Wednesday Round Up #49

The Challenges of Animal Translation: Artificial intelligence may help us decode animalese. But how much will we really be able to understand?

Magnasco doesn’t think that anyone has achieved a basic understanding of dolphish. “I’m not yet confident that I know what is the signal, what is the variation, what is the intention,” he said. “You need an extremely large body of data to do that, and it’s unclear that we have enough yet.” Still, there are hints that it might be possible. In 2013, Herzing and her team at the Wild Dolphin Project used a machine-learning algorithm called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT), designed to identify meaningful signals in dolphin whistles. The algorithm picked out a sound within a dolphin pod that the researchers had earlier trained the dolphins to associate with sargassum seaweed—a clumpy, floaty plant that dolphins sometimes play with. The dolphins may have assimilated the new “word,” and begun using it in the wild.

And yet, in an important sense, dolphish may be more than a language. Dolphins don’t just make whistles—they also employ body language and a variety of sounds, including clicks, which they use for sonar echolocation. From the acoustic reflections created by the clicks, a dolphin can form a mental picture of an object’s size, shape, and density. Dolphins can interpret one another’s sonar signals. “They are able to see shapes of things when they passively eavesdrop on someone else’s clicks,” Magnasco said. Using sound alone, they can see what another sees…

Britt Selvitelle, a computer scientist who worked on the team that created Twitter, is a founding member of the Earth Species Project, an organization founded in San Francisco that is developing A.I. approaches like this to animal communication. “We’re working on decoding the first nonhuman language,” he said, at the M.I.T. workshop—a goal that he thinks can be reached in five to ten years. In theory, a machine-learning system is particularly well suited to the problem of translating animalese. The loose correspondences between human and animal words and concepts may not matter to an A.I.; neither will the fact that animal ideas may be expressed not as vocalizations but as gestures, sequences of movements, or changes in skin texture. A neural network makes no assumptions about the nature of the input data; as long as there is some aspect of an animal’s behavioral repertoire that represents or expresses something that our languages can also express—a type of species, a warning, a spatial direction—then the algorithm has a chance of spotting it. “We’re really asking people to remove their human glasses, as much as possible,” Selvitelle said. One Earth Species Project collaboration, called Whale-X, aims to collect and analyze all communications among a pod of whales over an entire season.

2021 USF WLP Faculty Excellence Award Recipients
Heather O’Leary on her work on water, agency, and gender

Brain size and neuron numbers drive differences in yawn duration across mammals and birds

Recent studies indicate that yawning evolved as a brain cooling mechanism. Given that larger brains have greater thermolytic needs and brain temperature is determined in part by heat production from neuronal activity, it was hypothesized that animals with larger brains and more neurons would yawn longer to produce comparable cooling effects. To test this, we performed the largest study on yawning ever conducted, analyzing 1291 yawns from 101 species (55 mammals; 46 birds). Phylogenetically controlled analyses revealed robust positive correlations between yawn duration and (1) brain mass, (2) total neuron number, and (3) cortical/pallial neuron number in both mammals and birds, which cannot be attributed solely to allometric scaling rules. These relationships were similar across clades, though mammals exhibited considerably longer yawns than birds of comparable brain and body mass. These findings provide further evidence suggesting that yawning is a thermoregulatory adaptation that has been conserved across amniote evolution.

The Brain–Cognitive Behavior Problem: A Retrospective

In 2001, I was invited to write a review for a prominent journal. I thought that the best way to exploit this opportunity was to write an essay about my problems with ill-defined scientific terms and question whether the dominant framework in neuroscience is on the right track. My main argument was that many terms in neuroscience are inherited from folk psychology and are often used in two ambiguous ways: both as the thing-to-be-explained (explanandum) and the thing-that-explains (explanans; e.g., “we have memory because we remember,” “we remember because we have memory”). These postulated terms are assumed to be entities with definable boundaries, and within this framework, the goal of neuroscience is to find homes and mechanisms for these terms in the brain with corresponding boundaries (I called this “the correlational approach”). I warned that a framework dictated by human-centric introspection might not be the right roadmap for neuroscience and argued that there should be another way of carving up the brain’s “natural kinds.”

The Smartest Way To Get Lean In 2021 (Shredding Science Explained)
The first part on the “fat loss fundamentals” is solid. “You need to be in an energy deficit…”

In this video I’m asking 5 diet experts about the most effective science-based strategies for losing fat and keeping muscle.

The harmful ableist language you unknowingly use

This kind of ‘ableist’ language is omnipresent in conversation: making a “dumb” choice, turning a “blind eye” to a problem, acting “crazy”, calling a boss “psychopathic”, having a “bipolar” day. And, for the most part, people who utter these phrases aren’t intending to hurt anyone – more commonly, they don’t have any idea they’re engaging in anything hurtful at all.

However, for disabled people like me, these common words can be micro-assaults. For instance, “falling on deaf ears” provides evidence that most people associate deafness with wilful ignorance (even if they consciously may not). But much more than individual slights, expressions like these can do real, lasting harm to the people whom these words and phrases undermine – and even the people who use them in daily conversation, too…

No, You Are Not Addicted to Your Digital Device, But You May Have a Habit You Want to Break

It’s a mistake, however, to equate frequent social media use with addiction. Just the label carries stigma – a personal failing or pathology that has significant negative outcomes to the user and their family, such as lost jobs and destroyed relationships.

As researchers who study habits and social media use, we have found that excessive social media use can be a very strong habit. But that doesn’t make it an addiction.

Featured article: Yvan Prkachin on the origins of neuroscience

GREEN: Your essay focuses on brain science unification efforts at the Montreal Neurological Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Could you briefly describe what drew you to this history and your process for finding relevant archival sources?

