Sunday, January 18, 2015

EDGE Question 2015: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?

It's time again for the annual EDGE question for 2015 - What do you think about machines that think? Among this years respondents are many authors and thinkers who work in psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and consciousness research. Here are a few:

Stanislas Dehaene, Alison Gopnik, Thomas Metzinger, Bruce Sterling, Kevin Kelly, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Andy Clark, Michael Shermer, Nicholas Humphrey, Gary Marcus, George Dyson, Paul Davies, Douglas Rushkoff, Helen Fisher, Stuart A. Kauffman, Robert Sapolsky, Maria Popova, Steven Pinker, and many others - 186 in all.

2015 : WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?



"Dahlia" by Katinka Matson |  Click to Expand www.katinkamatson.com
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In recent years, the 1980s-era philosophical discussions about artificial intelligence (AI)—whether computers can "really" think, refer, be conscious, and so on—have led to new conversations about how we should deal with the forms that many argue actually are implemented. These "AIs", if they achieve "Superintelligence" (Nick Bostrom), could pose "existential risks" that lead to "Our Final Hour" (Martin Rees). And Stephen Hawking recently made international headlines when he noted "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."   
THE EDGE QUESTION—2015 
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?

But wait! Should we also ask what machines that think, or, "AIs", might be thinking about? Do they want, do they expect civil rights? Do they have feelings? What kind of government (for us) would an AI choose? What kind of society would they want to structure for themselves? Or is "their" society "our" society? Will we, and the AIs, include each other within our respective circles of empathy?

Numerous Edgies have been at the forefront of the science behind the various flavors of AI, either in their research or writings. AI was front and center in conversations between charter members Pamela McCorduck (Machines Who Think) and Isaac Asimov (Machines That Think) at our initial meetings in 1980. And the conversation has continued unabated, as is evident in the recent Edge feature "The Myth of AI", a conversation with Jaron Lanier, that evoked rich and provocative commentaries.

Is AI becoming increasingly real? Are we now in a new era of the "AIs"? To consider this issue, it's time to grow up. Enough already with the science fiction and the movies, Star Maker, Blade Runner, 2001, Her, The Matrix, "The Borg".  Also, 80 years after Turing's invention of his Universal Machine, it's time to honor Turing, and other AI pioneers, by giving them a well-deserved rest. We know the history. (See George Dyson's 2004 Edge feature "Turing's Cathedral".) So, once again, this time with rigor, the Edge Question—2105: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?
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[182 Responses—126,000 words:] Pamela McCorduck, George Church, James J. O'Donnell, Carlo Rovelli, Nick Bostrom, Daniel C. Dennett, Donald Hoffman, Roger Schank, Mark Pagel, Frank Wilczek, Robert Provine, Susan Blackmore, Haim Harari, Andy Clark, William Poundstone, Peter Norvig, Rodney Brooks, Jonathan Gottschall, Arnold Trehub, Giulio Boccaletti, Michael Shermer, Chris DiBona, Aubrey De Grey, Juan Enriquez, Satyajit Das, Quentin Hardy, Clifford Pickover, Nicholas Humphrey, Ross Anderson, Paul Saffo, Eric J. Topol, M.D., Dylan Evans, Roger Highfield, Gordon Kane, Melanie Swan, Richard Nisbett, Lee Smolin, Scott Atran, Stanislas Dehaene, Stephen Kosslyn, Emanuel Derman, Richard Thaler, Alison Gopnik, Ernst Pöppel, Luca De Biase, Maraget Levi, Terrence Sejnowski, Thomas Metzinger, D.A. Wallach, Leo Chalupa, Bruce Sterling, Kevin Kelly, Martin Seligman, Keith Devlin, S. Abbas Raza, Neil Gershenfeld, Daniel Everett, Douglas Coupland, Joshua Bongard, Ziyad Marar, Thomas Bass, Frank Tipler, Mario Livio, Marti Hearst, Randolph Nesse, Alex (Sandy) Pentland, Samuel Arbesman, Gerald Smallberg, John Mather, Ursula Martin, Kurt Gray, Gerd Gigerenzer, Kevin Slavin, Nicholas Carr, Timo Hannay, Kai Krause, Alun Anderson, Seth Lloyd, Mary Catherine Bateson, Steve Fuller, Virginia Heffernan, Barbara Strauch, Sean Carroll, Sheizaf Rafaeli, Edward Slingerland, Nicholas Christakis, Joichi Ito, David Christian, George Dyson, Paul Davies, Douglas Rushkoff, Tim O'Reilly, Irene Pepperberg, Helen Fisher, Stuart A. Kauffman, Stuart Russell, Tomaso Poggio, Robert Sapolsky, Maria Popova, Martin Rees, Lawrence M. Krauss, Jessica Tracy & Kristin Laurin, Paul Dolan, Kate Jefferey, June Gruber & Raul Saucedo, Bruce Schneier, Rebecca MacKinnon, Antony Garrett Lisi, Thomas Dietterich, John Markoff, Matthew Lieberman, Dimitar Sasselov, Michael Vassar, Gregory Paul, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Andrian Kreye, Andrés Roemer, N.J. Enfield, Rolf Dobelli, Nina Jablonski, Marcelo Gleiser, Gary Klein, Tor Nørretranders, David Gelernter, Cesar Hidalgo, Gary Marcus, Sam Harris, Molly Crockett, Abigail Marsh, Alexander Wissner-Gross, Koo Jeong-A, Sarah Demers, Richard Foreman, Julia Clarke, Georg Diez, Jaan Tallinn, Michael McCullough, Hans Halvorson, Kevin Hand, Christine Finn, Tom Griffiths, Dirk Helbing, Brian Knutson, John Tooby, Maximilian Schich, Athena Vouloumanos, Brian Christian, Timothy Taylor, Bruce Parker, Benjamin Bergen, Laurence Smith, Ian Bogost, W. Tecumseh Fitch, Michael Norton, Scott Draves, Gregory Benford, Chris Anderson, Raphael Bousso, Christopher Chabris, James Croak, Beatrice Golomb, Moshe Hoffman, Matt Ridley, Matthew Ritchie, Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran, Eldar Shafir, Maria Spiropulu, Tania Lombrozo, Bart Kosko, Joscha Bach, Esther Dyson, Anthony Aguirre, Steve Omohundro, Murray Shanahan, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Steven Pinker, Max Tegmark, Jon Kleinberg & Senhil Mullainathan, Freeman Dyson, Brian Eno, W. Daniel Hillis, Katinka Matson

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Dr. Jeffrey B. Rubin - The McMindfulness Craze: The Shadow Side of the Mindfulness Revolution

Dr. Jeffrey B. Rubin emailed me and suggested I might like to share his recent article, "The McMindfulness Craze: The Shadow Side of the Mindfulness Revolution" (which originally appeared at Truthout).

