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Spontaneous Brain Activity and Human Behavior 141

Posted by Zonk
from the argh-me-precious-brains dept.
Dr. Eggman writes "Ars Technica is featuring an article summarizing an interesting and perhaps controversial paper which finds links between spontaneous brain activity and human behavior. Spontaneous, yet organized brain activity has been observed without stimulation and even in humans under anesthesia. This paper attempts to link this activity to the observed variability of human performance in even simple, repeated tasks, hoping to establish a new avenue of research into alternative brain processing theories. 'The subtraction provided a much cleaner connection between the button press and brain activity in the left SMC. Once spontaneous activity was accounted for, noise was down by 60 percent, and the signal to noise ratio in the experiments doubled. Putting this another way, spontaneous activity accounted for about 60 percent of the variation between tests. The authors say that these results show that spontaneous brain activity is more than simply a physiological artifact; it helps account for some of the variability in human behavior. In that sense, they argue for a greater acceptance of the view that our brain may have some intrinsic activity that's somewhat independent of sensory input.'"
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Spontaneous Brain Activity and Human Behavior

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  • Uh Yeah.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by imstanny (722685) on Friday October 05, 2007 @06:54PM (#20874563)

    They argue for a greater acceptance of the view that our brain may have some intrinsic activity that's somewhat independent of sensory input.

    This has been a postulate of mine for a while. It's the only rational explanation for me thinking about sex every 5 seconds - with our without sensory input.

  • Mind (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cuppa 'Joe' Black (1000483) on Friday October 05, 2007 @06:56PM (#20874579)
    Your mind is not in your brain. Your brain is in your mind.
    • Re:Mind (Score:4, Insightful)

      by BillyBlaze (746775) <tomfelker@gmail.com> on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:09PM (#20874725)
      How can a physical entity exist inside a non-physical entity? Dualism may be a compelling philosophy for some, but lacking any evidence of violations of known physical laws in the brain, it's scientifically useless.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:13PM (#20875317)
        Everything I know about my brain is mediated knowledge. Other people (lots of other people whom I never met) with specialized equipment (which I will never get to use) have been studying the brain for generations. They have formed many elaborate models about how it works, what it does, and how it accounts for human behavior. Then, they shared these models with the world (including me).

        My experience of my mind, however is immediate. I sense it directly. I didn't become aware of it by being told it was there, I became aware of it by feeling it.

        So, in a very concrete sense, my mind is more real to me than my brain. I have experienced my mind directly, whereas I have only heard about my brain second-hand. What sense does it make for me to believe that something which I experience moment-by-moment isn't real because of its incompatibilities between some idea of how things work which I have only experienced, and can only ever experience, second-hand?

        Scientists model our experience of reality. These models are not perfect; they have gaps. We shouldn't respond to these gaps by pretending that reality has them too. We should simply recognize them as gaps and continue to study what we can.

      • > How can a physical entity exist inside a non-physical entity?

        http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/in [reference.com]
        in: (...)

        2. (used to indicate inclusion within something abstract or immaterial): in politics; in the autumn.

        > lacking any evidence of violations of known physical laws in the brain, it's scientifically useless.

        This is a tautology. Introducing concepts that are beyond what can be scientifically experienced is useless from a scientific POV, like e.g. the concept of color is useless from the point
        • by Spamboi (179761)

          This is a tautology. Introducing concepts that are beyond what can be scientifically experienced is useless from a scientific POV, like e.g. the concept of color is useless from the point of view of counting from one to ten.

          On the other hand, the concept of color is absolutely critical from the point of view of counting from one to tan.

          • > On the other hand, the concept of color is absolutely critical from the point of view of counting from one to tan.

            Oh noes, not the Church of Tantology again!
      • by jotok (728554)
        It means "the mind is not a result of the action of the brain" but rather "the brain is a construct that exists in your mind" (along with the rest of experienced reality).

        Think of this...you have nerves that tell you when you are damaged by detecting the contents of cells (which can be released through necrosis, gross cellular damage, etc.). The experience of this information is "pain." Where does the experience occur?

