Readings

Sharing economy, not power

Researchers Alex Rosenblat and Luke Stark´s paper “Uber’s Drivers: Information Asymmetries and Control in Dynamic Work” looks into labor relations in Uber.

There is evidence that automated performance and rating systems bring more power to Uber than traditional ‘non sharing’ way.

If one consider the possibility down the road of replacing human drivers for autonomous fleet it looks like our brave new economy will play old inequality plot.

Free will strikes back

The point of no return in vetoing self-initiated movements, published at PNAS by german researchers Matthias Schultze-Krafta, Daniel Birmana et al. brings evidence that people can stop ‘spontaneous’ movements even after brain is ready to execute this.

Even if it is the case that brain activity is ready as-if movement decision from 0,5 to a few seconds before awareness, conscious will may overrule this readiness and block movement as late as 200 ms before action.

Free will is on constant attack.  Apparently as soon as men were able to reason they sought scape goats.  Fate, wrath of gods, astrology, determinism, historical materialism, psychologism, providence, so on always look for arguments for their case.

Following contemporary trend, recent neurological studies are used in this debate.  If brain activity preceded awareness of some movements, our conscious ‘decisions’ would not be such at all.  Not only it was not conscious, since action was triggered before us being aware, arguably it was not our decision to begin with; ‘mere’ synaptic determinism.

Above mentioned researches focus on simpler processes when compared to typical free will debate, such as moral and social options.  Nothing of the sort about other decision making, from choosing one’s socks to dress to moral or political issues.

Read their research and their engineous approach to the matter.

“Women’s Works” by Peter Adamson

“Despite the ancient Oracle’s advice to ‘Know Thyself’, it’s only relatively recently that we philosophers have started wondering why so few of us are women. In fact, gender disparity among professional academic philosophers has now become something of a scandal. (…)  in the earlier ages studied by those historians, women were even more shut out of the discipline than they are today.

(…) The early modern period especially featured numerous prominent female thinkers, such as Margaret Cavendish and Anne Conway. They were active in the mid-1600s, more than a century before Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1790 work Vindication of the Rights of Women (I’m guessing that this is the earliest philosophical treatise by a woman that most philosophers would be able to name).

If we look further back, we find that the history of women in philosophy is as old as the history of philosophy itself. In the time of the Pre-Socratics (6th C. BCE) there was Theano, an associate of and possibly the wife of Pythagoras. Plato famously argues in his Republic that women would be philosophers in his ideal city. (…)

(…)

By the way, non-European traditions have also featured women. We find several female disputants in theUpanisads (6th C. BCE onwards), for example.

Of course, it is not enough to acknowledge the existence of these women thinkers and then turn back to studying only their more famous male contemporaries. (…) After all, when we study Aristotle or Kant, we don’t usually start with the observation that they were men; so why should we see Hipparchia or Hildegard as women first and philosophers second? (…)

If female philosophers are to be rescued from their undeserved obscurity, it will be by using the same tools that can illuminate male historical figures.(…) And if this richer historical picture gives encouragement to women who are considering whether to devote their lives to philosophy, then an improvement in our understanding of philosophy’s past might just help improve philosophy’s future.”

read full article

the rise of consciousness as a problem

In “I feel therefore I am“, an essay published in aeon, Margaret Wertheim sketches the history of consciousness as a problem.

“In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), John Locke wondered if ‘the same object should produce in several men’s minds different ideas at the same time; for example, the idea, that a violet produces in one man’s mind by his eyes, were the same that a marigold produced in another man’s, and vice versa.’ Now known to philosophers of mind as the inverted spectrum argument, Locke’s query points us to the mystery of subjective experience and its attendant problem of ‘consciousness’.(…)

First coined in 1995 by the Australian philosopher David Chalmers, this ‘hard problem’ of consciousness highlights the distinction between registering and actually feeling a phenomenon. (…)

As one of the founders of empiricism, Locke believed that knowledge comes primarily from sensory experience, with real knowledge beingfelt by conscious beings. In the 17th century, René Descartes had also insisted on the irreducible centrality of subjective experience (…)

(…)

The idea that the laws of nature might be able to account for conscious experience – a position known as physicalism – steadily gained supporters in the 19th century and was given a particular boost with the advent of Maxwell’s equations and other powerful mathematical frameworks devised by physicists in their golden age. (…)

Yet, as some philosophers of the early 20th century began to point out, physicalism contains a logical flaw. If consciousness is a secondary byproduct of physical laws, and if those laws are causally closed – meaning that everything in the world is explained by them (as physicalists claim) – then consciousness becomes truly irrelevant. (…)

These are fighting words. And some scientists are fighting back. In the frontline are the neuroscientists who, with increasing frequency, are proposing theories for how subjective experience might emerge from a matrix of neurons and brain chemistry. A slew of books over the past two decades have proffered solutions to the ‘problem’ of consciousness. Among the best known are Christof Koch’s The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach (2004); Giulio Tononi and Gerald Edelman’s A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (2000); Antonio Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (1999); and the philosopher Daniel Dennett’s bluntly titled Consciousness Explained (1991).

It has been said that, if the 20th century was the age of physics, the 21st will be the age of the brain. Among scientists today, consciousness is being hailed as one of the prime intellectual challenges. My interest in the subject is not in any particular solution to the origin of consciousness – I believe we’ll be arguing about that for millennia to come – but rather in the question: why is consciousness perceived as a ‘problem’? How exactly did it become a problem? And given that it was off the table of science for so long, why is it now becoming such a hot research subject? (…) ” read full essay

“Perfect Circles: Why We Can Spot Them, But Can’t Draw Them” by Rachel Nuwer

Article featured in BrainDecoder

“(…) Most people can quickly pick out an imperfect circle, but the ability to draw a perfect one freehanded seems to elude all but the legendary Giotto and similarly accomplished masters. This is because the seemingly complimentary tasks of recognizing imperfection and then correcting it to produce perfection actually have little to do with each other—at least so far as our brains are concerned. While the visual cortex handles image processing involved in detecting off-kilter spheres, completely different parts of the brain responsible for coordination and fine muscle control, combined with the complexity of the arm’s structure, are to blame for our inability to draw a perfectly round sphere.Continue reading

“The free-will scale” by Stephen Cave

published on aeon

“It is often thought that science has shown that there is no such thing as free will. If all things are bound by the same impersonal cosmic laws, then (the story goes) our paths are no freer than those of rocks tumbling down a hill. But this is wrong. (…) Instead of using an electron microscope or a brain-scanner, we should go to the zoo.

(…)  animals need to weigh different factors, explore available options, pursue new alternatives when old strategies don’t work. (…) We are complex organisms actively pursuing our interests in a changing environment.

And we are starting to understand the cognitive abilities that underpin this behavioural freedom. Like most evolved capacities, they are a matter of degree. Take, for example, the ability to delay gratification. (…) Experimenters measure this ability by testing how long an animal can resist a small treat in return for a larger reward after a delay. Chickens, for example, can do this for six seconds. (…) A chimpanzee, on the other hand, can wait for a cool two minutes – or even up to eight minutes in some experiments. (…)

 

(…)  The concept lies at the heart of how we see ourselves: assumptions about the extent to which we choose our own fate inform everything from social policy and criminal justice to our personal motivations and sense of life’s meaningfulness. (…)

One prevalent idea is that freedom requires a supernatural ability to transcend the laws of nature, because otherwise we would appear to be mere puppets of cause and effect. This makes free will into something mysterious, which would set us apart from the rest of creation. As this notion contradicts everything we know about the world, it is no surprise that ever more people are concluding that free will must be an illusion.Continue reading

Evidence of Cortisol effect on dynamic risk aversion

Economists have for some time argued that market models may benefit from assuming dynamic risk aversion.  Instead of considering agents react to and perceive risk/reward in a constant way, agents change over time.  Attempts followed in trying to model such changes.

A recent study on how cortisol shifts financial risk preferences brings light to a metabolic (partial) explanation for it.Continue reading

“Most New Psychology Findings Can’t Be Replicated. So Now What?” by SIMON OXENHAM

posted at big think

“The field of psychology has been shaken by a massive replication effort, which has found that out of 98 papers published in the top three psychology journals only 39 could be replicated.

(…) Whenever you hear the words “new study,” alarm bells should ring. It isn’t new studies that you should base your opinions on; it is old studies that have been replicated again and again, and the results reported in meta-analyses and systematic reviews.

(…) we have every indication to believe that new research is similarly difficult to replicate across many areas of science. For example, 30 percent of the most widely cited randomized controlled trials in the world’s highest-quality medical journals have later been found to be wrong or exaggerated and that number rises to five out of six for non-randomized trials — a number that is in fact worse than the rate found by the psychology reproducibility project.

(…) The solution is to take a skeptical approach to the world around us, to treat every new claim not as a problem solved, but as an open question.Continue reading

“20 Years Later, the Tetris Effect Has Turned Life into One Big Video Game” by Megan Gannon

“Some people credit Neil Gaiman with first describing the Tetris effect in a 1987 poem “Virus in digital dreams,” but the expression is usually traced back to a 1994 Wired article (…)

Over the last two decades, the Tetris effect has worked its way into gaming vernacular, but considering how many people play video games, it may be surprising how little the phenomenon has been studied.

(…) Perhaps the most famous example is a 2000 study by Harvard psychiatrist Robert Stickgold. (…) As Stickgold told Australia’s ABC News in an interview, this made him think there must be something going on in the brain that is producing these intrusive images. (…)

He found that students who were made to play Tetris reported, quite consistently, that they saw Tetris pieces floating down in front of their eyes as they were going to sleep. Stickgold also included five amnesiacs in the experiment who could play Tetris just fine, but due to a specific brain damage, couldn’t later recall playing it. But they, too, said that they saw blocks floating or turning on their side—even though they couldn’t explain the origin of those shapes. One patient, for example, reported seeing “images that are turned on their side. I don’t know what they are from. I wish I could remember, but they are like blocks.”

Continue reading

Your brain during orgasm – and how it relates to performance anxiety, by Max Plenke

Article by Max Plenke, featured in .Mic

“You are your own worst enemy in the bedroom. (…)  You can’t shut off a certain part of your brain. (…)

To understand performance anxiety, you first have to understand what orgasms do to the body — and why reaching them is so easy when we’re alone, but often harder with a partner.

When you orgasm, it takes near-total control of your brain and nervous system (…) from head to toe.

(…) activation in the nucleus accumbens, the pleasure center of the brain, [and] the hypothalamus, which excretes oxytocin,(…) in the cerebellum, which is involved in muscle tension; we see activation in the insular and cingulate cortex, which are interesting because those same areas react to pain, so it may be inhibiting pain in its processes; we see activation in the amygdala, which increases heart rate and blood pressure and sweating. They’re all activated, and they’re all activated maximally.”Continue reading

Apes’s visual illusions

Audrey E. Parrish,   Sarah F. Brosnan, and Michael J. Beran published a comparative investigation of the Delboeuf illusion in humans and a couple of monkeys species.   Theis research bring evidence of relative size perception illusion across those species.

Parrish and Beran’s previous research on how both humans and chimpanzees misperceive food amounts based on plate size target a similar topic.

Interestingly, in the case of the chimpanzees studies it was possible to observe not only a visual illusion.  Feeding and consumption behavior changed accordingly as well.  It is not out of the ballpark to characterize greed and accumulation in excess resulting in illusory perception.  Perhaps understanding better the foundation of such illusions help humans distancing our behaviour in a more conscious fashion.

3D qualitative spatial representation

Alex Burmester’s article on How do our brains reconstruct the visual world provides a short introduction of brain perception process.  Selective processes, visual attention, and inattentional blindness are key to understand how our mind build an schematic version of the environment as images in our minds.

Taking a more conceptual – and from an opposite side – tackle into the problem is the paper by Till Mossakowski and Reinhard Moratz on Relations Between Spatial Calculi
About Directions and Orientations.  They describe how relation algebras help us understand the transition from qualitative approaches of the environment to relative direction.

Linking the two is the effort to understand how we see.  Our brain combines each eye receives a limited, partially colourless signals at the retina into a seemingly continuous 3D experience.  Something that is very handy, to say the least.

This would not be possible if brains were not trained to continuously construct this environment.  There is much to learn from this process about our subjective stance towards objects and our consciousness.

“A movement in the making”

BY John Hagel, John Seely Brown & Duleesha Kulasooriya

” “Making”—the next generation of inventing and do-it-yourself—is creeping into everyday discourse, with the emerging maker movement referenced in connection with topics ranging from the rebirth of manufacturing to job skills development to reconnecting with our roots. As maker communities spring up around the globe, a plethora of physical and virtual platforms to serve them have emerged—from platforms that inspire and teach, to those that provide access to tools and mentorship, to those that connect individuals with financing and customers. (…) Continue reading

“Whole Brain Emulation: Reverse Engineering a Mind” By Randal A. Koene

As fiancés know, setting a date is a double-edged sword.  Goals seem more tangible and apt to plan around, but unkept promises usually end with someone looking foolish.

Pushing the envelope and making plans about the future is what was intended at Among the high-profile thinkers speaking at Global Future 2045: Towards a New Strategy for Human Evolution, Randal A. Koene delivered a speech on brain emulation:Continue reading

“The hand-held’s tale” by Joyce E Chaplin

article published at aeon

“Whatever the finer social distinctions in pre-industrial societies, the main one divided those who worked with their hands from those who did not – ever. Anything hand-held made the bearer’s status clear. Egyptian rulers went into the afterlife clutching the flail and sceptre they had borne in real life. Sceptres and orbs would continue to represent earthly rule. Swords advertised military might. Books stood for the word of God and the ability to interpret it. Keys represented access to real or unearthly realms. These were things worth holding precisely because they symbolised freedom from quotidian effort, to which the vast majority were consigned. And yet the hand-held device is now the great equaliser. The squillionaire clutches the iPhone 6, but so might the underpaid worker who assembled it in semi-gulag conditions somewhere. The development of the hand-held’s marvellously tiny technology is interesting, of course. But our shared willingness to fill our hands openly and daily with these devices is the more important historical transformation.Continue reading

What have you been telling yourself?

Nicholas Epley’s article on Nautilus brings more evidence on Why We Can’t Get Over Ourselves.  Among others: cognition biases, egocentrism,  and otehr selfish reasons.  This is not a core case of immanence debate, but telling of cultural landscape that seems to be a reversed cocktail-party problem: too many people talking about themselves and no one trying to listen.

 

And while you listen to yourself, take Shruti Ravindran’s on aeon about how ‘Hallucinated voices can be helpful life guides, muses of creativity, and powerful agents for healing the fractured self‘.

As a society, we may also benefit from improved listening.  Instead of cold forecasts, organic stories may be more effective.  As Adam Frank posted on Nautilus, we need to go beyond predicting the future and begin telling the future.

“What Desires Are Politically Important?” – Bertrand Russell

From Bertrand Russell’s Nobel prize acceptance lecture

“All human activity is prompted by desire. There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle. I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful. If you wish to know what men will do, you must know not only, or principally, their material circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.

(…)  man differs from other animals in one very important respect, and that is that he has some desires which are, so to speak, infinite (…) : four in particular, which we can label acquisitiveness, rivalry, vanity, and love of power.
Continue reading

“Light dawns” by Sidney Perkowitz, on fundamental constants

Article published at aeon.

“We have now fixed the speed of light in a vacuum at exactly 299,792.458 kilometres per second.

Why this particular speed and not something else? Or, to put it another way, where does the speed of light come from?

(…) thanks to Maxwell and Einstein, we know that the speed of light is connected with a number of other (on the face of it, quite distinct) phenomena in surprising ways.Continue reading

“The Man Who Wasn’t there” book review by Alun Anderson

Review of “The Man Who Wasn’t There: Exploring the science of the self” by Anil Ananthaswamy.

“For ordinary folk, a unified sense of self is taken for granted. We sit comfortably inside a body we feel is ours, seeing, hearing, touching and smelling. Gloomy or happy, our feelings plainly belong to us.(…) This self appears to us seamlessly and effortlessly as a whole.

The Man Who Wasn’t There could be described as a dedication to a different group – those whose unity of self has fragmented – and to the way they have helped us understand the self through their cooperation with scientists and philosophers, and their long hours in brain scanners.Continue reading

More on how brain adapts to internet

In “How has the Internet reshaped human cognition?“, Kep-Kee Loh and Ryota Kanai move forward the debate on how cognitive processes and brain structures are adapting to our interaction with the instant access to information through internet.

They study information processing, memory consolidation, brain circuitry, multitasking, distractions, addictive behavior, and other promising lines of research.  To their credit conclusions are often that more research is required.  Having such broad view on the matter is welcome.  There are signs of some precipitated condemnation as ‘internet is bad for people’ we expect from resistance to change.

 

Nicholas Carr book ‘The Shallows” was part of growing criticism on how the internet was affecting negatively our brains.  One typical culprit was the excessive multitasking.  When studies showed heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability those critics felt vindicated.  Then as studies with shorter titles are cited more often by other scientists more people were certain: ‘even’ scientists were affected by the shallow effect.

How can we tap this shallow information pool to go deeper into our minds?