency techniques, in which infants can use their gaze to affect agents displayed on a monitor. In this paradigm, fixation on an agent triggers the event of a stone crushing the agent. Throughout five experiments (total N = 120), we show that eight-month-old infants punished antisocial others. Specifically, infants increased their selective looks at the aggressor after watching aggressive interactions. Additionally, three control experiments excluded alternative interpretations of their selective gaze, suggesting that punishment-related decision-making influenced looking behaviour. These findings indicate that a disposition for third-party punishment of antisocial others emerges in early infancy and emphasize the importance of third-party punishment for human cooperation. This behavioural tendency may be a human trait acquired over the course of evolution.

Monday, October 10, 2022

A sleeping touch improves vision.

Interesting work reported by Onuki et al. in the Journal of Neuroscience 

Tactile sensations can bias our visual perception as a form of cross-modal interaction. However, it was reported only in the awake state. Here we show that repetitive directional tactile motion stimulation on the fingertip during slow wave sleep selectively enhanced subsequent visual motion perception. Moreover, the visual improvement was positively associated with sleep slow wave activity. The tactile motion stimulation during slow wave activity increased the activation at the high beta frequency over the occipital electrodes. The visual improvement occurred in agreement with a hand-centered reference frame. These results suggest that our sleeping brain can interpret tactile information based on a hand-centered reference frame, which can cause the sleep-dependent improvement of visual motion detection.


Tactile sensations can bias visual perception in the awake state while visual sensitivity is known to be facilitated by sleep. It remains unknown, however, whether the tactile sensation during sleep can bias the visual improvement after sleep. Here, we performed nap experiments in human participants (n = 56, 18 males, 38 females) to demonstrate that repetitive tactile motion stimulation on the fingertip during slow wave sleep selectively enhanced subsequent visual motion detection. The visual improvement was associated with slow wave activity. The high activation at the high beta frequency was found in the occipital electrodes after the tactile motion stimulation during sleep, indicating a visual-tactile cross-modal interaction during sleep. Furthermore, a second experiment (n = 14, 14 females) to examine whether a hand- or head-centered coordination is dominant for the interpretation of tactile motion direction showed that the biasing effect on visual improvement occurs according to the hand-centered coordination. These results suggest that tactile information can be interpreted during sleep, and can induce the selective improvement of post-sleep visual motion detection.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Liberal Democracy versus Christian Democracy

I pass on the opening paragraphs of Thomas Edsall's essay, which offers one of the most succinct summaries I have seen.
Could there soon be an American counterpart to Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, a right-wing populist who in 2018 declared, “We must demonstrate that there is an alternative to liberal democracy: It is called Christian democracy. And we must show that the liberal elite can be replaced with a Christian democratic elite”?
Liberal democracy, Orban continued,
is liberal, while Christian democracy is, by definition, not liberal: it is, if you like, illiberal. And we can specifically say this in connection with a few important issues — say, three great issues. Liberal democracy is in favor of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept. Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration; this is again a genuinely illiberal concept. And liberal democracy sides with adaptable family models, while Christian democracy rests on the foundations of the Christian family model; once more, this is an illiberal concept.
Or could there soon be an American counterpart to Giorgia Meloni, another right-wing populist and admirer of Orban, now on course to become the next prime minister of Italy?
Meloni’s platform?
Yes to natural families, no to the L.G.B.T. lobby. Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death. No to the violence of Islam, yes to safer borders. No to mass immigration, yes to work for our people.
I highly recommend reading the rest of Edsall's article on the signals pointing to the vulnerability of the liberal state.

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Cognitive and Evolutionary Foundations of Puritanical Morality