        If you attend the symphony, they make all the vibrations that tickle the mechanical rece
        • My theory: decently complex ("thinking" and not purely reflexive) brains construct an always-limited but nevertheless-good-at-predicting internal model of the outside world. There are many parts of the brain that feed this model in a huge variety of ways, including the model itself via an adaptive feedback network that exhibits highly comlpex plasticity. Your brain *expects* the outside world to tend to differ from your internal model, and uses that as a basis for refining the model. I think these differ
          • by jotok (728554)
            That's neat. You don't think though that it would reduce down to some deterministic model of the mind? Input, output...Observe, orient, decide, act...Ad nauseum?

            I don't think that the idea of the mind as separate from the brain is any kind of magical thinking...anymore than the assumption that it isn't. But so far as I know, outside of serious academia, potheads, and slashdot (or the intersection of all three) there are no really good counter-examples :)

            Seems like I should go review the literature some m
        • by fbjon (692006)

          If you attend the symphony, they make all the vibrations that tickle the mechanical receptors in your ear. Where does the experience of enjoying the sound of the cello occur?

          It's not easy finding an answer to that question. However, that may not be because the answer is difficult to find, but rather because it's the wrong question to begin with.

          A bad /. counter-example:

          "I'm downloading a torrent, as the connection breaks. Looking at the screen, I register a popup describing the condition. Where does the experience of a broken connection occur?"

          We're seeing a chain of systems, with a high-order intelligence at the top capable of influencing the subsystems in an abstract way

          • by jotok (728554)
            Yah. In science as in other disciplines, we have to think in layers, so that's not a bad counter-example. I suppose on some level you can define a broken connection in terms of a failure of bits to flow...but how helpful is that? What does that tell us about the experience? How does it enrich us in any way?

            I read recently that there is a ton of processing that goes on before we "experience" things. Like when you flick your eyes around the room--you don't "see" what exists between Point A and Point B; b
            • by fbjon (692006)

              I read recently that there is a ton of processing that goes on before we "experience" things. Like when you flick your eyes around the room--you don't "see" what exists between Point A and Point B; but your eyes do. Weird.

              Yes, this is a very interesting example of the parallellism of the human brain. Somewhere between the process of conscious, rational thought and the visual sense, some part of the brain might see something interesting. Only moments later will one then consiously realise that, and turn the eyes back to verify what it was, and only then comes the full realisation of what one had been seeing all along.

              Building on that, to further explain my original point: the experience of listening to pleasant music is mor

    • Ahh, the joys of pot.

    • by ackthpt (218170) *

      Your mind is not in your brain. Your brain is in your mind.

      It's all in your head.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Johann Public (542327)
      The functioning of brain processes produces the phenomenon of mind
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        Believe what you will, pedants! Your nervous system is but an interface betwixt the shimmering perfection of mind and the karmic shithole to which you desperately cling. Wake up! Wake up!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jotok (728554)
        So, we have this idea of the "brain." When we say "brain" we'll just assume that it includes all data ever gathered about the brain by anyone on this planet, ever.

        How did we get that info? Well, we used the senses we have at our disposal...but those are mediated in the brain. And they do not always reflect what we think of as "objective" reality. This is not about subjectivity; this is about our experience being distant from actual events, like how chemical data can be transmitted as either taste or as
        • by fbjon (692006)
          Our experiences are exactly as distant from the activities of our brain/mind as it is from the activities of an apple falling from a tree. There is nothing magical about the human brain -- or any other brain! -- that prevents us from objectively knowing how it works any less that other physical processes. You might say it's difficult for a human to know, and I might agree. But we are not "a human", we are humankind, and we can communicate with each other to eliminate bias.

          Anyway, in short: the mind is not

          • by jotok (728554)
            Oh, eliminating bias is a whole 'nother animal. I'm fairly confident that statistically speaking we can repeat measurements and compensate for "bias." But this has absolutely nothing to do with the question of where experience occurs.

            Again, the idea that the mind is a construction of the brain is an assumption, nothing more; a useful assumption, with a lot of explanatory power, but as yet no data to back it up. Consider: we say that the brain makes the mind, based on some data. What apprehends the data?
            • by fbjon (692006)
              Yes, the problem of subjectivity. But if I can study your brain and fully understand how it works with regards to your behaviour and experiences, and vice versa, then we understand our own brains as well by proxy. The real problem as I see it is sentience, this mysterious process that somehow is "me". However, if it is possible to fully understand the brain, then this sentience is in there somewhere, as an emergent property of the signal patterns of the brain. "The mind" seems very concrete to most of us, b
    • by iwulinux (655433)
      In Soviet Russia, mind is in brain!
  • by User 956 (568564) on Friday October 05, 2007 @06:59PM (#20874599) Homepage
    an article summarizing an interesting and perhaps controversial paper which finds links between spontaneous brain activity and human behavior.

