Thursday, February 28, 2013

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a racist

Yes, it's a bold claim. So what's the evidence? Per Rachel Maddow's usual fine reporting I learned Scalia said that the Voting Rights Act, which is now before the Supreme Court, is some kind of "racial entitlement." People in the Court actually gasped and for good reason. The right of a black person to vote is an entitlement? I thought the right to vote was a right for everyone, not some special entitlement. So let's follow Maddow's historical journey on why the Act was created.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Did you hear about the new movie?

It's called GI Joe: Not Ready for Battle starring Sequester Stallone. Opening this Friday in a theater of operations near you.

Lakoff on why ultra-conservatives like the sequester

Here's why he thinks so, mixed with my take. They actually believe the Ayn Rand bullshit that succeeding is a rat race and the best (white) man (not woman) wins in some Darwinian jungle of the fittest. It is their moral belief that this is right and true, that everyone is responsible for themselves and if they have trouble well then damn it it's their own damned fault. So don't help them out; let the suffer and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. If they don't then they should die to make room for those fit enough for survival.

Congressional Progressive Caucus losing its nerve?

I signed Alan Grayson's petition for no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, and posted a link for it on the blog. But according to this story 75% of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) have yet to sign a letter pledging not to cut these vital programs. What's up with that? The list of the cowards is here. I've championed the CPC as an example of how true progressives represent the people and not special interests. But on this one there is no excuse. Please consider contacting these deadbeats if they represent you and let them know your opinion. Thanks.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

More on Gazzaniga

A few comments on the last post, then some new information. He is making a clear distinction between brains and minds. Brains are determined, people with minds are not, at least completely. This is in part because the mind is emergent and exerts downward causation on the brain and body. While constrained by the body and brain it is not reducible to it, i.e., the parts cannot fully explain the whole, which has emergent properties. Yes, there is still upward causation but there is also downward causation. Hence he thinks causation, still very much alive, goes both ways and it is in trying to see how so that is his main concern.

Michael Gazzaniga on consciousness, top-down causation, responsibility

Some excerpts from this article:

Quoting The Ethical Brain: "Should we abandon the concept of personal responsibility? I don't think so. We need to distinguish among brains, minds, and personhood. People are free and therefore responsible for their actions; brains are not responsible" (pp.88-89).

On his latest book, Who's In Charge: "Michael Gazzaniga reviews the extraordinary discoveries of neuroscience that explain the mind as something embodied in the brain, but also as software to the brain’s hardware, a kind of abstract non-physical information that is nevertheless capable of exerting 'downward causation' on the physical world. We live in a determined universe, he says, and the mind is not free from the causal laws of nature. But he finds the kind of freedom needed for moral responsibility is not some indeterminism inside the brain but in our social interactions.

Monday, February 25, 2013

How awareness changes...human decision making

Stanislas Dehaene was one of the researchers in the paper "How awareness changes the relative weights of evidence during human decision-making." Excerpts of the abstract follow:

"Human decisions are based on accumulating evidence over time for different options. Here we ask a simple question: How is the accumulation of evidence affected by the level of awareness of the information?... Our results indicate that the level of awareness of information changes decision-making: while accumulation of evidence already exists under low visibility conditions, high visibility allows evidence to be accumulated up to a higher level, leading to important strategical top-down changes in decision-making. Our results therefore suggest a potential role of awareness in deploying flexible strategies for biasing information acquisition in line with one’s expectations and goals."

And from the discussion:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Colbert on the "Friends of Hamas" hoax

Colbert exposes yet another regressive fantasy, of which there have been many, and will no doubt continue to be. Just the latest hoax in a never-ending cavalcade is that Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel is associated with the terrorist organization "Friends of Hamas." The story "broke" at and quickly spread throughout the regressive echo chamber like a wildfire during last summer's hottest on record due to climate change. Or to a regressive, just a bit warmer due to natural cycles or sun spots or perhaps even God Almighty punishing us for allowing them queer folk to marry. Anyway...

Aufhebung and Differance, or what difference does differance make?

