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Pilot of My Soul 18

Posted by timothy
from the like-to-settle-down-with-a-nice-dopamine dept.
nickynicky9doors writes "The International Herald Tribune has an article on one of the recent advances in neuroscience. The article harkens back to Freud and suggests many of our actions are unconscious. Brain circuits involved in reward assesment process dopamine as a chemical signal. It is thought human dopamine-based reward assesment includes sending dopamine signals to the frontal cortex. Beginning in our earliest years the system informs our expectations and our reactions."
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Pilot of My Soul

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  • I'd love to read it, but when I click on the link I get a page with no article text.
    • The brain's automatic pilot
      Sandra Blakeslee The New York Times Thursday, February 21, 2002
      NEW YORK Compulsive gambling, attendance at sporting events, vulnerability to telephone scams and exuberant investing in the stock market may not seem to have much in common. But neuroscientists have uncovered a common thread.
      .
      Such behaviors, they say, rely on brain circuits that evolved to help animals assess rewards important to their survival, like food and sex. Researchers have found that those same circuits are used by the human brain to assess social rewards as diverse as investment income and surprise home runs at the bottom of the ninth.
      .
      They found that the brain systems that detect and evaluate such rewards generally operate outside conscious awareness. In navigating the world and deciding what is rewarding, humans are often closer to zombies than sentient beings.
      .
      The findings, which are gaining wide adherence among neuroscientists, challenge the notion that people always make conscious choices about what they want and how to obtain it. In fact, the neuroscientists say, much of what happens in the brain goes on outside conscious awareness.
      .
      The idea has been around since Freud, said Gregory Berns, a psychiatrist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Psychologists have studied unconscious processing of information in terms of subliminal effects, memory and learning, he said, and they have started to map what parts of the brain are involved in such processing. But only now are they learning how these different circuits interact, he said.
      .
      "My hunch is that most decisions are made subconsciously with many gradations of awareness," Berns said.
      .
      P. Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, says that the idea that people can get themselves to work on automatic pilot raises two questions: How does the brain know what it must pay conscious attention to? And how did evolution create a brain that could make such distinctions?
      .
      The answer emerging from experiments on animals and people is that the brain has evolved to shape itself, starting in infancy, according to what it encounters in the external world.
      .
      As Montague explained it, much of the world is predictable: Buildings usually stay in one place, gravity makes objects fall, light at an oblique angle makes long shadows, and so forth. As children grow, their brains build internal models of everything they encounter, gradually learning to identify objects and to predict how they move.
      .
      As new information flows into it from the outside world, the brain automatically compares it with what it already knows. If things match up - as when people drive to work every day along the same route - events, objects and the passage of time may not reach conscious awareness.
      .
      But if there is a surprise - a car suddenly runs a red light - the mismatch between what is expected and what is happening instantly shifts the brain into a new state. A brain circuit involved in decision-making is activated, again out of conscious awareness. Drawing on past experience held in memory banks, a decision is made: Hit the brake, swerve the wheel or keep going. Only a second or so later, after hands and feet have initiated the chosen action, does the sense of having made a decision arise. Montague estimates that 90 percent of what people do every day is carried out by this kind of automatic, unconscious system that evolved to help creatures survive.
      .
      Animals use these circuits to know what to attend to, what to ignore and what is worth learning about. People use them for the same purposes, which as a result of their bigger brains and culture include listening to music, eating chocolate, assessing beauty, gambling, investing in stocks and experimenting with drugs - all topics that have been studied this past year with brain-imaging machines that directly measure the activity of human brain circuits.
      .
      The circuits that have been studied most extensively involve how animals and people assess rewards. They involve a chemical called dopamine. One circuit, which is in a middle region of the brain, helps animals and people instantly assess rewards or lack of rewards.
      .
      The circuit was described in greater detail several years ago by Wolfram Schultz, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University in England, who tracked dopamine production in a monkey's midbrain and experimented with various types of rewards, usually squirts of apple juice that the animal liked.
      .
      Schultz found that when the monkey got more juice than it expected, dopamine neurons fired vigorously. When the monkey got an amount of juice that it expected, based on previous squirts, dopamine neurons did nothing. And when the monkey expected to get juice but got none, the dopamine neurons decreased their firing rate, as if to signal a lack of reward.
      .
      Scientists believe that this midbrain dopamine system is constantly making predictions about what to expect in terms of rewards. Learning takes place only when something unexpected happens and dopamine firing rates increase or decrease. When nothing unexpected happens, as when the same amount of delicious apple juice keeps coming, the dopamine system is quiet. In animals, Montague said, these midbrain dopamine signals are sent directly to brain areas that initiate movements and behavior. These brain areas figure out how to get more apple juice or sit back and do nothing. In humans, though, the dopamine signal is also sent to a higher brain region called the frontal cortex for more elaborate processing.
      Back to Start of Article NEW YORK Compulsive gambling, attendance at sporting events, vulnerability to telephone scams and exuberant investing in the stock market may not seem to have much in common. But neuroscientists have uncovered a common thread.
      .
