People who’ve stared death in the face and lived to tell about it—mountain climbers who’ve made a harrowing descent, say, or survivors of the World Trade Center attacks—sometimes report that just when their situation seemed impossible, a ghostly presence appeared. People with schizophrenia and certain types of neurological damage sometimes report similar experiences, which scientists call, aptly, “feeling of presence.”
Now a team of neuroscientists says it has identified a set of brain regions that seems to be involved in generating this illusion. Better yet, they’ve built a robot that can cause ordinary people to experience it in the lab.
The team was led by Olaf Blanke, a neurologist and neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Blanke has a long-standing interest in creepy illusions of bodily perception. Studying these bizarre phenomena, he says, could point to clues about the biology of mental illness and the mechanisms of human consciousness.
In 2006, for example, Blanke and colleagues published a paper in Nature that had one of the best titles you’ll ever see in a scientific journal: “Induction of an illusory shadow person.” In that study, they stimulated the brain of a young woman who was awaiting brain surgery for severe epilepsy. Surgeons had implanted electrodes on the surface of her brain to monitor her seizures, and when the researchers passed a mild current through the electrodes, stimulating a small region at the intersection of the temporal and parietal lobes of her brain, she experienced what she described as a shadowy presence lurking nearby, mimicking her own posture.
Via CrashCourse @ YouTube
You may think you know all about hypnosis from the movies. Zoolander, The Manchurian Candidate, etc… but there’s a whole lot more going on. In this episode of Crash Course Psychology, Hank tells us about some of the many altered states of consciousness, including hypnosis.
By Bahar Gholipour via LiveScience
With anesthetics properly given, very few patients wake up during surgery. However, new findings point to the possibility of a state of mind in which a patient is neither fully conscious nor unconscious, experts say.
This possible third state of consciousness, may be a state in which patients can respond to a command, but are not disturbed by pain or the surgery, according to Dr. Jaideep Pandit, anesthetist at St John’s College in England, who discussed the idea today (Sept. 19) at The Annual Congress of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland.
Pandit dubbed this state dysanaesthesia, and said the evidence that it exists comes partly from a recent study, in which 34 surgical patients were anesthetized, and had their whole body paralyzed except for their forearm, allowing them to move their fingers in response to commands or to signify if they are awake or in pain during surgery.
One-third of patients in the study moved their finger if they were asked to, even though they were under what seemed to be adequate anesthesia, according to the study led by Dr. Ian F. Russell, of Hull Royal Infirmary in England, and published Sept. 12 in the journal Anaesthesia.
“What’s more remarkable is that they only move their fingers if they are asked. None of the patients spontaneously responded to the surgery. They are presumably not in pain,” said Pandit, who wrote an editorial about the study.
Normally, while patients are under anesthesia, doctors continuously monitor them, and administer anesthetic drugs as needed. The goal is to ensure the patient has received adequate medication to remain deeply unconscious during surgery. However, it is debated how reliable the technologies used during surgery to “measure” unconsciousness are.
- Strange New State of Consciousness Could Exist, Researcher Says (livescience.com)
- Anaesthesiologists Claim Evidence Of Third State Of Consciousness (disinfo.com)
- New state of consciousness in surgery possible (nbcnews.com)
- Anaesthesiologists Claim Evidence Of Third State Of Consciousness (fratersef.wordpress.com)
- Strange new state of consciousness could exist, researcher says (sott.net)
- Researcher Finds Evidence of Previously Undocumented State of Consciousness (news.softpedia.com)
- CLN – Strange New State Of Consciousness Could Exist, Researcher Says – 21 September 2013 (lucas2012infos.wordpress.com)
- ‘Think of it as a Dream if You Wake on the Operating Table’ (sorendreier.com)
- Awareness during surgery and a ‘third state’ of consciousness: dysanaesthesia (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Far more people wake up on the operating table that previously thought… but don’t worry, you (probably) won’t feel at a thing (thisismoney.co.uk)
We all like magic and more importantly we all like to think we can work out magic tricks if we really want to. But as it turns out, even a simple card trick utilizes neuro-scientific principles to trick our brain in ways that we usually can’t consciously control. So what exactly is wrong with our brain? Well nothing really, but years of evolution has left it with traits that leave it wide open to be duped by magic. For example . . .