    This study would have been way more exciting if they had used goatse to elicit the neural response.
  • Maybe, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday October 05, 2007 @06:59PM (#20874603)

    authors say that these results show that spontaneous brain activity is more than simply a physiological artifact; it helps account for some of the variability in human behavior. In that sense, they argue for a greater acceptance of the view that our brain may have some intrinsic activity that's somewhat independent of sensory input.


    While that may be the case, how does one rule out that the possibility that the activity is a delayed reaction to sensory input, rather than an immediate one? Even assuming that the anesthetization is really enough to rule out the possibility of it being the result of immediate sensory input...
    • Re:Maybe, but... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by marcello_dl (667940) on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:48PM (#20875555) Homepage Journal
      > While that may be the case, how does one rule out that the possibility that the activity is a delayed reaction to sensory input, rather than an immediate one?

      Might be, but if you are trying to force a "mechanical" model of the brain (which I don't assume you're doing) think about this: a degree of randomness helps avoiding stalling or deadlock situation (think about old toy cars with stupid algorithms to avoid obstacles that get stuck hitting the same spot over and over, or how ethernet devices cope with packet collisions).
      On another perspective, the one of behavior, predictable patterns are weaker than randomized one, because the external world is subjected to chaotic changes and because you will never catch by surprise a competitor who's studying you. So a degree of randomness is likely an evolutionary advantage.

      Besides, if there were a delay it would be quite variable not to have been yet detected as such by all but superficial analysis, so a more general theory of something random inside the brain would hold.
      • On another perspective, the one of behavior, predictable patterns are weaker than randomized one, because the external world is subjected to chaotic changes and because you will never catch by surprise a competitor who's studying you. So a degree of randomness is likely an evolutionary advantage.


        It can also be selected against evolution-wise. If you had predictable patterns, a predator of comparable evolution-al tendencies would evolve to exploit such behaviors.
    • Another theory is that the "spontaneous brain activity" is normally suppressed, and it exists because it allows for a faster reaction time if necessary.
    • Anything that is not a direct consequece of some immediate sensory input must be a consequence of some internal state. Such internal state can very well be just a "delayed sensory input" like you said. But is't just a philosopycal distinction at the end.

      Pretty much anything that is not too simple has plenty of internal states. You can still boot and run a computer without keyboard, mouse and network card attached, and the same goes for a simple cell or a clock.

      of course you have to supply the energy that th
  • 1. Early in the morning when I'm fresh

    2. When I'm really really tired or slightly drunk and think I'm funny.

    Also tend to come up with humourous ideas when I'm under pressure and mind is racing through problems -- I'll think, "Hey what if this were like so..." and the inevitable side-tracking happens. The Bob only knows how many funny things I'm come up with over the years and remember bugger all about any more. Good to know the well doesn't run dry though, there's always a fresh batch of insanity right

    • by geekoid (135745)
      Do you think you're funny, or do you think other people don't think your funny because you've been drinking?
      • by ackthpt (218170) *

        Do you think you're funny, or do you think other people don't think your funny because you've been drinking?

        That, I think was what I referred to with the italic think. I was at the pub last evening and someone interjected a bit of humour about something I was talking about. It was a clunker, perhaps because the jester was 3, nay, 4 sheets to the wind and working on adding another.

        We may think we're funny at times, but it's all subjective. Some people really are funny (frinstance a humourous book sel

  • Whah? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yali (209015) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:05PM (#20874661)

    First paragraph of the Neuron article (which is paraphrased in Ars Technica):

    Historically, there have existed two alternate perspectives for understanding brain function (Llinas, 2001). The first conceptualizes the brain as an input-output system primarily driven by interaction with the external world. The second suggests that the brain operates on its own, intrinsically, with external factors modulating rather than determining the operation of the system. The former perspective has motivated the majority of neuroscience research, but accumulating evidence is emphasizing the importance of the latter.

