Talking Crow

Surprising New Study Shows Crows Experience Complex Subjective Experiences and Consciousness

(TMU) – Consciousness is one of the greatest mysteries in the universe and humans are still in the dark on a wide range of related scientific questions, but a new paper is presenting a fascinating plot twist in the story of conscious perception on Earth. Based on the first experimental study of its kind, the authors suggest that crows experience conscious perception and subjective awareness in ways that are neurologically similar to humans and non-human primates.

The results of the new study provide the first experimental neurological data suggesting that crows – and, presumably, other birds and non-primate animals – are capable of vastly more complex cognitive processes than previously believed.

The lead author of the study, Andreas Nieder, says:

“The results of our study opens up a new way of looking at the evolution of awareness and its neurobiological constraints.”

Nieder and his neuroscience research team at the University of Tübingen conducted the study by measuring the brain signals of corvid songbirds as they received visual sensory input and simultaneously documenting their behavior. The results, which stunned the scientists, demonstrated the birds experience a form of conscious perception that was previously considered the domain of humans and other primates.

“Nerve cells that represent visual input without subjective components are expected to respond in the same way to a visual stimulus of constant intensity,” Nieder explains. “Our results, however, conclusively show that nerve cells at higher processing levels of the crow’s brain are influenced by subjective experience, or more precisely, produce subjective experiences.”

The reason the results were so surprising is that birds have very different brain structures than humans and non-human primates, who have a cerebral cortex. Until now, many scientists have considered the cerebral cortex the main mechanism for the production of strong subjective experiences. While crows and other corvid birds have demonstrated cleverness and the ability to solve puzzles, they were not thought to subjectively analyze the external world.

Brain scans from the new experiment suggest otherwise and, according to Nieder, this could have ramifications for how we study the origins of consciousness on Earth and its evolution across a wide variety of species.

“The last common ancestors of humans and crows lived 320 million years ago,” the neurobiologist states. “It is possible that the consciousness of perception arose back then and has been passed down ever since…the capability of conscious experience can be realized in differently structured brains and independently of the cerebral cortex.”

The finding could alter how we view the evolution of consciousness. Some scientists believe that there may have been multiple different forms of sentient awareness that developed independently across the world in different species.

In addition to bolstering the study of consciousness in non-human species, the work could help change the way we view animals in general, as we learn that they have their own universe of perception, replete with their own subjective feelings and reactions.

At the very least, the phrase “bird brain” may be on the chopping block.

Surprising New Study Shows Crows Experience Complex Subjective Experiences and Consciousness

The 11 Dimensional Brain

Blue Brain Team Discovers a Multi-Dimensional Universe in Brain Networks

Using mathematics in a novel way in neuroscience, the Blue Brain Project shows that the brain operates on many dimensions, not just the three dimensions that we are accustomed to.

For most people, it is a stretch of the imagination to understand the world in four dimensions but a new study has discovered structures in the brain with up to eleven dimensions – ground-breaking work that is beginning to reveal the brain’s deepest architectural secrets.

Using algebraic topology in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.

The research, published today in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, shows that these structures arise when a group of neurons forms a clique: each neuron connects to every other neuron in the group in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the higher the dimension of the geometric object.

PR neuroscience news topology blue brain project markram

Topology in neuroscience: The image attempts to illustrate something that can not be imaged – a universe of multi-dimensional structures and spaces. On the left is a digital copy of a part of the neocortex, the most evolved part of the brain. On the right are shapes of different sizes and geometries in an attempt to represent structures ranging from 1D to 7D and beyond. The “black-hole” in the middle is used to symbolise a complex x of multi-dimensional spaces, or cavities. Courtesy of the Blue Brain Project

“We found a world that we had never imagined,” says neuroscientist Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project and professor at the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, and co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Frontiers, “there are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to eleven dimensions.”

Markram suggests this may explain why it has been so hard to understand the brain. “The mathematics usually applied to study networks cannot detect the high-dimensional structures and spaces that we now see clearly.”