10 • Focus
Multi tasking is a myth, the human brain simply wasn’t designed to focus on two things at once and magicians take full advantage. Our attention is pulled to one thing in particular due to the ‘moving-spotlight‘ theory. In short, the theory says that our attention is like a spotlight, highlighting one thing while leaving what surrounds it in the dark. When an item or action is within the spotlight the parts of the brain involved in processing it work more efficiently, but anything beyond the spotlight is barely processed at all, at least not by our conscious mind. This allows magicians to pull a sleight of hand right under our noses, as long as something else is drawing our spotlight what happens beyond it, to our brain isn’t happening at all.
9 • Made Up Memories
The ‘misinformation effect’ occurs when information we are given after an event alters our memory of it. For example, a magician asks you to choose a card from the left side of the deck and return it without telling him. Before the razzle-dazzle where he guesses your card he may say something like ‘Now you chose any card you wanted, correct?’ And in the heat of the moment you will say you did. The truth is you were only given the option of the left side of the deck, but the ambiguous comments from the magician alters how you remember the trick, leaving you with a false memory making the trick seem perhaps more incredible than it was.
8 • Predicted Wrong Future
When you see a ball get thrown in the air, it comes back down. You’ve a seen it a million times. You know that what comes up must come down and so does your brain. In fact because of something called the ‘Memory-prediction framework’ our brain sometimes remembers certain actions so well, it stops paying close attention because it predicts how they will end. When a ball gets thrown in the air our brain instantaneously recalls memories of similar events and produces an idea of what’s going to happen next, but sometimes it’s wrong. When a magician puts a ball in a cup only to have it disappear when the cup is lifted, we are shocked because what our brain predicted didn’t come true. Our brains often feed us a prediction and convinces us we saw it happen, which leaves us even more shocked when the predicted action didn’t happen at all.
7 • Free Will
When we ‘pick a card, any card’ we are very rarely picking at random, no matter what it seems. It is usually the magician choosing for us, only without our knowledge. In many card tricks the card we apparently choose is ‘forced’ meaning the magician did something, mental or physical, to make us choose exactly what they wanted us to. But our brain will often over look or deny this as an option, in favor of free choice. Our brain simply does not want to believe it was forced and will often omit facts that may indicate that it was, instead jumping fully into the false idea that all choices were all our own.
6 • Filling in The Blanks
The ‘woman sawed in half trick’ is old enough that most people know the secret. The head we see in one end of the box doesn’t belong to the legs we see at the other. But our brain insists and assumes it does, why? Because our brain is a sucker for continuity. When it sees a head in rough alignment with a set of legs it uses past experience to fill in the blank and tell us that obviously a torso exists between those two body parts. In many magic tricks an object is partially covered, and our brain uses what it CAN see to continue the image and fill in the blank, of course that is exactly what the magician wants.
- 10 Ways Magic Tricks Your Brain (listverse.com)
- Who will apply the art of “diverting your attention” on you today? (eagleman6788.wordpress.com)
- Really, Really, Really, Interactive Magic Trick (theinteractivemagician.wordpress.com)
- Geometrical magic trick (meangreenmath.com)
- Magic Tricks Benefit Children With Autism? (kidzedge.com)
In his first book, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Wrong, neurologist Robert Burton showed that our certainty that we are right has nothing to do with how right we are. He explained how brain mechanisms can make us feel even more confident about false beliefs than about true ones. Now, in a new book, A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves, he investigates the larger question of how a brain creates a mind. There is no alternative to the scientific method for studying the physical world, but Burton thinks there are essential limitations to science’s ability to investigate conundrums like consciousness and free will. Brain scientists fall into error because:
…our brains possess involuntary mechanisms that make unbiased thought impossible yet create the illusion that we are rational creatures capable of fully understanding the mind created by these same mechanisms.
He has a bone to pick with neuroscientists. They are discovering fascinating information, but their interpretations often go beyond what the data can really tell us. They often draw questionable conclusions from imaging studies that could have other explanations.
There is a lot going on in our brains that we’re not aware of. Subconscious brain mechanisms are like a gigantic committee. Everything from your DNA to your past experiences to your political leanings to your emotions is given a vote, and only the result is passed on to your conscious awareness. If all the raw input to the committee were accessible to consciousness, it would be too much information and would hopelessly impair our ability to act. For the mind to function, mental sensations have to override contradictory evidence to create certainty and motivation.
