What is "Mind?"

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MikeL

Social climber
Seattle, WA
Aug 12, 2014 - 09:22pm PT
FortMental: My classical pianist friend can hold a conversation and play Liszt simultaneously.

Do you know the difference in processes?

I'd say you are processing far far more than you are aware of. If attention is equal to awareness, then you needn't know anything about it.

(Whoops, there goes consciousness.)
MH2

climber
Aug 12, 2014 - 09:25pm PT
It won't be missed by me.
Tvash

climber
Seattle
Aug 12, 2014 - 09:42pm PT
I've just been summarizing Damasio and Graziano so far. If I have a perspective, it's that their theories make logical, physiological, and evolutionary sense to me. So, to paraphrase:

Awareness is not attention.

Attention is a dynamic data handling system. It takes in top down (memories, etc) and bottom up (sensory input) biased signals, selects the stronger signals, and suppresses the weaker ones. We are not consciously aware of all we attend to.

Awareness is just that - what we are consciously aware of. Awareness, synonymous with the attention schema, is a model of attention. It is information (data). It answers the question "Am I aware of this?", just as sensory neurons answer questions like "Is something touching me?". Given that awareness is constructed from a summarized version of attention, one cannot be aware of what isn't being attended to.

Attention is affected by the attention schema (ie, awareness) via a strange (feedback) loop, in addition to all the other top down and bottom up bias signals that continue to bombard it.

Many parts of the brain are involved in attention, as you can imagine. Integration happens in many parts of the brain as well. Obviously, there is much yet to be discovered here.

Early evidence seems to point to the STS and TPJ as playing major roles in managing the attention schema (if it exists), given that these are the only areas we yet know of that that are highly active during social perception, attention, and awareness.

Brain injuries to these areas (usually by stroke) result in selective loss of awareness, even when attention and formation of memories remain relatively functional.

MH2

climber
Aug 13, 2014 - 08:38am PT
Tvash,


I am guessing that Damasio and Graziano mention ways to detect attention and awareness outside of their own heads. Can you give a few examples? Examples that illustrate the difference between the two?

I am not sure if the vision and touch experiments you posted about earlier have to do with attention or awareness or both.
MikeL

Social climber
Seattle, WA
Aug 13, 2014 - 09:28am PT
MH2:

I don't know if this will affect your thinking any, but you should know that most of Damasio's brilliant arguments and interpretations come from studying people who have brain damage. Damasio looked to see what was or was not there in comparison to healthy brains.

I like his work and his ideas, but the research method leaves me unsettled. I don't have any ethical problems with it, but I am concerned that it presents a consistent bias that is difficult to counter. Just because one knows the problems that can be found does not mean that one knows how things can perform or what things are.

I'm not sure if this would matter to you.

On a few other threads, people are lamenting the loss of Robin Williams and the sadness that is associated with depression. Obviously, those appear to be problems that legions of medical personnel are trying to "solve." Based upon those problems, is that what we should know about mental health--that which we find through suicide and depression? What about the other side? What does sterling mental health look like? Finding an answer to that question will take a person in an entirely different direction and to an entirely different set of conclusions, I would bet.

Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
Aug 13, 2014 - 10:05am PT
Good point ML. First the meditation and pop counseling people noticed this and in recent years more and more professional psychologists have become interested in studying and defining what good mental health is, and the common characteristics of mentally healthy and happy people.

That reminds me of another interesting finding of some years ago. People whose left brain has been damaged in a stroke lose the ability to speak. They can however when provoked, still swear. It turns out swear words are stored in the emotional right brain as well. So far though, nobody has blurted out happy or love after left brain damage. I think this says a lot about human psychology in the absence of a program to specifically reprogram the brain in a more positive direction. I think it also probably reflects evolution. Negative things got you killed, but happy ones were not necessary to survival.