Earlier in the OOO thread in this post Balder responded to my statement “Differance does not include ontotheology but rather refutes it” with this Derrida quote:

"Différance is not only irreducible to any ontological or theological--ontotheological-- reappropriation, but as the very opening of the space in which ontotheology--philosophy--produces its system and its history, it includes ontotheology, inscribing it and exceeding it without return." (Derrida, "Différance," Margins of Philosophy, p.6.)

In my research today on Derrida's response to Hegel's dialectic I came upon this book made available electronically, Hegel After Derrida (Taylor and Francis, 2001). Chapter 10 is of relevance here, “Hegelian Dialectic and the Quasi-Transcendental in Glas” by Kevin Thompson, starting at p. 239. An excerpt relevant to Balder's quote with initial commentary follows.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Norris on Badiou on Derrida

Along the lines of  the the last post and its referenced thread (intra- and intertext intertwining...), I just read an article by Christopher Norris in the Speculations III, “Diagonals: Truth procedures in Derrida and Badiou.” Therein he explores Badiou's reading of Derrida, and how they are akin yet different. A few excerpts follow of relevance to the referenced discussion above.

“Badiou exempts Derrida from his otherwise sweeping condemnation of the linguistic turn in its sundry current guises as merely an update on old sophistical or cultural-relativist themes.... What is crucially different about Derrida’s commentaries on canonical texts from Plato to Husserl is his relentless teasing-out of aporetic or contradictory chains of logical implication” (157).

“Badiou is attracted not only by the rigour of Derrida’s work but its quest for alternative, less sharply polarised terms of address or some means to shift argumentative ground from a downright clash of contradictory logics (within the text or amongst its commentators) to a 'space of flight,' as Badiou describes it, beyond all those vexing antinomies” (158).

Recalling real and false reason

In re-reading yet again this fine IPS thread ("real and false reason") I was struck today by this post on Badiou's version of mathematical set theory, reminding me of Byrant's withdrawn.

"As the name implies, a subtractive ontology is to be distinguished from a discourse which pretends to convey being as something present and substantial, something accessible to a sort of direct experience or articulation. By subtractive ontology Badiou means a discourse which accepts that its referent is not accessible in this sense. As Badiou conceives it, being is not something that shows itself in a sort of primordial revelation; still less is it the object of some divine or quasi-divine act of creation.... The ontologist knows that the ground of being eludes direct articulation, that it is thinkable only as the non-being upon which pivots the whole discourse on mathematical set theory (the theory of consistent multiplicity) the ultimate ‘stuff’ presumed and manipulated by the theory is itself, as we shall see in a moment, inconsistent – it can be presented only as no-thing. In other words, ontology does not speak being or participate in its revelation; it articulates, on the basis of a conceptual framework indifferent to poetry or intuition, the precise way in which being is withdrawn or subtracted from articulation."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Petition for no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security

I'm forwarding the following from Representative Alan Grayson. Please consider signing the petition, since we should be cutting tax breaks for the rich and corporations, as well as oil subsidies and war machines instead of reaming the poor and middle class. Quote:

Right-wingers bent on cheating us out of our Social Security and Medicare benefits - are they mean or stupid?

Mean?  Because they prey on the most vulnerable among us?

Or stupid?  Because they think that since we might have to cut Social Security benefits slightly, 25 years from now, “therefore” we should cut them right now? Mean or stupid?  Sometimes it's hard to tell.  But right now, as we're negotiating the budget, Tea Party Republicans are trying to force cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. That's mean. But it's also stupid.

Either way, my answer is as follows:  NO.

It's such a simple word that even Tea Party Republicans understand it.


No cuts, no compromises, and no cruelty. Not on my watch. These are our benefits; we've paid for them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Borromean Resistance

Bryant's new blog post on Borromean Critical Theory is a further development of his attempt to integrate the 'value spheres,' in Habermasian terms. Seems like Wilber in that each domain has its own paradigmatic methodology which enacts its contents. And yet the integral part is seeing how these domains interact and influence each other.

"Each has their place and there are things that can only be discovered through these three reductions.    Ultimately, however, the aim is to thematize how these three orders interact and influence one another, so as to better understand the dynamics of power and to better develop strategies of resistance."

