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.
& a must-read – especially for anyone hoping to be well-informed about health claims related to mindfulness, meditation, yoga, etc
didn’t plan on writing this & will simply type as quickly as possible
- The names, basic character traits, and small happenings of my neighbors (or folks within a few-blocks-radius)
- What the fuck over-easy over-hard sunny-side-up etc. means with eggs. But do I really care to know that? Not really
- how people think
- whether or not i’m the type of person who would fuck up with power tools (slice an arm off), or be skilled with them (masterful craftsperson), or just some unremarkable middle version of those things
- what’s up with theatre- and performance-related behaviors
- how to quit eating meat
- about this strange-tendency-to-almost-communicate-with-nonhuman-animals (EG cat can be prompted to come over/come, but not to do other things, why)
- how it feels to be physically addled with _______________ (shrapnel wounds, severe scarring, crohn’s, chronic mysterious unknown undiagnosed pain, bizarre allergies, a broken femur after a car accident, an issue with healthy eating, etc)
- the lakes of tokyo
- the rivers of china
- the various greeneries of ireland
- the speculations that occur while swimming between Hawaiian islands
- what cartoonists think about when they’re drawing/rendering all those goddamned cartoons for movies. do they think about cartoons on their cigarette breaks & about cigarettes while drawing?
- how it feels to be a really good dancer
- how it feels to have 2 dogs at home who miss you a lot
- whatever happened with that airport/welcome home sign
- how street signs are made
- it’d be neat to know about these mathematician motherfuckers who are able to connect issues like the growth/division of tree branches with the hox genes that influence embryonic development, i mean what do those mathematician motherfuckers do for fun? play bridge? go on hiking trips based out of their used Subarus? apply for tenure? What do they do?
- how to knit things
- how to be that ultimate overall survival-cool-badass-guy who can whittle knives out of sand and shit like that, even though deep down there’s probably a knowing that it’ll never be necessary
- proper dancing strategies
- whether or not i’m really interested in 100 different things
- the applicability of neuroscience studies
- carving vs other aspects of striking
- basic newtonian mechanics & internalizing them
- how the fuck does mental math work?
- how would it feel to practice _________ religion? how would people look at me if i believed ______________? If I wore _____________, signifying _________________?
- what sorts of funny mess-ups (or successes) have occurred in the unseen and unknown ERs of the world? has anyone ever made an IV out of a drinking straw?
- How old the average person is when they learn how to cite APA/harvard/MLA style etc. without consulting google. On second thought, maybe the average person never learns these things
- how it feels to really travel
- what the maintenance guys who painted the apartment hallways thought about while they were painting
- why my arm itches so badly right now
- whether or not the strong compulsion to have a career related to pharmacology / microbiology / molecular neuroscience will be fruitful. is the specific material dance of biochemical happenings going to lead to helpful insights? is it better to just have friends/colleagues/who work in that area?
- if bruce lee were still alive……just, i mean, what if? (sigh) that’d be neat
- what does dr. dre think about when he’s pissed off? does he have a lot of alone time?
- what makes a good writer? is it a danger to even ask?
- which crazy motherfucker was the first one to hop on a horse & just be like, “hey, let’s ride”
- are there review boards that assess/test the tastes of vodka? what are the qualifications for being on such a board, and on average, what is the makeup of vodka taste-testers?
- how would it feel to be 22 years deep into a life sentence at a federal prison, & still not be 40 years old, & to spend 23 hours a day in a tiny cage? which moments would feel peaceful?
- who just facebook messaged me?
- What’s it like to set & achieve a 10-year goal? a 20-year goal?
- What’re the ways to best support others in achieving their 10-year goals? 20-year goals?
- What’re the ways to best be there & support others who don’t / will never achieve their 10-year goals? 20-year goals ?
- Now that I can make my own sorbet, how long til I’m dead?
