That’s Bill Calvin, whose brain is worthy of study in its own right. Technically, he’s a theoretical neurophysiologist and affiliate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington. But he’s also known as a scientist with a wide-ranging intellect and a prolific (and accessible) writer who constantly offers remarkable insights about the world around him. As I sat down to interview Calvin in his book-lined Seattle home last Fall, I recalled the comments of someone who (...) had come to GBN to hear Calvin speak. He said that he didn’t know—or care—what Calvin was going to talk about because everything that Bill Calvin said was not only interesting, but worth learning about. After more than three hours of conversation with Calvin, I couldn’t agree more. (shrink)
Psychology's fascination with memory and its imperfections dates back further than we can remember. The first careful experimental studies of memory were published in 1885 by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, and tens of thousands of memory studies have been conducted since. What has been learned, and what might the future of memory be?
This debate, principally between myself (Nigel Thomas) and Patrick Hayes, the well known computer scientist and Artificial Intelligence researcher, took place through the internet mailing list for the discussion of the scientific study of consciousness, PSYCHE-D (moderated by Patrick Wilken), which is associated with the on-line journal PSYCHE. The discussion touches on the various different senses in which the expression "mental image" may be used, the underlying cognitive mechanisms of imagery, and the relevance of an understanding of imagery to (...) the understanding of conscious thought, and thought in general. As the debate became rather 'unthreaded' on the list, following it through this page may help the reader to better understand what was going on. (shrink)
When certain formal symbol systems (e.g., computer programs) are implemented as dynamic physical symbol systems (e.g., when they are run on a computer) their activity can be interpreted at higher levels (e.g., binary code can be interpreted as LISP, LISP code can be interpreted as English, and English can be interpreted as a meaningful conversation). These higher levels of interpretability are called "virtual" systems. If such a virtual system is interpretable as if it had a mind, is such a "virtual (...) mind" real? This is the question addressed in this "virtual" symposium, originally conducted electronically among four cognitive scientists: Donald Perlis, a computer scientist, argues that according to the computationalist thesis, virtual minds are real and hence Searle's Chinese Room Argument fails, because if Searle memorized and executed a program that could pass the Turing Test in Chinese he would have a second, virtual, Chinese-understanding mind of which he was unaware (as in multiple personality). Stevan Harnad, a psychologist, argues that Searle's Argument is valid, virtual minds are just hermeneutic overinterpretations, and symbols must be grounded in the real world of objects, not just the virtual world of interpretations. Computer scientist Patrick Hayes argues that Searle's Argument fails, but because Searle does not really implement the program: A real implementation must not be homuncular but mindless and mechanical, like a computer. Only then can it give rise to a mind at the virtual level. Philosopher Ned Block suggests that there is no reason a mindful implementation would not be a real one. (shrink)
In the interwar period there was a significant school of thought that repudiated Einstein's theory of relativity on the grounds that it contained elementary inconsistencies. Some of these critics held extreme right-wing and anti-Semitic views, and this has tended to discredit their technical objections to relativity as being scientifically shallow. This paper investigates an alternative possibility: that the critics were right and that the success of Einstein's theory in overcoming them was due to its strengths as an ideology rather than (...) as a science. The clock paradox illustrates how relativity theory does indeed contain inconsistencies that make it scientifically problematic. These same inconsistencies, however, make the theory ideologically powerful. The implications of this argument are examined with respect to Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper's accounts of the philosophy of science. (shrink)
The dramatic increase in the number of overseas students studying in the United Kingdom and other Western countries has required academics to reevaluate many aspects of their own, and their institutions', practices. This article considers differing cultural values among overseas students toward plagiarism and the implications this may have for postgraduate education in a Western context. Based on focus-group interviews, questionnaires, and informal discussions, we report the views of plagiarism among students in 2 postgraduate management programs, both of which had (...) a high constituency of overseas students. We show that plagiarist practices are often the outcome of many complex and culturally situated influences. We suggest that educators need to appreciate these differing cultural assumptions if they are to act in an ethical manner when responding to issues of plagiarism among international students. (shrink)
Great leaders are ethical stewards who generate high levels of commitment from followers. In this paper, we propose that perceptions about the trustworthiness of leader behaviors enable those leaders to be perceived as ethical stewards. We define ethical stewardship as the honoring of duties owed to employees, stakeholders, and society in the pursuit of long-term wealth creation. Our model of relationship between leadership behaviors, perceptions of trustworthiness, and the nature of ethical stewardship reinforces the importance of ethical governance in dealing (...) with employees and in creating organizational systems that are congruent with espoused organizational values. (shrink)
I will actually talk mostly about evolutionary processes in the brain as we think about what to say next; I'll be happy to answer questions later, however, about how this system we call consciousness itself evolved on the usual evolutionary time scale of the ice ages.