      Such behaviors, they say, rely on brain circuits that evolved to help animals assess rewards important to their survival, like food and sex. Researchers have found that those same circuits are used by the human brain to assess social rewards as diverse as investment income and surprise home runs at the bottom of the ninth.
      .
      They found that the brain systems that detect and evaluate such rewards generally operate outside conscious awareness. In navigating the world and deciding what is rewarding, humans are often closer to zombies than sentient beings.
      .
      The findings, which are gaining wide adherence among neuroscientists, challenge the notion that people always make conscious choices about what they want and how to obtain it. In fact, the neuroscientists say, much of what happens in the brain goes on outside conscious awareness.
      .
      The idea has been around since Freud, said Gregory Berns, a psychiatrist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Psychologists have studied unconscious processing of information in terms of subliminal effects, memory and learning, he said, and they have started to map what parts of the brain are involved in such processing. But only now are they learning how these different circuits interact, he said.
      .
      "My hunch is that most decisions are made subconsciously with many gradations of awareness," Berns said.
      .
      P. Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, says that the idea that people can get themselves to work on automatic pilot raises two questions: How does the brain know what it must pay conscious attention to? And how did evolution create a brain that could make such distinctions?
      .
      The answer emerging from experiments on animals and people is that the brain has evolved to shape itself, starting in infancy, according to what it encounters in the external world.
      .
      As Montague explained it, much of the world is predictable: Buildings usually stay in one place, gravity makes objects fall, light at an oblique angle makes long shadows, and so forth. As children grow, their brains build internal models of everything they encounter, gradually learning to identify objects and to predict how they move.
      .
      As new information flows into it from the outside world, the brain automatically compares it with what it already knows. If things match up - as when people drive to work every day along the same route - events, objects and the passage of time may not reach conscious awareness.
      .
      But if there is a surprise - a car suddenly runs a red light - the mismatch between what is expected and what is happening instantly shifts the brain into a new state. A brain circuit involved in decision-making is activated, again out of conscious awareness. Drawing on past experience held in memory banks, a decision is made: Hit the brake, swerve the wheel or keep going. Only a second or so later, after hands and feet have initiated the chosen action, does the sense of having made a decision arise. Montague estimates that 90 percent of what people do every day is carried out by this kind of automatic, unconscious system that evolved to help creatures survive.
      .
      Animals use these circuits to know what to attend to, what to ignore and what is worth learning about. People use them for the same purposes, which as a result of their bigger brains and culture include listening to music, eating chocolate, assessing beauty, gambling, investing in stocks and experimenting with drugs - all topics that have been studied this past year with brain-imaging machines that directly measure the activity of human brain circuits.
      .
      The circuits that have been studied most extensively involve how animals and people assess rewards. They involve a chemical called dopamine. One circuit, which is in a middle region of the brain, helps animals and people instantly assess rewards or lack of rewards.
      .
      The circuit was described in greater detail several years ago by Wolfram Schultz, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University in England, who tracked dopamine production in a monkey's midbrain and experimented with various types of rewards, usually squirts of apple juice that the animal liked.
      .
      Schultz found that when the monkey got more juice than it expected, dopamine neurons fired vigorously. When the monkey got an amount of juice that it expected, based on previous squirts, dopamine neurons did nothing. And when the monkey expected to get juice but got none, the dopamine neurons decreased their firing rate, as if to signal a lack of reward.
      .
      Scientists believe that this midbrain dopamine system is constantly making predictions about what to expect in terms of rewards. Learning takes place only when something unexpected happens and dopamine firing rates increase or decrease. When nothing unexpected happens, as when the same amount of delicious apple juice keeps coming, the dopamine system is quiet. In animals, Montague said, these midbrain dopamine signals are sent directly to brain areas that initiate movements and behavior. These brain areas figure out how to get more apple juice or sit back and do nothing. In humans, though, the dopamine signal is also sent to a higher brain region called the frontal cortex for more elaborate processing. NEW YORK Compulsive gambling, attendance at sporting events, vulnerability to telephone scams and exuberant investing in the stock market may not seem to have much in common. But neuroscientists have uncovered a common thread.
      .
      Such behaviors, they say, rely on brain circuits that evolved to help animals assess rewards important to their survival, like food and sex. Researchers have found that those same circuits are used by the human brain to assess social rewards as diverse as investment income and surprise home runs at the bottom of the ninth.
      .
      They found that the brain systems that detect and evaluate such rewards generally operate outside conscious awareness. In navigating the world and deciding what is rewarding, humans are often closer to zombies than sentient beings.
      .
      The findings, which are gaining wide adherence among neuroscientists, challenge the notion that people always make conscious choices about what they want and how to obtain it. In fact, the neuroscientists say, much of what happens in the brain goes on outside conscious awareness.
      .
      The idea has been around since Freud, said Gregory Berns, a psychiatrist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Psychologists have studied unconscious processing of information in terms of subliminal effects, memory and learning, he said, and they have started to map what parts of the brain are involved in such processing. But only now are they learning how these different circuits interact, he said.
      .