Meanwhile, thanks Tvash, for your summary of two writers I have not read. It seems to me that one could also look at meditation as an attention system, only to processes inside the brain which are not normally looked at.
Tvash

climber
Seattle
Aug 13, 2014 - 11:01am PT
"I am guessing that Damasio and Graziano mention ways to detect attention and awareness outside of their own heads. Can you give a few examples? Examples that illustrate the difference between the two?

I am not sure if the vision and touch experiments you posted about earlier have to do with attention or awareness or both."

Damasio doesn't go into this too much as I recall, but I don't have his book any more (Amazon lending library).

Graziano focuses much more on social perception. The literature indicates that the models we create of other people's awareness happen in the same brain regions as our own awareness (TPJ and STS) with possibly a fair bit of overlap. The difference is that our model of others' awareness is an open loop, while our own attention schema is a resonant loop, strongly reinforced by all the information (autobiographical memories, emotions, etc) we have available to us. This, Graziano posits, is what gives us our sense of subjective reality.

He also mentions the importance of spacial mapping in keeping track of who's awareness model resides where. Our own awareness is located inside our heads (out of body experiences can be induced by electrically tickling the TPJ). Our models of others' awareness is invariably linked with a spacial location - when they're in the room, that's easy, but even when not, we assign them a location. When she's not with me, I typically imagine my friend Suzi's awareness as residing at her house, for example. That spacial data marker helps us keep from mixing people up.

Regarding the vision/touch thing, they're mostly just for fun, but they do illustrate some interesting aspects of awareness. The touch thing illustrates the plasticity of body mapping as well as how attention bias works - your visual signals combined with touch are strong enough to quickly overwhelm and suppress your body map.

The binocular rivalry experiment was conducted to identify brain areas responsible for visual awareness (two different images, two different MRI patterns). The results were too smeared over the visual processing system to tease anything out, but signal strength did increase during the switchover from one image to the other. Graziano posits that the information is summarized and ported elsewhere - to the attention schema. Ie, the researchers were looking in the wrong brain region. Again, this is an illustration of how our attention system selects stronger signals and suppresses weaker ones.
Tvash

climber
Seattle
Aug 13, 2014 - 11:27am PT
"Just because one knows the problems that can be found does not mean that one knows how things can perform or what things are."

My geneticist friend up the street provided the following:

"If I wanted to know what does what in a car, I'd go to the factory and leave one component out at a time, then see what deficit results"

This is a powerful approach, but only one of several. It has an evolutionary analog - observing the behavior of other organisms in light of their differing brain structures - what components the have or do not have. Another is brain imaging - assigning a specific task and seeing what lights up. A third, employed heavily by Graziano, is basic logic. Ex: If awareness isn't neural information, how, exactly, can it make us do stuff? Other research indicates that the quality of one's relationships, particularly intimate relationships, is key. No shocker there - we're social animals.

"What does sterling mental health look like? Finding an answer to that question will take a person in an entirely different direction and to an entirely different set of conclusions, I would bet."

There are some interesting 'crowd sourced' experiments using social media that attempt to define what constitutes happiness/contentment. In one, the subjects download an app which randomly asks them questions like "Are you doing what you want to be doing right now?", then feeds it into a database.

Early results seem to indicate that full engagement - even for tasks you might not 'want' to do (painting a room, for example), is key. Another is whether or not your experience exceeds, meets, or falls short of your expectations. Climbers know this very well. If the forecast takes a turn for the worst, but you make it to your tent without getting soaked, you're good. If the forecast is sunny, but clouds begin to loom (but you still don't get soaked) - you can feel frustrated. The cloud cover in both cases can be identical.
Tvash

climber
Seattle
Aug 13, 2014 - 11:34am PT
"This all interests me greatly because it suggests a mechanism of location for data (AKA: action) within the brain."