Regressives are lying about the sequester

Ed Schultz exposes the regressive lie that the sequester was purely Obama's idea. Damn these bastards take to lying so naturally. Round and round the lie goes throughout the regressive echo chamber, as if just by repetition it will stick. One thing we learned in the last election about framing is that it is necessary and important, but if it's based on lies and those lies are exposed then no amount of framing can help. So let's expose this particular lie.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The intentional lies that got us into the Iraq War

Rachel Maddow did some fine reporting Monday night on this topic. She based her broadcast on the book Hubris by Michael Isakoff and David Corn. The videos to the show are at this link. Maddow is typically outstanding but this time she outdoes herself; this is one for the books. The show is broken down into 6 segments of about 10 minutes, so if you don't have a one-hour block check this out in increments. It is well worth your time and you're learn a lot that you just won't read or hear from lamestream media sources. For example:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rafael Nunez and embodied mathematics

Nunez was co-author with Lakoff of Where Mathematics Comes From. Here is a site with his publications including books, book chapters and articles. Therein one can download the Preface, Introduction, Table of Contents and first four chapters of WMCF. From the Preface about the romance of mathematics, which they then meticulously debunk. Quote:

Obama reams regressives over sequester

And rightly so. He went down the list of what actually happens if the sequester happens per this article: "hurt military readiness, slash investments in energy and medical research, result in thousands of teacher layoffs, and degrade the ability of emergency responders to respond to disasters." And much, much more. So they need to make a deal. But the regressives absolutely refuse to cup tax loopholes for corporations or the wealthy. Instead, per the President, "the burden is all on first responders or seniors or middle-class families. They double down, in fact, on the harsh, harmful cuts that I’ve outlined."

Monday, February 18, 2013

Evan Thompson's "Dreamless sleep, the embodied mind and consciousness"

At Thompson's homepage there is a link to some of his selected articles, one of which is a condensed version of what will be in his forthcoming book, Waking, Dreaming, Being: New Light on the Self and Consciousness from Neuroscience, Meditation and Philosophy (link). The article is "Dreamless sleep, the embodied mind and consciousness: The relevance of a classical Indian debate to cognitive science" (link). The abstract follows with my commentary.

"One of the issues debated between the Advaita Vedānta and Nyāya schools in classical Indian philosophy is whether consciousness is present in dreamless sleep. Advaita Vedānta argues that the waking report 'I slept well' is a memory report and hence requires previous experience, whereas Nyāya argues that the report expresses a retrospective inference. Consideration of this debate, especially the reasoning Advaita Vedānta uses to try to rebut the Nyāya view, calls into question the standard neuroscience way of operationally defining consciousness as that which disappears in dreamless sleep and reappears when we wake up or dream. The Indian debate also offers new resources for contemporary philosophical concern with the relationship between phenomenal consciousness (subjective experience) and access consciousness (accessibility to working memory and verbal report). At the same time, findings from cognitive neuroscience have important implications for the Indian debates about cognition during sleep, as well as for Indian and Western philosophical discussions of the nature of the self and its relation to the body. Finally, considerations about sleep drawn from Advaita Vedānta, as well as the Yoga school and Indo-Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, suggest new experimental questions and protocols for the cognitive neuroscience of sleep and consciousness."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Progressive caucus introduces the Balancing Act

Remember how the progressive caucus (PC) of Congress introduced a budget* that even had a vote, and yet regressives still deny that Democrats have ever introduced a budget? So now the PC has introduced a solution called The Balancing Act instead of the draconian sequester cuts coming up. It is as usual a fair and balanced approach and for that very reason will not proceed. And again the regressives will say the Democrats have offered nothing and again they will be lying. The only way to counteract their lies is by presenting the facts, so check out the Act, support it, make folks aware of it, and just maybe some of these good ideas will be picked up.

* See their new budget here.

Lakoff on Obama's SOTU framing

Lakoff sees how Obama has turned around public opinion after he finally got the message about proper framing. He looks at the SOTU speech and a fine example of effective rhetoric based on transparency and authenticity geared to policies for the public good. At root of the speech was empathy: "Americans caring for one another and taking responsibility for one another as well as themselves. He spoke overtly about how private success depends on public provisions." The frame overrides the specious Ayn Randian notion that we're all in it for ourselves, and that somehow 'enlightened self interest' is for the public good.