      "My hunch is that most decisions are made subconsciously with many gradations of awareness," Berns said.
      .
      P. Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, says that the idea that people can get themselves to work on automatic pilot raises two questions: How does the brain know what it must pay conscious attention to? And how did evolution create a brain that could make such distinctions?
      .
      The answer emerging from experiments on animals and people is that the brain has evolved to shape itself, starting in infancy, according to what it encounters in the external world.
      .
      As Montague explained it, much of the world is predictable: Buildings usually stay in one place, gravity makes objects fall, light at an oblique angle makes long shadows, and so forth. As children grow, their brains build internal models of everything they encounter, gradually learning to identify objects and to predict how they move.
      .
      As new information flows into it from the outside world, the brain automatically compares it with what it already knows. If things match up - as when people drive to work every day along the same route - events, objects and the passage of time may not reach conscious awareness.
      .
      But if there is a surprise - a car suddenly runs a red light - the mismatch between what is expected and what is happening instantly shifts the brain into a new state. A brain circuit involved in decision-making is activated, again out of conscious awareness. Drawing on past experience held in memory banks, a decision is made: Hit the brake, swerve the wheel or keep going. Only a second or so later, after hands and feet have initiated the chosen action, does the sense of having made a decision arise. Montague estimates that 90 percent of what people do every day is carried out by this kind of automatic, unconscious system that evolved to help creatures survive.
      .
      Animals use these circuits to know what to attend to, what to ignore and what is worth learning about. People use them for the same purposes, which as a result of their bigger brains and culture include listening to music, eating chocolate, assessing beauty, gambling, investing in stocks and experimenting with drugs - all topics that have been studied this past year with brain-imaging machines that directly measure the activity of human brain circuits.
      .
      The circuits that have been studied most extensively involve how animals and people assess rewards. They involve a chemical called dopamine. One circuit, which is in a middle region of the brain, helps animals and people instantly assess rewards or lack of rewards.
      .
      The circuit was described in greater detail several years ago by Wolfram Schultz, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University in England, who tracked dopamine production in a monkey's midbrain and experimented with various types of rewards, usually squirts of apple juice that the animal liked.
      .
      Schultz found that when the monkey got more juice than it expected, dopamine neurons fired vigorously. When the monkey got an amount of juice that it expected, based on previous squirts, dopamine neurons did nothing. And when the monkey expected to get juice but got none, the dopamine neurons decreased their firing rate, as if to signal a lack of reward.
      .
      Scientists believe that this midbrain dopamine system is constantly making predictions about what to expect in terms of rewards. Learning takes place only when something unexpected happens and dopamine firing rates increase or decrease. When nothing unexpected happens, as when the same amount of delicious apple juice keeps coming, the dopamine system is quiet. In animals, Montague said, these midbrain dopamine signals are sent directly to brain areas that initiate movements and behavior. These brain areas figure out how to get more apple juice or sit back and do nothing. In humans, though, the dopamine signal is also sent to a higher brain region called the frontal cortex for more elaborate processing. NEW YORK Compulsive gambling, attendance at sporting events, vulnerability to telephone scams and exuberant investing in the stock market may not seem to have much in common. But neuroscientists have uncovered a common thread.
      .
      Such behaviors, they say, rely on brain circuits that evolved to help animals assess rewards important to their survival, like food and sex. Researchers have found that those same circuits are used by the human brain to assess social rewards as diverse as investment income and surprise home runs at the bottom of the ninth.
      .
      They found that the brain systems that detect and evaluate such rewards generally operate outside conscious awareness. In navigating the world and deciding what is rewarding, humans are often closer to zombies than sentient beings.
      .
      The findings, which are gaining wide adherence among neuroscientists, challenge the notion that people always make conscious choices about what they want and how to obtain it. In fact, the neuroscientists say, much of what happens in the brain goes on outside conscious awareness.
      .
      The idea has been around since Freud, said Gregory Berns, a psychiatrist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Psychologists have studied unconscious processing of information in terms of subliminal effects, memory and learning, he said, and they have started to map what parts of the brain are involved in such processing. But only now are they learning how these different circuits interact, he said.
      .
      "My hunch is that most decisions are made subconsciously with many gradations of awareness," Berns said.
      .
      P. Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, says that the idea that people can get themselves to work on automatic pilot raises two questions: How does the brain know what it must pay conscious attention to? And how did evolution create a brain that could make such distinctions?
      .
      The answer emerging from experiments on animals and people is that the brain has evolved to shape itself, starting in infancy, according to what it encounters in the external world.
      .
      As Montague explained it, much of the world is predictable: Buildings usually stay in one place, gravity makes objects
  • by Zelet (515452) on Monday February 25, 2002 @05:44PM (#3067205) Journal
    This has been used in Physics classes for a long time. The Prof performs an experiment, you "know" what is going to happen until it does. This wakes you up and makes you sit up in your chair. This unexpected event gets burned into your brain. Seems like this is the reason. How many of you really learned or payed attention in class when everything is just what you expected?
  • The example they give is the motorist who drives his car to work, paying attention to the drive only when something unusual happens.