- what’s with limbic systems? crying & laughing have a weird amount in common. It’s like a rubber band stretching too far & snapping back into place – a teeter totter smacking into the ground. the teeter totter is itself a 3d object that when viewed from the side pretty much forms a line, tilting back and forth upon a center point. one might look at this line in front of them & imagine that there is a graph, with this line superimposed on it. when the teeter totter is perfectly balanced the line runs left-right, and when the teeter totter is tipping the line is tipping along the axes (say the center point of the teeter-totter is at (0,3) and the teeter totter is exactly 10 units long. when you consider laughing & crying you’ll notice that they take place during extreme mood states & that often, though not always, they are followed by a mood state that is less extreme or closer to baseline. examples of this might include – the way that extreme laughter due to a joke, tickling, built-up tension, simmering awkwardness, or actual discomfort eventually dispels itself and leads back to a real calm. other examples might include – that calm, semi-orgasmic feeling after a serious cry. let’s think less about what crying/laughter means culturally & more about what it means inside your fleshsack – your heart rate is increasing, you’re heaving, convulsing, & your eyes are leaking. whether it’s a friend stabbing at your armpits with a tickly finger or a friendly uppercut to the same area, the average human will avoid allowing un-boned and un-skinned tissues to potential forces. tickling looks a lot like a pain response, is what i’m getting at. what’s about that? why does the extreme limbic state – that of panic, anxiety, crying – feel so much like that WHACK on your ass on the teeter totter – that which pushes you back, more forcefully than before, into a baseline? I would go as far to say that the limbic momentum leading into a cry does predict & have an influence on the speed & nature of the bounce-back. so, when a fit of crying-due-to-laughter comes on QUICKLY & sharply, or a fit of crying-due-to-sadness comes on slowly and chronically, the come-down from those experiences is (respectively) similar. Why? If we took the slope of the teeter totter in the aforementioned graph (assuming the teeter totter bounces/stops when its endpoints strike the x-axis) it would vary between +3/4 and -3/4. let’s say the change in slope over time is predictive of the limbic response – so, say, the teeter totter starts tipped. we can say the left half is tipped/touching the ground in this example. when it bounce up to baseline the slope changes – from +3/4 to 0. it just seems that the feedback limiting one’s crying/laughing to a certain point has a fulcrum, & that it must be biological. folks with mood issues & poor regulation of their limbic systems might have unbalanced teeter totters – overly-slippery in mania, overly-rusted in depression-etc. what’s with that? I’d like to know why tickling/pain responses seem so similar, and how people differ in having accelerated/fast or delayed/slow limbic responses to events. It just seems so weird, that laughing/crying similarity.
- how many youtube videos about karate do i have to watch before becoming, yknow, like a really tough guy?
- what’s the difference between me and you? (about five bank accounts, 3 ounces, and 2 vehicles)
While digging through a “Free Swap” area on campus I came upon a forcefully optimistic series of etchings laid out on some sort of a plaque situation
The Optimist Creed:
- To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind
- To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet,
- To make all your friends feel that there is something in them,
- To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true,
- To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best
- To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own
- To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievement of the future
- To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile
- To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others
- To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble
Neat. A swirl of reactions shared that space behind my eyes after I located and skimmed over this. One reaction tasted like Wow this is psycho this is brainwashing and another reaction had some sort of a Yeah but you need it, you sick fuck type of overtone. Grabbed the thing, brought it home and made a commitment to memorize it. Thought I’d elect one item on the list as a area to focus on (optimistically, of course) & choose another that seems to be going ok. On typing out the list one jumped out as urgently in need of work and it was less clear which item I’m doing best with. Following that I’m curious to find/post at least an article or two on the neural substrates of positive/negative thinking.
Urgently in need of work: To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others. This one screamed at me.