Elizabeth Warren off to a great start

Much to their chagrin and after much lobbying against, freshman Senator Warren was appointed to the banking committee. And after participating in her first committee hearing we can see why. She asked a simple question of banking regulators: "When was the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial?" And not one of them could answer the question. It was as if they were not used to such questions. Because they weren't. To date no one has dared to ask such a simple yet key question, for knowing the answer the legislators didn't want to embarrass not only their benefactors but themselves.

Realist Magic

Tim Morton's new book is out, Realist Magic. I'm just starting to read it so some initial thoughts below.

There is a search function for this e-version. I was surprised and dismayed that there is not one mention of 'hyperobjects' in the entire text. I started reading the Intro and it's a tough read for me due to my prior complaints about his lofty and affected 'literary' style. So I skipped to the first chapter and it is easier going but far from easy for me. It seems he is trying to make the book an expression of his content, a work of art about art. And that's fine. Perhaps it's just that I'm not attracted to his art. With art I know when I'm attracted or not but I don't necessarily know why or how. And his style just doesn't do it for me.

I still appreciate some of the ideas in a general sense though. As but one example, the mereology without a top or bottom that I included in real/false reason. Except that he also doesn't find a middle and that's where image schemas and basic categories come in for cognitive linguistics, being in the middle of hierarchies without top or bottom and grounding or 'embodying' them. (I.e., basing them on 'objects,' as Morton might say?) Granted that doesn't seem to be like the 'middle' to which he refers:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mele was right, presaged Schurger et al's confirmation

In looking over Mele's response to Libet's work in Conscious Will and Responsibility (23-33), he wonders what happens in that 300 ms during the onset of the readiness potential (RP I) before the activation of the motor response to move (RP II). Is RP I a reliable predictor of the movement? As of his writing it was not known (27) but he guessed not. And guess what? That is exactly what Schurger et al. explored. Recall from their paper they differentiated the onset of the RP (RP I) with the neural decision to move (RP II). This gap is the very basis for the whole specious argument against conscious intent to move. But not only does RP II coincide with the awareness of intention to move, RP I's causal role is incidental to the movement. How can this not be any clearer unless you have serious confirmation bias? Unless of course Schurger et al are the ones with confirmation bias and designed their experiment to prove it? Uh huh... They said:

Friday, February 15, 2013

2 new scientific studies on liberal and conservative brains

Chris Mooney reports on this story in Mother Jones. One study noted our predisposition for fear is genetically influenced. If we have the fear gene we're much more likely to be conservative politically and "less tolerant of immigrants and people of races different from their own." One of the researchers noted though that genetics is not destiny, and environment plays a part as well.

Which brings us to the second study on gambling risk and fear. Here Republicans were activating their amygdala, our threat response system. Democrats however "were using the insula, involved in internal monitoring of one's feelings." Note that in terms of recent prior posts the amygdala is more a zombie program and the insula is associated more with conscious control.

How to redress zombie confirmation bias per Tavris & Aronson

Recall this post on confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance. All of which implies that that we can come to know a truth when we are proven wrong and change our minds accordingly. As to the assertion about self consciousness, there is still strong debate in the scientific community and it has not been 'disproven.' To the contrary, experimental evidence is ample and mounting by the month. But ironically and humorously enough, Tavris and Aronson, authors of Mistakes Were Made, support consciousness when it comes to ascertaining and admitting our mistakes.

Recall the quote I used in the linked post above: "Becoming aware that we are in a state of dissonance can help us make sharper, conscious choices instead of letting automatic, self-protective mechanisms resolve our discomfort in our favor" (226). I now have the book in front of me so let's explore this section further. Here is another excerpt:

Man in the mirror-Below the surface

Recent posts have reminded me of this song from my yute:

Buddha meets Freud

Related to recent posts, in Washburn's discussion of the personal embedded and submerged unconscious he thinks the latter's content can be uncovered by meditation. Here not only Wilber but Kornfield* disagree, since it requires something more, like psychotherapy, to get at this. Wilber is infamous with his Buddha meets Freud metaphor, and how meditators often are completely clueless as to their psychodynamic hangups. Hence shadow work is part of any ITP. Granted the 3-2-1 shadow work as is seems rather shallow and it's debatable just how much it really gets below the surface, since such work takes a lot of time and effort like meditation. But it's a start.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Excerpts from The Opening of Vision

To provide context for the last post, parts of pp. 47-8 of The Opening of Vision are below. Quote:

5, the ontological body: This is a hermeneutical body because i) it is accessible only through hermeneutical phenomenology and ii) it is itself hermeneutical, i.e., disclosive of the presencing of being.