PRKACHIN: I had, for quite some time, been fascinated by the character of Wilder Penfield, the neurosurgeon who launched the MNI in the 1930s. (I grew up in Canada, and Penfield was a fairly well-known historical figure among my generation, thanks largely to a series of “Heritage Minute” short films commissioned by the Canadian government in the 1990s.) When I began working on my Ph.D. at Harvard in 2012, I knew that I was interested in Penfield and his institute, but I wasn’t quite sure what was most historically relevant about it, or where to place it in the broader history of the modern biomedical sciences. I was lucky enough to get a small grant in 2014 and spent nearly a year in Montreal rummaging through Penfield’s papers, and those of his collaborators; the men and women who worked at the MNI seemed to throw almost nothing away, so the records at the Osler Library for the History of Medicine and the McGill University Archives are incredibly rich.

Hasson Lab: The Hasson Lab attempts to develop complementary paradigms to study the neural activity that drives human behavior under natural and realistic conditions.

Our research shows that during continuous natural input, memory of past events influences online cortical activity. We call this type of influence “process memory,” defined as active traces of past information that are used by a neural circuit to process incoming information in the present moment (Hasson et al., TiCS 2015). Neural processes are defined as dynamic changes of the underlying brain states necessary for synthesizing information to guide behavior. Process memory has a clear hierarchical organization, in which its timescales gradually increase from early sensory areas that integrate over tens to hundreds of milliseconds to higher-order areas that integrate over many seconds to minutes.

Project Ecosystem: Mapping the Global Mental Health Research Funding System

To support the coordination of mental health research, RAND Europe mapped the research funding ‘ecosystem’. Researchers explored who the major funders are, what kinds of research they support, and how their strategies relate to one another.

The field of mental health research is large and growing, and opportunities include increasing collaboration, developing shared definitions, capitalising on government priorities, developing a key role for non-governmental funders and the advance of technology.

Why should you love squirrels? Here are six reasons

2. They are nature’s gardeners.

Squirrels have an important ecological role, especially in forest ecosystems, McCleery said.

“Their biggest contribution to the forest is in shaping plant composition. They have a peculiar habit of taking seeds, which are their main source of nutrients, and burying them. They bury them throughout the environment, and often, when they go back and look for them, they forget where they are. When that happens, they are effectively planting seeds,” McCleery said.

Over time, this behavior, called caching, changes the composition of a forest.

“They will expand forests and change the types of trees that are there,” he said. In Florida, for example, they have an important role of maintaining the native long-leaf pine ecosystem, McCleery said.

How to Turn Off Harmful Stress Like a Switch
Written in a popular style, but covers some of the basics well. And I don’t personally like the switch metaphor, but it makes for a catchy title (that ends up being really misleading…)

A classic study of two rats (journal article by D.L Helmreich et al) reveals an important insight about the role control plays in the experience of stress. The two rats are in separate cages connected to the same electrical circuit. The circuit administers random shocks through the metal floor of their cage. One rat has a lever in its cage that enables it to turn off the shocks while the other rat does not.

The rat with the lever in its cage is called “the executive rat,” because it has control. It has the power to turn off the electric current flowing through the cage. The rat with no control is called the “subordinate rat.”

When the experiment begins, both the executive rat and the subordinate rat show signs of stress, indicated by a sudden surge of the stress hormone, cortisol. Then, something interesting happens. The executive rat’s stress levels drop back to normal, while the subordinate rat’s stress remains high. Why? In a word, control.

‘It’s a Superpower’: How Walking Makes Us Healthier, Happier and Brainier

We are wandering the streets of Dublin discussing O’Mara’s book, In Praise of Walking, a backstage tour of what happens in our brains while we perambulate. Our jaunt begins at the grand old gates of his workplace, Trinity College, and takes in the Irish famine memorial at St Stephen’s Green, the Georgian mile, the birthplace of Francis Bacon, the site of Facebook’s new European mega-HQ and the salubrious seaside dwellings of Sandymount.

O’Mara, 53, is in his element striding through urban landscapes – from epic hikes across London’s sprawl to more sedate ambles in Oxford, where he received his DPhil – and waxing lyrical about science, nature, architecture and literature. He favours what he calls a “motor-centric” view of the brain – that it evolved to support movement and, therefore, if we stop moving about, it won’t work as well.

Wednesday Round Up #48

mHealth Training Institute Lectures

Our healthcare challenges are very complex and do not fit neatly into existing scientific disciplines; solving them requires the combined expertise and efforts of many scientific and technical disciplines. The NIH mHealth Training Institute (mHTI) was created to serve as an incubator for developing transdisciplinary scientists capable of co-creating mHealth solutions for “wicked” healthcare problems.

As one earlier example, Lisa Marsch — Changing Behavior

Lisa Marsch, Ph.D., speaks at the mHealth Training Institute 2015 (mHTI) on “Changing Behavior.” Dr. Marsch is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director, Center for Technology and Behavioral Health at Dartmouth College.

There is also a MD2K Webinar series that is part of the Training Core of the MD2K Center. These webinars are part of the curriculum that MD2K is providing to students in both data science and the biomedical disciplines to further the process of building the next generation of scientists capable of using these highly sophisticated biomedical applications.

Immunoceptive inference: why are psychiatric disorders and immune responses intertwined?

There is a steadily growing literature on the role of the immune system in psychiatric disorders. So far, these advances have largely taken the form of correlations between specific aspects of inflammation (e.g. blood plasma levels of inflammatory markers, genetic mutations in immune pathways, viral or bacterial infection) with the development of neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression. A fundamental question remains open: why are psychiatric disorders and immune responses intertwined? To address this would require a step back from a historical mind–body dualism that has created such a dichotomy. We propose three contributions of active inference when addressing this question: translation, unification, and simulation.

To illustrate these contributions, we consider the following questions. Is there an immunological analogue of sensory attenuation? Is there a common generative model that the brain and immune system jointly optimise? Can the immune response and psychiatric illness both be explained in terms of self-organising systems responding to threatening stimuli in their external environment, whether those stimuli happen to be pathogens, predators, or people? Does false inference at an immunological level alter the message passing at a psychological level (or vice versa) through a principled exchange between the two systems?