While I tend to agree with Dr. Rubin, in part, I also have some issues about the generalizations in this article. A quote:
Meditation can lessen distractedness, quiet the inner pandemonium, reduce self-criticism and cultivate the capacity to tolerate a greater range of feelings. But emotions such as greed and hatred are viewed in some meditative traditions, such as classical Buddhism, as "defilements" and obstacles that interfere with experiencing a deeper reality. Meditators often try to quiet their minds so as to transcend or get rid of upsetting thoughts and feelings, rather than learn what they might teach us. [italics mine]
If ANY teacher, therapist, doctor, or whoever, is teaching mindfulness as a way to "get rid of upsetting thoughts and feelings" s/he have totally missed the point. The REAL point of meditation and mindfulness (thank you Pema Chödrön) is to learn how to sit with our suffering, to turn toward it and not away from it. That is how I learned it and how I teach it to my clients.

This is from Pema Chödrön's essay, "How to Tap into the Natural Warmth of Your Heart," which is included in A Pema Chödrön Primer, from The Shambhala Sun magazine.
The natural warmth that emerges when we experience pain includes all the heart qualities: love, compassion, gratitude, tenderness in any form. It also includes loneliness, sorrow, and the shakiness of fear. Before these vulnerable feelings harden, before the storylines kick in, these generally unwanted feelings are pregnant with kindness, with openness and caring. These feelings that we’ve become so accomplished at avoiding can soften us, can transform us. The openheartedness of natural warmth is sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant—as “I want, I like,” and as the opposite. The practice is to train in not automatically fleeing from uncomfortable tenderness when it arises. With time we can embrace it just as we would the comfortable tenderness of loving-kindness and genuine appreciation. [italics mine]
Anyone who is teaching mindfulness and meditation as anything other than a way to turn toward and embrace our most difficult feelings and thoughts is not teaching a Buddhist practice. This is the essential difference between Buddhist meditation and meditation as a tool for stress reduction - confusing the two is a serious mistake.

It's also a mistake to assume (as many Buddhists have) that meditation and mindfulness is all we need to heal our psychological wounds. This is nothing but a form of spiritual bypassing.

Buddhism offers some valuable insights and tools that can be a powerful adjunct to psychotherapeutic interventions, but they cannot replace the healing power of the intersubjective relationship with a good therapist. And, quite often, it can do nothing to heal the preverbal, somatic-level traumas of attachment failures.

That said, here is the article from Dr. Rubin.
Sunday, 04 January 2015 | By Jeffrey B. Rubin, Truthout | Op-Ed 

Shadow Side of the Mindfulness Revolution
In case we had any doubt after watching Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes," mindfulness is the new yoga - and we are in the midst of a mindfulness revolution. It's been embraced by celebrities, business leaders, politicians and athletes; and recommended by doctors, clergy, psychotherapists and prison wardens. Apps and bestselling books touting the benefits of meditation proliferate. Google "mindfulness" and you'll get over 24 million hits.

It's not surprising that with unbridled enthusiasm about mindfulness come exaggerated claims and problems that are eclipsed. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the architects of the mindfulness revolution, claims mindfulness "has the potential to ignite a universal or global renaissance that . . . would put even the European and Italian Renaissance into the shade . . . [and] that may actually be the only promise the species and the planet have for making it through the next couple hundred years."

Backlash was inevitable. Critics are beginning to highlight the shaky foundations of the scientific claims of meditation's seemingly miraculous efficacy. After reviewing 18,000 scientific articles on meditation, the Association for Health and Research Quality at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a governmental organization that manages standards of research, declared in 2007 that future studies must be "more rigorous." In other words, the scientific evidence for the efficacy of meditation has been overstated and does not support the claims from evangelists of mindfulness about its benefits.

Buddhists have also pushed back, arguing that the mindfulness vogue has divorced meditation from its grounding in traditional Buddhist teachings.

But focusing on these problems with the McMindfulness craze obscures a more profound one - meditation neglects meaning. This not only opens the door to grave dangers, but also compromises meditation's radical potential.

I'm both a psychoanalyst and a long-time student - and now a teacher - of meditation. Over the years, I've witnessed the capacity of meditation to increase awareness, deepen compassion and cultivate wisdom. This is an immense gift for Western culture in general and psychotherapy in particular. But I've also seen how students and teachers of meditation alike grapple with unresolved emotional and interpersonal conflicts that meditation by itself sometimes doesn't touch, and in some cases hides.

The research of Jack Kornfield, a psychologist and one of the United States' most beloved Buddhist teachers, who interviewed nearly a hundred Buddhist teachers from a variety of traditions, supports this. He discovered that a significant number used psychotherapy to deal with psychological issues that meditation could not resolve. "Even the best meditators have old wounds to heal," Kornfield wrote in Bringing the Dharma Home: Awakening Right Where You Are. What he noticed in other Buddhist teachers, himself and his students, in over 40 years of teaching and practice, was that "meditation practice doesn't 'do it all.'" While wonderful, it often left untouched childhood wounds, unconscious fears, loneliness, poor self-care, troubles at work, and difficulties handling feelings and intimate relationships.