MindBlog receives articles for commentary from the Cambridge University Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. I will pass on the following abstract of an article by Fitouchi et. al. Motivated readers can email me to request a copy.
Why do many societies moralize apparently harmless pleasures, such as lust, gluttony, alcohol, drugs, and even music and dance? Why do they erect temperance, asceticism, sobriety, modesty, and piety as cardinal moral virtues? According to existing theories, this puritanical morality cannot be reduced to concerns for harm and fairness: it must emerge from cognitive systems that did not evolve for cooperation (e.g., disgust-based "Purity" concerns). Here, we argue that, despite appearances, puritanical morality is no exception to the cooperative function of moral cognition. It emerges in response to a key feature of cooperation, namely that cooperation is (ultimately) a long-term strategy, requiring (proximately) the self-control of appetites for immediate gratification. Puritanical moralizations condemn behaviors which, although inherently harmless, are perceived as indirectly facilitating uncooperative behaviors, by impairing the self-control required to refrain from cheating. Drinking, drugs, immodest clothing, and unruly music and dance, are condemned as stimulating short-term impulses, thus facilitating uncooperative behaviors (e.g., violence, adultery, free-riding). Overindulgence in harmless bodily pleasures (e.g., masturbation, gluttony) is perceived as making people slave to their urges, thus altering abilities to resist future antisocial temptations. Daily self-discipline, ascetic temperance, and pious ritual observance are perceived as cultivating the self-control required to honor prosocial obligations. We review psychological, historical, and ethnographic evidence supporting this account. We use this theory to explain the fall of puritanism in WEIRD societies, and discuss the cultural evolution of puritanical norms. Explaining puritanical norms does not require adding mechanisms unrelated to cooperation in our models of the moral mind.

Monday, October 03, 2022

Triggers for mother love

A fascinating open source article from Margaret Livingstone carrying forward the famous experiments by Harry Harlow:  


Harry Harlow found that infant monkeys form strong and lasting attachments to inanimate surrogates, but only if the surrogate is soft; here I report that postpartum monkey mothers can also form strong and lasting attachments to soft inanimate objects. Thus, mother/infant and infant/mother bonds may both be triggered by soft touch.
Previous studies showed that baby monkeys separated from their mothers develop strong and lasting attachments to inanimate surrogate mothers, but only if the surrogate has a soft texture; soft texture is more important for the infant’s attachment than is the provision of milk. Here I report that postpartum female monkeys also form strong and persistent attachments to inanimate surrogate infants, that the template for triggering maternal attachment is also tactile, and that even a brief period of attachment formation can dominate visual and auditory cues indicating a more appropriate target.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Trigger warnings and ‘safety-ism’ don’t work.

Mark Manson does an engaging "Mindf*ck Monday Newsletter from Sept. 7" that I recommend you have a look at. It cites a meta-analysis by Brigland et al. that shows that trigger warning don't work, in some cases they may make things worse. Their abstract:
Trigger warnings, content warnings, or content notes are alerts about upcoming content that may contain themes related to past negative experiences. Advocates claim that warnings help people to emotionally prepare for or completely avoid distressing material. Critics argue that warnings both contribute to a culture of avoidance at odds with evidence-based treatment practices and instill fear about upcoming content. Recently, a body of psychological research has begun to investigate these claims empirically. We present the results of a meta-analysis of all empirical studies on the effects of these warnings. Overall, we found that warnings have no effect on affective responses to negative material nor on educational outcomes (i.e., comprehension). However, warnings reliably increase anticipatory affect. Findings on avoidance were mixed, suggesting either that warnings have no effect on engagement with material, or that they increase engagement with negative material under specific circumstances. Limitations and implications for policy and therapeutic practice are discussed.
Manson also discusses the dying fad of "safety-ism" noted by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff in their book "The Coddling of the American Mind," and makes the point that...
The human mind is antifragile—that is, it gains from discomfort and strain. That means to grow stronger, the human mind needs to regularly be confronted with difficult and upsetting experiences to develop stability and serenity for itself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Neural synchronization predicts marital satisfaction

From Li et al.:  


Humans establish intimate social and personal relationships with their partners, which enable them to survive, successfully mate, and raise offspring. Here, we examine the neurobiological basis of marital satisfaction in humans using naturalistic, ecologically relevant, interpersonal communicative cues that capture shared neural representations between married couples. We show that in contrast to demographic and personality measures, which are unreliable predictors of marital satisfaction, neural synchronization of brain responses during viewing of naturalistic maritally relevant movies predicted higher levels of marital satisfaction in couples. Our findings demonstrate that brain similarities that reflect real-time mental responses to subjective perceptions, thoughts, and feelings about interpersonal and social interactions are strong predictors of marital satisfaction and advance our understanding of human marital bonding.
Marital attachment plays an important role in maintaining intimate personal relationships and sustaining psychological well-being. Mate-selection theories suggest that people are more likely to marry someone with a similar personality and social status, yet evidence for the association between personality-based couple similarity measures and marital satisfaction has been inconsistent. A more direct and useful approach for understanding fundamental processes underlying marital satisfaction is to probe similarity of dynamic brain responses to maritally and socially relevant communicative cues, which may better reflect how married couples process information in real time and make sense of their mates and themselves. Here, we investigate shared neural representations based on intersubject synchronization (ISS) of brain responses during free viewing of marital life-related, and nonmarital, object-related movies. Compared to randomly selected pairs of couples, married couples showed significantly higher levels of ISS during viewing of marital movies and ISS between married couples predicted higher levels of marital satisfaction. ISS in the default mode network emerged as a strong predictor of marital satisfaction and canonical correlation analysis revealed a specific relation between ISS in this network and shared communication and egalitarian components of martial satisfaction. Our findings demonstrate that brain similarities that reflect real-time mental responses to subjective perceptions, thoughts, and feelings about interpersonal and social interactions are strong predictors of marital satisfaction, reflecting shared values and beliefs. Our study advances foundational knowledge of the neurobiological basis of human pair bonding.