The thalamus integrates the macrosystems of the brain to facilitate complex, adaptive brain network dynamics

The human brain is a complex, adaptive system comprised of billions of cells with trillions of connections. The interactions between the elements of the system oppose this seemingly limitless capacity by constraining the system’s dynamic repertoire, enforcing distributed neural states that balance integration and differentiation. How this trade-off is mediated by the brain, and how the emergent, distributed neural patterns give rise to cognition and awareness, remains poorly understood.

Here, I argue that the thalamus is well-placed to arbitrate the interactions between distributed neural assemblies in the cerebral cortex. Different classes of thalamocortical connections are hypothesized to promote either feed-forward or feedback processing modes in the cerebral
cortex. This activity can be conceptualized as emerging dynamically from an evolving attractor landscape, with the relative engagement of distinct distributed circuits providing differing constraints over the manner in which brain state trajectories change over time.
In addition, inputs to the distinct thalamic populations from the cerebellum and basal ganglia, respectively, are proposed to differentially shape the attractor landscape, and hence, the temporal evolution of cortical assemblies. The coordinated engagement of these neural macrosystems is then shown to share key characteristics with prominent models of cognition, attention and conscious awareness. In this way, the crucial role of the thalamus in mediating the distributed, multi-scale network organization of the central nervous system can be related to higher brain function.

Resynthesizing behavior through phylogenetic refinement

This article proposes that biologically plausible theories of behavior can be constructed by following a method of “phylogenetic refinement,” whereby they are progressively elaborated from simple to complex according to phylogenetic data on the sequence of changes that occurred over the course of evolution. It is argued that sufficient data exist to make this approach possible, and that the result can more effectively delineate the true biological categories of neurophysiological mechanisms than do approaches based on definitions of putative functions inherited from psychological traditions.

As an example, the approach is used to sketch a theoretical framework of how basic feedback control of interaction with the world was elaborated during vertebrate evolution, to give rise to the functional architecture of the mammalian brain. The results provide a conceptual taxonomy of mechanisms that naturally map to neurophysiological and neuroanatomical data and that offer a context for defining putative functions that, it is argued, are better grounded in biology than are some of the traditional concepts of cognitive science.

Why a Nepali doctor is treating the biology — and the sociology — behind mental illness

The focus on the brain in mental health research today is understandable. A person with a broken leg probably won’t hesitate to see a doctor, but the median time from first psychosis to psychiatric care in the U.S. is 74 weeks. Perhaps, the logic goes, a broken-brain model will shift responsibility from the person to the organ.

But there is no evidence that reframing mental illnesses as brain disorders reduces the associated stigma. Wherever doctors describe someone with a mental illness as having a chemical imbalance or abnormal brain circuitry, they provide reasons to fear that person. A German survey showed that the more people learned about the biology of mental illnesses, the more they reported a desire for social distance from people with a psychiatric diagnosis. A U.S. study showed that from 1996 to 2006, the American public increasingly saw mental illnesses as neurobiological, but this did not “significantly lower odds of stigma.”

Addiction as a brain disease revised: why it still matters, and the need for consilience

The view that substance addiction is a brain disease, although widely accepted in the neuroscience community, has become subject to acerbic criticism in recent years. These criticisms state that the brain disease view is deterministic, fails to account for heterogeneity in remission and recovery, places too much emphasis on a compulsive dimension of addiction, and that a specific neural signature of addiction has not been identified. We acknowledge that some of these criticisms have merit, but assert that the foundational premise that addiction has a neurobiological basis is fundamentally sound. We also emphasize that denying that addiction is a brain disease is a harmful standpoint since it contributes to reducing access to healthcare and treatment, the consequences of which are catastrophic.

Here, we therefore address these criticisms, and in doing so provide a contemporary update of the brain disease view of addiction. We provide arguments to support this view, discuss why apparently spontaneous remission does not negate it, and how seemingly compulsive behaviors can co-exist with the sensitivity to alternative reinforcement in addiction. Most importantly, we argue that the brain is the biological substrate from which both addiction and the capacity for behavior change arise, arguing for an intensified neuroscientific study of recovery. More broadly, we propose that these disagreements reveal the need for multidisciplinary research that integrates neuroscientific, behavioral, clinical, and sociocultural perspectives.

Proof of Concept for the Autobiographical Memory Flexibility (MemFlex) Intervention for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

It would be particularly interesting if training autobiographical memory processes more broadly could positively affect the trauma memory or associated posttraumatic appraisals without the individual ever discussing the trauma or its meaning or deliberately retrieving the trauma memory itself. That is, we were interested in whether improving the ability to retrieve concrete, specific details of all memories would flow on to increases in the (typically poor) visual and sensory quality and temporal features of a trauma memory. Because poor quality of a trauma memory is associated with poorer prognosis (Ehlers & Clark, 2000), intervention-driven improvement in trauma memory quality may represent one potential mechanism through which autobiographical memory-based training programs help to improve PTSD (Hitchcock et al., 2017; Moradi et al., 2014).

Likewise, training someone to flexibly move between specific events and generalized representations of the past may help to constrain overly generalized, negative beliefs (as suggested by the results of Hitchcock et al., 2017). Because the extrapolation of meaning attributed to the trauma (e.g., other people cannot be trusted, there is something wrong with me as a person) to the self and world more broadly is another strong predictor of prognosis, any effect of intervention on generalized posttraumatic appraisals could represent an alternate mechanism through which autobiographical memory-based training programs help to improve PTSD.