Hemispacial neglect (no awareness of the Left Side of Everything) strongly indicates that awareness is information mapped in 3D in a specific brain region. Such a sharply geometric deficit could not occur if it was a brain wide function, emergent property like heat from a wire, or the general result of complexity. If any of these alternative theories were accurate, a loss of resolution would occur.
Tvash

climber
Seattle
Aug 13, 2014 - 11:38am PT
It would be very interesting to study, for example, the aforementioned void and how it manifests in the attention system. What happens when nearly all stimuli - top down and bottom up, are suppressed, but the subject remains aware and awake?
Tvash

climber
Seattle
Aug 13, 2014 - 11:43am PT
If you could download you to an external drive, you'd always have a friend to talk to who really understands you.
MH2

climber
Aug 13, 2014 - 12:31pm PT
MikeL,

I long ago looked at Damasio's first book and did not like what I saw and am not especially interested in his views. I do not put much faith in medicine as a way to treat mental abnormalities. The brain is too complex to mess with successfully in the same way that we use antibiotics to kill bacteria or surgeons cut and fix and sew.



In my neuroscience days I encountered papers by Kohonen. The thing that grabbed me was that his model had a better biological basis than most. He looked at what could be achieved by the well-known process of lateral inhibition, in which a neuron when excited inhibits its neighbors. In the retina this results in sharpening of edges. It can also be compared to the mathematical operation of differentiating a function. The paper I remember best was one in which Kohonen exposed one of his models to human speech and it sorted the sound into phonemes not too different from those used by linguists. My lay understanding was that the model did a kind of regression analysis. Linear algebra and statistics, as jgill said.

Lateral inhibition was first described in sheets of neurons like the retina and pressure receptors in the skin but it extends to other geometries.


Here is a look at the Kohonen approach that includes a bit of what it does NOT do:

http://www.cs.utexas.edu/%7eai-lab/pubs/miikkulainen.lateral-inhibition.pdf


Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
Aug 13, 2014 - 01:23pm PT
Trying to fit all this to what I know of meditation and yoga, it seems to work better than any of the other schemas I've read.


Awareness IS a tool, honed through attention.

This is the bedrock belief of any meditation school.


He also mentions the importance of spacial mapping in keeping track of who's awareness model resides where. Our own awareness is located inside our heads (out of body experiences can be induced by electrically tickling the TPJ).

Our models of others' awareness is invariably linked with a spacial location - when they're in the room, that's easy, but even when not, we assign them a location………..The touch thing illustrates the plasticity of body mapping as well as how attention bias works - your visual signals combined with touch are strong enough to quickly overwhelm and suppress your body map.

This could explain tantra and the experience of some para and quadraplegics who experience orgasms outside of the genitals. It seems it would be relevant to Tom's description of feeling and seeing himself in a woman's body after an extended session with someone he was close to.

It also must be part of the experience some of us have (right brain folks is how I think of them) who remember answers on exams by remembering first where in the textbook they were located, left or right page, top middle, or bottom, and then suddenly the answer comes.

I have also learned to do this when trying to remember other things. I think of a key I'm missing for example and what geographically it might be related to, not just where I might have left it but what other geographic locations could be associated with it. I used to misplace my keys a lot by leaving them in the silverware drawer. Now, if I want to find a key, I think of a silverware drawer and the real place I've left it, comes to mind.
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
Aug 13, 2014 - 04:45pm PT
Details of why you think we're using it differently? You object to the meditation or the tantra analogies or both?
Tvash

climber
Seattle
Aug 13, 2014 - 05:31pm PT
That's not quite accurate. Graziano posits that awareness and attention are locked in a strange feedback loop; awareness feeds back and therefore affects attention, which in turn is modeled as awareness, which feeds back...