4, the transpersonal body: This is our ancestral body, the ancient body of our collective unconscious, that dimension of our bodily being through which we experience our connectedness with all sentient beings, our participation in nature's organic processes, and the cessation of our total identification with the conventional time and space of our socialized ego. Religions use ceremonies and rituals to schematize and bring forth such a body.

3, the ego-logical body: This is the civil body, socially constituted in the economy of a body politic. It is personal and interpersonal, and consists in masks, roles, habits, routines, and social practices. It is formed through child-rearing practices, education and participation in social structures.

The psychodynamics of meditation

Update below:

Balder started an IPS thread on Washburn and the psychodynamics of meditation. Some of my ruminations to date follow:

As you know I too have used Washburn in my own notions on what happens in meditation. For now a quick comment of appreciation for Jung's discussion of active imagination, which is why I sometimes play the tarot card meditation game. Also note that images are rooted in the protoself and further developed in the core self, both grounded in the brain stem according to Damasio. And I'm making an educated guess that they are directly related to the basic image schemata of cognitive linguistics.

I like the following from the article:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The number sense: how the mind creates mathematics

Researching something else I came upon this book, The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics by Stanislas Dehaene. (Free at Scribd in embedded link.) I was led to it by various reviews of his work, one of which is by Lakoff with high praise. And it just so happens that I've recently become aware of Dehaene, as he was one of the authors who refuted some aspects of Libet's famous experiment that reductionists have been using for years to justify the absence of conscious will. Synchronous indeed.

Update: He has a new book out on the topic, Space, Time and Number in the Brain.

Damasio on conscious and nonconscious processes

Damasio’s concluding chapter in Self in Mind, Living with Consciousness, addresses many of the issues explored of late in the blog. Right off he goes into nonconscious control and the work of Libet and Wegner, and how this work has been interpreted. Damasio does not deny that the majority of our behavior is nonconscious, but some of it is conscious. And at least some of our nonconscious behavior has been trained as a skill by our consciousness, like morality. The following quote is illuminating:
“What is meant by conscious deliberation has little to do with the ability to control actions in the moment and everything to do with the ability to plan ahead and decide which actions we want or do not want to carry out. Conscious deliberation is largely about decisions over extended  periods of time…and rarely less than minutes or seconds. It is not about split-second decisions….[which are] thoughtless and automatic” (271).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Evan Thompson, Neuroscience and Free Will

Updated below. Check out Evan Thompson's You Tube series called "Neuroscience and free will": part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6. From part 1, quoting William James: "Effort of attention is thus the essential phenomenon of will" (7:10). From the conclusion of part 6: "Free will then is not exempt from causes and conditions but is rather the flexible coordination of attention" (4:05). In part 2 he starts to talk about the self related to meditation (around 7:00). Around 7:45 he notes it has 2 aspects, the present-centered "I" and the narrative self which adds past and future. He relates it to Damasio's ideas.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Just the facts ma'am?

If you're old enough, or bright enough to watch good old shows, you know that was an expression made famous by Joe Friday of the series Dragnet. It is the theme for the following.