Morphological integration of the human brain across adolescence and adulthood

Brain structural covariance norms capture the coordination of neurodevelopmental programs between different brain regions. We develop and apply anatomical imbalance mapping (AIM), a method to measure and model individual deviations from these norms, to provide a lifespan map of morphological integration in the human cortex. In cross-sectional and longitudinal data, analysis of whole-brain average anatomical imbalance reveals a reproducible tightening of structural covariance by age 25 y, which loosens after the seventh decade of life. Anatomical imbalance change in development and in aging is greatest in the association cortex and least in the sensorimotor cortex. Finally, we show that interindividual variation in whole-brain average anatomical imbalance is positively correlated with a marker of human prenatal stress (birthweight disparity between monozygotic twins) and negatively correlated with general cognitive ability. This work provides methods and empirical insights to advance our understanding of coordinated anatomical organization of the human brain and its interindividual variation.

In Pursuit of Pleasure, Brain Learns to Hit the Repeat Button

The mice quickly learned which musical arrangement that, when played, caused a dopamine release and the feel-good sensation. Their brains then began to rewire themselves to play that song more often, thereby triggering the pleasure hit of dopamine.

“In essence, the mice learned to repeat the same pattern of brain activity that had been evoked previously by hearing those musical notes,” said Vivek Athalye, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley and the paper’s co-first author.

The researchers noted that these findings are a striking example of Thorndike’s Law — a long-held principle of psychology stating that actions that lead to positive reinforcement are repeated more frequently. However, these findings likely represent the first time that this principle has been directly observed in the brain.

“In some ways, these results are entirely expected,” said Dr. Costa. “It makes sense that the brain would mimic the feeling of reward it gets from an enjoyable experience by producing the corresponding pattern of neural activity. But it had never been tested.”

The placebo effect and psychedelic drugs: Tripping on nothing?

Participants, who were expecting to take part in a study of the effects of drugs on creativity, spent four hours together in a room that had been set up to resemble a psychedelic party, with paintings, coloured lights and a DJ. To make the context seem credible and hide the deception, the study also involved ten research assistants in white lab coats, psychiatrists, and a security guard.

The 33 participants had been told they were being given a drug which resembled the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms and that they would experience changes in consciousness over the 4-hour period. In reality, everyone consumed a placebo. Among the participants were several actors who had been trained to slowly act out the effects of the ostensible drug. The researchers thought that this would help convince the participants that everyone had consumed a psychedelic drug and might lead them to experience placebo effects.

An amygdala-to-hypothalamus circuit for social reward

Social interactions and relationships are often rewarding, but the neural mechanisms through which social interaction drives positive experience remain poorly understood. In this study, we developed an automated operant conditioning system to measure social reward in mice and found that adult mice of both sexes display robust reinforcement of social interaction. Through cell-type-specific manipulations, we identified a crucial role for GABAergic neurons in the medial amygdala (MeA) in promoting the positive reinforcement of social interaction. Moreover, MeA GABAergic neurons mediate social reinforcement behavior through their projections to the medial preoptic area (MPOA) and promote dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Finally, activation of this MeA-to-MPOA circuit can robustly overcome avoidance behavior. Together, these findings establish the MeA as a key node for regulating social reward in both sexes, providing new insights into the regulation of social reward beyond the classic mesolimbic reward system.

The joy of being animal

It might well be in the rallying of our own bodily resources that our greatest opportunities lie. When we reconsider all that we gain by being animals, we’re confronted by some powerful resources for positive change. Just think of the gobsmacking beauty of bonding. If you have a dog beside you as you read this, bend down, look into her eyes, and stroke her. Via the hypothalamus inside your body, oxytocin will get to work, and dopamine – organic chemicals implicated in animal bonding – and, before you know it, you’ll be feeling good, even in the dark times of a pandemic.

And, as it happens, so will your dog, who will experience a similar physical response to the bond between you both. Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus of all mammals. In other words, our bodies might well be our best and most effective tool in the effort to strike a new balance between humans and the rest of the living world. If we can tip ourselves more into a bonding frame of mind, we might find it easier to recognise the beauty and intelligence that we’re hellbent on destroying. By accepting that we’re animals too, we create the opportunity to think about how we might play to the strengths of our evolutionary legacies in ways that we all stand to gain from. If we can build a better relationship with our own reality and, indeed, a better relationship with other animals, we’ll be on the road to recovery.

How Pixar Uses Hyper-Colors to Hack Your Brain

Glynn taps on the control panel keyboard and calls up a scene from Inside Out where Joy and Sadness walk into the Realm of the Subconscious. Glynn hits Play; Joy and Sadness enter a dark room and see a forest of giant broccoli, lit from the side so it seems outlined in a bright green. They move to a red staircase headed down into infinity and then meet another character, the clownish imaginary friend Bing Bong, imprisoned in a cage of candy-colored balloons. “These are all basically as saturated a color as one can achieve in digital cinema today,” Glynn says.

Then he cues it up again, in super-high-end digital cinema fireworks, using everything the screen can give us. “They go through the doors, and you see the little long shot of them in the distance, then all of a sudden we kind of have everything.” The shot widens, and the camera heads toward the broccoli forest, but now the broccoli is laser-pointer green, glowing against the blackness.

The red archway around the staircase is the most vivid red I have ever seen, and when Joy and Sadness start walking down the stairs, the edges of the screen disappear. The room, the world, is nothing but black except for the stairs. The balloons of Bing Bong’s prison look unearthly, like a Jeff Koons dog with eldritch powers. “I want to say 60 percent of this frame is outside the gamut of traditional digital cinema,” Glynn says. “We have a version of this film that has been creatively approved and built for exhibition on televisions that don’t exist yet.”

Wednesday Round Up #47

Behavior needs neural variability

Human and non-human animal behavior is highly malleable and adapts successfully to internal and external demands. Such behavioral success stands in striking contrast to the apparent instability in neural activity (i.e., variability) from which it arises. Here, we summon the considerable evidence across scales, species, and imaging modalities that neural variability represents a key, undervalued dimension for understanding brain-behavior relationships at inter- and intra-individual levels. We believe that only by incorporating a specific focus on variability will the neural foundation of behavior be comprehensively understood.