    Does anybody who has spent more than 2 minutes thinking about the human mind really believe that first argument? Somebody should introduce these guys to William James [yorku.ca]:

    It is astonishing what havoc is wrought in psychology by admitting at the outset apparently innocent suppositions, that nevertheless contain a flaw. The bad consequences develop themselves later on, and are irremediable, being woven through the whole texture of the work. The notion that sensations, being the simplest things, are the first things to take up in psychology is one of these suppositions.

    The experiment may well be scientifically interesting, but not for the reason advertised.

    • Does anybody who has spent more than 2 minutes thinking about the human mind really believe that first argument?

      Well it's way simpler and much more deterministic. Perhaps a good first try, but, like you, I think it's not even wrong [wikipedia.org]. But I'm not a neuroscientist.....

    • by Christianson (1036710) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @04:20AM (#20877497)
      Does anybody who has spent more than 2 minutes thinking about the human mind really believe that first argument?

      In the sense that it is an oversimplification, useful to establish things in a word-count limited introduction, but whose primary role seems to be to lead laypeople to grotesque and frightening misapprehensions, no, neuroscientists don't believe that first argument.

      It is unquestionable that there is neural activity in the absence of sensory stimuli or motor response. It is also known that this activity is not unstructured but correlated across the neuronal population (though the significance of this fact is a point of dispute). Nor does anyone assume that this activity does not have the ability to influence the response of an organism -- neuronal activity is neuronal activity.

      At the same time, the paramount task of the nervous system is to process the environment around the organism and respond to it appropriately. To be successful in the natural selection sense, you cannot ignore pain, mating signals, fire, loud noises, sudden movements, etc., and when something comes up, you must be able to formulate and implement a strategy which can actually deal with the situation that stimulus describes. Sensory experience is a huge part of neural activity, and if deprived of it long enough -- so that the only activity is the spontaneous activity mentioned above -- the brain enters a degenerate state. Or, to put it another way, you go insane.

      The nervous system, then, is a massively complex system which has a baseline pattern of activity, is receiving constant input from a variety of sensory organs (even when you close your eyes, or plug your ears, you receive input from them; it's just meaningless), all of which is being modulated by "supervisory systems" (e.g, the dopaminergic and serotonergic systems) that control meta-response properties such as attention, anticipation, learning, expectation, and so on. The debate can be reduced to two issues. The first is: once you have accounted for stimulus-driven activity and the effects of the higher-order supervisory systems, does the baseline activity contribute any significant fraction of the organism's final response? And if so, is the baseline activity no more than the muddled-together echo of past stimulus-driven activity rattling around the recurrent network that is the brain and can thus be regarded as simply random noise, or is it meaningful in its own right?

      The paper in question [neuron.org] tries to address the first of these questions. Their results seem to demonstrate that a large fraction of the inter-trial variability in a motor task cannot be explained by known modulating factors such as attention, and thus can be attributed primarily to the baseline activity. Thus, baseline activity would appear to be a major influence on response. The second question remains open, and it is really the core of the issue. These results, however, go a long way towards making it a pressing issue.

      The experiment may well be scientifically interesting, but not for the reason advertised.

      The experiment is scientifically interesting, and for exactly the reasons advertised. There is a fundamental difference between neuroscience and psychology. One studies the operation of the nervous system, and the other studies the nature of the human mind. The basic element of study of neuroscience is spikes, of which you are never aware; psychology interests itself in thoughts, which (from the perspective of a neuroscientist) we can't even meaningfully define, let alone measure. Perhaps one day we might be able to unite the two, but at this point, a criticism of neuroscience based on psychological principles is no more well-founded than lambasting the mathematics of game theory because it runs afoul of sociological thought.

      • by jotok (728554)
        Sensory experience is a huge part of neural activity, and if deprived of it long enough -- so that the only activity is the spontaneous activity mentioned above -- the brain enters a degenerate state. Or, to put it another way, you go insane.

        I prefer the term "rampant," thank you very much.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by yali (209015)
        Your analogy to math/sociology rings false. Mathematics is not an empirical science; its relation to sociology (or any scientific field) is complementary rather than overlapping. A mathematician who works on the pure math underlying game theory is perfectly safe as long as he doesn't try to draw conclusions about human behavior. If he starts doing so, then yes, he has stepped into sociology, and his statements can and should be evaluated in light of sociological data and theory.