Business ethics should be taught in business schools as an integrated part of core curricula in MBA programs with a dual focus on both analytical frameworks and their applications to the business disciplines. To overcome the reluctance of many faculty to handle ethical issues, a critical mass of faculty must develop suitable materials, educate their peers in its use, and take the lead by introducing it in their own courses and on senior management programs.
It is true for many disciplines within the humanities that there are numerous excellent works that introduce the beginner to the basic building blocks of the discipline, and also many advanced studies for the accomplished scholar, but few works that help the student get from the beginning stage to the advanced level. That has certainly been true of the discipline of Sanskrit. Once a student has devoted a couple of years to working through one of the excellent introductions to the (...) language by Ashok Aklujkar, Michael Coulson, Madhav Deshpande, Robert Goldman, or Walter Maurer, there have been hardly any intermediate texts to help the student systematically progress to more advanced levels. Now, however, with the publication of Scholastic Sanskrit, an important step has been taken toward filling that lacuna. This book assumes that the student has learned enough about Sanskrit grammar and syntax to be ready to begin plunging into the vast corpus comprising the many genres of Sanskrit literature. It is built on the conviction that even a student at the early stages of exploring Sanskrit literature can benefit from the work of traditional commentators; it is also built on the observation that until now there have not been reliable guides to help the student make intelligent use of Sanskrit commentaries. (shrink)
Treating consciousness as awareness or attention greatly underestimates it, ignoring the temporary levels of organization associated with higher intellectual function (syntax, planning, logic, music). The tasks that require consciousness tend to be the ones that demand a lot of resources. Routine tasks can be handled on the back burner but dealing with ambiguity, groping around offline, generating creative choices, and performing precision movements may temporarily require substantial allocations of neocortex. Here I will attempt to clarify the appropriate levels of explanation (...) (ranging from quantum aspects to association cortex dynamics) and then propose a specific mechanism (consciousness as the current winner of Darwinian copying competitions in cerebral cortex) that seems capable of encompassing the higher intellectual function aspects of consciousness as well as some of the attentional aspects. It includes features such as a coding space appropriate for analogies and a supervisory Darwinian process that can bias the operation of other Darwinian processes. (shrink)
The Madhyamaka school of Buddhism, the followers of which are called Mādhyamikas, was one of the two principal schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India, the other school being the Yogācāra. The name of the school is a reference to the claim made of Buddhism in general that it is a middle path (madhyamā pratipad) that avoids the two extremes of eternalism—the doctrine that all things exist because of an eternal essence—and annihilationism—the doctrine that things have essences while they exist but (...) that these essences are annihilated just when the things themselves go out of existence. The conviction of the Madhyamaka school, which can be called the Centrist school in English, is that this middle path is best achieved by a denial that things have any inherent natures at all. All things are, in other words, empty of inherent natures. This doctrine of universal emptiness of inherent natures (svabhāva-śūnyatā) is the hallmark of the school, which places the school solidly in the tradition associated with the Perfection of Wisdom (prajñāpāramitā) literature of Mahāyāna Buddhism. (shrink)
When everyone can be a publisher, what distinguishes the journalist? This article considers contemporary challenges to institutional roles in a digital media environment and then turns to three broad journalistic normative values - authenticity, accountability, and autonomy - that affect the credibility of journalists and the content they provide. A set of questions that can help citizens determine the trustworthiness of information available to them emerges from the discussion.