If 4D worlds stretch our imagination, worlds with 5, 6 or more dimensions are too complex for most of us to comprehend. This is where algebraic topology comes in: a branch of mathematics that can describe systems with any number of dimensions. The mathematicians who brought algebraic topology to the study of brain networks in the Blue Brain Project were Kathryn Hess from EPFL and Ran Levi from Aberdeen University.

“Algebraic topology is like a telescope and microscope at the same time. It can zoom into networks to find hidden structures – the trees in the forest – and see the empty spaces – the clearings – all at the same time,” explains Hess.

In 2015, Blue Brain published the first digital copy of a piece of the neocortex — the most evolved part of the brain and the seat of our sensations, actions, and consciousness. In this latest research, using algebraic topology, multiple tests were performed on the virtual brain tissue to show that the multi-dimensional brain structures discovered could never be produced by chance. Experiments were then performed on real brain tissue in the Blue Brain’s wet lab in Lausanne confirming that the earlier discoveries in the virtual tissue are biologically relevant and also suggesting that the brain constantly rewires during development to build a network with as many high-dimensional structures as possible.

When the researchers presented the virtual brain tissue with a stimulus, cliques of progressively higher dimensions assembled momentarily to enclose high-dimensional holes, that the researchers refer to as cavities. “The appearance of high-dimensional cavities when the brain is processing information means that the neurons in the network react to stimuli in an extremely organized manner,” says Levi. “It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1D), then planks (2D), then cubes (3D), and then more complex geometries with 4D, 5D, etc. The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates.”

The big question these researchers are asking now is whether the intricacy of tasks we can perform depends on the complexity of the multi-dimensional “sandcastles” the brain can build. Neuroscience has also been struggling to find where the brain stores its memories. “They may be ‘hiding’ in high-dimensional cavities,” Markram speculates.

Original research article: Cliques of Neurons Bound into Cavities Provide a Missing Link between Structure and Function

Citation: Reimann MW, Nolte M, Scolamiero M, Turner K, Perin R, Chindemi G, Dłotko P, Levi R, Hess K and Markram H (2017) Cliques of Neurons Bound into Cavities Provide a Missing Link between Structure and Function. Front. Comput. Neurosci. 11:48. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2017.00048

This research was funded by: ETH Domain for the Blue Brain Project (BBP) and the Laboratory of Neural Microcircuitry (LNMC); The Blue Brain Project’s IBM BlueGene/Q system, BlueBrain IV, funded by ETH Board and hosted at the Swiss National Supercomputing Center (CSCS); NCCR Synapsy grant of the Swiss National Science Foundation; GUDHI project, supported by an Advanced Investigator Grant of the European Research Council and hosted by INRIA.


Neuroscience Reveals Past Thoughts

New Brain Tech Reveals Past Thoughts and Memories
image source
Nicholas West
Activist Post

An alarming new study (posted in full below) illustrates how fast neuroscience is developing in its attempt to uncover every aspect of the human brain. A specific brain wave called P300 has been identified by researchers as a marker that essentially encodes what we observe as we go about our daily activities. Based on this specific brain wave marker, researchers are able to conduct a Concealed Information Test. In fact, the test is already being used in Japan and Israel. Researchers are hoping that new data they have published will demonstrate that the test is reliable enough to meet the higher standard of U.S. courtrooms.

The massive influx of money into Obama’s BRAIN project, as well as similar research sponsored by the European Union , now exceeds $2 billion combined. Research continues full-steam ahead despite indications that human brain study is outpacing ethical parameters. Some scientists within the European arm of the project have recently threatened a boycott due to mismanagement and misuse along similar lines to what you will read below.

In our age of loosened constitutional standards and basic human rights that has permitted all innocent communications and movements to be tracked, traced and databased, any technology that aims to uncover our most mundane daily activities and thoughts must be heavily scrutinized for potential abuse. Moreover, I have highlighted some of the language in this press release that clearly demonstrates how this could move far beyond the courtroom and easily provide a new level of pervasive surveillance.

Bold emphasis is mine:

Brain activity can be used to tell whether someone recognizes details they encountered in normal, daily life, which may have implications for criminal investigations and use in courtrooms, new research shows.

