The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'neuroscience'
Cognitive neuroscience researcher Ogi Ogas describes how he used techniques from neuroscience to win a quiz show, getting questions he did not consciously know the answer to:
Cognitive models developed by my advisor Gail Carpenter suggest that a more effective way to evaluate an intuition is to consider its mnemonic associations. If you can mentally trace some of the cognitive links of an intuition (through a process similar to priming), these links may suggest whether the intuition is meaningfully connected to the correct answer or whether the link is trivial, incidental, or wrong. For example, given the question "Bucharest is the capital of what European country?", you might have an intuition that the answer is Hungary, because the actual capital of Hungary--Budapest--sounds like "Bucharest" and is thus unconsciously linked. In this case, naively following your unexamined intuition would lead you away from the correct response: Romania.
My $250,000 question presented me with a case of pure intuition. "The department store Sears got its start by selling what specific product in its first catalog?" Since pop culture esoterica and business origins are outside my domains of interest, I did not know the answer. But for some reason, even before the four possible answers appeared, I thought of watches. When "watches" turned up as one of the choices, I reflected on it further. I did not feel any certainty. But why did my brain come up with "watches?" ... As I concentrated on my watch intuition, I began to think about railroads. My brain's memory pattern of watches was somehow linked to a memory pattern of railroads, and my railroad memory also evoked a memory of Sears. Though I still could not work out the explicit connection between watches and Sears, I satisfied myself that "watches" had some deep mnemonic relationship to both railroads and Sears--perhaps at some point in my life I had read that Sears originally delivered their watch catalogs by railroad?
Later, in the tranquility of my apartment, I discovered that 23-year old railroad station agent Richard Sears sold watches to other station agents along the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway for a full year before meeting up with Alvah C. Roebuck. I never did discover how this obscure factoid had left its faint trace upon my brain.
A New York Times journalist tries on a magnetic helmet that gives savant-like skills. The transcranial magnetic stimulator, at the University of Sydney, works by shutting down some parts of the brain, causing other parts to operate similarly to the way they do in autistic savants; i.e., giving awareness of details which are often edited out when a normal brain forms the "big picture" from them. The journalist in question was asked to draw pictures of cats and dogs and perform various mental tests at different stages of the process. Some speculate that such helmets may eventually find their way onto the market, with students using them before taking examinations (which wouldn't surprise me at all). The implications may be even more far-reaching; for example, perhaps we'll eventually see the International Olympic Committee start testing chess players for the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation? (via MeFi)
Research in neuroscience suggests that conscious free will may be an illusion, with decisions being made in the brain before they reach the conscious mind.
What Libet did was to measure electrical changes in people's brains as they flicked their wrists. And what he found was that a subject's ''readiness potential'' - the brain signal that precedes voluntary actions - showed up about one-third of a second before the subject felt the conscious urge to act. The result was so surprising that it still had the power to elicit an exclamation point from him in a 1999 paper: ''The initiation of the freely voluntary act appears to begin in the brain unconsciously, well before the person consciously knows he wants to act!''
Then the experimenters would use magnetic stimulation in certain parts of the brain just at the moment when the subject was prompted to make the choice. They found that the magnets, which influence electrical activity in the brain, had an enormous effect: On average, subjects whose brains were stimulated on their right-hand side started choosing their left hands 80 percent of the time. And, in the spookiest aspect of the experiment, the subjects still felt as if they were choosing freely.
Which makes sense; if cognition is a physical process, then so would be decision-making. And it could be that the conscious mind is a very small part of the processes of the brain.
I've suspected for a while that our conscious minds don't so much do the thinking as weave together a coherent internal narrative from the myriad of subconscious processes in our heads, providing a serial stream of consciousness essential to having the sense of self and the ability to introspection. So it could be that we don't consciously make any decisions, only rationalise what the physical processes in our brains do.
Sleep researchers in Toronto turn brainwaves into "music", which, when listens to by the person whose brainwaves were used, induces sleep. They believe that they can use similar techniques to induce other states. It sounds like it works on a similar principle to "brainwave machines", only customised to the individual brainwaves of the user.
"Even the diseased brain has such enormous reserves that we can use the brain activity, even from a diseased brain, to heal it," he says. An anti-anxiety response, for example, can be produced even in someone who is seriously impaired by reproducing sounds that stimulate relaxation.