Writers presenting Buddhism to European and North American audiences have often availed themselves of philosophical terminology from modern traditions to convey presumably less familiar ideas coming from various classical and medieval Asian settings. Since the Buddha and many philosophers who developed his ideas seem to have stressed the importance of practice over theory, Buddhism is frequently described as practical or even pragmatic in its orientation. Since there have been few unpleasant clashes between traditional Buddhist beliefs and the findings of modern (...) science, and nothing that would compare in importance to the confrontations between Darwinians and Creationists, many Buddhist apologists have been able to get away with characterizing theirs as a religion that is scientific in spirit; many Buddhists, especially Therav ¯. (shrink)
Teaching on social work values is centrally important in social work education as a core aspect of underpinning knowledge in preparing students for practice. This paper describes an innovative project occurring within the first year of the degree in social work, where service users and carers have assisted students with their understanding of social work values. The positive contribution of service users and carers in facilitating students to make links between theory and practice is now well documented. Applying this user (...) perspective to the educational domain of values, however, is relatively uncharted territory given the challenges that have traditionally accompanied the teaching of values. Importantly, this paper describes the ?value talk? which occurred when first-year students sought further meaning from service-user and carer groups in their community settings following classroom teaching on values. The paper not only discusses the detailed preparations involved in the project but also the learning which resulted, drawing on the evaluation findings from the students and participating groups. Whilst the findings show that the students' understanding of social work values has been most significantly influenced by the contributions from service users and carers, it is recognized that further research is needed to monitor the longer term impact on social work students' practice after they qualify. (shrink)
In the svārthānumāna chapter of his Pramāṇavārttika, the Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti presented a defense of his claim that legitimate inference must rest on a metaphysical basis if it is to be immune from the risks ordinarily involved in inducing general principles from a finite number of observations. Even if one repeatedly observes that x occurs with y and never observes y in the absence of x, there is no guarantee, on the basis of observation alone, that one will never observe (...) y in the absence of x at some point in the future. To provide such a guarantee, claims Dharmakīrti, one must know that there is a causal connection between x and y such that there is no possibility of y occurring in the absence of x. In the course of defending this central claim, Dharmakīrti ponders how one can know that there is a causal relationship of the kind necessary to guarantee a proposition of the form “Every y occurs with an x.” He also dismisses an interpretation of his predecessor Dignāga whereby Dignāga would be claiming non-observation of y in the absence of x is sufficient to warrant to the claim that no y occurs without x. The present article consists of a translation of kārikās 11–38 of Pramānavārttikam, svārthānumānaparicchedaḥ along with Dharmakīrti’s own prose commentary. The translators have also provided an English commentary, which includes a detailed introduction to the central issues in the translated text and their history in the literature before Dharmakīrti. (shrink)
Antonio R. Damasio , The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness . This is clearly a must-read book for anyone wanting a neurologist's perspective on one of the greatest of the unsolved mysteries, human consciousness and the ways in which it exceeds that of the other apes. By the author of Descartes' Error.
This paper argues that the inappropriate framing and implementation of plagiarism detection systems in UK universities can unwittingly construct international students as ‘plagiarists’. It argues that these systems are often implemented with inappropriate assumptions about plagiarism and the way in which new members of a community of practice develop the skills to become full members of that community. Drawing on the literature and some primary data it shows how expectations, norms and practices become translated and negotiated in such a way (...) that legitimate attempts to conform with the expectations of the community of practice often become identified as plagiarism and illegitimate attempts at cheating often become obscured from view. It argues that this inappropriate framing and implementation of plagiarism detection systems may make academic integrity more illusive rather than less. It argues that in its current framing – as systems for ‘detection and discipline’ – plagiarism detection systems may become a new micro-politics of power with devastating consequences for those excluded. (shrink)
Harnad accepts the picture of computation as formalism, so that any implementation of a program - thats any implementation - is as good as any other; in fact, in considering claims about the properties of computations, the nature of the implementing system - the interpreter - is invisible. Let me refer to this idea as 'Computationalism'. Almost all the criticism, claimed refutation by Searle's argument, and sharp contrasting of this idea with others, rests on the absoluteness of this separation between (...) a computational system and its implementation. (shrink)
The Knowledge Interchange Format (KIF)  is an ASCII- based framework for use in exchanging of declarative knowledge among disparate computer systems. KIF has been widely used in the ﬁelds of knowledge engineering and artiﬁcial intelligence. Due to its growing importance, there arose a renewed push to make KIF an ofﬁ- cial international standard. A central motivation behind KIF standardization is the wide variation in quality, style, and content — of logic-based frameworks being used for knowledge representation. Variations of all (...) three types, of course, hinder the possibility of semantic integration. A well-crafted logic standard for the representation of declarative knowledge would impose some greatly needed syntactic and semantic uniformity on the current somewhat chaotic situation, uniformity that would in turn greatly enhance the capacity for semantic integration. For all its potential advantages, however, the idea of a logic standard is problematic for at least two reasons. (shrink)