        In this case, these neuroscie
  • this is not about a fugue state or tourette's or about some novel variation on "the devil made me do it!" style legal defense

    it has to with tiny variations, not large coordinated sustained activities
    • by ackthpt (218170) *

      this is not about a fugue state or tourette's or about some novel variation on "the devil made me do it!" style legal defense

      it has to with tiny variations, not large coordinated sustained activities

      Perhaps variations, er, vary from person to person. Some vary widely, others very little. I recommend a massively expensive government subsidised research grant to follow this up.*

      *the dribble-glass made me do it

  • by v_1_r_u_5 (462399)
    men for years have tried to explain to their wives what made them sleep with that other woman, but NO MORE! We now have a physiological excuse! "You see, dear, I was actually overcome by a spontaneous yet organized brain activity, perhaps spurred on by two or more guinnesses, perhaps not."
  • Bah (Score:5, Funny)

    by ericfitz (59316) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:08PM (#20874713)
    I wish my coworkers would show some spontaneous brain activity.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ackthpt (218170) *

      I wish my coworkers would show some spontaneous brain activity.

      Rules of the Office
      1. The boss's jokes are always funny.
      2. When in doubt, see rule 1

      Are you certain you want your co-workers (or are these cow-workers?) to be funny?

      I worked with someone once who was silly at the most inappropriate of times. I finally hit him (just a tap) in the shoulder and insisted he be serious. I regretted hitting him, but not because he didn't deserve it.

    • by VENONA (902751)
      Spontaneity, in terms of brain function, probably isn't always a Good Thing. I tend to think of brain function the way I do backups. Reliable, or counterproductive. In my experience of the average meeting, you can burn a lot of cycles trying to sort out whether the idiot in $arbitrary_chair actually made any sense this time around...

      I got the joke. But I've just gotten out of a horrible end-of-week meeting, so I was forced to write this by Higher Powers.

  • This work speaks against our (faulty, I claim) conceptualization of the brain as an information processing device, implementing some analysis algorithms a-la David Marr. Instead, think of the brain as a device whose function is to predict the immediate future. Since the environment is probably dynamic, it would be silly to stay put and wait for cues to indicate the changes outside. It is far more effective to try and guess ahead, go-with-the-flow, constantly stay in flux (some tai-chi overtones here, I a
    • Our whole modern world is an artifically controlled environment that is nothing like what we have evolved for.

      The only thing that's dynamic about my experience at the moment is the banner ads.

      • You there! (Score:2, Funny)

        by ColdWetDog (752185)

        The only thing that's dynamic about my experience at the moment is the banner ads.

        Push your chair slowly away from the desk (use your legs). Disconnect the power cord to the computer (the black rubbery thing that is poking out of the wall).

        Find the stairs - go UP them.

        Find a door - go OUT the door. Keep doing this until you determine that you are out-of-doors (hint: no more roof).

        Look around, walk a bit. Careful of the cars. Watch out for women - they're much more dangerous in real life.

        Keep goi

    • by Dread_ed (260158)
      Ever since a particularly strong acid trip where I had the overwhelming impression that "I" was operating my physical body through a set of metaphysical levers and buttons I have been enamored with the idea that the brain is the human interface device between the physical world and the immaterial "consciousnes."

      Of course having ingested many hundreds of micrograms of LSD at the time couldn't have impaired my judgement, could it?
  • How sad (Score:4, Insightful)

    by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:12PM (#20874755) Journal
    > One option it presents is that the brain is an input-output device: give it a stimulus, and it will process it and respond. The alternative view is that the brain is simply doing its own thing, and stimuli act to modulate its activity, rather than direct it.

    Oh my God, this is so stupid. I bet people really argue about this.

    Put it this way: does Linux respond to stimuli or do its own thing? Is there any experiment that could help us decide? Two people could know the entire Linux source code back to front and inside out, and the source of every application running on it, and still disagree over this stupid question. Don't these people have real and meaningful phenomena to investigate?

    • Wow. I belive that trying to understand the human mind is about the most important thing anybody can be doing.

    • If system A has a direct connection to external stimulus B, and system A moves to a deterministic state for any given fixed value of B, for all B, then A is a direct I/O device. (Chaotic systems are non-predictable, but they are wholly deterministic. The distinction is important.)