Meditation can transform our lives in powerful ways. But even after years of meditating, we may still be saddled with many of the same conflicts and inhibitions that plagued us before we began meditating. We may still be attracted to what is not good for us. We may still not have compassion for ourselves. We may still fear intimacy.

One explanation for this is that we are to blame. If only we would increase our dedication to meditation, learn to focus, and overcome our personal inadequacies, then perhaps we could change those things about ourselves that disturb us. Could this self-blaming explanation have reinforced the sense of inferiority that may have brought us to meditate in the first place - a troubling irony that perhaps too few Buddhists may contemplate?

A more accurate explanation for why meditators remain trapped within the same psychological conflicts after years of dedicated practice is that Buddhist meditation, like all techniques, is a tool that arose in particular contexts designed to handle specific challenges and not other ones. "I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering," the Buddha is reputed to have said. Buddhist meditation was the technique the Buddha developed to handle the existential suffering he encountered when he escaped from his sheltered life within the palace compound in his mid-20s and witnessed, for the first time, old age, suffering and death. Profoundly distressed, even haunted, by the reality and inevitability of aging, misery and mortality, he abandoned his wife and child and initiated a spiritual quest that produced a set of teachings and practices whose central focus was eliminating the agonizing suffering that traumatized him.

We like to believe that the Buddha's teachings are timeless truths. Suffering seems like a universal aspect of the human condition, rather than a relic of a particular cultural or historical age. But anthropologists and cross-cultural psychologists teach us that there are fundamental differences as well as similarities in individuals and cultures. His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was shocked to hear that Americans suffered from "self-directed contempt," as Daniel Goleman wrote in Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health. The Dalai Lama told a group of US scientists and mental health professionals that this experience was absent from Tibetan culture.

We believe, without sufficient evidence, that mindfulness is good for everything from stress to sleep. And we ignore that it originated in a particular sociocultural context very different than our own - 5th century BCE India - with purposes often at odds with the way most people in the contemporary world use it. No one seems to ask whether meditation techniques designed to eliminate the misery of monks in ancient India would be wholly sufficient for cognitively oversaturated lay people in the West in the 21st century who want to raise self-esteem, heal emotional traumas or be more productive in a frenzied world.

Meditation can lessen distractedness, quiet the inner pandemonium, reduce self-criticism and cultivate the capacity to tolerate a greater range of feelings. But emotions such as greed and hatred are viewed in some meditative traditions, such as classical Buddhism, as "defilements" and obstacles that interfere with experiencing a deeper reality. Meditators often try to quiet their minds so as to transcend or get rid of upsetting thoughts and feelings, rather than learn what they might teach us. Peter, a long-term practitioner of Buddhist meditation, was raised by highly critical, perfectionist parents, who pushed him to be the sort of person they needed him to be. He felt essentially unloved for who he actually was, yet highly critical of himself. When he first discovered Buddhist teachings on "purifying" the mind of "defilements," he felt right at home. Some years later in psychoanalysis, he realized that the whole project of purification created an unconscious judgment and aversion toward parts of himself that needed to be embraced, explored and understood - not eliminated.

At the first meditation retreat that I ever attended, in the late 1970s, I asked one of the teachers in an interview what to do with the wealth of unconscious perceptions and insights that arose during my meditations. "Don't do anything," he advised me, "just let go of it." I later learned this was a central dimension of the Buddhist method.

This can be tremendously useful advice. Most people spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing about the past and fearfully anticipating the future. Letting go has value when someone is hyper-vigilant and over controlled, or caught in obsessive thinking or excessive worrying. But there can be negative consequences when we "let go" of experience.

A well-known writer on meditation told me some years ago that after his divorce, meditation helped him anesthetize his pain and grief. Concentrating his mind during meditation kept his loss and sadness at bay, which he recognized unnecessarily prolonged the mourning process; because he never grieved his loss, it took longer to get over it.

If the way meditation is ordinarily practiced can lead to numbing detachment and self-avoidance, what would a meditation that valued self-engagement and self-discovery look like?

Emancipatory meditation - which involves intimacy with oneself - is an extraordinarily vital and alive activity in which one attends to whatever one is experiencing without any preconceived conclusions about it and without trying to get rid of it. To return to the example of the meditator who was undergoing a painful divorce: In emancipatory meditation, he would be more interested in truly experiencing and learning from his sadness, loneliness and fear, rather than anesthetizing himself or getting rid of his feelings by prematurely detaching from them.

We need to investigate the content and meaning of what we become aware of in meditation instead of attempting to transcend it or reduce it to what we already believe based on Buddhism, psychotherapy or any doctrine. Practicing meditation in an emancipatory way could be a powerful ally in our efforts in the 21st century to live with greater awareness and sanity, intimacy and passion.
Posted with permission of the author.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Evan Thompson - Defining Consciousness from "Waking, Dreaming, Being"

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Evan Thompson's new book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (2014). I'm only about 4 chapters into it at this point, but I find myself agreeing with Thompson's model of consciousness to a degree I did not anticipate. His "embodied, embedded, and relational" understanding of how consciousness functions is very similar to my own sense of consciousness.

Here are a couple of excerpts.
Moreover, the brain is always embodied, and its functioning as a support for consciousness can’t be understood apart from its place in a relational system involving the rest of the body and the environment. The physical substrate of mind is this embodied, embedded, and relational network, not the brain as an isolated system.[37]

At the same time, we can’t infer from the existential or epistemological primacy of consciousness that consciousness has ontological primacy in the sense of being the primary reality out of which everything is composed or the ground from which everything is generated. One reason we can’t jump to this conclusion is that it doesn’t logically follow. That the world as we know it is always a world for consciousness doesn’t logically entail that the world is made out of consciousness. Another reason is that thinking that consciousness has ontological primacy goes against the testimony of direct experience, which speaks to the contingency of our consciousness on the world, specifically on our living body and environment. (p. 102)
I also support his rejection of the premise that "consciousness has ontological primacy," an idea I see presented in Buddhist authors such as B Alan Wallace, Ken Wilber's integral theory, and most New Age misunderstandings of quantum mechanics (see Deepak Chopra and others of his ilk).