Context The attitudes of medical professionals towards physician assisted dying have been widely discussed. Less explored is the level of agreement among physicians on the possibility of ‘rational suicide’—a considered suicide act made by a sound mind and a precondition of assisted dying legislation. Objective To assess attitudes towards rational suicide in a representative sample of senior doctors in England and Wales. Methods A postal survey was conducted of 1000 consultants and general practitioners randomly selected from a commercially available database. (...) The main outcome of interest was level of agreement with a statement about rational suicide. Results The corrected participation rate was 50%; 363 questionnaires were analysed. Overall 72% of doctors agreed with the possibility of rational suicide, 17% disagreed, and 11% were neutral. Doctors who identified themselves as being more religious were more likely to disagree. Some doctors who disagreed with legalisation of physician assisted suicide nevertheless agreed with the concept of rational suicide. Conclusions Most senior doctors in England and Wales feel that rational suicide is possible. There was no association with specialty. Strong religious belief was associated with disagreement, although levels of agreement were still high in people reporting the strongest religious belief. Most doctors who were opposed to physician assisted suicide believed that rational suicide was possible, suggesting that some medical opposition is best explained by other factors such as concerns of assessment and protection of vulnerable patients. (shrink)
The behavioural decision-theoretic concepts of mental accounting, framing and transaction utility have now been employed in marketing models and techniques. To date, however, there has not been any discussion of the ethical issues surrounding these significant developments. In this paper, an ethical evaluation is structured around three themes: (i) utilitarian justification (ii) the strategic exploitation of cognitive habits, and (iii) the claim of scientific status for the techniques. Some recommendations are made for ethical practices.
When surveying the spectrum from pop psych to neurology in works addressed to general readers, one is struck by how few major figures there have been - certainly when cognitive neuro is compared to a far smaller field (1), evolutionary biology, where real literary talents like Loren Eiseley once flourished, where "media dons" like Richard Dawkins regularly clarify our thinking, where there are magnificent series like those of Stephen Jay Gould (fifteen major essays a year, plus scholarly books and research (...) papers, spanning three decades) which have influenced millions to read more. Many writers in the cognitive spectrum have occasionally written an influential book or two, but few could fill the largest available campus auditorium on name recognition alone, even without announcing a topic for the lecture. (shrink)
The doctrine that there is no permanent creator who superintends creation and takes care of his creatures accords quite well with each of the principles known as the four noble truths of Buddhism. The first truth, that distress is universal, is traditionally expounded in terms of the impermanence of all features of experience and in terms of the absence of genuine unity or personal identity in the multitude of physical and mental factors that constitute what we experience as a single (...) person. As we saw above, the principal Buddhist arguments against the existence of God focus on the impossibility of permanence and unity in the causal structure of the universe. The second noble truth, that distress is the outcome of one's own unrealistic aspirations, is traditionally seen as ruling out the erroneous view that distress is something inflicted upon creatures by a cosmic superintendent or by other circumstances completely beyond their control. The third noble truth, that distress can be eliminated by divesting oneself of all unrealistic aspirations, rules out the view that sentient beings, as powerless victims of a divine will, have no alternative to a life of constant frustration. And the fourth noble truth, that the best means of removing unrealistic desires is to follow a methodical course of self-discipline, counters the view that the road to happiness lies in obedience to divine will or in trying to manipulate the sentiments of a cosmic intelligence through prayer or ritual. (shrink)
Two experiments examined the impact of causal relations between features on categorization in 5- to 6-year-old children and adults. Participants learned artificial categories containing instances with causally related features and noncausal features. They then selected the most likely category member from a series of novel test pairs. Classification patterns and logistic regression were used to diagnose the presence of independent effects of causal coherence, causal status, and relational centrality. Adult classification was driven primarily by coherence when causal links were deterministic (...) (Experiment 1) but showed additional influences of causal status when links were probabilistic (Experiment 2). Children’s classification was based primarily on causal coherence in both cases. There was no effect of relational centrality in either age group. These results suggest that the generative model (Rehder, 2003a) provides a good account of causal categorization in children as well as adults. (shrink)
The article by Barbey & Sloman (B&S) provides a valuable framework for integrating research on base-rate neglect and respect. The theoretical arguments and data supporting the nested set model are persuasive. But we found the dual-process account to be under-specified and less compelling. Our concerns are based on (a) inconsistencies within the literature cited by B&S, and (b) studies of base-rate neglect in categorization.