Human biology is a matter of life or death: Effective science communication for COVID‐19 research

Making science relatable involves using real‐world examples and emotional appeal (Martinez‐Conde & Macknik, 2017). Cognitive sciences research suggests that human minds are adapted for learning more easily from a story than from, say, a report (Gottschall, 2012). The emotional upheaval of the pandemic is one of the most dominant themes of this crisis, making the emotional salience of the science of COVID‐19 an easy way to reach people as well as an important one. Developing a narrative of human biology research as it pertains to COVID‐19 provides a compelling story and relatable examples—two key components for effective science communication.

It is also critical to address uncertainty when sharing science stories. A common concern among non‐scientists is a lack of comfort with uncertainty (Funk, 2017).Uncertainty drives scientists to conduct research, but for non‐scientists uncertain situations are generally negative (eg, waiting on medical results or worrying about job security or ability to pay bills during a pandemic). Therefore, human biologists and other scientists need to be explicit and transparent about the importance of inductive research as preludes to deductive studies and the steps needed before findings can be applied for any greater good.

Algorithms of Oppression: Safiya Umoja Noble

Back in 2009, when Safiya Noble, a visiting professor, conducted a Google search using keywords “black girls,” “latina girls,” and “asian girls,” the first page of results were invariably linked to pornography.

About Race Podcast – Things Can Only Get Better

Simon: For over 20 years I’ve headed Operation Black Vote. I’m its director, one of the founders. Primarily we try to tackle persistent deep rooted institutional race inequality. Nothing changes unless we act, and we act as a caucus, as a powerful group. Politically, economically, socially, culturally and so our activities in terms of our communities is 1, voter registration, citizenship, political understanding; how the system works how we can effectively access it and the third element is nurturing talent to become leaders. MPs, councillors, school governors. 10 percent of all BME MPs are from Operation Black Vote.

The burgeoning reach of animal culture

Before the mid-20th century, it was generally assumed that culture, behavior learned from others, was specific to humans. However, starting with identification in a few species, evidence that animals can learn and transmit behaviors has accumulated at an ever-increasing pace. Today, there is no doubt that culture is widespread among animal species, both vertebrates and invertebrates, marine and terrestrial. Whiten reviews evidence for animal culture and elaborates on the wide array of forms that such culture takes. Recognizing that other species have complex and varied culture has implications for conservation and welfare and for understanding the evolution of this essential component of animal societies, including our own.

Adaptive Behavior journal, Special Issue on 4E cognition in the Lower Palaeolithic
Intro Abstract:

This essay introduces a special issue focused on 4E cognition (cognition as embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended) in the Lower Palaeolithic. In it, we review the typological and representational cognitive approaches that have dominated the past 50 years of paleoanthropology. These have assumed that all representations and computations take place only inside the head, which implies that the archaeological record can only be an “external” product or the behavioral trace of “internal” representational and computational processes. In comparison, the 4E approach helps us to overcome this dualist representational logic, allowing us to engage directly with the archaeological record as an integral part of the thinking process, and thus ground a more parsimonious cognitive archaeology. It also treats stone tools, the primary vestiges of hominin thinking, as active participants in mental life. The 4E approach offers a better grounding for understanding hominin technical expertise, a crucially important component of hominin cognitive evolution.

One Open-Access Paper:
Ergonomic clusters and displaced affordances in early lithic technology

Traditional typological, technical, and cognitive approaches to early stone tools have taken an implicit Cartesian stance concerning the nature of mind. In many cases, this has led to interpretations of early technology that overemphasize its human-like features. By eschewing an epistemic mediator, 4E approaches to cognition (embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended) are in a better position to make appropriate evaluations of early hominin technical cognition that emphasize its continuity with non-human primates and ground a description of the evolution of hominin technology. This essay takes some initial steps in that direction by shifting focus away from tool types and knapping patterns toward a description based on ergonomics and Gibsonian affordances. The analysis points to the evolutionary importance of two hitherto underappreciated aspects of hominin technical systems—the emergence of ergonomic clusters instantiated in artifact form and the development of displaced affordances.

The material difference in human cognition

Humans leverage material forms for unique cognitive purposes: We recruit and incorporate them into our cognitive system, exploit them to accumulate and distribute cognitive effort, and use them to recreate phenotypic change in new individuals and generations. These purposes are exemplified by writing, a relatively recent tool that has become highly adept at eliciting specific psychological and behavioral responses in its users, capability it achieved by changing in ways that facilitated, accumulated, and distributed incremental behavioral and psychological change between individuals and generations. Writing is described here as a self-organizing system whose design features reflect points of maximal usefulness that emerged under sustained collective use of the tool. Such self-organization may hold insights applicable to human cognitive evolution and tool use more generally. Accordingly, this article examines the emergence of the ability to leverage material forms for cognitive purposes, using the tool-using behaviors and lithic technologies of ancestral species and contemporary non-human primates as proxies for matters like collective use, generational sustainment, and the non-teleological emergence of design features.

Special Issue: “Embodied Belonging”

In this introduction, we propose the notion of ‘embodied belonging’ as a fruitful analytical heuristic for scholars in medical and psychological anthropology. We envision this notion to help us gain a more nuanced understanding of the entanglements of the political, social, and affective dimensions of belonging and their effects on health, illness, and healing. A focus on embodied belonging, we argue, reveals how displacement, exclusion, and marginalization cause existential and health-related ruptures in people’s lives and bodies, and how affected people, in the struggle for re/emplacement and re/integration, may regain health and sustain their well-being. Covering a variety of regional contexts (Germany/Vietnam, Norway, the UK, Japan), the contributions to this special issue examine how embodied non/belonging is experienced, re/imagined, negotiated, practiced, disrupted, contested, and achieved (or not) by their protagonists, who are excluded and marginalized in diverse ways. Each article highlights the intricate trajectories of how dynamics of non/belonging inscribe themselves in human bodies. They also reveal how belonging can be utilized and drawn on as a forceful means and resource of social resilience, if not (self-)therapy and healing.

