Of Mice and Future Events

Captain Future was no stranger to preplaying the about-to-be.

What’s the next best thing to being able to see a few seconds into the future? Simulating the ability to see into the immediate future. And according to a study by Moser and Moser appearing in the January 11th issue of Nature, mammalian brains already take advantage of the benefits from simulating this ability by  ‘preplaying’ anticipated experiences.

As the authors explain, we have known for some time that, immediately after navigating a novel spatial environment, the brain ‘replays’ the neural sequence of the just-past experience. Observation in mice has also shown that these sequences can be replayed during sleep.

However, mice have also shown the ability to ‘preplay’ a neural sequence when navigating a novel environment. Thus, a mouse at rest before a closed door in a maze will undergo a sequence of neural activity that is repeated once the door is opened. The brain appears to have a go at running through the neural sequence of an anticipated experience prior to (in this experiment) turning the corner of a maze. Where the preplayed sequence matches the real time experience, the mouse can be said to have successfully anticipated its future environment.

Phenomenologist Edmund Husserl insisted that temporal consciousness cannot be restricted to a brute ‘now’, but must be broad enough to include experience of the just-past and of the about-to-be. Has Husserl’s phenomenological description of temporal consciousness been (in part) vindicated by neuroscience?

Related Articles

> Philosophical Issues in Neuroimaging

> Time-Travel: Double Your Fun

Foe of Feminists Revived

Image: Bilz 1894

Last year biological determinism in the study of sex and gender experienced a resurgence, with the professor of Development Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, Simon Baron-Cohen, as its new figurehead.

In the spring months of 2010, the issue of female representation in public and intellectual spheres was passed along from public intellectual to public intellectual in a series of finger-pointing articles featured on the Guardian website.

Critic and novelist Bidisha initiatiated the debate with a scathing attack on the sorry state of the literary festivals and competitions that she had been involved with, complaining that she was ‘tired of being the token woman’. In the process Bidisha implicated Hay’s How The Light Gets In philosophy festival for its disproportionate number of male speakers. She revealed that she was happy to have had to drop out of the event on account of other engagements, highlighting that the only approvable gender balance in the whole festival was unfortunately within the entertainment tents.

Julian Baggini, the increasingly public face of philosophy as well as adviser to the How The Light Gets In festival, responded with an appeal to the practical issues involved in booking female guests, who he maintains are culpable to some extent Continue reading “Foe of Feminists Revived”

Don’t ask me, ask my brain.

BrainDid you know that sun can damage your skin?  How likely are you to increase your sunscreen use this week?  No, don’t tell me.  Chances are, you will be a less reliable indicator of your own behavior than a brain scan will.  It may sound crazy, but this is the conclusion of a study published June 23, 2010 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The research team, led by Matthew Lieberman, a psychology professor at UCLA, had subjects watch a public service announcement about the benefits of sunscreen while in an fMRI machine.  The researchers looked for an increase in activity of the medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with values, preferences, and self-reflection.  Then, the researchers Continue reading “Don’t ask me, ask my brain.”

Why Does John Wayne Always Win?

New Scientist this week carried a playful article on just this (very pressing) question. Niels Bohr (yes, the Neils Bohr) once hypothesised that the reason that the Good Guy is so often left standing is because his opponent draws first? Confused? Bohr’s explanation was that in reacting to an opponent’s move, the Good guy acts unthinkingly, and thereby faster than his adversary. To test his theory, he employed that most scientific of instruments – a set of toy pistols, and practiced with his colleagues. When his opponent drew first, Bohr – or so the story goes – invariably won.

Andrew Welchman, a researcher at the University of Birmingham, decided to put this theory to the test. Continue reading “Why Does John Wayne Always Win?”

Multiply realized memory

HippocampusIn a recent Scientific American article, evidence is presented for multiple realizability.

What is multiple realizability? Let’s begin with functionalism. Functionalism is a dominant view in the philosophy of mind and concerns the relationship between the brain and the mind. Take a physical apparatus (such as the brain), and divide it into components each defined by what causes it, and what it causes. Functionalism is the view that the mind consists of such components. It has the consequence that different physical apparatuses can give rise to (or ‘realize’) the same components, so defined. Think for example, of all the different physical objects that can realize a corkscrew. They can be constituted and look very different. But they all share the same causal role.

Neuroscientist Larry R Squire has discovered that the physical states that realize memories change as the memories become more entrenched. They begin in the hippocampus. Over time the memories become entrenched ‘in’ the neocortex, until eventually the hippocampus is no longer needed and so no longer constitutes part of the physical realizer of a given memory.

For the original article go here.

 Related articles:
£1.99 - small Multiple Realizability
By Eric Funkhouser , University of Arkansas
(Vol. 2, February 2007)
Philosophy Compass

£1.99 - small Can Physicalism be Non-reductive?
By Andrew Melnyk , University of Missouri
(Vol. 3, November 2008)
Philosophy Compass