Wednesday Round Up #44

Octomom: Deep-sea octopus guards her eggs for over four years
Amazing footage of an amazing mother

The Empty Brain: Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge, or store memories. In short: Your brain is not a computer.

If the IP metaphor is so silly, why is it so sticky? What is stopping us from brushing it aside, just as we might brush aside a branch that was blocking our path? Is there a way to understand human intelligence without leaning on a flimsy intellectual crutch? And what price have we paid for leaning so heavily on this particular crutch for so long? The IP metaphor, after all, has been guiding the writing and thinking of a large number of researchers in multiple fields for decades. At what cost?

In a classroom exercise I have conducted many times over the years, I begin by recruiting a student to draw a detailed picture of a dollar bill – ‘as detailed as possible’, I say – on the blackboard in front of the room. When the student has finished, I cover the drawing with a sheet of paper, remove a dollar bill from my wallet, tape it to the board, and ask the student to repeat the task. When he or she is done, I remove the cover from the first drawing, and the class comments on the differences.

Because you might never have seen a demonstration like this, or because you might have trouble imagining the outcome, I have asked Jinny Hyun, one of the student interns at the institute where I conduct my research, to make the two drawings…

Perhaps you will object to this demonstration. Jinny had seen dollar bills before, but she hadn’t made a deliberate effort to ‘memorise’ the details. Had she done so, you might argue, she could presumably have drawn the second image without the bill being present. Even in this case, though, no image of the dollar bill has in any sense been ‘stored’ in Jinny’s brain. She has simply become better prepared to draw it accurately, just as, through practice, a pianist becomes more skilled in playing a concerto without somehow inhaling a copy of the sheet music.

Sausage of Science Podcast 119 – Survival of the Friendliest with Dr. Brian Hare

Dr. Brian Hare is a professor of Evolutionary Anthropology, Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University and a core member of the Center of Cognitive Neuroscience. He chats with Chris and Cara about his new book “Survival of the Friendliest” and what we can learn from puppies about our own evolution and bipartisanship.

Study Links Genes With Function Across the Human Brain

Led by Bratislav Misic, a researcher at The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) of McGill University, a group of scientists performed machine learning analysis of two Open Science datasets: the gene expression atlas from the Allen Human Brain Atlas and the functional association map from Neurosynth. This allowed them to find associations between gene expression patterns and functional brain tasks such as memory, attention, and mood.

Interestingly, the team found a clear genetic signal that separated cognitive processes, like attention, from more affective processes, like fear. This separation can be traced to gene expression in specific cell types and molecular pathways, offering key insights for future research into psychiatric disorders.

Cognition, for example, was linked more to the gene signatures of inhibitory or excitatory neurons. Affective processes, however, were linked to support cells such as microglia and astrocytes, supporting a theory that inflammation of these cells is a risk factor in mental illness. The genetic signature related to affect was centred on a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex, which has been shown to be vulnerable in mental illness.

Here is the abstract for the original article:
Mapping gene transcription and neurocognition across human neocortex

Regulation of gene expression drives protein interactions that govern synaptic wiring and neuronal activity. The resulting coordinated activity among neuronal populations supports complex psychological processes, yet how gene expression shapes cognition and emotion remains unknown. Here, we directly bridge the microscale and macroscale by mapping gene expression patterns to functional activation patterns across the cortical sheet. Applying unsupervised learning to the Allen Human Brain Atlas and Neurosynth databases, we identify a ventromedial–dorsolateral gradient of gene assemblies that separate affective and perceptual domains. This topographic molecular-psychological signature reflects the hierarchical organization of the neocortex, including systematic variations in cell type, myeloarchitecture, laminar differentiation and intrinsic network affiliation. In addition, this molecular-psychological signature strengthens over neurodevelopment and can be replicated in two independent repositories. Collectively, our results reveal spatially covarying transcriptomic and cognitive architectures, highlighting the influence that molecular mechanisms exert on psychological processes.