Over the last several years, I have become enamored of the theory of consciousness as an emergent property of matter.
The term “emergence” comes from the Latin verb emergo which means to arise, to rise up, to come up or to come forth. The term was coined by G. H. Lewes in Problems of Life and Mind (1875) who drew the distinction between emergent and resultant effects.
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If we were pressed to give a definition of emergence, we could say that a property is emergent if it is a novel property of a system or an entity that arises when that system or entity has reached a certain level of complexity and that, even though it exists only insofar as the system or entity exists, it is distinct from the properties of the parts of the system from which it emerges. 
Thompson shares the emergentist position, with qualifications.
Is the view I’m presenting a version of “emergentism,” according to which consciousness is a higher-level property of living beings that emerges from lower-level biological and physical processes?[39] And if so, am I supposing that consciousness is scientifically explainable or presenting a version of “mysterianism,” the doctrine that says that the human mind is incapable of understanding how consciousness fits into the natural world?[40]
 

My view can be described as an emergentist one, in the following sense. I hold that consciousness is a natural phenomenon and that the cognitive complexity of consciousness increases as a function of the increasing complexity of living beings. Consciousness depends on physical or biological processes, but it also influences the physical or biological processes on which it depends. I also think the human
mind is capable of understanding how consciousness arises as a natural phenomenon, so I’m not a mysterian.


Nevertheless, my view differs from emergentism in its standard form, according to which physical nature, in itself, is fundamentally nonmental, yet when it’s organized in the right way, consciousness emerges. This view works with a concept of physical being that inherently excludes mental or experiential being, and then tries to show how consciousness could arise as a higher-level property of physical being so conceived. In my view, however, no concept of nature or physical being that by design excludes mental or experiential being will work to account for consciousness and its place in nature. (p. 103)
In the following passage, Thompson dismisses both the dualism of Dharmakriti and the notion of interiority of particles, a premise of Wilber's AQAL model.
Recall that Dharmakīrti reasoned in the following way: matter and consciousness have totally different natures; an effect must be of the same nature as its cause; therefore, consciousness cannot arise from or be produced by matter. This argument rejects emergentism in its standard form, for it denies that physical nature, understood as being fundamentally or essentially nonmental, is suffcient to produce or give rise to consciousness. This aspect of Dharmakīrti’s argument is hardly antiquated, for a similar and very forceful argument against standard emergentism has recently been given by the philosopher Galen Strawson.[41] In both cases, the crucial insight is that the emergence of experiental being from physical being is unintelligible, given a concept of physical phenomena as fundamentally or essentially excluding anything mental or experiential.

Whereas Dharmakīrti used his argument to support a version of mind-body dualism, Strawson uses his argument to support “panpsychism.” Dualism says that matter and consciousness have totally different natures; panpsychism says that every physical phenomenon possesses some measure of experience as part of its intrinsic nature. Neither position is attractive to me. Dharmakīrti’s dualism, which allows for modes of consciousness not dependent on the brain, doesn’t sit well with the scientific evidence, as we’ve seen. Neither does Strawson’s panpsychism. This position attributes “micro-experiences” to microphysical phenomena, despite there being no evidence for protons or electrons having any experiences of their own. Not only does ascribing “micro-experiences” to physical particles seem ad hoc, but also it gives rise to the so-called “combination problem” of how it’s possible for “micro-experiences” to coexist or combine coherently in a human or other kind of animal subject. (p. 104-105)
Thompson's point in Chapter Four, from which all of these quotes are taken, is to move the reader toward his primary philosophical position on consciousness, neurophenomenology.
Where does this leave us with regard to the project of relating consciousness to the brain, and more comprehensively, to our bodily being? Since we can’t step outside of consciousness or our embodiment, we need to work within them carefully and precisely. Instead of focusing mainly on the outward behavioral and physiological expressions of consciousness, we need to give equal attention to cultivating our experience from within. Concretely, this means we need to work with contemplative forms of mental training and embed them within a larger framework that also includes the experimental sciences of mind and life. Such a framework, in which both contemplative practice and scientific observation and measurement are seen as grounded in direct experience, is precisely what Francisco Varela had in mind when he introduced his research program of “neurophenomenology.”[43]

Neurophenomenology provides the framework for the rest of this book. (p. 105-106)
Thompson, along with by Francisco J. Varela and Eleanor Rosch first laid out a definition of neurophenomenology in their seminal book, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (1991).

The following is an excerpt from Thompson's 2010 book, Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind.
Varela formulates the “working hypothesis” of neurophenomenology in the following way: “Phenomenological accounts of the structure of experience and their counterparts in cognitive science relate to each other through reciprocal constraints” (1996. p. 343). By “reciprocal constraints” he means that phenomenological analyses can help guide and shape the scientific investigation of consciousness, and that scientific findings can in turn help guide and shape the phenomenological investigations. A crucial feature of this approach is that dynamic systems theory is supposed to mediate between phenomenology and neuroscience. Neurophenomenology thus comprises three main elements (see Figure 11.2): (1) phenomenological accounts of the structure of experience; (2) formal dynamical models of these structural invariants; and (3) realizations of these models in biological systems. Given that time-consciousness is supposed to be an acid test of the neurophenomenological enterprise, we need to see whether phenomenological accounts of the structure of time-consciousness and neurodynamical accounts of the brain processes relevant to consciousness can be related to each other in a mutually illuminating way. This task is precisely the one Varela undertakes in his neurophenomenology of time-consciousness and in his experimental research on the neurodynamics of consciousness.

Varela’s strategy is to find a common structural level of description that captures the dynamics of both the impressional-retentional-protentional flow of time-consciousness and the large-scale neural processes thought to be associated with consciousness. We have already seen how the flow of time-consciousness is self-constituting. What we now need to examine is how this self-constituting flow is supposed to be structurally mirrored at the biological level by the self-organizing dynamics of large-scale neural activity.