Some think that we cannot make any assumptions about consciousness because the data is not yet sufficient. Some go so far as to suggest that the current data does not support the notion whatsoever, that it’s zombies all the way down and up. Such opinions strike me as particularly pathetic and cowardly. First off, there will never be any data to support it if one doesn’t make an educated hypothesis based on previous evidence, which hypothesis can then be experimentally tested. The scientific method doesn’t just generate data out of nowhere; it comes from looking for very particular things by designing precise experimental conditions. Granted some data produced may exceed the experimental parameters, but then one must try to account for it by hypothesizing its meaning and designing further experimental tests. Recall this is what Koch described for science to move forward. Therefore we cannot just sit around and hope some stray data will one day prove consciousness; we have to form hypotheses and theories and then design experiments to prove or disprove it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Core, khora, bastard reason and zombies

Recall this post noting that the core self is accessed during meditation, as it let's go of autobiographical self and processes in the present only. Still, it is a conscious 'self.' I also noted this core self can be contacted by other means, like ritual or ceremony. Hence the often numinous experiences people have during such religious ceremonies. This was confirmed on p. 170 of Self Comes to Mind when he observed that day-dreaming can take us to this core self, providing a temporary respite from the narrative self. In this light also recall this post on Derrida's 'bastard reasoning,' wherein I intuited that it too, like meditation, was a vehicle to this core (khora).

Christof Koch on zombies and consciousness

Brain Science Podcast has many interesting interviews. I'm looking at one with Christof Koch. Recall that Eagleman used Koch in chapter 5 to support his notion of consciousness as the CEO. I referenced Crick and Koch's papers in a previous post supporting consciousness. Following is a relevant excerpt from the podcast on the scientific method. One might say I'm using confirmation bias to support my position but I'm pretty sure that the understanding of the scientific method is well established among scientists as the following.

Dr. Campbell: "This brings up an issue that I think is important, and I’m curious about your position on. It’s this issue of data-driven vs. theory-driven science."

Dr. Koch: "It has to be both. The belief that you can do everything bottom-up, I think is a fallacy. The brain is so vastly complex, if I say I don’t have any theory, I don’t have any hypothesis, I don’t have any supposition, I’m just going to look at the data, that doesn’t work. Because the data itself is huge; and you have to make all sorts of assumptions—explicit or implicit. Conversely, the belief that I can just reconstruct it by thinking about it deeply enough and doing mathematics, also doesn’t work, because brains are incredibly complex; they’re shaped by evolutionary forces that we need to understand. So, it really has to be both" (8).

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Confirmation bias in Mistakes Were Made

A fellow from the local discussion group felt that he and I are engaged in confirmation bias. He linked to an interview of Carol Tavris, co-author of Mistakes Were Made. Perhaps we are, but I'm thinking there is a difference of degree here. Again, this could just be my bias talking, so let's explore that from the interview.

I like this quote from Dr. Tavris: "This is one of the reasons science is so unpopular—I should say is so difficult—because scientists are humans, and scientists don’t like it when their predictions are disconfirmed." Perhaps so, but the point is that the scientific method itself proceeds this way. I'd suggest that the scientists who refuse to accept consciousness are ignoring the rapidly accumulating empirical data, and innovative theories based thereon, against their dissonance. But science marches on. Time will tell which view is better.

Liberals let Obama off the hook?

No doubt you're heard the regressives espouse this theory time and again, particularly on Faux News. As but one recent example, their headliner Bill O' (the clown) Reilly said liberal NBC didn't report on the recent drone scandal. Of course this HuffPo story disproved him, as did countless other media outlets. It was in fact NBC that broke the latest news on the Administration white paper defending the policy. The BillO doubles down with some specious prevaricating that he never said such a thing, but again the video bears witness to his bullshit.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mirror neurons and the readiness potential

The discussion of Self Comes to Mind on mirror neurons (102-04) in instructive. By the mere observation of another's action we activate the same motor processes as if one were doing the action. But we can also simulate our own pre-planned actions consciously by imagining and mentally rehearsing said action, which also activates the same motor processes. So I was wondering if there was any relation to motor neuron activation and the readiness potential noted in the Libet and subsequent experiments. And sure enough, according to this Kilner et al [1] there is indeed. After noting that mirror neurons operate similarly to when one actually performs an action they said:

"Here we show that the readiness potential (RP)--an electrophysical marker of motor preparation--is present when one is observing someone else's action. More importantly, when the nature and onset time of an upcoming action is predictable, the rise of the readiness potential precedes the observed movement's onset. This suggests that knowledge of a coming action automatically activates the motor system" (1299).

Conscious Will and Responsibility

I found this free ebook by the above title pertinent to my recent and ongoing inquiry. From Oxford University Press, 2011. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How about consciousness instead?

Instead of free will how about consciousness? As in, conscious control of lower brain and body functions, as in rational thought and decision making, etc. This could accept the likes of embodied mind, constrained by the body and brain but not fully determined by them. There is some "freedom from" them while far from absolute. So does consciousness exist?

Apparently not to the material reductionists. I've encountered them and they are convinced the consciousness is an illusion, or at best a useful epiphenomenon. But it simply cannot be a real, dynamic, emergent force that has any top-down causation. It seems that generally this is a reaction to the notion that consciousness is that ghost in the machine from the Cartesian theater, or worse, some kind of metaphysical presence imbued with divinity. It's ironic that the reductionists that deny not only free will but consciousness per se are the ones stuck in creating a straw entity that embodied realists, some of which are neuroscientists, never claimed to support in the first place.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Excerpts from "Experimental and theoretical approaches to conscious processing"

See this previous post for the link. Quote:

Theoretical Modeling of Conscious Access

The above experiments provide a convergent database of observations. In the present section, we examine which theoretical principles may account for these findings. We briefly survey the major theories of conscious processing, with the goal to try to isolate a core set of principles that are common to most theories and begin to make sense of existing observations. We then describe in more detail a specific theory, the Global Neuronal Workspace (GNW), whose simulations coarsely capture the contrasting physiological states underlying nonconscious versus conscious processing.

Convergence toward a Set of Core Concepts for Conscious Access

Although consciousness research includes wildly speculative proposals (Eccles, 1994; Jaynes, 1976; Penrose, 1990), research of the past decades has led to an increasing degree of convergence toward a set of concepts considered essential in most theories (for review, see Seth, 2007). Four such concepts can be isolated.

Reflections on science, God and Cartesian theaters

In the local discussion group referenced previously, as well as dialogue with Andy Smith on free will, it occurred to me that I am quite offended by the notion that by maintaining consciousness is not an epiphenomenon or illusion it is somehow akin to believing in a supernatural God or Cartesian dualism. I too am most interested in providing empirical evidence for my interest in consciousness, hence I'm using the work of neuroscientists like Damasio, Churchland and now Schurger and Dehaene. These are folks that do not accept any sort of Cartesian ghost (quite the contrary), ground their hypotheses in empirical evidence, and provide mounting experimental data to support their theses. Which is, of course, the scientific method, to take what you already know, make educated guesses about the next step, device experimental methods to test it, and to use those results to either confirm or refute the guess. And that is exactly what the above scientists are doing and making considerable progress. I just cannot see how this is holding to some kind of illusory or delusional 'belief.'

With that in mind, let's recall the New Scientist article that made us aware of this new research on Libet. Schurger was quoted as saying the following, but I don't know the source, since it is not in the referenced paper:

Monday, February 4, 2013

Experimental and theoretical approaches to conscious processing

The above is another article by Stanislas Dehaene with Jean-Pierre Changeux in Neuron 70, April 28, 2011. Abstract follows:

"Recent experimental studies and theoretical models have begun to address the challenge of establishing
a causal link between subjective conscious experience and measurable neuronal activity. The present
review focuses on the well-delimited issue of how an external or internal piece of information goes
beyond nonconscious processing and gains access to conscious processing, a transition characterized
by the existence of a reportable subjective experience. Converging neuroimaging and neurophysiological
data, acquired during minimal experimental contrasts between conscious and nonconscious processing,
point to objective neural measures of conscious access: late amplification of relevant sensory activity,
long-distance cortico-cortical synchronization at beta and gamma frequencies, and '‘ignition'’ of
a large-scale prefronto-parietal network. We compare these findings to current theoretical models of
conscious processing, including the Global Neuronal Workspace (GNW) model according to which
conscious access occurs when incoming information is made globally available to multiple brain systems
through a network of neurons with long-range axons densely distributed in prefrontal, parieto-temporal,
and cingulate cortices. The clinical implications of these results for general anesthesia, coma, vegetative
state, and schizophrenia are discussed."

