TagBrain Hacking

Is neuro-skepticism in danger of going too far?

Neuroskeptic points to a recent meta-study of neuroimaging critiques conducted by Martha Farah at the University of Pennsylvania. The blog highlights Farah’s conclusion:

Inferences based on functional brain imaging, whether for basic science or applications, require scrutiny. As we apply such scrutiny, it is important to distinguish between specific criticisms of particular applications or specific studies and wholesale criticisms of the entire enterprise of functional neuroimaging.

In the first category are criticisms aimed at improving the ways in which imaging experiments are designed and the ways in which their results are interpreted. Uncontrolled multiple comparisons, circular analyses and unconstrained reverse inferences are serious problems that undermine the inferences made from brain imaging data. Although the majority of research is not compromised by any of these errors, a substantial minority of published research is, making such criticisms both valid and useful.

In contrast, the more sweeping criticisms of functional imaging concern the method itself and therefore cast doubt on the conclusions of any research carried out with imaging, no matter how well designed and carefully executed. These more wholesale criticisms invoke the hemodynamic nature of the signal being measured, the association of neuroimaging with modular theories of the mind, the statistical nature of brain images, and the color schemes used to make those images seductively alluring.

As mentioned earlier, each of these criticisms contains an element of truth, but overextends that element to mistakenly cast doubt on the validity or utility of functional neuroimaging research as a whole. None of the criticisms reviewed here constitute reasons to reject or even drastically curtail the use of neuroimaging.

Full Story: Neuroskeptic: Brain Scans: Don’t Throw Out The Baby With The Dead Salmon

The full paper is here.

(via Boing Boing)

DARPA wants to fit soldiers with a little black box brain implant


Geek.com reports:

Black box recorders are a common feature in aircraft. They sit there keeping track of everything that is happening. Then, if something goes wrong the information can be reviewed to piece together exactly what happened and form a view of the events that may otherwise have been lost.

Now the Pentagon is attempting to develop a similar system for use in humans, and in particular soldiers who have suffered brain damage. If they could be fitted with a black box in their brain, then it may be possible to trigger memories surrounding a traumatic event and overcome memory loss quickly and easily. […]

It’s common to see memory loss in someone suffering brain damage, but they can also forget their personal details and skills, such as remembering their own name, who their family is, and even how to drive. As well as stimulating the brain to recover recent memories, it is hoped the implant would be able to recall common information and therefore help them remember who they are.

Full Story: Geek.com: Pentagon wants to fit soldiers with a little black box brain implant

(Thanks Skry)

See Also:

Fully Wireless Brain Implants Are Closer Than You Think

DARPA Temporary Tattoos Want a Tattoo That Tracks Troops’ Vitals

Researchers Call for the Creation of Supersoldiers

Mindful Cyborgs: Bill Whitcomb and Taylor Ellwood Talk About Their User’s Guide to the Human Brain

In this episode Chris Dancy and talk with authors Bill Whitcomb and Taylor Ellwood about their new book The Book of Good Practices:

KF: I kind of see this book as a users’ guide to the human brain. The brain, the missing manual; that sort of thing. What is the book, in your own words? Maybe we’ll start with Taylor then Bill can chime in.

TE: First of all, I want to acknowledge that Bill is kind of the originator of the book. He had already been working on it for a while and I want to give a little history here, just because I think it speaks to what the book’s about. He came to me about four or five years ago and said, “I’m working on this book. I’m kind of hitting a place where I’m feeling really blocked. Would you be willing to help me co-write it because you’ve done some similar stuff with some of your other writing?” I thought it over and I said, “Yeah, sure.”

It’s been a long road to get this book put together. I mean, it’s turned into three e-books and a workbook which speaks to it. So what do we see it as? I think I see it as a catalog of certainly stuff related to the brain but really behaviors and actions that can come out of being more aware of the brain and how it programs a lot of our behavior. That’s my take on it. Bill, what would you say to that?

BW: Well, I think we’ve tried to produce a taxonomy, a way of categorizing behavioral practices, things that can be described in purely behavioral terms; that actually have a measurable neurological effect on people, physiological effect on people. Things that you can learn to do that could be said to truly impact your skills as far as fundamental human activities; things like concentration, memory, metabolism; things that impact pretty much anything you would want to do in your life.

We’ve tried to abstract that as much as possible from any specific tradition because in many ways, the traditions these things come out of have a tendency to separate out people as much as they bring them in. Someone will say, “Well, psychology is too cold or inhuman for me” or “I don’t do Eastern mysticism” or “That’s too fuzzy and spiritual”, any reason to not try the thing themselves, whereas in behavioral terms, these are things that you can learn to do that will change your level of skill as a human being.

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 21 – Orienting Pop Culture Magic: Mindfulness GPS and the Maps of Indeterminate Destiny

Open Source, 3D Printable Brain Scanner, Brought to You by DARPA

Open BCI, an Open Source, 3D Printable Brain Scanner

My colleague Bob McMillan reports:

Conor Russomanno and Joel Murphy have a dream: They want to create an open-source brain scanner that you can print out at home, strap onto your head, and hook straight into your brainwaves.

This past week, they printed their first headset prototype on a 3-D printer, and WIRED has the first photos.

Bootstrapped with a little funding help from DARPA — the research arm of the Department of Defense — the device is known as OpenBCI . It includes sensors and a mini-computer that plugs into sensors on a black skull-grabbing piece of plastic called the “Spider Claw 3000,” which you print out on a 3-D printer. Put it all together, and it operates as a low-cost electroencephalography (EEG) brainwave scanner that connects to your PC.

Full Story: Wired: These Guys Are Creating a Brain Scanner You Can Print Out at Home

Computer Chips That Work Like a Brain Are Coming — Just Not Yet

I wrote for Wired about computer chips designed specifically for building neural networks:

Qualcomm is now preparing a line of computer chips that mimic the brain. Eventually, the chips could be used to power Siri or Google Now-style digital assistants, control robotic limbs, or pilot self-driving cars and autonomous drones, says Qualcomm director of product management Samir Kumar.

But don’t get too excited yet. The New York Times reported this week that Qualcomm plans to release a version of the chips in the coming year, and though that’s true, we won’t see any real hardware anytime soon. “We are going to be looking for a very small selection of partners to whom we’d make our hardware architecture available,” Kumar explains. “But it will just be an emulation of the architecture, not the chips themselves.”

Qualcomm calls the chips, which were first announced back in October, Zeroth, after the Isaac Asimov’s zeroth law of robotics: “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”

The Zeroth chips are based on a new architecture that radically departs from the architectures that have dominated computing for the past few decades. Instead, it mimics the structure of the human brain, which consists of billions of cells called neurons that work in tandem. Kumar explains that although the human brain does its processing much more slowly than digital computers, it’s able to complete certain types of calculations much more quickly and efficiently than a standard computer, because it can do many calculations at once.

Even the world’s largest supercomputers are able to use “only” one million processing cores at a time.

Full Story: Wired: Computer Chips That Work Like a Brain Are Coming — Just Not Yet

See also:

Palm Pilot Inventor Wants to Open Source the Human Brain

Yorkshire Pigs Control Computer Gear With Brain Waves

Lucid Dreamers May Help Us Understand Consciousness

Dorian Rolston on lucid dreaming research:

Lucid dreaming is unusual and unstable, she insists, perhaps only “an exception, an accident.” She grants that regular dreaming may serve some critical biological function—nightly information processing, say, or bodily temperature control. But lucid dreaming “is not meant to be.”

In a more ruminative moment, Voss confessed that lucid dreams might offer a privileged view into the evolution of consciousness in the brain: progressing from the primitive activity of “a cold-blooded animal” during non-REM sleep, to the sparks of real cognition of “a rabbit or cat” during regular dreaming, to the peak of self-awareness, reasoning, and memory during lucid dreaming, in which the dreamer at last possesses “a human brain, a higher-order conscious brain.”

Full Story: Matter: The Dream Catcher

See also:

How Can You Control Your Dreams?

Video Gamers Are Better Lucid Dreamers?

New Study Finds No Causal Link Between Schizophrenia and Marijuana

Previous studies have found that cannabis users were more likely to develop psychotic disorders than non-cannabis users, but were unable to determine a causal relationship between use of the drug and psychosis. A new study suggests that there is no causal link.

In the new study, by comparing families with and without a history of marijuana use, the Harvard researchers were able to address this question.

They recruited four groups:

-87 non-psychotic people who had used no drugs.
-84 non-psychotic people who had used marijuana.
-32 patients who had schizophrenia but hadn’t used drugs.
-76 patients with schizophrenia who had used marijuana.

They then looked at the relatives of those with schizophrenia in comparison to the relatives of those in the control groups.

The results showed an increased risk of developing schizophrenia in the relatives of patients who already had schizophrenia, whether or not those patients used marijuana.

This study, then, finds no evidence that marijuana is associated with developing schizophrenia.

Full Story: PsyBlog: Marijuana Does Not Cause Schizophrenia


Pot smokers who started young more likely to exhibit psychosis

Cannabis-Psychosis link not caused by dopamine increase

Is Schizophrenia Caused by Retroviruses?

What Does IQ Really Measure?

I’ve wondered for a long time how IQ studies controlled for the motivation level of the participants. Turns out they don’t:

New work, led by Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, and reported online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explores the effect of motivation on how well people perform on IQ tests. While subjects taking such tests are usually instructed to try as hard as they can, previous research has shown that not everyone makes the maximum effort. A number of studies have found that subjects who are promised monetary rewards for doing well on IQ and other cognitive tests score significantly higher.

To further examine the role of motivation on both IQ test scores and the ability of IQ tests to predict life success, Duckworth and her team carried out two studies, both reported in today’s paper. First, they conducted a “meta-analysis” that combined the results of 46 previous studies of the effect of monetary incentives on IQ scores, representing a total of more than 2000 test-taking subjects. The financial rewards ranged from less than $1 to $10 or more. The team calculated a statistical parameter called Hedge’s g to indicate how big an effect the incentives had on IQ scores; g values of less than 0.2 are considered small, 0.5 are moderate, and 0.7 or higher are large.

Duckworth’s team found that the average effect was 0.64 (which is equivalent to nearly 10 points on the IQ scale of 100), and remained higher than 0.5 even when three studies with unusually high g values were thrown out. Moreover, the effect of financial rewards on IQ scores increased dramatically the higher the reward: Thus rewards higher than $10 produced g values of more than 1.6 (roughly equivalent to more than 20 IQ points), whereas rewards of less than $1 were only one-tenth as effective.

Full Story: What Does IQ Really Measure?

Full paper here.

(via Slate Star Codex)

Also of note: A study found that students who thought intelligence was malleable got better grades. “Convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades. The intervention had the biggest effect for students who started out believing intelligence was genetic.” (paper).

The End of Prozac Nation and the Rise of Deep Brain Stimulation

Vaughan Bell on the shift from psychiatric drugs that act on one specific neurotransmitter in favor of a “circuit” driven model of treating mental and neurological disorders:

In its place is a science focused on understanding the brain as a series of networks, each of which supports a different aspect of our experience and behaviour. By this analysis, the brain is a bit like a city: you can’t make sense of the bigger picture without knowing how everything interacts. Relatively few residents of Belfast who live in the Shankill spend their money in the Falls Road and this tells us much more about the city – as these are the key loyalist and republican areas – than knowing that the average income of each area is much the same. Similarly, knowing that key brain areas interact differently when someone gets depressed tells us something important that a measure of average brain activity would miss. […]

Perhaps more surprising for some is the explosion in deep brain stimulation procedures, where electrodes are implanted in the brains of patients to alter electronically the activity in specific neural circuits. Medtronic, just one of the manufacturers of these devices, claims that its stimulators have been used in more than 100,000 patients. Most of these involve well-tested and validated treatments for Parkinson’s disease, but increasingly they are being trialled for a wider range of problems. Recent studies have examined direct brain stimulation for treating pain, epilepsy, eating disorders, addiction, controlling aggression, enhancing memory and for intervening in a range of other behavioural problems.

Full Story: The Guardian: Changing brains: why neuroscience is ending the Prozac era

See Also:

Deep brain stimulation to treat depression

The Curious Case of a Woman Addicted to Her Brain Implant

The effect of diminished belief in free will

Tom Stafford wrote:

Psychologists have used this section of the book, or sentences taken from it or inspired by it, to induce feelings of determinism in experimental subjects. A typical study asks people to read and think about a series of sentences such as “Science has demonstrated that free will is an illusion”, or “Like everything else in the universe, all human actions follow from prior events and ultimately can be understood in terms of the movement of molecules”.

The effects on study participants are generally compared with those of other people asked to read sentences that assert the existence of free will, such as “I have feelings of regret when I make bad decisions because I know that ultimately I am responsible for my actions”, or texts on topics unrelated to free will.

And the results are striking. One study reported that participants who had their belief in free will diminished were more likely to cheat in a maths test. In another, US psychologists reported that people who read Crick’s thoughts on free will said they were less likely to help others. […]

This puts an extra burden of responsibility on philosophers, scientists, pundits and journalists who use evidence from psychology or neuroscience experiments to argue that free will is an illusion. We need to be careful about what stories we tell, given what we know about the likely consequences.

Fortunately, the evidence shows that most people have a sense of their individual freedom and responsibility that is resistant to being overturned by neuroscience. Those sentences from Crick’s book claim that most scientists believe free will to be an illusion. My guess is that most scientists would want to define what exactly is meant by free will, and to examine the various versions of free will on offer, before they agree whether it is an illusion or not.

Full Story: Mind Hacks: The effect of diminished belief in free will

Interesting stuff, especially when considered alongside the Milgram experiments, which turned out not to be very sound. It also brings to mind the Kitty Genovese myth. If this effect is real, it is important to be aware of it so that we can try to overide it in ourselves.

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