The brain tries to make our experiences meaningful by tricks like re-ordering the temporal sequence of events. When the batter swings, he thinks he is seeing the ball and then reacting; but he initiates his swing before he could possibly be consciously aware of the ball’s trajectory.
Our minds are not truly individual and independent.
- A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Energy Medicine – Noise-Based Pseudoscience (illuminutti.com)
- A closer look at vitamin injections (illuminutti.com)
- Will Humans Ever Understand Consciousness? Scientists and Philosophers Debate (livescience.com)
- You Are Not Your Brain (wikkorg.wordpress.com)
- The mind is caused by the brain. What is epiphenomenalism? (clearphilosophy.wordpress.com)
- Will We Ever Understand Consciousness? (zen-haven.com)
- The Mind vs. Brain Debate (What is Consciousness?) (philosophers-stone.co.uk)
- Think brain scans can reveal our innermost thoughts? Think again (guardian.co.uk)
- Science-Based Medicine Ebooks, Volumes 7-12 Now Available (randi.org)
The brain apparently edits a person’s conscious experience retroactively.
Up to a half-second after an object disappears from view, the brain can “edit” the experience to retain that object, a new study from France shows. The finding may partly explain the weird feeling of being able to recall something you heard even when you don’t consciously remember hearing it.
The finding also contradicts the notion that the brain sequentially takes in sensory information, processes it and then consciously experiences it, said Tufts University cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, whose books include “Consciousness Explained.”
“You have to get away from the idea that consciousness is like a movie that’s playing in your head and that once the processing is done happening then you’ve got this finished movie that you see.” Dennett told LiveScience. “The editing can go on and on.” [The 10 Greatest Mysteries of the Mind]
The results were published online Dec. 13 in the journal Current Biology.
Intuitively, people think of a linear progression from seeing or hearing something to consciously noticing it. But consciousness and perception may be more of a two-way street, said study author Claire Sergent, a cognitive scientist at Paris Descartes University.
To understand how visual consciousness works, Sergent and her team conducted trials involving 18 students. The participants were shown groups of lines appearing in a circle on either the right or the left side of the screen before they disappeared.
Sometimes the lines were too faint to consciously notice, while other times they were very obvious.
In some of the trials where the lines were very faint, the researchers drew participants’ attention to the spot where the lines had been by briefly dimming the circle — creating more contrast between the circle and the background. That “cueing of attention” happened up to a half-second after the lines disappeared.
MORE . . .
- The Brain Retroactively Edits Conscious Experience (livescience.com)
- What Is Consciousness? Go to the Video! (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
via NeuroLogica Blog
Skeptics should add another term to their lexicon of self-deception and cognitive biases – temporal binding.
Over the last half-century or so psychologists have been quietly documenting many various ways in which people deceive themselves and distort their thinking. This knowledge, however, has insufficiently penetrated the public consciousness. When it does it is mostly framed as, “isn’t that an interesting quirk of the human mind,” but the deeper lesson, that we cannot trust our own perception and memory, is rarely brought home.
Skeptics have taken modern neuroscience to heart. Our philosophy incorporates what I call “neuropsychological humility” – the basic recognition that our brains are subject to a host of flaws and biases, and therefore we cannot simply rely upon what we remember about what we thought we experienced. Rather, we need to rely upon a rational process and objective evidence as much as possible (part of this is relying on rigorous science to form our empirical conclusions). These flaws and biases are not confined to parlor tricks, contrived psychological experiments, and sitting in the audience of a magic show, but apply in everyday life.
Temporal binding is one tiny slice of the cognitive biases that form our everyday thinking. The overarching concept is that our memories are not passive recorders, nor are they primarily focused on the accurate recall of details. We do have a memory for details, but we also have a thematic memory, which seems to predominate. The thematic memory remembers the meaning of events, and then details are altered to fit this meaning. We construct a narrative and then over time our memory increasingly fits that narrative. This is not a conscious or deliberate process – our memories just morph over time. We are not aware of this process, nor can we distinguish an accurate memory from one that has morphed completely out of alignment with reality. They are both just memories.
