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Thu, 22 Oct 2020
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How the brain recognises objects

To recognise a chair or a dog, our brain separates objects into their individual properties and then puts them back together. Until recently, it has remained unclear what these properties are. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have now identified them - from "fluffy" to "valuable" - and found that all it takes is 49 properties to recognise almost any object.

Brain Studies
© Shutterstock
The human brain breaks down the environment into a total of 49 properties, which are sufficient to categorise all objects. Depending on how similar the observed object is to a known category, it is then recognised as a dog or, for instance, a piece of furniture.
We live in a world full of things that we have to identify and classify into different categories. Only when you are able to identify the things around you, you can communicate with others about them and act in a meaningful way. If we see something in front of us that we recognise as a chair, we can sit on it. Once we have identified an object as a cup, we can lift it up and drink from it.

In order to carry out this mapping and make sense of our environment, we have to constantly compare the input to our senses with the information we have already learned. To do this, the brain breaks down an object into its individual properties, compares them with those that are already known, and puts these properties back together. Depending on how similar the observed object is to a known category, it is then recognised as a piece of furniture or a vessel. So far, however, it has remained unclear how we consider things to be similar or less similar. In other words, what are the characteristics that make us recognise objects?

Brain

Neuroscience can help us understand why free will is real

free will
Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder and biologist Jerry Coyne, who deny free will, don't seem to understand the neuroscience

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne seems obsessed with denying free will. In a recent post on his blog, Why Evolution Is True, he supported the claim of theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder that we do not have free will:
If you've read this site, you'll know that my own views are pretty much the same as hers, at least about free will. We don't have it, and the fundamental indeterminacy of quantum mechanics doesn't give it to us either.

Hossenfelder doesn't pull any punches:

"This means in a nutshell that the whole story of the universe in every single detail was determined already at the big bang. We are just watching it play out."...

QED!

Jerry Coyne, "Sabine Hossenfelder says we don't have free will, but its nonexistence shouldn't bother us" at Why Evolution Is True
Both Coyne and Hossenfelder are atheists, materialists, and determinists — a sort of intellectual dark triad — and their beliefs are scientifically and logically uninformed. They use denial of free will to prop up their materialist and determinist irreligion. It is not science; it is an ideological project, without a shred of science or logic to back it up.

Comment: See also:


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MindMatters: Susannah Hays Interview: Polyvagal Theory, Gurdjieff and the Evolution of Man

susannah hays
In recent years researchers like Stephen Porges have brought a newfound understanding of the body's all-important polyvagal system to greater and deeper awareness. The tenth cranial nerve, or vagus nerve, has a great impact on the health of major organs (including the brain), and even direct impact on a human being's 'higher' functioning. Interestingly however, is the historic fact that the wandering nerve has also been the subject of research and speculation for hundreds of years, among the scientists of the West - as well as the mystics of the East.

This week on MindMatters we discuss a new development in research that seeks to bring together these seemingly separate subjects with Susannah Hays, MFA PhD. In her doctoral thesis and subsequent paper 'Nature as Discourse: Transdisciplinarity and Vagus Nerve Function,' Dr. Hays lays out not only the historical precedent for polyvagal system research, but also what the great teacher and mystic Gurdjieff may have been seeking to do with his exercises - and where a broader look at all of this information may be leading us towards. Join us as Dr. Hays takes us on a transdisciplinary journey through Gurdjieff, polyvagal theory and more.


Running Time: 01:14:50

Download: MP3 — 68.5 MB


Boat

We were made for these times

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My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

Chess

The curse of game theory and why it's in your self-interest to break the rules of the game

Nash/von Neumann
© Libertad Digital/Wikipedia/KJN
John Forbes Nash, Jr. • John von Neumann
Game theory, the mathematical theory of games of strategy, was developed by John von Neumann in several successive stages in 1928 and 1940-41, according to his book Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour which he co-authored with Oskar Morgenstern.

The crux of the theory is that an individuals' behaviour will always be motivated towards achieving an optimal outcome, which is determined by self-interest. An assumption made is that the players in such a game are rational, which translates to, "will strive to maximize their payoffs in the game". In other words, it is assumed they are motivated by selfish self-interests.

Over the years, other contributors such as John Nash (Nash equilibrium) and John Maynard Smith (evolutionary stable strategy) have added to the theory and we are now at a point where it is considered by many to be an essential tool when modelling economic, political, sociological or military behaviours and outcomes, and is taught as such in many prestigious universities as something pretty much set in stone.

But what if we have made a terrible mistake?

After all, it is acknowledged by the theorists themselves that the entire functioning of their model relies upon the assumption that we are governed by rational selfish behaviour, and that they feel confident about this assumption since reality has apparently confirmed this fact to them. But what if this game is not objectively mirroring a truthful depiction of us? What if this game has rather, been used as a conditioning tool, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a positive feedback loop?

How can we know what is true? How can we know what kind of a person we truly are and not what we have been conditioned to think of ourselves as?