The findings , published in Psychological Science , a journal of the Association for Psychological Science , suggest that a particular brain wave, known as P300 , could serve as a marker that identifies places, objects, or other details that a person has seen and recognizes from everyday life .
Research using EEG recordings of brain activity has shown that the P300 brain wave tends to be large when a person recognizes a meaningful item among a list of nonmeaningful items. Using P300, researchers can give a subject a test called the Concealed Information Test (CIT) to try to determine whether they recognize information that is related to a crime or other event.

Most studies investigating P300 and recognition have been conducted in lab settings that are far removed from the kinds of information a real witness or suspect might be exposed to. This new study marks an important advance , says lead research John B. Meixner of Northwestern University, because it draws on details from activities in participants’ normal, daily lives.

“Much like a real crime, our participants made their own decisions and were exposed to all of the distracting information in the world,” he explains.

“Perhaps the most surprising finding was the extent to which we could detect very trivial details from a subject’s day, such as the color of umbrella that the participant had used,” says Meixner. “This precision is exciting for the future because it indicates that relatively peripheral crime details, such as physical features of the crime scene, might be usable in a real-world CIT — though we still need to do much more work to learn about this.”

To achieve a more realistic CIT, Meixner and co-author J. Peter Rosenfeld outfitted 24 college student participants with small cameras that recorded both video and sound — the students wore the cameras clipped to their clothes for 4 hours as they went about their day.

For half of the students, the researchers used the recordings to identify details specific to each person’s day, which became “probe” items for that person.
The researchers also came up with corresponding, “irrelevant” items that the student had not encountered — if the probe item was a specific grocery store, for example, the irrelevant items might include other grocery stores.

For the other half of the students, the “probe” items related to details or items they had not encountered, but which were instead drawn from the recordings of other participants. The researchers wanted to simulate a real investigation, in which a suspect with knowledge of a crime would be shown the same crime-related details as a suspect who may have no crime-related knowledge.

The next day, all of the students returned to the lab and were shown a series of words that described different details or items (i.e., the probe and irrelevant items), while their brain activity was recorded via EEG.

The results showed that the P300 was larger for probe items than for irrelevant items, but only for the students who had actually seen or encountered the probe.

Further analyses revealed that
P300 responses effectively distinguished probe items from irrelevant items on the level of each individual participant, suggesting that it is a robust and reliable marker of recognition.

These findings have implications for memory research, but they may also have real-world application in the domain of criminal law given that some countries, like Japan and Israel, use the CIT in criminal investigations.

“One reason that the CIT has not been used in the US is that the test may not meet the criteria to be admissible in a courtroom,” says Meixner. “Our work may help move the P300-based CIT one step closer to admissibility by demonstrating the test’s validity and reliability in a more realistic context.”

Meixner, Rosenfeld, and colleagues plan on investigating additional factors that may impact detection, including whether images from the recordings may be even more effective at eliciting recognition than descriptive words – preliminary data suggest this may be the case.


Consciousness as Quantum Effect

Could Quantum Brain Effects Explain Consciousness?

By Tanya Lewis, Staff Writer
Date: 27 June 2013
conceptual brain
 A controversial theory suggests the brain acts like a quantum computer.
CREDIT: Ase | Shutterstock

NEW YORK — The idea that consciousness arises from quantum mechanical phenomena in the brain is intriguing, yet lacks evidence, scientists say.

Physicist Roger Penrose, of the University of Oxford, and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, of the University of Arizona, propose that the brain acts as a quantum computer — a computational machine that makes use of quantum mechanical phenomena (like the ability of particles to be in two places at once) to perform complex calculations. In the brain, fibers inside neurons could form the basic units of quantum computation, Penrose and Hameroff explained at the Global Future 2045 International Congress, a futuristic conference held here June 15-16.

The idea is appealing, because neuroscience, so far, has no satisfactory explanation for consciousness — the state of being self-aware and having sensory experiences and thoughts. But many scientists are skeptical, citing a lack of experimental evidence for the idea.

The Orch OR model

Penrose and Hameroff developed their ideas independently, but collaborated in the early 1990s to develop what they call the Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch OR) model.

Penrose’s work rests on an interpretation of the mathematician Kurt Godel’s incompleteness theorem, which states that certain results cannot be proven by a computer algorithm. Penrose argues that human mathematicians are capable of proving so-called “Godel-unprovable” results, and therefore human brains cannot be described as typical computers. Instead, he says, to achieve these higher abilities, brain processes must rely on quantum mechanics.

But Penrose’s theory didn’t explain how this quantum computing occurred inside actual brains, just that the phenomenon would be needed to solve certain mathematical equations. Hameroff read Penrose’s work and suggested small fibrous structures that give cells their structural support — known as microtubules — might be capable of carrying out quantum computations.

Microtubules are made up of units of the protein tubulin, which contains regions where electrons are swirling around very close to each other. Hameroff proposed that these electrons could become “quantum entangled,” a state in which two particles retain a connection, and an action performed on one affects the other, even when the two are separated by a distance.

In the Orch OR model, the mathematical probabilities that describe the quantum states of these entangled electrons in microtubules become unstable in space-time. These mathematical probabilities are called wave functions, and in this scenario they collapse, moving from a state of probability to a specific actuality. In this state, the microtubules in one neuron could be linked to those in other neurons via electrical connections known as gap junctions. These junctions would allow the electrons to “tunnel” to other regions of the brain, resulting in waves of neural activity that are perceived as conscious experience.

“Penrose had a mechanism for consciousness, and I had a structure,” Hameroff told LiveScience.

Problems with the model

Interesting as it sounds, the Orch OR model has not been tested experimentally, and many scientists reject it.

Quantum computers — computers that take advantage of quantum mechanical effects to achieve extremely speedy calculations — have been theorized, but only one (built by the company D-Wave) is commercially available, and whether it’s a true quantum computer is debated. Such computers would be extremely sensitive to perturbations in a system, which scientists refer to as “noise.” In order to minimize noise, it’s important to isolate the system and keep it very cold (because heat causes particles to speed up and generate noise).

Building quantum computers is challenging even under carefully controlled conditions. “This paints a desolate picture for quantum computation inside the wet and warm brain,” Christof Koch and Klaus Hepp, of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, wrote in an essay published in 2006 in the journal Nature.

Another problem with the model has to do with the timescales involved in the quantum computation. MIT physicist Max Tegmark has done calculations of quantum effects in the brain, finding that quantum states in the brain last far too short a time to lead to meaningful brain processing. Tegmark called the Orch OR model vague, saying the only numbers he’s seen for more concrete models are way off.

“Many people seem to feel that consciousness is a mystery and quantum mechanics is a mystery, so they must be related,” Tegmark told LiveScience.

The Orch OR model draws criticism from neuroscientists as well. The model holds that quantum fluctuations inside microtubules produce consciousness. But microtubules are also found in plant cells, said theoretical neuroscientist Bernard Baars, CEO of the nonprofit Society for Mind-Brain Sciences in Falls Church, VA., who added, “plants, to the best of our knowledge, are not conscious.”

These criticisms do not rule out quantum consciousness in principle, but without experimental evidence, many scientists remain unconvinced.

“If somebody comes up with just one single experiment,” to demonstrate quantum consciousness, Baars said, “I will drop all my skepticism.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on June 27, 2013 to amend the statement that “no quantum computers… have been realized.” The company D-Wave claims to have created one, though some have questioned whether it really performs as a quantum computer.


Tasting Words & Hearing Colors

Why It Pays to Taste Words and Hear Colors

Charles Choi, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 22 November 2011 Time: 05:01 PM ET
colored numbers
Of the more than 60 known types of synesthesia, grapheme-color synesthesia, in which people see every number or letter tinged with a particular color, is the most common.
CREDIT: hkeita | Shutterstock

While most of us see sights and hear sounds, some people also hear colors and taste words, a mysterious phenomenon called synesthesia, which occurs when stimulating one of the five senses triggers experiences in an unrelated sense. Now researchers suggest this unusual trait can provide numerous mentalbenefits, potentially explaining why evolution has kept it around.

Scientists first discovered synesthesia in the 19th century, noting that certain people saw every number or letter tinged with a particular color, even though they were written in black ink. This condition, known as grapheme-color synesthesia, is the most common of the more than 60 known variants of synesthesia.

Although synesthesia can occur due to drug use, brain damage, sensory deprivation and even hypnosis, research has revealed that 2 percent to 4 percent of the general population naturally experiences synesthesia, with the phenomenon tending to run in families. Recent work analyzing the brains of people with grapheme-color synesthesia has revealed it is caused by an increased number of connections between sensory regions of the brain.

A key question regarding synesthesia is why the phenomenon has survived when it might not seem to provide any benefit. Now scientists, in a review of past research in the field, are finding answers from those who have it — synesthetes.

For instance, synesthesia is purported to be seven times more common in artists, poets and novelists than in the rest of the population. Cognitive neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran at the University of California, San Diego, and his colleagues suggest that mutant genes responsible for synesthesia might lead people to perceive links not only between seemingly unrelated sensations but also between seemingly unrelated ideas, leading to greater creativity.

Intriguingly, synesthetes at times also demonstrate remarkable memory abilities. For instance, British writer Daniel Tammet said that for him, each positive integer up to 10,000 has its own unique shape, color, texture and feel, and said he has used his synesthesia to memorize the mathematical constant pi to 22,514 digits. Scientists have suggested that synesthesia might be linked with savantism, the remarkable expertise, ability or brilliance in one or more areas at times seen in people with autism or other mental disorders.

In addition, researchers have found that number-color synesthetes are better than others at discriminating very similar colors, while mirror-touch synesthetes — those who experience tactile sensations on their own body when they watch someone else being touched — possess a more sensitive sense of touch. This suggests the senses of synesthetes may be enhanced in very subtle ways.

Altogether, researchers suggest that synesthesia could yield vital clues toward a better general understanding of the human mind.

“Synesthesia appears to rely on many of the same mechanisms present in all individuals,” neuroscientist David Brang at the University of California, San Diego, told LiveScience.

Brang noted that synesthesia may be an extreme variant of multisensory processing — that is, how the brain processes information from multiple senses at once.

“Understanding the differences between this exaggerated type of multisensory processing can tell us about the inner workings of normal multisensory processes as well,” Brang said. He added that synesthetes might also help us better understand the neuroscience of creativity.

Brang and Ramachandran detailed their findings online Nov. 22 in the journal PLoS Biology


Evolution of the Brain

The Evolution of the Brain and the Mind


The following is excerpted from Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment, by David Perlmutter, FACN, and Alberto Villoldo, PhD,  published by Hay House.

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors faced a neurological opportunity similar to the one we face today, an opportunity that facilitated an evolutionary leap forward. With the awakening of the neocortex, our forebears acquired a new brain structure that nature had wired for joy, creativity, and innovation.

To access that potential, our ancestors required specific nutrients to provide fuel to run their neurocomputer. Once they added brain-enriching foods to their diet, the faculties of certain individuals, the visionaries of their day, came online and began to create great works of art, devise written language, establish civilizations, and lay the foundations for our modern human experience.

During this time, ancestral shamans described Creation as a web of life in which we are all interconnected. This was a kind of Indra’s Net, which the mythology of ancient India describes as a web with an infinite number of intersecting strands and a precious jewel at the intersection of every strand. Each of the infinite number of jewels reflects every other jewel perfectly. Within this mythical net, all beings are interrelated, and all of our actions, no matter how slight, affect everyone else. Within this net, prophets converse with God and interpret His will, while mystics search for the elixir of immortality and alchemists attempt to transform lead into gold. These sages, mystics, and alchemists shared the same preoccupations as seers of today. They asked, as we do now: How can we live long and healthy lives, unaffected by debilitating illness and degenerative brain disease? How can we turn the dense lead of human suffering into the gold of enlightened consciousness?

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