Category Archives: Neuroscience

Your Mind: Beyond Your Brain and Body

Source:, Dec 2016

… what is a mind? Defining the concept is a surprisingly slippery task. The mind is the seat of consciousness, the essence of your being. Without a mind, you cannot be considered meaningfully alive. So what exactly, and where precisely, is it?

Traditionally, scientists have tried to define the mind as the product of brain activity: The brain is the physical substance, and the mind is the conscious product of those firing neurons, according to the classic argument. But growing evidence shows that the mind goes far beyond the physical workings of your brain.

our mind cannot be confined to what’s inside our skull, or even our body, according to a definition first put forward by Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of a recently published book, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.

… a key component of the mind is: “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us.” It’s not catchy. But it is interesting, and with meaningful implications.

The most immediately shocking element of this definition is that our mind extends beyond our physical selves. In other words, our mind is not simply our perception of experiences, but those experiences themselves. Siegel argues that it’s impossible to completely disentangle our subjective view of the world from our interactions.

The definition has since been supported by research across the sciences, but much of the original idea came from mathematics. Siegel realized the mind meets the mathematical definition of a complex system in that it’s open (can influence things outside itself), chaos capable (which simply means it’s roughly randomly distributed), and non-linear (which means a small input leads to large and difficult to predict result).

In math, complex systems are self-organizing, and Siegel believes this idea is the foundation to mental health. Again borrowing from the mathematics, optimal self-organization is: flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable. This means that without optimal self-organization, you arrive at either chaos or rigidity—a notion that, Siegel says, fits the range of symptoms of mental health disorders

Learning Starts from the Brain

Source: Nautilus, Sep 2016

People who disengage their executive systems the fastest are the best learners.  

Learning Thinking without Language

Source: Scientific American, Sep 2016

The research suggests a radically different view, in which learning of a child’s first language does not rely on an innate grammar module. Instead the new research shows that young children use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all—such as the ability to classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and to understand the relations among things. These capabilities, coupled with a unique hu­­­man ability to grasp what others intend to communicate, allow language to happen.

… young children begin by learning simple grammatical patterns; then, gradually, they intuit the rules behind them bit by bit.

Thus, young children initially speak with only concrete and simple grammatical constructions based on specific patterns of words: “Where’s the X?”; “I wanna X”; “More X”; “It’s an X”; “I’m X-ing it”; “Put X here”; “Mommy’s X-ing it”; “Let’s X it”; “Throw X”; “X gone”; “Mommy X”; “I Xed it”; “Sit on the X”; “Open X”; “X here”; “There’s an X”; “X broken.” Later, children combine these early patterns into more complex ones, such as “Where’s the X that Mommy Xed?”

usage-based linguistics, has now arrived. The theory, which takes a number of forms, proposes that grammatical structure is not in­­nate.

Instead grammar is the product of history (the processes that shape how languages are passed from one generation to the next) and human psychology (the set of social and cognitive capacities that allow generations to learn a language in the first place). More important, this theory proposes that language recruits brain systems that may not have evolved specifically for that purpose and so is a different idea to Chomsky’s single-gene mutation for recursion.

In the new usage-based approach (which includes ideas from functional linguistics, cognitive linguistics and construction grammar), children are not born with a universal, dedicated tool for learning grammar. Instead they inherit the mental equivalent of a Swiss Army knife: a set of general-purpose tools—such as categorization, the reading of communicative intentions, and analogy making, with which children build grammatical categories and rules from the language they hear around them.

Mapping the Brain

Source: Business Insider, Jul 2016

By combining data from a handful of imaging techniques, an international coalition of researchers has created one of the most precise maps of the human brain ever seen. The new map, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, divides the brain up into 180 unique brain regions, of which 97 have never been identified before.

an image created to show researchers’ progress towards creating more detailed brain maps:

In 2010, MIT neuroscientistSebastian Seung suggested in a TED talk that the traits that make us human come from what he called our “connectome” — the intricate web of robust information highways that criss-cross different parts of the brain. Our connectome is responsible for all of our thoughts, dreams, and actions.

Stated another way, “I am my connectome,” said Seung.

Working Memory: 3-5 chunks

Source: NIH website, Feb 2010

Working memory storage capacity is important because cognitive tasks can be completed only with sufficient ability to hold information as it is processed. The ability to repeat information depends on task demands but can be distinguished from a more constant, underlying mechanism: a central memory store limited to 3 to 5 meaningful items in young adults.

Many studies indicate that working memory capacity varies among people, predicts individual differences in intellectual ability, and changes across the life span (Cowan, 2005).

As Cowan (2001) noted, many theorists with mathematical models of particular aspects of problem-solving and thought have allowed the number of items in working memory to vary as a free parameter, and the models seem to settle on a value of about 4, where the best fit is typically achieved.

The capacity-limit-as-strength camp includes diverse hypotheses. Mathematical simulations suggest that, under certain simple assumptions, searches through information are most efficient when the groups to be searched include about 3.5 items on average. A list of three items is well-structured with a beginning, middle, and end serving as distinct item-marking characteristics; a list of five items is not far worse, with two added in-between positions. More items than that might lose distinctiveness within the list. A relatively small central working memory may allow all concurrently-active concepts to become associated with one another (chunked) without causing confusion or distraction.

Parietal Lobe for Visual/Spatial Processing

Source: Harvard, date indeterminate

Source: MD-Health, date indeterminate

The parietal lobe processes sensory information for cognitive purposes and helps coordinate spatial relations so we can make sense of the world around us. The parietal lobe resides in the middle section of the brain behind the central sulcus, above the occipital lobe.

Related Resource:  American Scientist, Nov 2006

Coxeter simply had a superior brain. It’s being studied by the neuroscientist Sandra Witelson at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and she’s also studying Einstein’s brain. Her results on Coxeter’s brain so far indicate that he, like Einstein, had an abnormally large parietal lobe—and, fittingly enough, this is the region of the brain responsible for visual thinking and spatial reasoning.


Embodied Cognition: Ideas

Source: Stanford, Dec 2015

A common assumption in traditional accounts is that concepts are context-independent amodal symbols.

There are several problems with this view and research is strong in suggesting that conceptual capacities incorporate and are structured in terms of patterns of bodily activity. Talking or thinking about objects have been suggested to imply the reactivation of previous experiences, and the recruitment of the same neural circuits involved during perception and action towards those objects would allow the re-enactment of multimodal information (color, size, width, etc).

In principle, the view that concepts are represented through abstract symbols, rather than modality specific features, and cognition requires stable forms of representation should be either dropped or strongly revisited.