Figure 11.2-Neurophenomenology
Figure 11.2- Neurophenomenology

There is now little doubt in cognitive science that cognitive acts, such as the visual recognition of a face, require the rapid and transient coordination of many functionally distinct and widely distributed brain regions. Neuroscientists also increasingly believe that moment-to moment, transitive (object-directed) consciousness is associated with dynamic, large-scale neural activity rather than any single brain region or structure (Cosmelli, Lachaux, and Thompson, 2007). Hence, any model of the neural basis of mental activity, including consciousness, must account for how large-scale neural activities can operate in an integrated or coherent way from moment to moment.

This problem is known as the large-scale integration problem (Varela et al. 2001). According to dynamical neuroscience, the key variable for understanding large-scale integration is not so much the activity of the individual neural components, but rather the nature of the dynamic links among them. The neural counterparts of mental activity are thus investigated at the level of collective variables that describe emergent and changing patterns of large-scale integration. One recent approach to defining these collective variables is to measure transient patterns of synchronous oscillations between different populations of neurons (Engel, Fries, and Singer 2001; Varela et al. 2001). According to Varela (1995, 1999), these synchrony patterns define a temporal frame of momentary and transient neural integration that corresponds to the duration of the present moment of experience.
I highly recommend all three of Thompson's books that are referenced here - he is one of the leading philosophers of mind working today.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Shrink Rap Radio #436 – Brain, Mind, and Body in The Healing of Trauma with Bessel van der Kolk MD

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Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is not only one of the main figures in the treatment of trauma and traumatic stress, he was one of the architects of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis. Before the return of soldiers from the Vietnam War, PTSD was often seen as cowardice, battle fatigue, or shell shock.

When the then young Dr. van der Kolk began treating returning soldiers at a VA hospital with pharmacological interventions, he quickly realized these drugs - as powerful as they were - could not touch the trauma these men (and some women) were experiencing.

For nearly a decade (late 1970s and into the 1980s), PTSD was seen primarily as a battle related disorder (a fact that allowed the military, until quite recently, to discharge the victims of sexual assault within the ranks with a diagnosis of a personality disorder). However, due to Dr. van der Kolk, Dr, Judith Herman, and others, the diagnosis began to be applied to ANY form of trauma that presents the survivor with witnessing or experiencing a threat of severe bodily harm and/or death.

If it were not for Dr. van der Kolk and others in his generation of psychiatrists and psychologists, there would not be a sexual trauma field and I would not be doing the work I am doing.

Shrink Rap Radio #436 – Brain, Mind, and Body in The Healing of Trauma with Bessel van der Kolk MD

A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.
copyright 2014: David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

Bessel van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk, MD is a world renowned researcher and clinician in the field of traumatic stress. His innovative work to integrate mind, brain, body, and social connections in the healing of trauma has had a profound impact on the care and treatment of trauma victims all over the world. Dr. van der Kolk’s research includes brain imaging studies on trauma’s impact on childhood development and the effects of therapies such as yoga, neurofeedback, EMDR, theater and movement on traumatic stress. Dr. van der Kolk, a professor in the department of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School, is the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Boston and the director of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), established by Congress to raise the standard of care and improve access to services for traumatized children, their families and communities. Dr. van der Kolk’s newest book, The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Viking, 2014)—a New York Times Best Seller—offers a sweeping and revolutionary new understanding of the causes and consequences of trauma and how to heal the traumatized brain.

Check out the following Psychology CE Courses based on listening to Shrink Rap Radio interviews:

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

WebMD - Fat-Fighting Foods

Tomorrow begins the New Year and a lot of people make resolutions for weight loss and/or healthier nutrition. WebMD offered this list of healthy fat-fighting foods to help you get the results you seek.

Fat-Fighting Foods
December 31, 2014

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt has twice as much protein as other yogurts. It takes longer to leave your stomach, keeping you satisfied longer. Plus, you burn= more calories digesting protein than carbs. Choose nonfat, low-fat, and low-sugar types.

Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a nutritional all-star that belongs in your weight loss plan. This whole grain has 8 grams of hunger-busting protein and 5 grams of fiber in one cup, and you'll also get iron, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E. Quinoa is as easy to cook as rice. For a quick dinner, mix in some vegetables, nuts, or lean protein. 

Cinnamon

Some studies suggest cinnamon may have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels. This could curb your appetite, particularly in people with type 2 diabetes, Bonci says. Nearly everyone can benefit from cinnamon in its traditional role. Stir some into your coffee, tea, or yogurt to add sweetness without adding calories.


Hot Peppers

Hot peppers have a flavorless chemical called capsaicin. It's more plentiful in habaneros, but jalapeños also have it. Capsaicin seems to curb appetite and speed up metabolism slightly, but only for a short time. It probably doesn't have a big impact on weight, unless you eat less food because it's spicy. 

Green Tea

Several studies suggest green tea may promote weight loss by stimulating the body to burn abdominal fat. Green tea contains catechins, a type of phytochemical that may briefly affect the metabolism. To get the most benefit, you may need to drink green tea several times a day. Bonci recommends taking your tea hot, because it takes longer to drink, providing a soothing, mindful experience.

Grapefruit

Grapefruit doesn't have any magical fat-burning properties, but it can help you feel full with fewer calories. That's because its soluble fiber takes longer to digest. Having half a grapefruit or a glass of grapefruit juice before a meal fills you up, so you eat fewer calories during the meal.


Watermelon

Foods that are rich in water take up more room in your gut. This signals the body that you've had enough to eat and leaves less room for other foods. Many raw fruits and vegetables are full of water and nutrients, and low in calories. Watermelon is a great example. It's a good source of the antioxidant lycopene and gives you some vitamin A and C, too.

Pears and Apples

Pears and apples are also high in water content. Eat them with the peels for extra fiber, which will keep you full longer. Go for whole fruits rather than fruit juice. You'll get more fiber, and you have to chew the fruits. This takes longer and you'll burn a few calories chewing, as opposed to gulping down a smoothie.