Plan-ahead becomes necessary for those movements which are over-and-done in less time than it takes for the feedback loop to operate. Natural selection for one of the ballistic movements (hammering, clubbing, and throwing) could evolve a plan-ahead serial buffer for hand-arm commands that would benefit the other ballistic movements as well. This same circuitry may also sequence other muscles (children learning handwriting often screw up their faces and tongues) and so novel oral-facial sequences may also benefit (as might kicking and (...) dancing). An elaborated version of the sequencer may constitute a Darwin Machine that spins scenarios, evolves sentences, and facilitates insight by offline simulation. An example is given of an evolutionary scenario from an apelike ancestor, demonstrating the transition behaviors and growth curve considerations that any such theory needs to have; this particular scenario (involving throwing improvements) also suggests an explanation for the puzzling design of the Acheulean "handaxe.". (shrink)
The self, Joseph LeDoux tells us, is “the totality of the living organism”. Most disciplines in the natural sciences focus on only one or two levels of organization. Indeed, Dmitri Mendeleev figured out the periodic table of the elements without knowing any of the underlying quantum mechanics or stereochemistry. There are, however, at least a dozen levels of organization within the neurosciences — and, if we use a metaphor, we temporarily create yet another. This leads to considerable confusion and arguments (...) at cross purposes over whether learning is an alteration at the level of gene expression, ion channels, synapses, neurons or circuits. Each neuron has thousands of synapses, which produce currents that summate to form an impulse train. But only rarely is the activity of a single neuron sufficient to cause a perception or trigger an action. Neurons usually act as members of ‘committees’ — what Donald Hebb in 1949 called cellassemblies. Just as in academia, one individual may function in different committees on different occasions. A concept, including any explicit memory that we can talk about, is probably formed by such a committee. Implicit memories (the ones you can’t talk about) are less differentiated — they are part of the ‘feltwork’, together with motivations and emotions, that biases the choice of one’s next act. In this well-written 400-page appreciation of behavioural neuroscience, LeDoux argues that synapses are the seat of self. He says, in effect, that you are your memories; that it is the uniqueness of an array of synaptic strengths that distinguishes one twin from another. Fair enough, but why not instead focus on one’s unique array of ion channels? Or neurons, because a neuron is the closest thing we have to a computational unit (synapses have to reach a threshold before they have any influence at all)? Or one’s unique arrangement of those overlapping, redundant hebbian committees? None of these make for a catchy book title, but relating other things to the synapses proves to be a good way of covering a lot of fascinating material at the overlying levels, including a few updates to LeDoux’s earlier book The Emotional Brain (Simon & Schuster, 1996).. (shrink)
Like most religions, the Buddhist tradition is rich in stories that are designed to illustrate key principles and values. Stories of the Buddha himself offer a verbal portrait of an ideal human being that followers of the tradition can aspire to emulate; his story offers a picture of a person with a perfectly healthy mind. Stories of other people (and of gods, ghosts and ghouls) portray a wide range of beings from the nearly perfect to the dreadfully imperfect, all presented (...) as models of what one could eventually become oneself through gradual transformations from one’s present mentality. In what follows, I shall first tell a brief story about myself and will then recount the stories of two men who were cousins with similar but importantly different mentalities. And I shall conclude with a few observations about what I see as the significance of the difference between these two cousins. (shrink)