Regressives promote financial fraud

Indeed, in fact they are and their behavior proves that truth. Paul Krugman voices an obvious verity here, in that the GOP is going gangbusters to kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). I mean, how could we possibly need a government agency to protect us from financial fraud? Well let's see...remember the crises of 2008? How banks took advantage of uneducated and unsophisticated people by knowingly giving them mortgages they knew they could never afford, also knowing that they expected them to default because they had in fact bet on them doing so. It was obvious fraud that never brought down the economy, but noooo, we don't need protection from those honest brokers, do we? Also see this report.

Dehaene on conscious and nonconscious processes

Stanislas Dehaene is another author (with Schurger) of the recent study of Libet's work. He edited the book The Cognitive Neuroscience of Consciousness, and his chapter can be found in full at this link. From the abstract:

"This introductory chapter attempts to clarify the philosophical, empirical, and theoretical bases on which a cognitive neuroscience approach to consciousness can be founded. We isolate three major empirical observations that any theory of consciousness should incorporate, namely (1) a considerable amount of processing is possible without consciousness, (2) attention is a prerequisite of consciousness, and (3) consciousness is required for some specific cognitive tasks, including those that require durable information maintenance, novel combinations of operations, or the spontaneous generation of intentional behavior. We then propose a theoretical framework that synthesizes those facts: the hypothesis of a global neuronal workspace".

Schurger on conscious and nonconscious neural representations

Dr. Schurger, who wrote the recent paper on Libet's study,* did this earlier study: "Reproducibility distinguishes conscious from nonconscious neural representations." You have to page down past some general info and footnotes from the previous article to get to it. The abstract follows:

"What qualifies a neural representation for a role in subjective experience? Previous evidence suggests that the duration and intensity of the neural response to a sensory stimulus are factors. We introduce another attribute—the reproducibility of a pattern of neural activity across different episodes—that predicts specific and measurable differences between conscious and nonconscious neural representations indepedently of duration and intensity. We found that conscious neural activation patterns are relatively reproducible when compared with nonconscious neural activation patterns corresponding to the same perceptual content. This is not adequately explained by a difference in signal-to-noise ratio."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cultural developments modify human genome

While reading Self Comes to Mind he referenced the following research that makes such a claim. It's interesting that conscious deliberation and decision, which created culture, can actually re-program what reductionists claim is destiny, our genetic heritage.

1. W. H. Durham, Co-evolution: Genes, Culture and Human Diversity (Palo Alto, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1991).

2. C. Holden and R. Mace, "Phylogenetic Analysis of the Evolution of Lactose Digestion in Adults," Human Biology 69 (1997),605-28.

3. Kevin N. Laland, John Odling-Smee, and Sean Myles, "How culture shaped the human genome: Bringing  genetics and the human sciences together." Nature Reviews Genetics II (2010), 137-48.

The austerity trap and government spending

Ed Shultz reports on the GDP being down 0.1% in the 4th quarter after growing for the last 14 quarters. Why the downturn? Republican-induced government spending cuts. It wasn't a result of the private sector, which is picking up. The housing market is recovering. Consumer spending, which comprised 2/3 of the GDP is also on the rise. But government spending was way down in the last quarter. And yet the regressives keep insisting that cuts in government spending spur growth.

Why do we have consciousness at all?

In the section of Chapter 5 of Incognito called "Why do we have consciousness at all?" Eagleman lists a couple of references. On p. 140 he said:

"Crick & Koch's answer, like mine in previous chapters, is that consciousness exists to control and to distribute control over the automated alien systems. A system of automated subroutines that reaches a certain level of complexity (and human brains certainly quality) requires a high-level mechanism to allow the parts to communicate, dispense resources and allocate control." 

Sam Harris on free will

Sam Harris has entered the fray with a book called Free Will. Granted he assumes this means the very type of idealistic notions that I am not promoting. But further, at least from one of his blog posts on the subject, he seems to be much more of an eliminative determinist than Churchland, for it doesn't seem he allows much, if any, conscious decision-making ability. He grants the following:

"I’m not saying that you can become a surgeon by accident—you must do many things, deliberately and well, and in the appropriate sequence, year after year. Becoming a surgeon requires effort."

Quote of the day

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias." Stephen Colbert, White House Correspondents' Association Dinner 2006.