Part of attention, and the resulting awareness, is therefore intentional.
jgill

Boulder climber
Colorado
Aug 13, 2014 - 07:49pm PT
JGill.... I asked about "topology" because one of the papers cited by Graziano included the following: "Possible origins of the complex topographic organization of motor cortex: reduction of a multidimensional space onto a two-dimensional array." (FM)

Topology and topography are different subjects, FM. Topology concerns spaces that are inhabited by "open sets" and also concerns "continuous transformations." In a simple topology of the real line, open intervals, {x:a<x<b} are open sets, and for a delightful analogue of continuous transformation, there is the old saw that "A topologist is someone who can't tell the difference between a doughnut and a coffee cup.": think of a moldable, plastic doughnut that you can squeeze into a coffee cup with your hands. They are the same "genus", and thus equivalent.

For a simple analogue of dimensional reduction, think of a long thin country oriented north/south like Chile. Three dimensions (x,y,z) describe any location or point in the country. However, the z-coordinate (altitude) is probably not needed as latitude and longitude will adequately describe most any spot. Even the x-coordinate (longitude) might not be necessary to come close to the location, so one is left with a single dimension (y-coordinate) that will probably give a good approximation to the desired location. (I read this example somewhere)


;>)
MikeL

Social climber
Seattle, WA
Aug 13, 2014 - 07:58pm PT
Tvash: "If I wanted to know what does what in a car, I'd go to the factory and leave one component out at a time, then see what deficit results"

Thats all fine and good (useful) for cars, but not so much for people who can undergo transformations. This calls questions as to what you (or others) think things are. To the extent that you believe that you know what a "thing" is, then that stipulates what it can do, how it works, what its purpose is. To the extent that you do not know what anything is, it becomes far less limited and open. A chair can fulfill many different functions, unless you only see it as a chair.

An empiricist view is a fine view, but it is limited when applied to an unlimited world. As soon as you say what things are, then you live in a limited world. Empiricism cannot help much to figure out what is possible for anything.

Break out from your mind. Set yourself free. Be and see nothing in particular.


Thanks, MH2.

Tvash

climber
Seattle
Aug 13, 2014 - 08:53pm PT
Please stop preaching to me. You're really not in any position to do so. Seriously, drop the ego trip. It's boring.
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
Aug 13, 2014 - 10:11pm PT
I thought the meditation form of "awareness" was the complete lack of distraction, or things that may call your attention or focus.

This is certainly the Zen version but there are many others. Some forms just sit and wait to see what bubbles up. If it has a lot of emotion attached to it, then it is attended to. Less emotional thoughts are just allowed to come and float away with no attachment and no aversion. Other forms of meditation concentrate on a particular object. It is said that if one could understand a single flower, one would understand the universe. Other forms deliberately direct a particular attention outward to the world in general, such as peace or love.

However, I think that even the Zen version is a form of intense attention. While it's true it does away with outward distractions, it is deeply concentrated on the inner workings of the mind, including the resting or still mind which has no verbal thoughts. It takes a great deal of attention to not be distracted back to the world or at least the monkey mind. My experience is that I feel my awareness going from being cloudless and clear to kind of bubbling toward a thought or set of words and I have to gently bring it back without forming the verbal thought, that I must bring it back. It is not easy to think without words and it is definitely not a process lacking in either attention or awareness.
MikeL

Social climber
Seattle, WA
Aug 14, 2014 - 10:45am PT
The topic thread is what is mind, not what is brain. The issues revolve around subjectivity, not so much objectivity. This has been Largo's most important message in three threads. The wont to talk about brain functions ignores the subjectivity of mind. There is almost no empirical justification to believe that mind is matter. Again, saying that there is no external evidence of mind when the brain is destroyed doesn't prove or say what the mind is. Responding to the question "what things aren't" provides an infinite number of answers. Saying what a thing is and proving it, that's the unresolvable and indescribable challenge each and every time. Careful researchers know this. Please show me the (any) research study that accounts for 100% of the variance.

What is boring, ego trips, and preaching are all entirely subjective assessments, and they are more indicative of what mind is than any discussion of neurons, dimensional reductions, lateral connectivity, or feature maps. Those personal subjective assessments is exactly what makes this a forum.
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