Doing best: Maybe To make all your friends feel that there is something in them, or To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future? The former case makes me smile because I think friends would have good things to say about that. The issue with the latter would be the hours spent daily ruminating about past/current failures. But the feedback I often get from adults is that in the long game I am overwhelmingly more resilient and future-focused than the other young folks they run into. The discrepancy between that externally-imposed feedback and the actual inner experience/introspective assessment is really jarring but hey, that’s psychology.
Materials & readings on optimism, pessimism, & associated neural bonanza:
Richie Unplugged: My #1 role model explains to you how and why to keep your mind right. Had to start with this
- Bonus- no powerpoint or reading necessary
Richie, plugged back in: A lovely overview of ~current research taking place in the Davidson lab back home in Madison. You’ll note some brief descriptions of research under WELL-BEING & BEHAVIOR that seem to dig most closely towards this gem called optimism
- This is a pile of summaries about what Richie is working on in Madison. If you’re not salivating upon reading those studies (just consider all the other thousands of studies being funded in the biomedical sciences) you might not be optimistic enough!
From the NYT: Turning negative thinkers into positive ones
- Mentions some neat research by a researcher by the name of Barbara Fredrickson (creates new bookmark) who I haven’t heard of before.
Good summary (on Oprah’s website! Ayyye!) of the merits of choosing happiness, featuring a boatload of neuroscience references
- The article mentions a David Lykken, PHD, here in Minnesota at the U. Haven’t heard of him until now – (adds new bookmark to Brainman folder) – eager to see what he’s about and if he’s around these days. Bad news – on looking the guy up turns out he passed 12 years ago. Oh well.
- Make sure to scroll all the way down in this reading – it’s actually 5 full pages long but one can easily get the impression it stops when the first page stops.
The association between resting functional connectivity and dispositional optimism (Ran, J. Yang, W. Yang, Wei, J. Qiu, Zhang)
- Haven’t read this one all the way through but not surprisingly the abstract mentions the vmPFC. Heck!!!
“What is Unrealistic Optimism?” (Jefferson, Bortolotti, Kuzmanovic)
- Absolutely necessary adjunct reading for anyone getting too hyped, biased, or fundamentalist about optimism
- Uses the term positive illusion as an umbrella term encompassing their defined notion of unrealistic optimism. Positive illusion would be/is my overall characterization of optimism but it seems these authors demarcate between optimism as being rational/a proper assessment of circumstances (no illusion here) and optimism sometimes being irrational/an improper assessment of circumstances (illusory).
Most folks will say “look up! at that little twinkling star”,
& maybe rattle numbers off – “it’s really, REALLY far!”
suppose it’s true, cosmos are large, perhaps they’re kinda big
but look down at your bag of skin and let your daydreams dig
Seven billion people roam our “vast” tiny Earth
But seven billion billion billion atoms teem within one’s girth
They talk and play and scream and die as we all are right now
They love and hate and question fate and probably tip cows
All the while praying watching, wondering what they are
Colossal chemists peering in from microscopes afar
So don’t feel too small or look to stars to find some spacious wealth
The vastness of a universe is really in yourself
Instantiation of incentive value and movement invigoration by distinct midbrain dopamine circuits
Never stop reading! This paper is pretty representative of the research I’d like to be doing within the next several years. Haven’t finished reading it but am enjoying it & wanted to post here. I’m noticing that when research articles or readings are really tremendously exciting I come to ramble about them before actually finishing them.
The lead researcher on this study is a dude by the name of Benjamin T. Saunders. He got an undergrad degree from West Virginia University, a PhD at the University of Michigan, and then did some postdoc research at UCSF and then Johns Hopkins. He’s now opened a lab at the University of Minnesota that came to my attention via a random listserve email from the U of M. They’re doing cool stuff related to dopamine, reward, etc. & I want to keep track of it. The techniques they’ll be using in the lab (EG optogenetic signalling) are things I’ve read about in class but never really read about in real life. And if they’re doing it over at the U that makes me curious about going to take a look at their lab.
So what’s with distinct midbrain dopamine circuits? Why should we care?