      If system A has a direct connection to external stimulus B, and system A moves to a non-deterministic state for at least one value of B, then A is a quantum device. (Quantum systems are the only physical systems in which true ran

      • by mrogers (85392)

        If you cannot distinguish between modulation by an external cause and a change of state due to internal causes, then you can't ever know if the external exists at all. It might all be a figment of your imagination.

        That's true, but I don't see why you conclude that such a system can't exist. Our brains are in a constant state of uncertainty, weighing imperfect sensory data and imperfect memories, holding contradictory possibilities in mind while waiting for further evidence, often having to make decisions b

    • One option it presents is that the brain is an input-output device: give it a stimulus, and it will process it and respond. The alternative view is that the brain is simply doing its own thing, and stimuli act to modulate its activity, rather than direct it.

      Oh my God, this is so stupid. I bet people really argue about this.

      It's stupid, but not because it's a non-question, it's stupid because it's a stupid question.

      The brain doesn't have a Wake-on-LAN function - it is always on.

      The question is like asking d
  • Free will. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    About time some hard evidence confirmed what us duelists have known all along. Finally the old dogma of reductionism can be laid to rest.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EllisDees (268037)
      How so? Even when I'm sitting in a dark, silent room I can be thinking about any number of things that could be activating different areas of my brain. Even when I'm sleeping, my brain is still active even though it is receiving no sensory input. What's so hard to believe about one part of your brain stimulating another part, and so on and so on in all sorts of strange patterns?

      Or were you just joshing us? ;)
      • by Plutonite (999141)
        His is a typical fallacy, and the answer to it is: randomness is not evidence of a "will", it is the complete opposite.

        Having said this, nothing at all is "random". Everything abides by causality at some physical level; you cannot escape it, and there is also no reason to fear it. The free-will vs determinism debate is pointless. Science can only accept reason.
    • Time to get out your dusty copies of Descartes! :p
    • About time some hard evidence confirmed what us duelists have known all along. Finally the old dogma of reductionism can be laid to rest.

      So you consider random brain activity to be free will? Fine with me, but how does that support dualism? Randomness can come directly from nature due to the uncertainty principle.
  • Remember, it works both ways.
  • The idea of neurons that are spontaneously active, in the absence of synaptic input, is not in the least bit novel. The "canonical" neurons like spinal cord motoneurons and hippocampal pyramidal cells, striatal medium spinies, etc, certainly remain silent until they receive sufficient afferent input. However, there are tons of neurons that are perfectly content to spike away, all by themselves in a tissue slice, with all synaptic input blocked. Giant cholinergic interneurons in the striatum, dopamine cel
  • Excellent news. This may help to change more of the philosophical underpinnings of some of the various branches of science. Physics already is confronting some of these changes. I don't dare speak of them in this crowd yet, but they are coming. Offtopic comment: Leave the Tags alone!
    • I can dream too, but it takes generations for even the most obvious paradigm shift to start to inform even the wider academic populace. Communicating a genuinely new underlying physics [transforum.net] is going to present even more obstacles than a new life science paradigm. Even though they're a century old, no other theoretical field has yet drawn a serious metaphor from GR or QM.
  • by Strange Ranger (454494) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:00PM (#20876227)
    According to some, consciousness and self-awareness arise out of Strange Loops [wikipedia.org]

    I think, therefore I am.
    I realize I am, therefore I think.
    But after than I'm a broken record!

    Horribly simplistic to keep the post short:
    Without some "spontaneous activity" injected into the strange loop that is a self-aware entity, might we not get stuck in the loop, and end up being less cognizant than a fruit fly?

    Someone with a knowledge of real-world AI can flog me, but you CAN program a computer to be self-aware. It patches itself, reports crashes in it's own log, recognizes intrusions (hopefully). But without that bit of "spontaneous activity" the system can never gain an outside perspective. It can never "unask the question" [wikipedia.org]. So it's just as dumb as a Bach fugue playing itself on a player piano.

    To sum up, it's Self Referentiality PLUS this "spontaneous activity" that is at the very core of sentience.

    At least that's how I understand it. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Raenex (947668)

      At least that's how I understand it. :)
      As I understand it, it's all handwavy bullshit that doesn't provide any answers.
      • Actually if you know anything at all about chaos theory or the book in question it's quite fascinating.
        And there are answers. Just maybe not the easy ones we would like.

        From Wikipedia: [Hofstadter] is a College Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science; Adjunct Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Philosophy, Comparative Literature, and Psychology at Indiana University, where he directs the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition.