Monday, September 26, 2022

How nature nurtures

MindBlog has passed on a number of articles on how exposure to nature reduces stress (see a sample list below). Here is a further contribution from Sudimac et al., who show amygdala activity decreases as the result of a one-hour walk in nature:
Since living in cities is associated with an increased risk for mental disorders such as anxiety disorders, depression, and schizophrenia, it is essential to understand how exposure to urban and natural environments affects mental health and the brain. It has been shown that the amygdala is more activated during a stress task in urban compared to rural dwellers. However, no study so far has examined the causal effects of natural and urban environments on stress-related brain mechanisms. To address this question, we conducted an intervention study to investigate changes in stress-related brain regions as an effect of a one-hour walk in an urban (busy street) vs. natural environment (forest). Brain activation was measured in 63 healthy participants, before and after the walk, using a fearful faces task and a social stress task. Our findings reveal that amygdala activation decreases after the walk in nature, whereas it remains stable after the walk in an urban environment. These results suggest that going for a walk in nature can have salutogenic effects on stress-related brain regions, and consequently, it may act as a preventive measure against mental strain and potentially disease. Given rapidly increasing urbanization, the present results may influence urban planning to create more accessible green areas and to adapt urban environments in a way that will be beneficial for citizens’ mental health.

A few previous MindBlog posts on this topic:

Blue Mind - looking at water improves your health and calm 

Pictures of green spaces make you happier. 

More green space in childhood, fewer psychiatric disorders in adulthood.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Machine learning is translating the languages of animals

Anthes does an article on how machine learning is being used to eavesdrop on naked mole rats, fruit bats, crows and whales — and to communicate back. Some edited clips:
Machine-learning systems, which use algorithms to detect patterns in large collections of data, have excelled at analyzing human language, giving rise to voice assistants that recognize speech, transcription software that converts speech to text and digital tools that translate between human languages.
...this technology can be deployed to decode animal communication, working towards finding a Google Translate for animals, using machine-learning algorithms to identify when squeaking mice are stressed or why fruit bats are shouting. Even more ambitious projects are underway — to create a comprehensive catalog of crow calls, map the syntax of sperm whales and even to build technologies that allow humans to talk back.
...machine-learning algorithms can spot subtle patterns that might elude human listeners...these programs can tell apart the voices of individual animals, distinguish between sounds that animals make in different circumstances and break their vocalizations down into smaller parts, a crucial step in deciphering meaning.
...the technology could also be deployed for the benefit of animals, helping experts monitor the welfare of both wild and domestic fauna. Scientists also said that they hoped that by providing new insight into animal lives, this research might prompt a broader societal shift. Many pointed to the galvanizing effect of the 1970 album “Songs of the Humpback Whale,” which featured recordings of otherworldly whale calls and has been widely credited with helping to spark the global Save the Whales movement...many scientists said they hoped these new, high-tech efforts to understand the vocalizations of whales — and crows and bats and even naked mole rats — will be similarly transformative, providing new ways to connect with and understand the creatures with whom we share the planet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Lasting improvements in seniors’ working and long-term memory with repetitive neuromodulation