Grapes vs. Raisins

Compare two cups of grapes to 1/4 cup of raisins. Either choice has a little more than 100 calories, but you'll probably be more satisfied with the grapes. Dried fruit has its place. When used sparingly, a few raisins or dried cranberries can liven up a salad.


Berries

Like other fruits, berries are high in water and fiber, which can keep you full longer. They're also very sweet, satisfying your sweet tooth for a fraction of the calories you would get from cookies or brownies. Blueberries are a good example because most stores carry them and they're loaded with antioxidants.

Raw Vegetables

Raw vegetables make an outstanding snack. They satisfy the desire to crunch, they're full of water to help you feel full, and they're low in calories. Half a cup of diced celery has just eight calories. Coat celery with a little peanut butter or dunking carrots in salsa. When you're in the mood for chips and dip, replace the chips with raw veggies.

Sweet Potatoes

Think of the typical toppings on your baked potato -- butter, sour cream, maybe cheese and bacon bits. If you substitute a sweet potato, you might not need any of that. Baked sweet potatoes are so full of flavor, they don't need a lot. This can save you loads of calories. As a bonus, sweet potatoes are packed with potassium, beta carotene, vitamin C, and fiber.


Eggs

One egg has only 75 calories and 7 grams of protein, along with other vital nutrients. Remember, your body will burn more calories digesting eggs than a carb-heavy breakfast. If you have high cholesterol, one egg is almost all the cholesterol you should have in a day. Choose egg whites, which are cholesterol free.

Coffee

It sounds too good to be true -- one of your favorite beverages may actually help rev the metabolism and help you lose weight. Coffee does stimulate the metabolismm, but only a little. Don't count on this for weight loss, especially if you add calories with toppings.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal has three things going for it: fiber-rich whole-grain oats, lots of water, and it's hot. It's a very filling combination. Hot food takes longer to eat, and all that liquid and fiber will help you feel full longer. Avoid super-sugary oatmeal. Stirring in cinnamon or nutmeg will give you a sweet taste with less sugar.


Crispbreads

Whole-grain rye crackers, sometimes called crispbreads, offer a low-fat, fiber-packed alternative to traditional crackers. Research suggests people who replace refined grains with whole grains tend to have less belly fat. Whole grains also provide a richer assortment of plant nutrients. This doesn't just apply to crackers. You can get the same benefits by switching to whole-grain breads, cereals, and pastas.

Tabouli

A standout whole grain is bulgur wheat, the type found in tabouli. It's high in fiber and protein, but low in fat and calories. That helps you fill up with a minimum of calories. It also tastes great. To turn this dish into a meal, you could add beans and stir in extra tomato, cucumber, and parsley.

Soup

Soup -- we're talking broth-based, not creamy -- has a lot going for it. It's full of water, which fills you up with the fewest possible calories. It's hot, which prevents you from eating too much. Have it before a meal, and soup can take up space that might have gone to higher calorie foods. You can also make a satisfying, low-calorie meal out of soup alone by adding chicken, fish, cut-up vegetables, or beans.

Salad

Another way to fill up before a meal is by eating salad. Lettuce has plenty of water content to take up space in the stomach. That leaves less room for fattier foods that might come later in the meal. Make your salad interesting by adding a variety of fruits and vegetables or grated cheese. Be careful about dressing, which can add a lot of calories. 

Vinegar

Dress your salad with oil and vinegar. It's easy to make and it's full of flavor that can make salad more satisfying -- and it has no calories.

Nuts

Nuts are an excellent way to curb hunger between meals. They're high in protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats. Studies suggest nuts can promote weight loss and improve cholesterol levels when eaten in moderation. They're also rich in calories, so limit your portions. If you have to get them out of their shell, you'll slow down and not eat as much.
 

Air-Popped Popcorn

Three cups of plain, air-popped popcorn may seem like a lot, but you're not getting a lot of calories. All that air adds volume without adding fat or sugar. 

Skim Milk

Skim milk provides plenty of protein, calcium, and vitamin D with none of the fat found in whole milk. And even though it's fat-free, skim milk can help you feel full. It takes longer to leave the stomach than drinks with less protein.

Lean Meat

You know that protein can keep you full longer and burn more calories during digestion. Choose your protein carefully. Dark meat tends to be high in fat, which could cancel out some of the benefits. Skinless chicken breast is a great choice. And some cuts of beef can make the grade. Flank steak, eye of round, and top sirloin are extra-lean with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per serving. Stick with a 3- to 4-ounce portion.


Fish

One of the best sources of protein is fish. Most fish is low in fat, and the exceptions usually have a good form of fat -- omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3's, which are found in salmon, herring, and other fatty fish, may help protect against heart disease and other chronic conditions.

Beans

Beans are a vegetable, a protein, and a great source of fiber. You feel full for very few calories. TOpen a can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and toss them into soup or salad or mash them up to use as a dip. One cup packs 12 grams of fiber, just 4 grams of fat, and 15 grams of protein.
Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on February 13, 2014

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REFERENCES:
American Diabetes Association web site.
American Dietetic Association web site.
Brown, J. Diabetes Care, 2004.
Center for Science in the Public Interest web site.
David Heber, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and public health; chief and founding director, Center for Human Nutrition, Division of Clinical Nutrition, UCLA; author of What Color Is Your Diet?
Diane L. McKay, PhD,  Human Nutrition Research Center, Tufts University; assistant professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University.
Faghih, S. Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, March 2010.
Flood, J.E. Appetite, November 2007.
Hoffman, J. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, May 2006.
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, July 8, 2009.
Journal of the American College of Nutrition, September 2010; February 2010.
Judith Rodriguez, PhD, RD, past president, American Dietetic Association; nutrition professor, University of North Florida.
Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
McKeown, N. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2010.
Norris, S. American Journal of Medicine, 2004.
Rolls, Barbara. The Volumetrics Eating Plan. HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.
Shahar, D. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2010.
Slavin, J.L. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2008.
The Journal of Nutrition, July 2011.
USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory.
Vander Wal, J.S. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, August 2005.
Weight-control Information Network web stie.
Whole Grain Council web site.
Yeh, Y. Diabetes Care, April 1, 2003.


