Since 2015 there’s a paper that has absolutely eaten me alive, neuron by neuron. It’s called “Using space and time to encode vibrotactile information: toward an estimate of the skin’s achievable throughput (Eagleman, Novich)” and causes my mind to be absolutely paralyzed by possibilities. Sensory substitution! What a thought, Eagleman!
Of course, Paul Bach-y-Rita was one of the original OG’s in this realm.
& now, Elon Musk continues to seek talent for up-&-coming Neuralink – which promises to offer high-bandwidth brain-to-computer interfaces. Hm. Not a bad idea, especially when you consider the therapeutic applications of existing brain-to-computer technologies.
To research or work on any of these technologies would be the opportunity of a lifetime, & I’d cancel pretty much everything in my life right now to pursue them if only I knew how. In the meantime the opportunity to sit back and learn is available & my cynical little mind is already shouting out some words of caution.
BRAIN-TO-COMPUTER-INTERFACES-ARE-NEVER-GONNA-HAPPEN!, says cynical brain
Well, nothing interesting that ever happened was ever-going-to-happen. New inventions are just crazy, that’s how it is!
(this back-and-forth arguing continues). The primary concern is whether or not a high-bandwidth brain-to-machine interface for general-purpose use would be a good thing. Musk & others are right when they say that a keyboard isn’t enough to transmit a certain amount of information back-and-forth. But is that enough to support the overall claim that as it relates to human beings using and interfacing with information technology, quality of communication is proportional to the bandwidth of the information being passed along? Childish idealism runs rampant in my thoughts now – I’d like to go to coffee w a clever human like Elon & ask them, ‘will the problems you foresee with AI actually be solved by brain-machine interfaces or will they be worsened? Will the malicious capabilities of technology be diminished if humans are more closely linked w technology?’ It seems even a pen and paper (even morse code!) are often not enough for humans to communicate effectively, promptly, or sufficiently. It leads me to wonder if the tech-augmented hippocampus & cortex, adorned with messy glued-on silicon chips, might not be a devastatingly unhealthy Matrix-esque nightmare of limbic slop.
That coffee date won’t be happening anytime soon so in the meantime I’ll have to scroll from afar & hope these technologies work, & serve the common good.
And no, I don’t mean N-Acetyl Cysteine. I’m talking about the nucleus accumbens. This devilish bit of brain tissue is one that seeks for its larger meat-sack the experience of reward and short-term pleasure. To be honest the NAC isn’t the only zone related to that tendency: the frontal striatum and a few other areas are instrumental as well. To finally reach the end of the fall semester a bit bruised and battered reveals to me that my own proclivity for pressuring pleasure to pop up in the present is pretty problematic.
So the quest now is to develop skills and habits that enable the delay of gratification. In order to conduct this oversized ganglion through larger and longer movements I’ll be getting in touch with some professionals in the area who focus on this issue specifically. How exciting! Will post updates as that moves along. Here’s some soul food for any of you mind-wanderers wondering what to read about to get a sense of the issue.
Delay of gratification in childhood linked to cortical interactions with the nucleus accumbens
Frontostriatal White Matter Integrity Predicts Development of Delay of Gratification: A Longitudinal Study.
Reduced delay of gratification and effortful control among young children with autism spectrum disorders
One way to really waste your time is reading on and on about mindfulness. And there is surely no end of long long long books books books offering a thousand lifetimes’ worth of answers about mindfulness. Complex, marketable, secular answers. Let’s set those answers and those long books on the shelf for now. When I was 18 years old, a scientist in Madison posed a question in the first half of a brief article. That question was Are questionnaire-based self-reports of mindfulness valid?
Now I’m 25 years old. Unresolved is ‘the questionnaire question’, but absolutely certain to me this morning was my own mindlessness. Here’s a small sample of the day’s distractions, brought to you from first-semester chemistry (via self report…validity to be determined):
11:15am Distracted by goal-flavored thoughts about writing a memoir of high quality, visualizing the steps associated with such a venture
11:15:30am Writing-thoughts bubbling up to account for the possibility or inevitability of memoir-thoughts
11:19am Anger-thoughts about institutional life, hot heated word-thoughts offering critiques of abusive power structures and their creations, which stemmed from thoughts about writing
11:24am What’s the best way to steal a lot of stuff from Whole Foods?
11:26am Anger-Argue thoughts about my old job, and the gross inability of my former boss to do her job (or live her live generally)
My intent for that 15-minute period was to simply write those thoughts that were most distracting for me. So when I noticed that my attention was unstable even for a moment, or that my mind’s eye had been occluded by some material other than coursework, I wrote down that material non-judgmentally and as it presented itself. It can be hugely valuable to understand and observe our consciousness without responding to or agreeing/disagreeing with it.
Do you have a wobbly attention span? Are you seeking more FOCUS? Go back to the shelf, pick up those conversations about secular mindfulness, and have some Mental Training™ today!
once as a freshman in college I found myself scribbling about the ways that consciousness might arise randomly under certain circumstances. our brain surely evolved under completely random circumstances – so we are at least one random arrangement of atoms that has a sense of self. so maybe other arrangements of atoms pop into existence every now and then that also have a sense of self – and maybe those arrangements are not necessarily brains, or even living.
it’s easy to think that brains are necessary for consciousness. but maybe not. sure, we’ve got a brain with tons of chunks and parts – but if none of those parts are in and of themselves conscious, and if we are relatively complex life-forms that evolved randomly….then perhaps less-complex (non-living) forms that evolved under the same random processes might briefly or spontaneously become conscious.
for example – should consciousness be introduced when a physical system has _________ characteristics, and should those characteristics be emergent in more systems than simply brains, then it’s possible that little selves are emerging and disappearing all over us very quickly all the time.
then i stumbled upon the Boltzmann Brain concept online and realized my idea was not innovative whatsoever. but it’s cool to think that someone reached the same odd conclusion/paradox so long ago.
Why would one reward end up being more powerful than another? Where do individual differences come in to decide which rewards are pursued? Which brain regions and systems go into these types of attributes?
Phenomenology, thought experiments and contemplation have in some instances provided valuable insights to physicalist forms of knowledge, i.e. physics or neuroscience. Not unlike Einstein’s successful attempt to access concepts in relativity through thought experiments, Giulio Tononi wants to create step-by-step definitions and images that allow theorization about the subject at hand: in this case, consciousness, subjectivity, selfhood, the feeling of what it’s like to be something.
Plot twist: he completely dodges a great question about unification of conscious experiences in the case of stroke patients. I’m not sure why he neglected to answer or even address that question directly.