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The Burgeoning Family Tree of the Naked Ape

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The Burgeoning Family Tree of the Naked Ape

THE NAKED APE: Exploring the science and cultural evolution of human psychology, behavior, cognition, language, memory, intelligence, emotion, and consciousness. (Uh, did I miss anything?)

Location: #science
Members: 57
Latest Activity: yesterday

Welcome to THE NAKED APE

Those who’ve know me for some time know that I have a moderately strong interest in human consciousness and psychology. Although mind and body cannot exist without one another – and indeed they shape one another – it does seem that the very core of the human experience of ‘self’ exists in the brain alone.

We all know that much of the functioning and maintenance of our body is controlled covertly by the brain or by biological systems that work beneath our threshold of awareness. We do not consciously decide to sweat, or digest our food, or replace our cells.

And yet, in spite of the fact that we know this, we still cling to the illusion that the functioning of our thoughts, our decisions, our perceptions, our preferences, our memories, and our reasoning are under our direct, conscious control.

But neuroscience and psychology are now showing us that this simply is not the case—that the processes of mind and awareness function just as covertly as our biological systems.

That fascinates me!

How is it that the mind – that place of concealment – is also the one place in which awareness itself is known to exist?

The truth is that we don’t know ourselves as well as we’d like to believe. We don’t control our decisions, our perceptions, our motivations, or our memories as well as we think we do.

THE NAKED APE was created to explore these important topics. I welcome any post on human psychology, behavior, cognition, perception, language, memory, intelligence, emotion, and consciousness.

 

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Comment by Doone on November 21, 2011 at 4:29pm

The Human Senses


SCIENCE BUZZ Turns out there are waaaay more than five. Once again, elementary school gave us only an elementary education.



Comment by Michel on November 21, 2011 at 12:58pm
Comment by Doone on November 20, 2011 at 8:32pm

Motherese

In a review of Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, Melvin Konner stumbles upon this gem:

Of all the calls, hoots, and screeches issued by our chimpanzee relatives, the only ones that sound a little like human speech are the coos exchanged in quiet moods by mothers with their young; the first language may have been “motherese.”

Comment by Doone on November 20, 2011 at 2:51pm

Carrying Extinct DNA

Carl Zimmer reports the findings of Svante Paabo:

Somewhere in the Middle East, humans and Neanderthals interbred. As humans continued to expand into Europe and Asia, they took Neanderthal DNA with them. When humans got to southeast Asia, they mated with Denisovans, and this second addition of exotic DNA spread through the human population as it expanded. Neanderthals and Denisovans then became extinct, but their DNA lives on in our bodies. And Paabo wouldn’t be surprised if more extinct hominins turn out to have donated DNA of their own to us.

Comment by Doone on November 20, 2011 at 2:48pm

Should We Have Stayed Hunter-Gatherers?

A provocative question:

Now before you give in to the easy snort and chortle that accompanies a seemingly absurd question like this, I am going to ask you to take the long view. In this case long means billions of years, and billions of planets. We don't want to ask the question: Is civilization good for you (or me)? Instead we want to ask: Is civilization good — in the long term — for planets and their capacity to support life (or at least technologically adept civilizations)?

Comment by Doone on November 20, 2011 at 11:29am

Does Neuroscience Kill Free Will?

Brain

Professor Patrick Haggard argues it does. He subjected himself to "transcranial magnetic stimulation," where magnetic coils affect one's brain and control minor movements in the body:

The idea that our bodies can be controlled by an outside force is a pretty astonishing one. "This is absolutely out of my control," insists Prof Haggard, as his muscles continue to move. "I'm not doing it, Christina is. I'm just a machine, and she is operating me."

Eddy Nahmias wants a different definition of free will:

If we put aside the misleading idea that free will depends on supernatural souls rather than our quite miraculous brains, and if we put aside the mistaken idea that our conscious thinking matters most in the milliseconds before movement, then neuroscience does not kill free will.  Rather, it can help to explain our capacities to control our actions in such a way that we are responsible for them. It can help us rediscover free will.

Michael Gazzaniga wonders how scientific advances will change our understanding of free will:

Comment by Sydni Moser on November 16, 2011 at 2:02pm

Can Our Brains Tell Us What Is Real?

Nov.9, 2011 - NPR - 13.7

http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2011/11/08/129640832-brain-shoes_wide.jpg?t=1320785992&s=3

 

As I write these lines, an unknown choreography organizes the firing of millions of neurons in my brain; thoughts emerge and are expressed as words, typed on my laptop by a detailed coordination of eye and hand muscles. Something is in charge, an entity we loosely call our "mind."

My perception of the world around me, as modern cognitive neuroscience teaches us, is synthesized within different regions of my brain. What I call reality results from the integrated sum of countless stimuli collected through my five senses, brought from the outside into my head via my nervous system. Cognition, the awareness of being here now, is a fabrication of countless chemical reactions flowing through myriad synaptic connections between my neurons.

I am, and you are, a self-sustaining electrochemical network enacted across a web of biological cells. And yet, we are much more.

I am me and you are you and we are different, even if made of the same stuff. Modern science has removed the age-old Cartesian dualism of matter and soul in favor of a strict materialism: the theater of the self happens in the brain and the brain is an assembly of interacting neurons firing nonstop like a Christmas tree.

Of course, we still have no clue as to how exactly this neuronal choreography engenders us with a sense of being. We go on with our everyday activities convinced that we can separate ourselves from our surroundings and construct an objective view of reality.

I know that I am not you and I know that I am not the chair that I am sitting on. I can walk away from you and the chair but I can't walk away from my own body. However, our perception of reality, upon which we base our sense of self, is severely incomplete.