This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information:Disclaimer
© 2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Check Out "The Couch," A New Blog on Mental Health and Addiction

My partner (read: girlfriend) has started a new blog called The Couch. Jami Parrish, LPC, CSAT, CMC, is a therapist and coach whose aim is to help others live fully and authentically. She's also really smart.

She practices in Tucson, AZ.

Here is the beginning of a recent post:

Affective Neurobiology and Sex Addiction

12/26/2014

“I hate feeling this way.”  She said,  “…it is like I am wired to feel like this.”

I have heard variations of this sentiment many, many times. (Each time I am reminded, Yes! Yes you are wired to feel like this.)  We as mammals ARE wired to feel like this, but that doesn’t mean it is never ending, that there is no hope.  I then explain the process that occurs deep in our brain and she expresses a sense of relief. “THAT makes sense!” she exclaims.   Understanding the underlying neurobiology to our processes helps us not just understand but regulate our nervous systems and those of our clients.  Dan Siegel’s Interpersonal Neurobiology uses this principal as the basis for conceptualization and treatment (Badenbock, 2008)

According to Jaak Panksepp, PhD, ALL mammals have seven primary affective (emotional) neurocircuits deep in the brain.  They are adaptive, essential to our survival, and part of our basic brain structure. (Panksepp, 2014)  While it is relatively well known now that the emotional center of the brain is in the limbic system, what Panksepp has found is that emotions are much more primitive, and hence much more powerful.  The emotional pathways extend far beyond the limbic system into the upper and middle brain stem. (Panksepp, personal communication, 2014)  These circuits reside in “ancient parts of the brain;” they are unconscious, hence the term primary. (Panksepp, 2014; Panksepp, 2012; Panksepp, 2010a)    “All aspects of mental life can be influenced by our primary-process feelings and the overall affective spectrum of the lower MindBrain is foundational for higher mental health issues” (Panksepp, 2012, p. xii). Emotions do not originate by a cognitive process. They begin in basic biological experiences deep in our brains and the subtleties (determining if we are feeling shame or guilt, anxiety or excitement) are then determined by our life experiences and our interpretations (secondary and tertiary processes, respectively, which I will explain below). The term MindBrain or BrainMind is Panksepp’s acknowledgment that we can not separate mind from brain and body. His theory is controversial in the field of affective neurobiology, but his decades of research supports his proposals.  This model will make sense to those who feel their emotions take over and to those therapists working with trauma and addiction.  It also helps to explain the power of sex addiction and other process addictions.
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Friday, December 26, 2014

Environmental Influences on Adult Neurogenesis

The article below is the introduction to the current issue of Neural Plasticity, a special issue on adult neurogenesis - and the articles are open access! Enjoy.

Neural Plasticity
Volume 2014 (2014, Dec 18), Article ID 808643, 3 pages
http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/808643

Editorial

Environmental Control of Adult Neurogenesis: From Hippocampal Homeostasis to Behavior and Disease


Sjoukje D. Kuipers [1,2,3], Clive R. Bramham [1,3], Heather A. Cameron [4], Carlos P. Fitzsimons [5], Aniko Korosi [5], and Paul J. Lucassen [5]
1. Department of Biomedicine, University of Bergen, 5009 Bergen, Norway 2. Department of Biology, University of Bergen, 5020 Bergen, Norway 3. K. G. Jebsen Centre for Research on Neuropsychiatric Disorders, 5009 Bergen, Norway 4. National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA 5. Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences (SILS), Center for Neuroscience, University of Amsterdam, Science Parc 904, 1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Copyright © 2014 Sjoukje D. Kuipers et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

There are few fields in neuroscience that have witnessed a faster development than the field of adult neurogenesis in the past decade. The discovery of stem cells present in the adult brain that give rise to new neurons has raised a lot of interest as it changed current concepts of brain plasticity and possible strategies for brain repair. While neurogenesis, today, has become a well-acknowledged phenomenon, many open questions remain. In this special issue, we have compiled a selection of articles that address several timely topics related to neurogenesis and discuss some of the unresolved questions concerning the functional relevance of adult neurogenesis, its regulation, and its role in the diseased brain.

The history of the field of adult neurogenesis is filled with controversies. By the end of the nineteenth century, largely due to influential scientists like y Cajal [1], it was firmly believed that no new neurons were added to the adult mammalian brain. A central dogma in neuroscience was that brains of mammals remained structurally constant from soon after birth. Neurogenesis was believed to occur only in early development and to rapidly decrease shortly thereafter. In the early 1960s, ground-breaking studies challenged this well-accepted doctrine by reporting the presence of newborn cells in various brain structures of young and adult rats, including the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and olfactory bulb [2, 3]. These reports, however, were essentially ignored by the scientific community, and it was not until the end of the twentieth century, more than 100 years after the initial formulation of y Cajal’s tenacious dogma, that a novel concept could develop. In the late 1990s, a series of papers initiated an explosion of research on the existence, function, and implications of adult mammalian neurogenesis. Over the years, accumulating evidence has since established adult neurogenesis as a concept, and it is now widely accepted that the adult brain is far from being fixed but is rather a highly plastic organ in which new neurons are indeed added to the existing network throughout life in all mammals including humans. An overview of the controversial history of adult neurogenesis is reviewed in this issue by E. Fuchs and G. Flügge.

Today, we know that neurogenesis occurs in the adult central nervous system throughout life in at least a few discrete regions, like the hippocampus and subventricular zone. From rodents to primates, neurons are continuously produced in the subgranular zone of the hippocampal dentate gyrus. New neurons are also generated in the subventricular zone, the largest germinal zone of the adult mammalian brain, from which they extensively migrate along the rostral migratory stream into the olfactory bulb.

