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The Wrong Brain

A rare anatomical variation newly identifies the brains of C.F. Gauss and C.H. Fuchs in a collection at the University of Göttingen

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Subsequent inquiries at the University of Göttingen revealed a glass jar labelled ‘C.H. F__s’ similar to the glass jar in which the brain of C.F. Gauss is kept, both most likely originally labelled by Rudolf Wagner. Meticulous comparison of the two brains in these jars with the original copper engravings and lithographs of Wagner (1860, 1862) have now demonstrated that the brain in the jar labelled ‘C.F. G__ss’ is identical to the brain of C.H. Fuchs as shown in the lithographs of Wagner (1862) (Fig. 1). Moreover, the brain in the jar labelled ‘C.H. Fuchs’ is identical to the brain of C.F. Gauss as documented in the copper engravings of Wagner (1860). These observations prove that the brains have been stored in the wrong jars, and that, consequently, our MRI data recorded in 1998 (Haenicke et al., 1999; Wittmann et al., 1999) do not show the brain of C.F. Gauss, but rather the brain of C.H. Fuchs.

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Science of Consciousness

Here is the follow up to an earlier post on The Royal Institution event:

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Hayek in Today’s Cognitive Neuroscience

Check out Joaquín Fuster’s recent paper:

Only now, more than half a century after the publication of his theoretical book (Hayek, 1952), is the reaction to Hayek’s argument beginning to be heard. And it’s a positive reaction, now supported by facts. He used to say that without a theory the facts are silent. Now, belatedly reacting to his book, we can confidently say that modern facts speak eloquently for his theory. In order to understand how modern facts meet Hayek, it is necessary to understand where his thinking came from and where cognitive neuroscience has been going in the past 50 years. Only in this manner can we fully appreciate the happy convergence of two trends of cognitive neuroscience that for most of the 20th century have developed far apart from each other. One is the ‘‘modular’’ trend (one cerebral module for each cognitive function), the other the ‘‘distributed’’ or reticular trend (brain networks of distributed knowledge participating in all the cognitive functions that adapt the individual to his environment). In his The Sensory Order, Hayek was the first to theoretically adopt the latter trend, which has lately developed greatly. Yet, astonishingly, to this day, most of the main actors in the field of cognitive neuroscience don’t even know of Hayek. In my opinion, the chief reason for this lingering neglect of his ideas is the language he used in his book. For example, he used terms that are unusual in physiological psychology, such as ‘‘following’’ and ‘‘map,’’ to characterize what in modern translation corresponds to synaptic association and neural network, respectively. Three powerful intellectual currents shaped Hayek’s psychology: Vienna’s logical positivism, Gestalt psychology, and psychophysics. Curiously, he tried to disown all three, yet ended up modifying them and incorporating them in his thinking.Afourth current, the dynamic systems theory of Von Bertalanffy (1950), came natural to him to theorize about the brain after having accepted the relational code of Gestalt (Koffka, 1935). After all, Hayek had been applying general complex systems theory to economics. With his application of that theory to psychology came the acceptance of a cortical dynamics in which the whole is more than the sum of the parts and irreducible to them: a cortical dynamics in which relationships were established by cell connections. Yet, in his time, little was known about the connectivity or physiology of the brain to support the relational anatomical code or the dynamics of the perceptual system that he devised. Now we know much more about them. Like the positivists of the ‘‘Vienna Circle,’’ Hayek advocated the use of the scientific method devoid of metaphysics as the only valid approach to human knowledge. In dealing with perception, however, he rejected the purely empiricist tenets of the positivists (like his friend Karl Popper, another quasi-renegade among them). According to Hayek, no perception was reducible to raw sensation. The concept of the brain as tabula rasa or passive recipient of sensations was to him unacceptable. The ‘‘elementary sensations’’ (e.g., a pure color) proposed by Ernst Mach (1885), the famous psychophysicist, were literally meaningless as a foundation for perception. Even the simplest of sensations is based on prior experience, either by the self or by the species – thus, in the latter case, inherited.

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Connectome

Here’s a recent WSJ article summing up the state of play in mapping brain connectivity. Here is Susan Bookheimer who holds the Joaquin Fuster Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience chair at UCLA – Fuster is off course a name many readers will recognise from my postings here and here. The images are from the Human Connectome Project.

“The study of connectivity is as hot as hot can get,” said Susan Bookheimer, a neuropsychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is the new head of the Organization of Human Brain Mapping, a large international professional society of neuroimaging researchers.

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Music of the Hemispheres

Check out philosopher Dan Lloyd’s film project. On the film site there are several videos of different brain states worth watching. Dan is, of course, no stranger to using other modalities to communicate his thoughts on consciousness – his book Radiant Cool is a classic in the genre.

Inside each of us, at every moment, a symphony plays. It’s the symphony of consciousness, but at the same time it’s the symphony of the brain.
– Dan Lloyd