The Myth of Modern Water
A presentation by Prof. Heather O’Leary and Prof. Christian Wells on April 22 (Earth Day).

The belief that household water is safe and universal in high-income countries is a product of “modern water”—a set of neoliberal ideas, discourses, and practices associated with Western scientific models of water management that imagines water as clean, safe, trustworthy, affordable, and uniformly governed.

Yet, the reality for many marginalized communities in the U.S. is quite the opposite, where modern water often (re)produces infrastructural violence, or the ways in which infrastructures constitute the material channels for structural violence while materializing power relations.

A West African Window Into Human Evolution

What is clear is that the long-held simple unilinear model of cultural change toward “modernity” is not supported by the evidence. Groups of hunter-gatherers embedded in radically different technological traditions may have occupied neighboring regions of Africa for thousands of years, and sometimes shared the same regions. Long isolated regions, on the other hand, may have been important reservoirs of cultural and genetic diversity. This matches genetic studies and may have been a defining factor in the success of our species. Our findings are a reminder of the dangers of ignoring gaps on the map.

How hard is cognitive science?

Cognitive science is itself a cognitive activity. Yet, computational cognitive science tools are seldom used to study (limits of) cognitive scientists’ thinking. Here, we do so using computational-level modeling and complexity analysis. We present an idealized formal model of a core inference problem faced by cognitive scientists: Given observations of a system’s behaviors, infer cognitive processes that could plausibly produce the behavior. We consider variants of this problem at different levels of explanation and prove that at each level, the inference problem is intractable, or even uncomputable. We discuss the implications for cognitive science.

Homo Erectus – The First Humans

Wednesday Round Up #46

The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter
PDF of an article/interview. Here is a description:
“Sylvia Wynter is a radical Jamaican theorist influenced, among others, by Frantz Fanon. This well known interview is often considered to be the best introduction to her thinking about the question of human in the aftermath of 1492 and the consequent racialisation of humanity.

Wynter rethinks dominant concepts of being human, arguing that they are based on a colonial and racialized model that divides the world into asymmetric categories such as “the selected and the dysselected”, center and periphery, or colonizers and colonized. Against this Wynter proposes a new humanism. According to Katherine McKittrick Wynter develops a “counterhumanism”, that breaks from the classification of humans in static, asymmetric categories.”

The Two Skill Acquisition Approaches: Key Differences

Information processing model vs Ecological/Constraint approach, with a focus on the implications the two approaches have for coaching and training.

Resisting Psychiatric Temporalities in “Post-Conflict” Colombia

Under these grim conditions and in response to their stigmatization by a large sector of society that continues to reduce them to remorseless criminals, many FARC ex-combatants have left the camps where they had initially planned to stay. Their relationship with other ex-combatants, which once constituted their primary support network throughout years of conflict, has now deteriorated. Additionally, they also face deep divisions within their political party that the FARC established in August 2017, leaving many without a political home. It is in this context that feelings of social isolation, frustration, fear, and hopelessness have become endemic among former guerrillas.

What has happened to the collective spirit that was supposed to facilitate ex-combatants’ transition and their political participation under democratic conditions? Psychiatric categories such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) do not adequately make sense of and address the mental life of former guerrillas, who now face an acute loss of social connections. More worryingly, these static medical categories are unable to capture the oscillating temporalities between war and peace that characterize Colombia’s present.

How the Human Brain Stays Young Even As We Age

Yes, dementia affects about 5.6% of the world’s population, a share that includes the devastating burden of Alzheimer’s disease. But in normal aging, even as parts of the brain shrink and neurons lose connection with each other, those changes only have a minor effect on our daily lives. It may be frustrating to forget where you put your keys, but you can still learn that you’re prone to forgetting them, and pick up the habit of writing notes for yourself.

For adults who remain neurologically healthy into their later years, the brain constantly adapts and even thrives under new conditions. But how it pulls it off is a mystery scientists are still trying to solve. The hope is that if researchers can understand how healthy brains stay resilient, they can identify what’s happening when these systems fail—often, leading to dementia. 

Capitalism is not nature

But if the contemporary capitalist market system is so inequitable and flawed, why is it the dominant global pattern? Partially because humanity has been fed a myth that contemporary economies emerged as a necessary reality of the world. And that myth is a lie.  

Much of what we think of as “economics” is really about exchange. The sociologist Marcel Mauss reminded us that the exchange of objects builds relationships between human groups. For most of human history such exchanges were not seen as ‘economic’ with values being assessed and monitored. Rather, reciprocal giving of gifts was a social act. The anthropologist David Graeber, reviewing huge amounts of ethnographic and historical evidence, shows that many (or even most) human exchanges are not seen as an economic relationships but as a way to connect, without specifically accounting the goods’ value or seeing the interaction as a transaction with costs and benefits. Sharing and the exchange of materials between individuals and groups is a central feature of human social life. In most cases of such exchange, strict reciprocity is not expected. For most of human history, exchange created relationships and enabled social trust and mutual entanglement.

Okay, I’ve got more stuff I could add, but I am frustrated with WordPress’ new block editor – taking me too long to create this post… So I’ve got to learn more how it works and see if I can get more efficient. Enjoy what I was able to get done, and I’ve got to get back to all the end of semester stuff.