Why Your ‘True Self’ Is An Illusion

Strohminger, now an assistant professor at the Wharton School, found the premise fascinating because if a bank robber could leave his body and end up in Willis’, it implied that he wasn’t fused to his body in the first place. There was some separate essence of him that was picked up and transported. Further, she noticed that in soul switches, people “would only bring over some of their traits,” she said. “It seemed selective. I wondered if there was any pattern there.”

Her curiosity ultimately led her to an experiment. She and her colleague, Shaun Nichols, asked people a question: If you went into another body, which of your traits would most likely come with you? Above other personality quirks, memories, and preferences, people consistently said that they would retain traits related to their morality.

This work is just one of many demonstrations over the years of a psychological notion called the “true self.” The true self is different from the self, which is made up of a blurry combination of your physical appearance, your intelligence, your memories, and your habits, all which change through time. The true self is what people believe is their essence. It’s the core of what makes you you; if it was taken away, you would no longer be you anymore.

Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World

Video talk/conversation with Zakiyyah Iman Jackson. “Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World is part of NYU Press’s Sexual Cultures series. It argues that key African American, African, and Caribbean literary and visual texts generate conceptions of being and materiality that creatively disrupt a human-animal distinction that persistently reproduces the racial logics and orders of Western thought. These texts move beyond a critique of bestialization to generate new possibilities for rethinking ontology: our being, fleshly materiality, and the nature of what exists and what we can claim to know about existence. Jackson argues that the texts and artistic practices featured in Becoming Human generate alternative possibilities for reimaging (human) being because they neither rely on animal abjection to define the human, nor reestablish “human recognition” within liberal humanism as an antidote to racialization. Ultimately, Becoming Human reveals the pernicious peculiarity of reigning foundational conceptions of “the human” rooted in Renaissance and Enlightenment humanism and expressed in current multiculturalist alternatives. What emerges from this questioning is a generative, unruly sense of being/knowing/feeling existence.”

The Crow Whisperer

These stories of animal invasion—even the more menacing ones—were a balm, a necessary distraction from the horrors of the news. And yet something more profound seemed to be at stake. What if dive-bombing crows were not just a reflection of the pandemic’s disruption but a glimpse of a world where the boundaries between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom had blurred? As I began to imagine a post-pandemic world—one with a more equitable education system, health care for all, accessible public spaces, a less exploitative economy—I wondered whether there was also an opportunity to rethink the relationship between humans and the natural environment. After Adam and Dani told me about the crow whisperer, I considered whether she might be uniquely able to help me imagine what this new relationship could look like. At the very least, it would give me something to think about besides the plague.

The ancient fabric that no one knows how to make

Nearly 200 years ago, Dhaka muslin was the most valuable fabric on the planet. Then it was lost altogether. How did this happen? And can we bring it back?

Foundations of Cognitive Science
Get an entire course via YouTube by psychologist Michael Dawson

One example: Functional Analysis

The weird science of loneliness explains why lockdown sucked

Although the link between loneliness and poor health is well-established, scientists have only recently been able to take the first glimpses of what social isolation looks like in our brains. It’s a discovery that started with a failed experiment. As part of her PhD at Imperial College London, Gillian Matthews was trying to find out how drug addiction affected the connections between specific neurons in a part of the brain called the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN). Matthews divided the mice she was studying in two groups – one she injected with cocaine and the other with a saltwater solution – but no matter what she tried, she kept seeing that the DRN neuron connections were growing stronger in both groups of mice.

These new neural connections, Matthews realised, had little to do with drugs. Both groups of mice had been isolated for 24 hours before the start of the experiment. What Matthews was seeing was the effect that social isolation had on the brains she was studying. This accidental discovery opened up a new way of thinking about loneliness – if we could see the traces of social isolation in the brains of mice, it meant that loneliness didn’t just describe a state in the outside world, it could also point to something on the inside too.

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