    Open your browser window, be it IE, Moz, Konq, Opera, etc...

    What's your first reaction?

    Depending on how you browse, you quickly start looking for the button that says 'Slashdot' or 'Google'. You get a quick hit of dopamine for finding what you want, even if you just closed your browser window a few seconds ago.

    What happens if the site you want doesn't work? Rather than not worrying about it, you reload a few times, don't you? Like the angry monkey wondering why the dispenser isn't giving him his juice, you suddenly get a shock by getting your dopamine level reduced.

    You can browse on autopilot, just like you drive. If I'm sleepy in the morning, I'll open CNN, Washington post, Acid Reflux, Exploitation Now, Penny-Arcade, and Sluggy freelance without ever reading what's there. Takes me a few minutes to realize I'm on autopilot, but once I do I go back and reload those pages to read their daily dose of goodness.

    I recently changed the order of my 'hotlink' buttons in Moz. Now, if I'm not paying attention, I'll visit Wired News a few dozen times before I realize it's not the personal chat board I set up for me and a few friends.
    • What happens if the site you want doesn't work? Rather than not worrying about it, you reload a few times, don't you? Like the angry monkey wondering why the dispenser isn't giving him his juice, you suddenly get a shock by getting your dopamine level reduced.

      Reminds me of an old quote about USENET:

      "If addiction is judged by how long a dumb animal will sit pressing a lever to get a 'fix' of something, to its own detriment, then I would conclude that netnews is far more addictive than cocaine."
      -- Rob Stampfli
  • Connections of facts in this article with special therapy (in fact it is a way of perception) called conscious perception are very interesting. The conscious perception reposes on expectation that nothing will happen (especially the thing we want to perceive) and so e.g. 20. tick of clock we perceive like it would be 1. one.

    It is said it's a very cool feeling.
  • by UpnAtom (551727)
    Of course our behaviour is largely based on simple interactions between neurons and neuropeptides. What else is there?

    However, consider that a piece of your brain the size of a grain of sand contains a billion synapses, belonging to 100,000 neurons, each of which having a unique function.

    Consciousness, free will, love etc are all emergent properties of this most complex system.