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Study on decision-making behavior - Nerve cell activity shows how confident we are

Snack Choice
© AG Mormann/Uni Bonn
The participants had to choose between two different snacks: The further they moved the slider to the left or right end, the more confident they were in their choice.
Should I or shouldn't I? The activity of individual nerve cells in the brain tells us how confident we are in our decisions. This is shown by a recent study by researchers at the University of Bonn. The result is unexpected - the researchers were actually on the trail of a completely different evaluation mechanism. The results are published in the journal Current Biology.

You are sitting in a café and want to enjoy a piece of cake with your cappuccino. The Black Forest gateau is just too rich for you and is therefore quickly eliminated. Choosing between the carrot cake and the rhubarb crumble is much trickier: The warm weather favors the refreshingly fruity cake. Carrot cake, however, is one of your all-time favorites. So what to do?

Every day we have to make decisions, and we are much more confident about some of them than others. Researchers at the University Hospital Bonn have now identified nerve cells in the brain whose activity indicates the confidence in decisions. A total of twelve men and women took part in their experiment. "We showed them photos of two different snacks, for example a chocolate bar and a bag of chips," explains Prof. Dr. Dr. Florian Mormann from the Department of Epileptology. "They were then asked to use a slider to indicate which of these alternatives they would rather eat." The more they moved the slider from its center position towards the left or right photo, the more confident they were in their decision.

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New clues about 'travelling brain waves'

Looking for Something
© Tara Moore / Getty Images
Next time you can't find the car keys sitting right in front of you, try blaming your "travelling brain waves".

Scientists in North America believe these neural signals exist in the visual system of the awake brain and are organised to allow the brain to perceive objects that are faint or just difficult to see - or not.

"We've discovered that faint objects are much more likely to be seen if visualising the object is timed with the travelling brain waves," says John Reynolds from the Salk Institute, US, senior author of the team's paper in Nature.

"The waves actually facilitate perceptual sensitivity, so there are moments in time when you can see things that you otherwise could not. It turns out that these travelling brain waves are an information-gathering process leading to the perception of an object."

The waves have been studied during anaesthesia, Reynolds says, but dismissed as an artifact of it. To investigate whether they also exist in the brain when awake, he and colleagues from Salk and Canada's Western University developed computational techniques to track neuronal activity in the visual cortex moment by moment.

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We learn faster when we aren't told what choices to make says new study

Making a CHoice
© Klaus Vedfelt Getty Images
In a perfect world, we would learn from success and failure alike. Both hold instructive lessons and provide needed reality checks that may safeguard our decisions from bad information or biased advice.

But, alas, our brain doesn't work this way. Unlike an impartial outcome-weighing machine an engineer might design, it learns more from some experiences than others. A few of these biases may already sound familiar: A positivity bias causes us to weigh rewards more heavily than punishments. And a confirmation bias makes us take to heart outcomes that confirm what we thought was true to begin with but discount those that show we were wrong. A new study, however, peels away these biases to find a role for choice at their core.

A bias related to the choices we make explains all the others, says Stefano Palminteri of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM), who conducted a study published in Nature Human Behaviour in August that examines this tendency. "In a sense we have been perfecting our understanding of this bias," he says.

Using disarmingly simple tasks, Palminteri's team found choice had a clear influence on decision-making. Participants in the study observed two symbols on a screen and then selected one with the press of a key to learn, through trial and error, which image gave the most points. At the end of the experiment, the subjects cashed in their points for money. By careful design, the results ruled out competing interpretations. For example, when freely choosing between the two options, people learned more quickly from the symbols associated with greater reward than those associated with punishment, which removed points. Though that finding resembled a positivity bias, this interpretation was ruled out by trials that demonstrated participants could also learn from negative outcomes. In trials that showed the outcomes for both symbols after a choice was made, subjects learned more from their chosen symbol when it gave a higher reward and when the unchosen one would deduct a point. That is, in this free-choice situation, they learned well from obtained gains and avoided losses.

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New study says writing by hand makes kids smarter

New brain research shows that writing by hand helps children learn more and remember better. At the same time, schools are becoming more and more digital, and a European survey shows that Norwegian children spend the most time online of 19 countries in the EU.
Brain Research
© NTNU/Microsoft
Typing, clicking and watching occupy an increasing number of hours in the average child's day. But brain research shows that writing by hand helps people remember better and learn more.
Professor Audrey van der Meer at NTNU believes that national guidelines should be put into place to ensure that children receive at least a minimum of handwriting training.

Results from several studies have shown that both children and adults learn more and remember better when writing by hand.

Now another study confirms the same: choosing handwriting over keyboard use yields the best learning and memory.

"When you write your shopping list or lecture notes by hand, you simply remember the content better afterwards," Van der Meer says.

Caesar

Epicurus on the role of suffering and pursuit of happiness

Epicurus
We've all been there. Fear, anxiety, depression, existential dread...these are common side effects of the human condition and part of life experience.

No matter where you have found yourself in history or what may be happening in global society, anxiety, depression and other mental and emotional challenges present themselves to us all at some point in our journey through life.

Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 - 270BC) recognized the suffering within himself and his fellow men and women. He established the Epicurean school of philosophy that promoted the Art of Simple Living.

Comment: Even though Epicurus started Epicureanism which was a school of philosophical thought, another well-known branch started around the same time called Stoicism. For more on that, see here: