Cool air on my head. It felt good. Gliding along on the wheels. The bike path ends at the bridge. I always ride up the last driveway to cross the bridge on the sidewalk. Take the previous driveway. It’s a change. There’ll be a little bit of exciting terrain on the boulevard, the grass, before the smooth sidewalk again.
A groove. A gap. A shoulder. A ledge. Sidewalk is higher than the grass. A very sharp shelf edge. It’s going to trap my wheels. Always wear your helmet, kids.
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Derya Unutmaz originally shared this post on Google+
Philosopher Dan Dennett makes a compelling argument that not only don’t we understand our own consciousness, but that half the time our brains are actively fooling us.
Mute the volume until Dennett is onscreen.
I don’t usually, well, at all if I can help it, crib posts from BoingBoing, but this one fits in with the general theme of this place. fMRI humor ar ar ar points to a page of jokes at the UWO psych department fMRI for Newbies humour pages.
So it’s from London, it’s about brains, it’s supposed to be funny, so it qualifies.
For Mona, and Identity
MindHacks post: Is this the end of the mystery of self-awareness?: pointing to an essay by V.S. Ramachandran on consciousness and self: SELF AWARENESS: THE LAST FRONTIER.
His arguments use cases of various anomalies in the brain to point to how ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ is constructed. For him (and this is me oversimplifying) it seems to come down to mirror neurons
I also suggest that although these [mirror] neurons initially emerged in our ancestors to adopt another’s allocentric visual point of view, they evolved further in humans to enable the adoption of another’s metaphorical point of view. (“I see it from his point of view” etc.) …
There are also: “touch mirror neurons” that fire not only when your skin is touched but when you watch someone else touched. This raises an interesting question; how does the neuron know what the stimulus is? Why doesn’t the activity of these neurons lead you to literally experience the touch delivered to another person? … It is a sobering thought that the only barrier between you and others is your skin receptors!
… despite all the pride that your self takes in its individuality and privacy, the only thing that separates you from me is a small subset of neural circuits in your frontal lobes interacting with mirror neurons. Damage these and you “lose your identity”—your sensory system starts blending with those of others…
… there may be dysfunctional interaction between the mirror neurons and frontal inhibitory structures leading to a dissolution of the sense of self as being distinct from others (or indeed from the world ). Lose the world and lose yourself—and it’s as close to death as you can get.
… these same circuits [might] become hyperactive … The result would be an intense heightening of the patient’s sensory appreciation of the world and intense empathy for all beings to the extent of seeing no barriers between himself and the cosmos—the basis of religious and mystical experiences.
The skandas are empty. Form, feeling, perception, mental formations, consciousness are not self, are not identity. Body is just a filter for sensation. We are only our relationship with the world, not fixed, always changing, only this moment.
Update Wednesday, December 31, 2008:
First, Richard Dawkins here, is explaining a model of understanding relationship, the scale of things, about why we as human animals exist at the scale we do.
Sunyata is difficult to grasp. It isn’t empty, like a glass with no water, but it is more, rather, like the glass as it moves through time and space, from particles of sand to particles of sand (and that is only a small portion of its presence) containing and not containing, empty and full, and rather like the dune that Dawkins describes at about ten minutes into this video.
Dawkins would probably lambaste me for turning this lecture into a Dharma talk, for reading some kind of spirituality into the examples he gives here, but he also touches so closely on Sunyata, I think it is difficult to not do so.
His story of the Pentagon General trying to walk through the wall – after all they are both made of atoms and are empty, explains the Middle World scale of our existence, but also parodies the deep misunderstanding of emptiness as something physical.
Rather, the story of the dune, a wave of sand blown across the desert asks when, where, and how is this thing actually separate from the world? Only in it’s name. Only in our mind. Just as the dune is made of sand, of compound things, so is Self, piling up, blown over, moving, only a series of moments in relationship with another series of moments.
And he says practically that in his closing comment that we “swim in a social world”, that modelling thinking on a ‘needs driven’ organism is a useful model. Sounds like Dukkha to me.
Ramachandran talks about how brain damage gives clues to how the mind works, in three examples; understanding Imposter syndrome, curing phantom limb pain, and Synesthesia’s high frequency amongst poets and artists – although Synesthesia isn’t strictly brain damage.
The first example is about broken visual sensory connections, the second about dissolving a false sensory somatic connection with visual retraining, and the third about blended non-differentated sensory brain connections and metaphor.
I find Synesthesia quite magical. I do not have it – but we all have it. We inherit it. The parts of the brain which specialize in number and colour are quite proximate, as are the areas for musical tone and colour. Our brain, as it grows in the womb differentiates the areas. Apparently the whole brain, as it begins, is suffused with connections throughout, connecting everything to everything else. As it grows, these suffused connections drop away and specialize. Sometimes they don’t completely separate from adjacent areas.
This, to a degree, is the state of each of our individualized brains, our ‘each to it’s own’ 3 lb. mass of jelly which just is not in any kind of fixed, perfect or finished state, more or less similar to others, more specialized or differentiated here or there, maybe a bit “broken” or knotted in another place.
Now, don’t let me get all mystical and inarticulate on you, but metaphor is – and non-discriminating awareness is what we do before we decide what is and what is not.
Update: Some great discussion off that TED site and a link to lectures from BBC