Our senses only capture a sliver of what truly goes on around us. Trillions of neutrinos racing all the way from the heart of the Sun zip across our bodies each second; electromagnetic waves of all sorts, microwaves, radio waves, infrared, carry information we don't capture with our eyes; sounds beyond the range of our ears go unheard; dust and bacteria go unseen. Our instruments and tools greatly extend our view, whether of the very small or of the very large.

Still, any technology has limits, even if these limits change in time. As a consequence, large portions of the world will always remain unseen. What we know depends on what we can measure and detect. Who, then, can legitimately claim to have a true sense of reality? The individual who perceives reality only through his/her senses? Or the one who amplifies his/her perception through the use of instrumentation? Clearly, they "see" different things and will conclude that the world is very different. Who is right? I propose that none is. But we will have to wait until next week to find out why.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2011/11/09/142128705/can-our-brains-t...

Comment by Sydni Moser on November 15, 2011 at 7:10pm

EIGHT HUGS a day will heighten your sense of well being immensely!

Uploaded by TEDtalksDirector on Nov 1, 2011

http://www.ted.com Where does morality come from -- physically, in the brain? In this talk neuroeconomist Paul Zak shows why he believes oxytocin (he calls it "the moral molecule") is responsible for trust, empathy, and other feelings that help build a stable society.

Comment by Doone on November 13, 2011 at 7:54pm

Make study more effective, the easy way

Decades old research into how memory works should have revolutionised University teaching. It didn’t.

If you’re a student, what I’m about to tell you will let you change how you study so that it is more effective, more enjoyable and easier. If you work at a University, you – like me – should hang your head in shame that we’ve known this for decades but still teach the way we do.

There’s a dangerous idea in education that students are receptacles, and teachers are responsible for providing content that fills them up. This model encourages us to test students by the amount of content they can regurgitate, to focus overly on statements rather than skills in assessment and on syllabuses rather than values in teaching. It also encourages us to believe that we should try and learn things by trying to remember them. Sounds plausible, perhaps, but there’s a problem. Research into the psychology of memory shows that intention to remember is a very minor factor in whether you remember something or not. Far more important than whether you want to remember something is how you think about the material when you encounter it.

A classic experiment by Hyde and Jenkins (1973) illustrates this. These researchers gave participants lists of words, which they later tested recall of, as their memory items. To affect their thinking about the words, half the participants were told to rate the pleasantness of each word, and half were told to check if the word contained the letters ‘e’ or ‘g’. This manipulation was designed to affect ‘depth of processing’. The participants in the rating-pleasantness condition had to think about what the word meant, and relate it to themselves (how they felt about it) – “deep processing”. Participants in the letter-checking condition just had to look at the shape of the letters, they didn’t even have to read the word if they didn’t want to – “shallow processing”. The second, independent, manipulation concerned whether participants knew that they would be tested later on the words. Half of each group were told this – the “intentional learning” condition – and half weren’t told, the test would come as a surprise – the “incidental learning” condition.

I’ve made a graph so you can see the effects of these two manipulations

As you can see, there isn’t much difference between the intentional and incidental learning conditions. Whether or not a participant wanted to remember the words didn’t affect how many words they remembered. Instead, the major effect is due to how participants thought about the words when they encountered them. Participants who thought deeply about the words remembered nearly twice as many as participants who only thought shallowly about the words, regardless of whether they intended to remember them or not.

The implications for how we teach and learn should be clear. Wanting to remember, or telling people to remember, isn’t effective. If you want to remember something you need to think about it deeply. This means you need to think about what you are trying to remember means, both in relationship to other material you are trying to learn, and to yourself. Other research in memory has shown the importance of schema – memory patterns and structures – for recall. As teachers, we try and organise our course material for the convenience of students, to best help them understand it. Unfortunately, this organisation – the schema – for the material then becomes part of the assessment and something which students try to remember. What this research suggests is that, merely in terms of remembering, it would be more effective for students to come up with their own organisation for course material.

If you are a student the implication of this study and those like it is clear : don’t stress yourself with revision where you read and re-read textbooks and course notes. You’ll remember better (and understand much better) if you try and re-organise the material you’ve been given in your own way.

If you are a teacher, like me, then this research raises some disturbing questions. At a University the main form of teaching we do is the lecture, which puts the student in a passive role and, essentially, asks them to “remember this” – an instruction we know to be ineffective. Instead, we should be thinking hard, always, about how to create teaching experiences in which students are more active, and about creating courses in which students are permitted and encouraged to come up with their own organisation of material, rather than just forced to regurgitate ours.

Reference: Hyde, T. S., & Jenkins, J. J. (1973). Recall for words as a function of semantic, graphic, and syntactic orienting tasks. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 12(5), 471–480.

Comment by Doone on November 8, 2011 at 9:30am

Chimps Can Talk?

H.S. Terrace and Peter Singer debate the evidence. One of Singer's core arguments:

In 2008, thirty years after David Premack and Guy Woodruff wrote a seminal paper entitled “Does the Chimpanzee Have a Theory of Mind?,” Josep Call and Michael Tomasello surveyed the extensive literature that now exists on this question. They conclude that “there is solid evidence from several different experimental paradigms that chimpanzees understand the goals and intentions of others, as well as the perception and knowledge of others.” Call and Tomasello do not find evidence that chimpanzees understand false beliefs, but it is clear that chimps have enough understanding of other minds to be able to perceive what others are thinking, and thus to use simple forms of language to communicate with them.

The discussion was sparked by a piece Singer wrote a few months ago on Project Nim, a film about Terrace's research. Recent coverage on animal minds here and here.

 

 
 
 

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