Symposium on Martin & Le Corre, “Sensory Substitution Is Substitution”

TVSSS-PHONE-300x225If you haven’t gone over to The Brains Blog to view the Mind & Language symposium on Jean-Rémy Martin and François Le Corre’s “Sensory Substitution Is Substitution,” part of the journal’s April 2015 issue, you should. It’s an interesting perspective on what we normally think of as our other senses compensating for the lack of vision. Highly technical, this article and the subsequent symposium present the argument that the type of information processed by a SSD is metamodal and that the phenomenology is best described in terms of spatial phenomenology, only.

In addition, it also has been shown that they [the Vertical-Horizontal Illusion and the Ponzo Illusion] are equally and identically present in early blind people and that they usually depend on the same modulating factors as in vision (Gentaz and Hatwell, 2004).

If you’re interested in the entire article, you can view it on the Wiley Online Library, free through June 15th. Check out the symposium to get join the conversation on the topic.

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Secrets of the Mind: with Roger Penrose, Iain McGilchrist, and Nicholas Humphrey

We have no explanation of consciousness. Yet from the origins of life to the workings of the atom, science has provided answers when none were thought possible.  Might we be about to crack consciousness as well?  An impossible fantasy or an exciting adventure for mankind? Watch Secrets of the Mind.

The Panel: Joanna Kavenna asks eminent physicist Roger Penrose, Master and His Emissary author Iain McGilchrist, and evolutionary psychologist Nicholas Humphrey to explain the all-seeing ‘I’.

secrets

Mind & Language symposium: Consciousness, Information and the Visual Streams

Visit the Brains blog over the next couple of weeks to take part in a symposium on Wayne Wu’s “Against Division: Consciousness, Information and the Visual Streams”. Commentaries by David Kaplan (Macquarie), Pete Mandik (William Paterson), and Thomas Schenk (Erlangen-Nuremberg).

Wu’s article has just been published in the September 2014 issue of Mind & Language and is free to access until the end of the year.

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wu[1]According to the influential dual systems model of visual processing (Milner & Goodale 1995/2006, Goodale & Milner 2004), information present in the dorsal processing stream does not contribute to the specific contents of conscious visual experience. “Visual phenomenology,” A.D. Milner and Melvyn Goodale write, “can arise only from processing in the ventral stream, processing that we have linked with recognition and perception…. Visual-processing modules in the dorsal stream, despite the complex computations demanded by their role in the control of action, are not normally available to awareness” (Milner & Goodale 1995/2006, 202). In his article, Wayne argues that certain types of information arising in the dorsal stream, contrary to Milner and Goodale, do play a role in realizing the contents of visual experience. In particular, he argues that information carried in dorsal stream areas such as VIP and LIP support awareness of visual spatial constancy across saccadic eye-movements. Wayne also adduces evidence that dorsal stream areas play a role in conscious visual motion and depth perception.

Does Nirvana Have a Neural Signature?

What are we looking for when we look at neurological studies of spiritual figures?

We are used to thinking of Siddhartha Gautama as having spent his life seeking to attain wisdom and the release from unwanted thoughts and passions. We are less used to conceiving of Siddhartha as having been in pursuit of a specific brain state; and yet, we might be curious as to whether or not the mental state of nirvana is a physiological possibility for us, and if so, what characterises it? What was the Buddha’s brain doing at the moment of enlightenment; what does the brain of an advanced buddhist monk do whilst the monk is nearing what we might term a pre-nirvana state?

Despite the fact that East has met West so many times in the last few centuries that they must detest being continually reintroduced to one-another, NYU researcher Zoran Josipovic (as the BBC reports) is continuing, as he has been doing for the past decade, to use fmri in order to study the neurological states of Buddhist monks. Yet in the last few years, he has advanced a compelling hypothesis. The human mind, as we know from experience, vacillates between total or near-total involvement in the external world, a state where we experience little or no self-awareness, to states that are self-conscious and self-aware to the fact that we may have little recollection of what was happening around us. Josipovic refers to these alternate kinds of experience as intrinsic and extrinsic networks.

Buddhist monks, whilst meditating, display a kind of neural activity that few, if any, non-meditating subjects have ever demonstrated: dual, equal, and simultaneous activity in the intrinsic and extrinsic networks. Of course, the relationship between these networks is by no means one of two distinct, unrelated systems– they work together to provide our ordinary, everyday experience of the world (an experience that involves some side-commentary and some focus or attention on the external world). The interesting aspect of Josipovic’s results is that, during meditation, no one system is dominant, which leads Josipovic to conclude that the resulting first-person experience is permeated both by a feeling of total involvement and oneness with the environment, and also with a self-awareness of being so utterly involved. The apparent contradictoriness of the description appears to us only because we have rarely, if ever, occupied this median neurological state.

However, we might also wonder: do we tend to over-estimate the experiential exoticness of advanced states of meditation? Is it possible that the feelings of tranquility and oneness enjoyed by advanced meditators are not so experientially different from our own, but merely prolonged? Why do we expect Buddhist monks to feel and experience the tenets of their philosophy, rather than merely to affirm them and find comfort and resilience within them? Are we filling the heads of Buddhist monks with fictional, super-states of consciousness?

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Mirror Neurons Keep Us Smoking

One might expect that in order for oneself to enjoy the pleasure and reward of smoking, one must be the person in question that is smoking a cigarette. Merely watching another person smoke keeps us as far away from the felt experience of nicotine as the distance between self and other. Necessarily, I cannot experience your experience (even if I choose to join you in a smoke).

Or up to a point. As The Journal of Neuroscience reports, researchers have discovered that (right-handed) smokers, when watching a (right-handed) smoker puff away in a film or television, undergo excitement in areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward, in addition to those motor Continue reading “Mirror Neurons Keep Us Smoking”

A Conversation with one Self

Will Self

Author Will Self’s inaugural lecture of the 2008 Radio 3 Free Thinking festival is archived online here. Self traces the misguided portrayal of consciousness in fiction through history in his typically verbose way. Up for reconsideration are not just the naturalist approach of nineteenth-century literature but also the Joycean stream of consciousness approach. Self argues that the way writers have chosen to portray it does not fit in with the way we really experience our minds. Continue reading “A Conversation with one Self”

R.I.P. Alexander Piatigorsky

The Philosopher’s Eye was sad to see that the charismatic and idiosyncratic philosopher Alexander Piatigorsky passed away earlier this month. Piatigorsky was a professor at the London School of Oriental and African studies (SOAS) until his retirement in 2001. (Sir Isaiah Berlin had intervened to ensure his appointment after he fled the USSR.) The topics on which he wrote ranged from the failures of totalitarian communism to Buddhist thought and even to Freemasonry. Piatigorsky was also a talented linguist – he compiled the first Russian-Tamil dictionary – and a novelist.

But the volume which is perhaps best known amongst philosophers in England is “Symbol and Consciousness: Metaphysical Discussion of Consciousness, Symbolism and Language” (1982), which he co-authored with Merab Mamardashvili. Continue reading “R.I.P. Alexander Piatigorsky”