Temporal binding is one manifestation of this general phenomenon, and is related to the logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this therefore because of this. We tend to assume that if A precedes B then it is likely that A caused B. The logical fallacy is in assuming that A did in fact cause B without adequate independent evidence, merely because of the temporal association.
It seems that we evolved to make this assumption. Often A precedes B because it did cause it, and apparently there is a survival advantage to assuming that A probably did cause B, rather than being skeptical of this fact.
MORE . . .
Automatic writing is writing allegedly directed by a spirit or by the unconscious mind. It is sometimes called “trance” writing because it is done quickly and without judgment, writing whatever comes to mind, “without consciousness,” as if in a trance. It is believed that this allows one to tap into the subconscious mind, where “the true self” dwells. Uninhibited by the conscious mind, deep and mystical thoughts can be accessed. Trance writing is also used by some psychotherapists who think it is a quick way to release repressed memories. There is no scientific evidence that trance writing has any unique therapeutic value.
Advocates of automatic writing claim that the process allows them to access other intelligences and entities for information and guidance. They further claim that it permits them to recall previously irretrievable data from the subconscious mind and to unleash spiritual energy for personal growth and revelation. According to psychic Ellie Crystal, entities from beyond are constantly trying to communicate with us. Apparently, we all have the potential to be as clairaudient as James Van Praagh and John Edward.
MORE . . .
- Neuroimaging during Trance State: A Contribution to the Study of Dissociation (plosone.org)
- Automatic Writing (lunaticoutpost.com)
- channelled languages and similar phenomena 3 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 12) (skepticalhumanities.com)
- Brazilian Mediums Shed Light on Brain Activity During a Trance State (greatwhitesharkmusic.com)
- The Subconscious Mind Is Spirit! (essencelifeblog.com)
- Dead son’s spirit holds my hand to write letters to me (thesun.co.uk)
- What’s the Difference Between the Conscious and Subconscious Minds? (geniusmindblog.wordpress.com)
In an article for Newsweek, neurosurgeon Eben Alexander recounts his near death experience during a coma from bacterial meningitis. This is sure to become a staple of the NDE/afterlife community, as Alexander recounts in articulate and breathless terms his profound experience. His book is called, Proof of Heaven – a bold claim for someone who insists he is and remains a scientist.
There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.
While his experience is certainly interesting, his entire premise is flimsily based on a single word in the above paragraph – “while.” He assumes that the experiences he remembers after waking from the coma occurred while his cortex was completely inactive. He does not even seem aware of the fact that he is making that assumption or that it is the central premise of his claim, as he does not address it in his article.
Of course his brain did not go instantly from completely inactive to normal or near normal waking consciousness. That transition must have taken at least hours, if not a day or more. During that time his neurological exam would not have changed significantly, if at all. The coma exam looks mainly at basic brainstem function and reflexes, and can only dimly examine cortical function (through response to pain) and cannot examine higher cortical functions at all. His recovery would have become apparent, then, when his brain recovered sufficiently for him to show signs of consciousness.
Alexander claims there is no scientific explanation for his experiences, but I just gave one. They occurred while his brain function was either on the way down or on the way back up, or both, not while there was little to no brain activity. During this time he would have been in an altered state of consciousness, with different parts of his cortex functioning to different degrees. This state is analogous to certain drug-induced mental states, or those induced by hypoxia and well documented, and there is even some overlap with the normal dream state. All of these are states in which the brain’s construction of reality is significantly different from the normal waking state.
Documented features of these altered states (and features commonly experienced by everyone during dreams) include a sense of oneness with the universe, a sense of the profound, of being in the presence of a godlike figure, and of automatic knowledge with absolute certainty. The latter is not uncommon during dreams – you just know things in your dreams that were not communicated or directly observed, and you have no doubt about that knowledge.
MORE . . .
Also see: Victor Stenger: Not Dead Experiences (NDEs).
- Is Heaven Real? A Neurosurgeon’s Near-Death Experience (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
- Proof of Heaven? (theness.com)
- Heaven Is Real: A Doctor’s Experience With the Afterlife (ascendingstarseed.wordpress.com)
- Heaven is Real, Says Magazine That Doesn’t Employ Fact-Checkers (patheos.com)