December 7, 2010

The Same Old Consciousness

From:  It makes sense to paraphrase Einstein’s famous dictum in regard to consciousness. Our problem is the unsustainability of the world we have created, and we should be clear that we can’t solve this problem with the same kind of consciousness that gave rise to it.

But many people try to do just that, even the leaders of the world’s twenty richest and most powerful nations. The November 2010 meeting of the G20 in Seoul gave indisputable proof of it. Not only did the meeting fail to achieve its main objectives (among them rebalancing international trade and reaching an accommodation between the U.S. and South Korea), the objectives themselves proved to be out-of-date. They centered on re-stabilizing the same moribund economic and financial system that made the world unsustainable in the first place.

But why is the G20’s failure due to wrong consciousness? Because consciousness in the social, political, and cultural context is sum total of our view of the world, with its values, aspirations, and background assumptions. It’s the “paradigm” that underlies the way we think and the way we set our priorities. The consciousness of the G20 gives rise to an obsolete view of the world, with faulty values and outdated aspirations. The leaders view the world as the arena for a Darwinian struggle for survival, seen as a competition for growth in the economies of nations. Since assured growth cannot be achieved even by the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world by itself, the leaders recognize the need for some level and form of cooperation—as a means to an end. The end is for the rich nations to make sure that they remain rich.

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March 5, 2007

Scrub-jays plan for the future

animal minds,future thinking — alice @ 11:19 pm

A recent paper in Nature, which came out of Nicky Clayton’s lab at the University of Cambridge, reports on the ability of western scrub-jays to plan for the future. The findings of this paper, by Raby et al., suggest that scrub-jays can (and do!) plan for the following day without reference to their current motivational state, challenging the idea that the ability to think about the future is unique to humans. It will be interesting to see what kind evidence will follow on this topic.

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February 16, 2007

Patients with hippocampal amnesia cannot imagine new experiences

brain injury,future thinking — alice @ 9:38 am

Adding to the recent surge of studies on future thinking, Hassabis and colleagues recently reported the results they obtained from testing amnesic patients with bilateral hippocampal damage. Compared to healthy control participants, who were matched for age, education and IQ, the amnesic group tested in this study demonstrated impairment on a task that required the imagination of new experiences. The authors noted that the patients’ imagined experiences were strikingly deficient in spatial coherence, leading to fragmented constructions of the future that were lacking in richness. In light of the results of this study, the authors suggested that the hippocampus may provide the spatial context, a critical contribution, for the creation of new experiences. Clickthrough for abstract.

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January 17, 2007

Self-projection and the brain

Abstract of Self-projection and the brain, in Trends in Cognitive Science:

When thinking about the future or the upcoming actions of another person, we mentally project ourselves into that alternative situation. Accumulating data suggest that envisioning the future (prospection), remembering the past, conceiving the viewpoint of others (theory of mind) and possibly some forms of navigation reflect the workings of the same core brain network. These abilities emerge at a similar age and share a common functional anatomy that includes frontal and medial temporal systems that are traditionally associated with planning, episodic memory and default (passive) cognitive states. We speculate that these abilities, most often studied as distinct, rely on a common set of processes by which past experiences are used adaptively to imagine perspectives and events beyond those that emerge from the immediate environment.

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January 8, 2007

Are memory errors adaptive?

future thinking,memory — alice @ 9:41 am

Are memory errors really a bad thing? Could they actually reflect processes that are adaptive for our existence? Schacter and Addis discuss this interesting idea in an essay on constructive memory. (Continue reading for a passage from the essay.)

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January 3, 2007

Which brain regions enable us to remember our past and anticipate our future?

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