Wednesday Round Up #45

Adding is favoured over subtracting in problem solving

Consider the Lego structure depicted in Figure 1, in which a figurine is placed under a roof supported by a single pillar at one corner. How would you change this structure so that you could put a masonry brick on top of it without crushing the figurine, bearing in mind that each block added costs 10 cents? If you are like most participants in a study reported by Adams et al.1 in Nature, you would add pillars to better support the roof. But a simpler (and cheaper) solution would be to remove the existing pillar, and let the roof simply rest on the base. Across a series of similar experiments, the authors observe that people consistently consider changes that add components over those that subtract them — a tendency that has broad implications for everyday decision-making…

Adams et al. demonstrated that the reason their participants offered so few subtractive solutions is not because they didn’t recognize the value of those solutions, but because they failed to consider them. Indeed, when instructions explicitly mentioned the possibility of subtractive solutions, or when participants had more opportunity to think or practise, the likelihood of offering subtractive solutions increased. It thus seems that people are prone to apply a ‘what can we add here?’ heuristic (a default strategy to simplify and speed up decision-making). This heuristic can be overcome by exerting extra cognitive effort to consider other, less-intuitive solutions…

These perceived disadvantages of subtractive solutions might encourage people to routinely seek out additive ones. This is consistent with Adams and colleagues’ suggestion that frequent previous exposure to additive solutions has made them more cognitively accessible, and thus more likely to be considered. However, in addition, we posit that previous experience could lead people to assume that they are actually expected to add rather than subtract. As a result, the study’s participants might be generalizing from past experiences and instinctively assume that they should add features, only revisiting this assumption after further reflection or explicit prompting. Similarly, members of a university community might implicitly assume that the incoming president wants them to formulate new initiatives, not criticize existing ones.

Less is more: Why our brains struggle to subtract

The enigmatic origins of the human brain

After his observations of brain imprints preserved in fossil cranial specimens from Olduvai (Tanzania) (2), paleoanthropologist Phillip V. Tobias stated that “hominid evolution attained a new level of organization…with the emergence of the genus Homo.” There have since been debates on whether humanlike brain organization emerged concomitantly with the appearance of the genus Homo. On page 165 of this issue, Ponce de León et al. (3) challenge this view by suggesting that Homo in Dmanisi (foothills of the Georgian Caucasus) 1.85 to 1.77 million years (Ma) ago showed a primitive organization of the brain.

A Great Tree Has Fallen: The Passing of Marshall Sahlins

His 1972 book, Stone Age Economics, established him as one of American anthropology’s most significant theorists; he argued that hunter-gatherers were not some primitive undeveloped representation of human potential but were in fact the original affluent society. Sahlins challenged anthropologists who used western economic models to study nonmarket economies, eventually insisting that materialism was nothing but a form of idealism. In the years that followed he wrote books cutting through the codes of history, culture, kinship, and mythos, frequently revealing culture at the core of what was otherwise was conceived in some other way; all this presented with frequent surges of brilliance.

Marshall Sahlins greatest political contribution grew from his anti-war activism during the Vietnam War. Concerned about the lies being propagated by the US government, in 1965 he traveled on his own to Vietnam and used his ethnographic sensibilities to see what he could learn firsthand. His trip cumulated in his seminal political essay “The Destruction of Conscience in Vietnam.” His political opposition to the war and academic critiques led him to establish the first anti-war teach-in, held on the University of Michigan campus in March 1965. In the months that followed, hundreds of similar teach-ins on college campuses sprung up across the US, and this rapidly became an important tool for mobilizing American campuses against the war.

Emotion and Prediction Online Workshop

Recently, a possible unifying account of cognition (and perhaps emotion) has begun to emerge within computational neuroscience. According to the so-called predictive processing framework the brain is constantly attempting to minimize the discrepancy between its sensory expectations and its actual incoming sensory signals. This framework offers an architecture in which distinct functions can be explained at their different time-scales by the same computational principles, and where distinct theories can find a common language, which brings fruitful modelling advantages. As such it is quickly becoming an attractive way of carrying out theoretical and experimental research in cognitive science.

More recently this framework has most recently begun to serve as the architectural basis for an exciting and very promising new account of feelings, emotions and moods. This workshop will bring together philosophers and cognitive scientists working on predictive processing and emotion in order to promote an interdisciplinary dialogue about the nature of emotion in predictive system like us.

You can access all the videos from the Emotion and Prediction workshop here.

Watch, for example, Emotion as Interoceptive Active Inference:

The problem with prediction

Almost 400 years ago, with the dictum ‘I think, therefore I am,’ René Descartes claimed that cognition was the foundation of the human condition. Today, prediction has taken its place. As the cognitive scientist Anil Seth put it: ‘I predict (myself) therefore I am.’

Somehow, the logic we find animating our bodies is the same one transforming our body politic. The prediction engine – the conceptual tool used by today’s leading brain scientists to understand the deepest essence of our humanity – is also the one wielded by today’s most powerful corporations and governments. How did this happen and what does it mean? …

The strength of this association between predictive economics and brain sciences matters, because – if we aren’t careful – it can encourage us to reduce our fellow humans to mere pieces of machinery. Our brains were never computer processors, as useful as it might have been to imagine them that way every now and then. Nor are they literally prediction engines now and, should it come to pass, they will not be quantum computers. Our bodies aren’t empires that shuttle around sentrymen, nor are they corporations that need to make good on their investments. We aren’t fundamentally consumers to be tricked, enemies to be tracked, or subjects to be predicted and controlled. Whether the arena be scientific research or corporate intelligence, it becomes all too easy for us to slip into adversarial and exploitative framings of the human; as Galison wrote, ‘the associations of cybernetics (and the cyborg) with weapons, oppositional tactics, and the black-box conception of human nature do not so simply melt away.’

How we see ourselves matters. As the feminist scholar Donna Haraway explained, science and technology are ‘human achievements in interaction with the world. But the construction of a natural economy according to capitalist relations, and its appropriation for purposes of reproducing domination, is deep.’ Human beings aren’t pieces of technology, no matter how sophisticated. But by talking about ourselves as such, we acquiesce to the corporations and governments that decide to treat us this way.

Ian Fleming Explains How to Write a Thriller

It must surely be more stimulating to the reader’s senses if, instead of writing “He made a hurried meal off the Plat du Jour—excellent cottage pie and vegetables, followed by home-made trifle” (I think this is a fair English menu without burlesque) you write “Being instinctively mistrustful of all Plats du Jour, he ordered four fried eggs cooked on both sides, hot buttered toast and a large cup of black coffee.” No difference in price here, but the following points should be noted: firstly, we all prefer breakfast foods to the sort of food one usually gets at luncheon and dinner; secondly, this is an independent character who knows what he wants and gets it; thirdly, four fried eggs has the sound of a real man’s meal and, in our imagination, a large cup of black coffee sits well on our taste buds after the rich, buttery sound of the fried eggs and the hot buttered toast.