A highly dynamic process, adult neurogenesis is further regulated by several endogenous as well as exogenous factors, such as age, exercise, (early) stress, and disease [4–7]. Environmental stimuli (e.g., diet and stress) and social interactions can greatly affect adult neurogenesis at multiple levels. These include proliferation, fate specification, migration, integration, and survival. In this issue, T. Murphy and colleagues address dietary interventions as effective environmental modifiers of brain plasticity. The authors evaluate the gap in our mechanistic understanding and discuss recent findings from animal and human studies reporting beneficial effects of dietary factors on cognition, mood and anxiety, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, they discuss the obstacles involved in harnessing these promising effects of diet on brain plasticity as seen in animal studies, into effective recommendations for humans and interventions to promote brain health. P. Peretto et al. review how the social environment impacts adult olfactory bulb neurogenesis. They discuss how social behaviors related to reproduction promote the proliferation and integration of newborn neurons into functional circuits. These social influences on adult olfactory bulb neurogenesis may ultimately enhance individuals’ fitness, as these “fresh” neurons contribute to critical activities such as parental behavior and partner recognition. Environmental influences on neurogenesis may already occur before conception but also continue during the peripartum period (pregnancy, birth, and lactation) which is characterized by numerous alterations in maternal neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, crucial for the physiological and mental health of the mother.

K. M. Hillerer et al. review common peripartum adaptations in mothers’ physiology and behavior, focusing on changes in neurogenesis and their possible underlying molecular mechanisms. From conception onwards, our physical and social environments trigger a series of physiological responses that modify our later responsivity by acting on the genetic blueprint to adjust developmental and lifelong programming of mental function. Early life represents a particularly sensitive period to the programming influences of environmental factors. Interestingly, the immune system plays an important role in the communication between the human body and its environment. While this holds true during both early development and adulthood, preliminary evidence suggests that early-life activation of the immune system can affect hippocampal neurogenesis and increase the risk for psychiatric disorder development later on. K. Musaelyan et al. further examine the effects associated with such immune system activation during early life, providing evidence to support a neurogenic hypothesis of immune developmental programming.

One of the most important and extensively studied environmental influences on neurogenesis is stress, both acute and chronic. Whereas brief stressful challenges appear beneficial for brain plasticity, allow adaptation, and in some instances even increase neurogenesis, chronic stress exerts deleterious inhibitory effects on plasticity, especially in the hippocampus. These detrimental influences are largely attributed to the elevation of glucocorticoids, through molecular mechanisms that are still not entirely clear. In the final part of their review, E. Fuchs and G. Flügge provide an overview of the influences of stress and stress hormones on the regulation of adult hippocampal neuroplasticity. The deleterious actions of chronic stress on neurogenesis have led to speculations regarding involvement of hippocampal neurogenesis in the aetiology of depression as well as antidepressants’ mode of action. In this issue, P. Rotheneichner et al. analyze the relationship between the various mechanisms of action of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a powerful second-line treatment for major depression disorders that strongly stimulates neurogenesis. They explore the intricate interactions between electroconvulsive shocks, hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis, neurogenesis, angiogenesis, and microglia activation as well the role of neurogenesis in age-related changes of ECT response in mice. J. L. Pawluski et al. instead explore the effects of fluoxetine, the most common antidepressant in the treatment of mood disorders, on hippocampal neuroplasticity and neurogenesis in female rats. They provide new evidence indicating that different modes of administration (oral versus minipump) of this antidepressant differentially modulate hippocampal neurogenesis in adult female rats.

Although somewhat counterintuitive, neurogenesis is especially responsive to neurodegeneration affecting the hippocampus. In fact, emerging evidence suggests that impaired neurogenesis may represent an early event in the course of various neurodegenerative disorders. From a functional perspective, adult neurogenesis provides new cells which are important for structural plasticity and network function. Newborn neurons in the adult hippocampus and subventricular zone participate in memory processing, mood regulation, and olfaction, functions commonly impaired in subjects suffering from Parkinson’s (PD) or Alzheimer’s disease (AD), two of the most common neurodegenerative disorders in humans. Disturbed regulation of new neuron production may exacerbate network vulnerability and promote early subtle disease manifestations. In this issue, M. Regensburg et al. summarize and interpret existing data on adult neurogenesis in patients with Parkinson’s disease and related animal models. A fundamental process in PD and AD, neuroinflammation, has been implicated in the progression of both diseases. Microglial cells, the major orchestrator of the brain inflammatory response, promote neuroprotective or neurotoxic microenvironments, thus controlling neuroprogenitor cell proliferation and neuronal fate. K. J. Doorn et al. address whether early microglial activation may play a role in the development of hippocampal pathology in Parkinson’s disease and study the proliferative responses occurring in the hippocampus of PD patients. Remarkably, they use double-labeling techniques to show that the proliferation in the PD hippocampus is largely due to microglial cells. A. Sierra et al. explore the interplay between microglia and neurogenesis and discuss both the beneficial and detrimental roles of microglial cells on adult hippocampal neurogenesis regulation, in the context of stress, aging and neurodegeneration, and particularly Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, M. W. Marlatt et al. discuss cell proliferation observed in the hippocampus of AD patients and describe the close proximity of dividing cells to amyloid plaques. Using novel triple immunocytochemical protocols, they further demonstrate that it is not astrocytes but rather the microglia cells, which appear to underlie the proliferative response in the AD hippocampus.

This special issue includes 11 exciting articles covering various aspects of adult neurogenesis, from its physiological regulation to its relevance for the pathophysiology of various brain disorders. We are convinced that this selection of papers will help the readers gain a better understanding of the crucial role of adult neurogenesis in both the healthy and diseased brain.


Sjoukje D. Kuipers
Clive R. Bramham
Heather A. Cameron
Carlos P. Fitzsimons
Aniko Korosi
Paul J. Lucassen

References

    S. R. y Cajal, Degeneration and Regeneration of the Nervous System, translated by R. M. Day from the 1913 Spanish, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 1928.
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