From Grover et al., an open source article in which details of their transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) protocols are given:
The development of technologies to protect or enhance memory in older people is an enduring goal of translational medicine. Here we describe repetitive (4-day) transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) protocols for the selective, sustainable enhancement of auditory–verbal working memory and long-term memory in 65–88-year-old people. Modulation of synchronous low-frequency, but not high-frequency, activity in parietal cortex preferentially improved working memory on day 3 and day 4 and 1 month after intervention, whereas modulation of synchronous high-frequency, but not low-frequency, activity in prefrontal cortex preferentially improved long-term memory on days 2–4 and 1 month after intervention. The rate of memory improvements over 4 days predicted the size of memory benefits 1 month later. Individuals with lower baseline cognitive function experienced larger, more enduring memory improvements. Our findings demonstrate that the plasticity of the aging brain can be selectively and sustainably exploited using repetitive and highly focalized neuromodulation grounded in spatiospectral parameters of memory-specific cortical circuitry.

Monday, September 19, 2022

The sex of human experimenters influences mouse behaviors and neural responses.

As I was scanning a recent nature neuroscience table of contents, the title of this item elicited an immediate “What the f…..?” reaction, so I had to click on it. I had not been aware that mice are aversive to the scent of male versus female human experimenters. Here is the Georgiou et al. abstract:
We show that the sex of human experimenters affects mouse behaviors and responses following administration of the rapid-acting antidepressant ketamine and its bioactive metabolite (2R,6R)-hydroxynorketamine. Mice showed aversion to the scent of male experimenters, preference for the scent of female experimenters and increased stress susceptibility when handled by male experimenters. This human-male-scent-induced aversion and stress susceptibility was mediated by the activation of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) neurons in the entorhinal cortex that project to hippocampal area CA1. Exposure to the scent of male experimenters before ketamine administration activated CA1-projecting entorhinal cortex CRF neurons, and activation of this CRF pathway modulated in vivo and in vitro antidepressant-like effects of ketamine. A better understanding of the specific and quantitative contributions of the sex of human experimenters to study outcomes in rodents may improve replicability between studies and, as we have shown, reveal biological and pharmacological mechanisms.

Friday, September 16, 2022

A 2020 MindBlog anti-aging experiment whose results I forgot to report to MindBlog readers.

How embarassing. While doing a scan of posts on aging to update my Jan. 2018 talk "How Much Can We Change Our Aging?" talk, I pulled up a post from Wed. Oct. 14, 2020 describing an experiment to test the effects of trying alpha-ketoglutarate (meant to promote mitochondrial metabolism) as a dietary supplement. I did not follow up on my promise to report and side effects in an addendum to the post. I have now done that, and below paste in the amended text:

I've done a bit more reading on alpha-ketoglutarate, a natural component of the Krebs biochemical cycle that generates body energy and whose levels normally decline with aging. It was the subject of a recent post pointing to studies indicating the positive effects of its supplementation on health and longevity in mice.  So...I have started taking 300 mg capsules of the stuff with my other breakfast supplements. I decided to pass on the pricey 'Rejuvant Life Tabs', containing 1000 mg and offered by Ponce de Leon Health, a company set up by some of the researchers, and instead got the compound from Kirkman, one of the supplement providers. I'm inclined not to be too paranoid about their sending sawdust instead of the real product.  I noted that I could buy the >98% pure dry powder from the Sigma-Aldrich company, the supplier my biochemisty lab used for over 30 years, but decided the hassle of dealing with bulk powder wasn't worth it.  The compound is quite acidic, so best taken as the Calcium or Magnesium salt and with a meal.  I had an unhappy tummy when I tried it without food.  

I will continue taking the compound, will report imagined positive or negative effects as addenda to this post.  Undesirable side effects will lead me to discontinue the supplement, as was the case with my 2010 (Acetyl L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, and the B-vitamin biotin) and 2016 (pterostilbene and nicotinamide riboside) self experiments.  The latter, like a 2008 experiment with resveratrol was terminated because of increasing arthritic symptoms. The 2008 post had 33 comments reporting negative effects resveratrol.

And, a necessary comment regarding Ponce de Leon Health and other purveyors of life extension elixirs:

You're gonna die..there is compelling evidence that none of us will make it past ~120 years of age.   

ADDENDUM... added 9/1/2022 Apologies for spacing out for almost two years.... I took 300 mg capsules of alpha-ketoglutarate with breakfast for one week in early Nov. 2020. It caused acid reflux and increasing hand arthritis over the week. Both side effects vanished after a week off the supplement. I had observed the hand arthritis side effect also in my resveratrol experiment.