    Dave.
  • The Next Step Is... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dancing Tree (536870)
    taking this further and applying it to yourself to add or remove habits that you don't like. If you are trying to gain a new routine, then it would make sense to find a way to link the firing of dopamine receptors with it. Many actions themselves cause the receptors to fire and so are self reaffirming. Whereas other things that we want to do (like brushing your teeth) or don't want to do (like quitting smoking) do not themselves generate closely time linked positive responses. The benefits of these activities is apparent over time but there is no immediate dopamine response related to either. When you are trying to quit smoking, You dopamine levels probably decrease every time you deny yourself the "burning pleasure". It is through a strong consistent act of consciousness (exertion of will), or a minor superiority complex (I'm better by doing this thing and thinking that I'm better actually gives me a dopamine dose), or an outside dopamine reducer/raiser (if I shock myself when I smoke/reward myself with sugar when I don't I'll forcibly change my behavior.).

    It seems that the ideas of this provide a firm example for AI modeling tied to a consciousness modual to turn on for learning and changes in the environmental norm. Whether you get friendly or dangerous machines would seem to be dependant on what the initial reward/punishment programming would be coupled with how much mobility (both communicational and physical) you give them.

    Just some of my musings on this subject

  • by freakpower (451849) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @01:59AM (#3069103)
    It has long been known that the brain reacts to out-of-the-ordinary or meaningful stimuli more than others, and this is further support for that.[If you're really adventurous, check out material on the P300 event-related potential.] However, their claims about it's responsibility are a bit overzealous.

    While it was obvious that rats and monkeys really liked having their reward centers stimulated, it's been unclear whether the dopamine reward system is sufficient for learning or is just one method by which it occurs.

    Correlation between external reward and internal excitation does point to the possibility that dopamine does something important, but to make the leap and say that a specific tract is responsible for unconscious decision-making is like saying "well, the power cables connect to everything in my machine, so the power supply must be where all the processing is done."

    Yes, axons from the midbrain ennervate much of the cortex, but so do axons from most any other brain structure. This is the big problem with neurophysiology: just because an area of the brain looks to be a part of one structure [either by location or by transmitter type] doesn't mean it is.

    I do agree, however, that most everything that goes on up there [points to head] goes on outside the realm of consciousness. That comment, however, belongs to a debate far older than me.
  • For the past couple of weeks I've been entangled in my flatmate's dopamine level problem [slashdot.org]. Fortunately he is doing much better, being allowed out on his own on day release today so I got my first break from psych ward visiting.

    As morbid as it may seem, the whole experience provided very useful evidence against which to check out my own lay theory of mind.

    From the article:
    Learning takes place only when something unexpected happens and dopamine firing rates increase or decrease.

    I'd be more inclined to say that conscious attention takes place only when something unexpected happens and dopamine firing rates increase or decrease, that conscious attention mediating conscious learning. Laughter seems to weaken the pathway from conscious awareness to learning.

    I find it useful to distinguish that kind of conscious learning from the subconscious learning with which we acquire and fine tune many skills.

    My flatmate's dopamine level problem manifested itself in the form of a loss of any ability to retain attention against a tide of random associations seeming to bubble up from somewhere in his subconscious.

    Trouble is we are talking a tight rope here, as overreactive dopamine pathways are implicated in depression.
  • Scott Adams could have told you this. In his books he's written about how his training as a hypnotist convinced him that people don't consciously make most decisions- their brains automatically decide, and awareness tags along afterward to furnish an explanation.

    The fun part is figuring out what ways FNORD are used to balk or emphasis this ;) those of us who've done things like kick a drinking or drugs habit have had to come to terms with this reality, too. It compels a fundamental mistrust of your own motives. That alone can be helpful, even though you cannot actually have any other motives than your own...

  • by skilef (525335)
    ..going offtopic! Why mod me down then? :)
  • Novelty (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sydbarrett74 (74307)
    This corroborates with the work of Claude Shannon, who said that the value of a message is proportional to its novelty, i.e., its unexpectedness. For example, if someone were to tell me that the sky is blue, that's not information. If someone were to tell me that the sky is red, then I would have to assess the accuracy of *all* my visual perceptions.
    • I think it doesnt. Dopamin efect has a psychological efect, Shannon's theory is strictly exact. At least we must find such connections that join them together more clearly than entire analogy that have a spice of some numerology.

      On the other hand, I don't doubt that finding of these connections could be very interesting.

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