Photos: Structures in the Brain

It is only fitting that the story of the brain should be a visual one, for the visuals had the ancients fooled for millenniums. The brain was so ugly that they assumed the mind must lie elsewhere. Now those same skeletal silhouettes glow plump and brightly colored, courtesy of a variety of inserted genes encoding fluorescent molecules. A glossy new art book, “Portraits of the Mind,” hopes to draw the general reader into neuroscience with the sheer beauty of its images.

See some pictures of the structures of the brain here

It’s All In Your Head: Neuroscience Strikes Back!

From Newsweek:

Neuroscientists consider it settled that the mind arises from the cooperation of billions of interconnected cells that, individually, are no smarter than amoebae. But it’s a shocking idea to some that the human mind could arise out of such an array of mindlessness. Many express amazement that emotions, pain, sexual feelings or religious belief could be a product of brain function. They are put off by the notion that such rich experiences could be reduced to mechanical or chemical bits. Or they worry that scientific explanations may seduce people into a kind of moral laziness that provides a ready excuse for any human failing: “My brain made me do it.” Our brains indeed do make us do it, but that is nonetheless consistent with meaningful lives and moral choices.

My brain makes me do horrible things… like blogging on the regular basis. Read the rest of the piece.

Ruins of Identity: Irretrievable Damage.

So finishing up Part One of Malabou’s Les Nouveaux blessés – the remaining chapters of this part (3 and 4) deal primarily with an issue that was already set up through the discussion of what constitutes cerebral (and, by extention, psychic) identity – in these chapters we will see the first elements of what constitutes the primary goal of the study that could be roughly presented as following: what does cerebral trauma tell us about the human identity? how does psychoanalysis (and philosophy in general) deal with the new information given to us by neurosciences regarding the physical processes that define who we are? These issues of identity, of course, are not approached naively and without preparation. Carl Dyke posted a link to his essay on the issues that, I think, gives a great summary of the main problems (with philosophy and neuroscience constituting only a part of the big picture) – you can read it here (PDF).

Chapter 3: L’identité sans précédent (Identity without precedent) Continue reading

Thinking About Morality

Here’s an interesting article in the Scientific American by Adina Roskies and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong:

Cognitive science and moral philosophy might seem like strange bedfellows, but in the past decade they have become partners. In a recent issue of Cognition, the Harvard University psychologist Joshua Greene and colleagues extend this trend. Their experiment utilizes conventional behavioral methods, but it was designed to test a hypothesis stemming from previous fMRI investigations into the neural bases of moral judgments (see here and here).

In their study Greene et al. give subjects difficult moral dilemmas in which one alternative leads to better consequences (such as more lives saved) but also violates an intuitive moral restriction (it requires a person to directly or intentionally cause harm to someone else). For example, in the “crying baby” dilemma subjects must judge whether it is wrong to smother their own baby in order to save a large group of people that includes the baby. In this scenario, which was also used by the television show M.A.S.H., enemy soldiers will hear the baby cry unless it is smothered. Sixty percent of people choose to smother the baby in order to save more lives. A judgment that it is appropriate to save the most lives, even if it requires you to suffocate a child, is labeled “utilitarian” by Greene et al., whereas a judgment that it is not appropriate is called “deontological.” These names pay homage to traditional moral philosophies.

The rest is here.