See Also: Book Notes, (me), Notes on Consciousness, Dynamic Global Workspace, Brain Region Network, Consciousness and the Brain, Touching a Nerve, Righteous Mind, Consciousness: Confessions, The Quest for Consciousness, Happiness Hypothesis, Blank Slate, Info Viz & Perception, On Intelligence, The Stuff of Thought, Neuroscience of Human Relationships, Human: Makes Us Unique, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Touching A Nerve: The Self As Brain

(2013) W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393058321

Patricia Churchland has some great anecdotes that she uses to shape her narrative. In the first chapter, brains are complicated science is hard. p. 21 "on the farm where I grew up, learning how rings work was no mere frill." She later describes herself as a "hard assed realist". p. 262 "If we start getting soft-soapy and mushy-headed… the integrity of science erodes." I struggled thru the first chapter. I skipped the 2nd chapter - too goofy.

This book has excellent sections on brain structures that are different in gender and sexuality. It also has great discussions about self-control, more good stuff about the Global Workspace , altho for a super dense shot at the whole ball of wax, check out Baars 2013 update.

Churchland seems a little schizophrenic about free will and the subconscious. One the one hand, she seems to say, we have free will and if you can't make yourself do everything on your New Year's resolution list, you just need to suck it up. Then she admits that the subconscious can behave badly. Then she claims that feelings and emotions play little role in decisions, but, then a admits we do not really understand decisions.

This is in no sense a review. Just notes for myself and some quotes...

Quotes from Book

p. 114 - "Thus, when philosophers or psychologists claim that we humans are all born with an innate module to behave according to fairness norms, we should wonder how they square such a hypothesis with the aforementioned variability." [ It is fun to see such an obvious jibe at Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations/Modules. Haidt is not saying that we all share the same sense of what is fair, just that some sense of fairness is a human universal.

image ignition.png

p. 100 - In one very particular region of the reward system (the nucleus accumbens), the prairie voles contrast with the montane voles in having a higher density of receptors for oxytocin. In another very particular region of the reward system (the ventral pallidum), prairie voles have a higher density of receptors for vasopressin. It should also be noted that orytocin is more abundant in females than in males, vice versa for vasopressin. Vasopressin and its receptors seem especially relevant to male behavior, such as aggression against nest intruders and care of the pups.

p. 156 - In a climate so harsh and unforgiving, stupidity and miscalculation were well understood to lead to catastrophe. [ Reminds me of the attitude that still exists in Tromso ]

p. 176 - Neuroscientists know in a general way what structures are I crucial for normal self-control in its various manifestations Even this general knowledge is fairly recent, and very little is known about exactly how the players conduct their bus, ness. Such knowledge will eventually be unearthed, but it will be a piece of the larger story of how billions of neurons work together and do so without a conductor, without a commander in chief. With those cautions nailed up, we can sec that self-control depends on the connectivity patterns between neurons in a set of subareas of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and subcortical structures, mainly the basal ganglia and nucleus accumbens (Figure 7.1). Different functions in the self-control portfolio may share cortical regions in the prefrontal cortex, but they also recruit different networks for their particular performance.. Those who predicted a single self-contained module-the "will"-may be disappointed to know that the prediction is withering. A network of areas, rather widely distributed, partially overlapping, regulate self-control.

p. 185 - What is not illusory is self-control, even though it can vary as a function of age, temperament, habits, sleep, disease, food, and many other factors that affect how nervous systems function. Nonetheless, evolution, by culling out the inveterately impulsive, saw to it that, by and large, normal brains have normal self-control.

p. 206 - Some unconscious habits we do not love, such as revisiting' time and again and again a past confrontation, fantasizing about what we should have said, will say next time, and so forth. Even when we acknowledge the futility of the exercise and consciously resolve to stop going over the event, when we are malting the salad or driving to work, along comes the confrontation memory with its compulsive shoulda-coulda-woulda plus the fantasy “add-ons". Our unconscious sometimes seems to behave badly.

p. 206 - Acquiring habits and skills that can be performed pretty automatically is something all brains have evolved to do; it saves time, and it saves energy. Saving both is critical to the survival and well-being of all animals. The me that you are depends on a dose knitting together of both your conscious and your unconscious business.