Brain wifi: Instead of a code encrypted in the wiring of our neurons, could consciousness reside in the brain’s electromagnetic field?

Watching those wiggly lines march across the EEG screen gave me the germ of a different idea, something that didn’t boil down to pure neuronal computation or information-processing. Every time a neuron fires, along with the matter-based signal that travels down its wire-like nerve fibre, it also projects a tiny electromagnetic (EM) pulse into the surrounding space, rather like the signal from your phone when you send a text. So when my son heard the door close, as well as triggering the firing of billions of nerves, its slamming would have projected billions of tiny pulses of electromagnetic energy into his brain. These pulses flow into each other to generate a kind of pool of EM energy that’s called an electromagnetic field – something that neurobiologists have neglected when probing the nature of consciousness…

The unity of EM fields is apparent whenever you use wifi. Perhaps you’re streaming a radio documentary about Katumuwa’s stele on your phone while another family member is watching a movie, and another is listening to streamed music. Remarkably, all this information, whether movies, pictures, messages or music, is instantly available to be downloaded from any point in the vicinity of your router. This is because – unlike the information encoded in discrete units of matter such as computer gates or neurons – EM field information is encoded as immaterial waves that travel at the speed of light from their source to their receiver. Between source and receiver, all those waves encoding different messages overlap and intermingle to become a single EM field of physically bound information with as much unity as a single photon or electron, and which can be downloaded from any point in the field. The field, and everything encoded in it, is everywhere. While watching my son’s EEG marching across the screen, I wondered what it was like to be his brain’s EM field pulsing with physically bound information correlating with all of his sense perceptions. I guessed it would feel a lot like him.

What The Past Three Months Have Been Like For QAnon Believers

Q seems to have disappeared for now. Whoever they are, they’ve largely abandoned their base after riling them up for years — and have not posted new “Q drops” since 2020. But the people who believe in Q are wrestling with whether to keep on believing or to abandon a cause that, for some, became core to their identities. Some might be deprogramming themselves, while others are cherry-picking the parts of the movement they want to hold on to. But the people I spoke to say their feelings have changed drastically from when they were following the inauguration to when Biden’s stimulus checks were being sent out. Vanderbilt has been using the weeks after QAnon’s disintegration to read more, learn more, talk to more people, and question absolutely everything she’s ever known. “It’s kind of a little bit of a do-over,” she said after the inauguration. “I’m going to learn the world again.”

Making sense of conspiracy theorists as the world gets more bizarre

But there was something that the mainstream media, in its hubris, failed to notice about David Icke: a growing number of people were feeling more aligned to him than to his tormentors. These were people who also, for their own reasons, felt ridiculed and shut out of the culture. And so when Icke re-emerged with his paedophile lizard theory he immediately began selling out concert halls across the world. It was an incredibly surprising and, I suspect, spiteful story born from injury: conspiracy theory as grievance storytelling. And it was a dangerous theory, with its appeals to paranoia and delusion.

When sceptics are asked to explain why people succumb to conspiracy theories, they tend to say they offer a strange comfort – they allow people to make sense of a chaotic world. But I think there’s another, more often ignored reason. You get renaissances of conspiracy theories when the powerful behave in conspiratorial ways. The mystery is why the theorists are never happy with the actual evidence, and instead behave like amateur sleuths inside some magical parallel world where metaphors are facts. In that world, the deaths at David Koresh’s church in Waco were caused not by government overreach but by the Illuminati’s Satanic desire for blood sacrifice. Why they invariably slap a layer of fiction on top of an already fascinating truth had long been a puzzle to me, and to many others, too: a question I’ve been asked over and over is whether I think Alex Jones knows he’s lying when he tells his millions of listeners that, for instance, the Sandy Hook school shootings were “a giant hoax”…

At first, I felt sad for him, wondering if he was embarrassed that a thing like that had come out in court. But I kept thinking about it and, honestly, it answers a lot of questions. High-scoring narcissists are prone to paranoia and black-and-white thinking. Through their eyes everyone is either wonderful or else they’re the enemy. (Often the wonderful person commits some minor transgression and instantly becomes the enemy; if you’ve been close to a narcissist you’ll probably recognise that “love-bomb, devalue, discard” relationship arc.) And narcissists need to feel like they’re the smartest person in the room – hence, I suspect, their reaching for conspiracy theories with their obnoxiously counterintuitive, superficially complex worldviews.

With David Icke and Alex Jones the movement had found its stars. So now all it needed was a better distribution system. Unfortunately the one it got turned out to massively exacerbate our proclivity for paranoia and black-and-white thinking – social media algorithms.

Biocultural strategies among herders for coping with a cold, rapidly changing environment

Check out this online poster – it comes across as a combination of powerpoint, Prezi, and conference poster, optimized for presentation at an online event. And a fun topic too!

How We Record Audio At The Tiny Desk
Accessible overview of how the recordings at Tiny Desk turn out amazing, with a focus on how the music gets captured through the effective use of mics.

How Fit Can You Get From Just Walking?

“I think walking is probably the single most underutilized tool in health and wellness,” says nutrition coach and personal trainer Jeremy Fernandes. According to Fernandes, the reason we rarely hear about walking as a major fitness tool—in the same conversations as stuff like yoga or expensive spinning bikes—is that people aren’t emotionally prepared for fitness to be easy. “Most people want to believe that working out and fat loss needs to be hard. If you need impossibly crushing workouts to get in better shape, then you’re not responsible when you fail,” he says. “But a basic program performed consistently—even a half-assed effort done consistently—can bring you a really long way, much further than going hardcore once in a while.”

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.