August 5, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Let Your Mind Marvel at Its Brain

Amazing processes go on in the physical brain that most of our minds do not even know about.

Thinking inside the box: How our brain puts the world in order (Science Daily): Using MRI, German scientists deduced that different regions of the brain are involved in forming categories than are involved in evaluating specific examples within those categories. This leads to distinct strategies for making sense of what we observe or think about.

When we want to find out, whether a certain animal fits into the category “bird” we would at first apply the prototype strategy and compare it to an abstract general “bird.” This prototype has the defining features of the class, like a beak, feathers or the ability to fly. But when we encounter outliers or exceptions like an emu or a penguin, this strategy may be of no use. Then we apply the exemplar strategy and compare the animal to many different known examples of the category. This helps us find the right category, even for “distant relations.”

Yet even those processes are interrelated in complex ways. The scientists saw rhythms between the two brain regions. “This shows that both cognitive processes cannot be neatly separated,” they said.

How the brain improves motor control (Medical Xpress). The simple act of reaching for a cup of coffee involves very complex interactions between the hands and brain. Constant monitoring between expectations and sensations leads to rapid error correction, leading to the most efficient motor actions for achieving the desired result. The premotor and primary motor cortex regions notice the errors, leading to rapid trial-by-trial corrections that are so smooth, we’re not even aware of them. “The results clearly show that the motor cortices submit error signals that drive adaptation in voluntary arm movements, as predicted by the feedback error learning scheme.

Brain’s thirst monitors the mouth (BBC News). When you feel thirsty, how does your brain inside your skull know that your mouth is dry? Your brain has a “thirst circuit” that responds quickly to conditions in the mouth, such as when you eat or drink. Experiments on genetically-engineered mice showed that this circuit would glow when eating. Cold water was especially effective at removing the thirst alarm.

New neurons created through exercise don’t cause you to forget old memories (Science Daily). Have you worried that your brain might run out of room for memory? An old theory taught that exercise made you forget things by breaking down neurons in the hippocampus. This article challenges that view with a new “use it or lose it” view, indicating that exercise is good for your brain. Studies on rats showed more new neurons forming when the rodents exercised. That’s probably true for humans, too.

Use it or lose it to defend against memory loss (Science Daily). Keep your machinery going, with learning and with exercise, and you may enjoy extra years of zest. Complex interplays of proteins, the immune system and neurons are involved. A survey of hundreds of seniors showed that active learning appears to slow down or prevent memory loss. Another Science Daily article discussed mental and physical benefits of exercise, producing “distinct brain benefits.” Even for elderly people, exercise appears to slow down the onset of dementia. Go ahead; work out!

Minimal basilar membrane motion in low-frequency hearing (PNAS). Our senses are windows on the brain, providing input through neurons connected to brain neurons. In that sense, they are extensions of the brain. This paper tells about new findings in the cochlea of the inner ear, where mechanical vibrations become fluid vibrations. A team found where the bass tones are sensed. Strangely, it appears we hear speech differently than high-pitched whistles.

We show that low-frequency sound moves a small portion of the basilar membrane, and that the motion declines in an exponential manner across the basilar membrane. Hence, the response of the hearing organ to speech-frequency sounds is different from the one evident in high-frequency cochlear regions.

Direct detection of a single photon by humans (Nature Communications). It’s been confirmed. Austrian scientists have shown that a human being can detect a single photon of light. One cannot improve any further on this level of sensitivity! The eyes even have an automatic gain control:

Amazing FactsDespite investigations for over 70 years, the absolute limits of human vision have remained unclear. Rod cells respond to individual photons, yet whether a single-photon incident on the eye can be perceived by a human subject has remained a fundamental open question. Here we report that humans can detect a single-photon incident on the cornea with a probability significantly above chance. This was achieved by implementing a combination of a psychophysics procedure with a quantum light source that can generate single-photon states of light. We further discover that the probability of reporting a single photon is modulated by the presence of an earlier photon, suggesting a priming process that temporarily enhances the effective gain of the visual system on the timescale of seconds.

Comparing Brains

Brain development is similar in Neanderthals and modern humans (Current Biology). More evidence that Neanderthals were fully human comes from this comparison of brain cases during development. Neanderthals show similar patterns of skull development to a globular shape distinct from the “ancestral mode of brain development” seen in chimpanzees. “These findings challenge the notion that human brain and cognitive development after birth is uniquely derived,” the team led by Marcia S. Ponce de León announced.

Will AI’s bubble pop? Deep learning’s hype machine in overdrive (New Scientist). Reporter Sally Adee sees history repeating itself. Over-the-top predictions by Marvin Minsky in the 1970s predicted artificial intelligence (AI) would match humans in 3 to 8 years. It didn’t happen, obviously; AI only got as far as Speak & Spell by then. Hype is in overdrive again with computers winning against humans in chess, making other achievements announced with great fanfare in the media. Adee can tell the difference, though. “A neural network can say a cat is a cat, but it has no concept of what a cat is. It cannot differentiate between a real cat or a picture of one.” The new “hyper-hype” about AI sets up a bubble that will burst like Minsky’s, she feels. “The beginning and the end of the problem is the term AI,” says Roger Schank at Northwestern University. “Can we just call it ‘cool things we do with computers’?” For more on major differences between human intelligence and artificial intelligence, see Brendan Dixon’s piece at Evolution News & Views, where he concludes,

But let’s stop fooling ourselves: AI is not the emergence of another intelligence. And it’s certainly not one we should allow to wander on its own without human oversight. Computers are just machines. Machines designed, built, and programmed by something more than mere machine: The human mind.

Computer says no? Europeans can now challenge that decision (New Scientist). A new law passed by European Parliament frees people from abuse by computers. Algorithms, after all, are as fallible as the humans who design them. Aviva Rutkin writes,

We should cheer this development. The world is increasingly run by algorithms that calculate credit scores, read medical scans, drive our cars and tell our police forces where to patrol. But algorithms can behave in mysterious ways, sometimes even surprising the programmers who created them. It’s crucial that ordinary people whose lives they affect have the ability to examine and challenge decisions.

Human ‘super predator’ more terrifying than bears, wolves and dogs (Science Daily). With our upright posture and big brains, what do we look like to small predators like badgers? Terrifying, this article says. Tests with sounds of other predators and sounds of humans produced different reactions. Even the sound of a person reading from a book sent the animal into hiding, fearing to venture forth against the human ‘super-predator.’

Exercise: identify any one of the above findings that supports evolution. Next, identify any finding that does not support the idea of special creation of man’s mind by a Mind much greater than our own, as described in the Bible.

6  “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7  let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8  For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
9  For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.  (Isaiah 55)

25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1)

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2)

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