p. 219 - Once the relevant evidence is gathered and the future consequences predicted and weighed as best one can, the decision to be made is virtually always a decision under uncertainty. Sometimes the uncertainty is massive, but even then, some decisions are clearly worse than others. Feelings and emotions play a role, but not too much; other people, advice plays a role, but not too much. Decision making is a constraint satisfaction process, meaning that we assign values to certain things, subject to constraints. Thus, we may have many goals and desires about both the short term and the long term, and a good decision satisfies the most important ones.
. . .
Precisely what my dear old brain is doing as I go through these exercises is not entirely known. That is, we can think of it in terms of constraint satisfaction, but are still a bit vague about what constraint satisfaction really is in neural terms.

image CentralThalmus

Patricia Churchland's version of Global Workspace Theory, tweaked by me:
1) sensory signals impinging on consciousness are highly integrated and highly processed by lower level (nonconscious) brain networks.
2) the workspace allows the dominant coalition to reach out throughout the brain to recruit knowledge to bring to the novel situation
3) consciousness has limited capacity. Only 1 conversation, no long division while spotting of eddies.
. . . "multitasking, we are probably shifting attention back and forth between two or possibly three tasks, each of which is familiar and which we can perform with minor vigilance"]
4) novelty in a situation calls for consciousness and for conscious attention - alert and vigilant. routines allow multitasking.
5) information that is conscious can be accessed by many other brain functions - planning, deciding, speech - and it is kept "on the front burner"

p. 234 - According to Schiff's hypothesis, to be conscious anything requires activity from a ribbon of neurons in the middle of the thalamus, whose activity is itself regulated by neurons in the brainstem, an evolutionarily very old structure (Figure 9.3). Called the central thalamus (also called the intralaminarnudei of the thalamus), its neurons have pathways, though sparse, to top layer of every part of the cortex. That organization is unique and suggests that consciousness involves the upregulation of the entire cortex, whereas the reverse, loss of consciousness, is related to downregulation. In both cases, the changes are dependent on the activity of neurons in the central thalamus.

p. 235 - Another distinction that demarcates the roles of the central thalamus from those of the other sensory-specific thalamocortical systems is the style of neuronal activity. Those central thalamus neurons with their unique connectivity also have unique behavior. During the awake and dreaming states, neurons in the central thalamus fire in bursts at an unusually high rate - 800 to 1,000 times per second (hem), a remarkably energy-intensive behavior not seen anywhere else in the nervous system. They do not display the bursting pattern during deep sleep.. The neuronal bursts of central thalamus neurons track the aggregate Main wave pattern seen on the EEG that typifies the awake and dreaming states - 20 to 40 hertz.

p. 239 - The underlying processes that lead to recognition of a bull moose are not available to consciousness, nor are the processes that retrieve from memory the information about moose in the fall rut, nor are the processes that underlie vigilance and shifts of attention. That is all beneath your awareness. It is your silent thought, your dark-energy thought. But your conscious aware-ness of the scene and your focused attention to the movement of the water and the behavior of moose are necessary as well. You could not do this in your sleep. How does all this work?

image Churchland Rich Neuron Club

p. 248 - Accordingly, there are three properties that seem especial prominent in the neurobiology of consciousness: (1) rich club neurons and their ability to make fast connections to other rich club neurons, thereby providing the scaffolding for rich integration of information; (2) global ignition for brain events that reach consciousness; and (3) the central thalamus, with its role in enabling specific contents of awareness during the awake and the dreaming states. These three properties of brains suggest a platform that will certainly lead to a whole new range of experiments. With luck, these advances will eventually lead to understanding the detailed nature of the mechanisms involved in consciousness.

p. 253 - What is the role of attention? What is attention? Attention is presumably part of your brain, evaluative business, needed because conscious awareness has a limited capacity. Scientists characterize two kinds of attention. One involves a stimulus that "grabs" your attention-a stimulus such as a loud sound, the sudden smell of smoke, or a bright flash of light. That is the bottom-up variety, and it is clearly related to survival, reflecting when priority must be given to a sudden danger over a current aim. The other is top-down (voluntary), and reflects goals, both short term and long term, as well as preferences. The brain regions involved in this kind of attention are more toward the front of the brain.
. . .
The contents of your conscious state shifts as you pay attention to a conversation and then to the clock and then to the baby in the crib and back to the conversation. As suggested, these shifts in what we experience may rest on fast shifts of linkages between widely separated pools of neurons. The linkages might, it has been speculated, consist of coordinated patterns of activity between highly connected hubs, perhaps regulated by brain rhythms.

p. 165 - Because we depend on our social institutions for norms concerning justice, prosperity and decency, we need to ask: What happens when very institutions subvert decency. [ we need social institutions!

NYTimes Review 2014.06.01 YON