        Also he won the Pulitzer for Gödel, Esc
        • by Raenex (947668)

          And there are answers. Just maybe not the easy ones we would like.
          Philosophical musings wrapped up in 700+ pages full of puns and other "aren't I clever" intellectual masturbation is not providing answers.
          • Your irritation and dismissal seems very familiar.

            Ever read Darwin's "Origin of the Species" ? It was full of observations, theories, and propositions. Decades later the Great White Hunter bone safaris lead by the Leakys were still not providing good answers, just more questions and dubious science, not to mention bones that would have been better left lie for awhile than torn out of the ground and waved around for the media.

            When it comes to cognitive science, we're in a pre-Darwinian age. We know so
            • by Raenex (947668)

              Ever read Darwin's "Origin of the Species" ?
              No, but I see it's online, and I read some of it. Very clear, concise writing. No puns, no metaphysical animal characters. Convincing experiments and argumentation. Groundbreaking work. NO HANDWAVING. No smog machine. Comparing "Godel, Escher, Bach" to this book, now that's hubris.
  • wow! (Score:5, Funny)

    by m2943 (1140797) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:01PM (#20876237)
    So you're saying that some people actually think even when they're not receiving sensory input, and that their thinking might influence future behavior? What will they think of next?

    (Of course, looking at the media and politicians, perhaps people do come to the conclusion that all humans are simple input/output response systems.)
  • Well, the summary of the article says nothing of the kind (as usual, I'm tempted to say).

    In some fMRI studies (I'm a post-doc in the field), the brain resting state is studied. Now, if you know what fMRI actually measures, you'll know that that means the blood flow through the brain while there is a minimum of external stimuli (plus the task to try to think of nothing, which is quite hard). So all this study claims is that some of the variability you see in normal fMRI studies (those that have stimuli and a
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pla (258480)
      plus the task to try to think of nothing, which is quite hard

      I don't think you can safely pass that off as a minor little clause in your point - The same problem this FP seems to make.

      Of course we have "spontaneous brain activity" that influences our performance on certain tasks. Most of us call that "thinking", preferably about the problem, but also quite possibly about lunch or that cute tech's short skirt or about why the FSM lets good pasta get overcooked.

      This seems like a non-article. No one s
      • by tgv (254536)
        Resting state activity is vaguely interesting. I did not try to pass it off as a minor point, but the implication is that it was not thought to be related to stimulus-response actions. Well, that might be a wrong assumption (not that a lot of fMRI studies are based in noise modelling and subtractions, which excludes these possibly systematic variations).

        I would not go as far as to call this rest activity thinking. Subjects in the scanner do not think about lunch or a short skirt. Perhaps briefly, but that i
      • By the way, there is a much more mundane explanation of the similarity in brain activity: subjects got bored in both tasks. Pressing buttons is not really the most challenging task. Therefore, they might simply be sleeping with their eyes open the same way they do in the condition where they're not supposed to think of anything. I'd like to see an experimental design that can rule that out...
  • The resting brain is not silent, but exhibits organized fluctuations in neuronal activity even in the absence of tasks or stimuli. This intrinsic brain activity persists during task performance and contributes to variability in evoked brain responses. What is unknown is if this intrinsic activity also contributes to variability in behavior.

    In follow-up research these scientists will investigate if there is any correlation between the loud humming noise cars make when they move and the wheels rotating.

  • I shall patent me. and then Charge to much for licensing.
    That will solves all the worlds problem.

    http://abstractionphysics.net/pmwiki/index.php [abstractionphysics.net]

    On a more serious note, this /. news article may be pointing at the foundation of why software is not of patentable nature.
  • Does this mean we _aren't_ mere biomechanical machines and actually _do_ posses more attributes than the physical ones we can see, touch, and dissect?
  • You mean the brain is active even while I'm asleep?

    I wouldn't have imagined that even in my wildest dreams...

  • The human brain uses 100% of itself 100% of the time. The content of thoughts, perceptions and memories are processed by collections of cells called Hebbian Cellular Assemblies. The content of these, and the binding of them, are alway active.

    I'm glad to see someone has finally replicated Donald O. Hebb's 1939 work.

    Next, hopefully someone will discovery neurons.

Theory is gray, but the golden tree of life is green. -- Goethe

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