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Echoes and Mirrors » pineal gland

Archive for the ‘pineal gland’ Category

Braaaaaaaaaaaaains! or How I Learned to Relax and The Remember that the Meta is Not Always Imaginary.

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Logic and language are not the same thing

It’s difficult for us to imagine what our mental lives would be like without language. Some theorists have even gone so far as to argue that language and logical thought are one and the same thing. A new brain imaging study challenges this notion by showing that logical inferences based on simple “not”, “or”, “if”, “then” terms activate a separate, though overlapping, network of brain regions compared with logical inferences based on grammatical judgements.

Martin Monti and colleagues scanned the brains of fifteen participants while they judged the accuracy of conclusions flowing from two kinds of logical argument. One kind was a more pure form of logic, such as “If both X and Z then not Y”, whilst the other kind was based on grammatical rules, such as “It was X that Y saw Z take”. The two types of inference were intended to be of comparable difficulty and to be equally valid (or invalid) but crucially only the grammatical version involved the interpretation of language-related roles such as “object” and “subject”.

Well, there goes my theory of symbiotic language virii that use humans as hosts and are the ‘source’ of our intelligence. A very neat.

Monti’s team said their findings were hard to reconcile “with the claim that language and logic are a unitary phenomenon”. Rather, they argued their results are consistent with language and logic being separate processes.

This will be in your psych 101 textbook next year.

Why Minds Are Not Like Computers

People who believe that the mind can be replicated on a computer tend to explain the mind in terms of a computer. When theorizing about the mind, especially to outsiders but also to one another, defenders of artificial intelligence (AI) often rely on computational concepts. They regularly describe the mind and brain as the “software and hardware” of thinking, the mind as a “pattern” and the brain as a “substrate,” senses as “inputs” and behaviors as “outputs,” neurons as “processing units” and synapses as “circuitry,” to give just a few common examples.

I don’t think they’re taking scale or complexity into consideration. Synapses don’t operate in a binary fashion and there are trillions of them in a human brain – computer processors only have a fraction of that.

Computers, then, have engineered layers of abstraction, each deriving its capabilities from joining together simpler instructions at a lower layer of abstraction. But each layer uses its own distinct concepts, and each layer is causally closed—meaning that it is possible to understand the behavior of one layer without recourse to the behavior of a higher or lower layer. For instance, think about your home or office computer. It has many abstraction layers, typically including (from highest to lowest): the user interface, a high-level programming language, a machine language running on the processor, the processor microarchitecture, Boolean logic gates, and transistors. Most computers will have many more layers than this, sitting between the ones listed. The higher and lower layers will likely be the most familiar to laymen: the user interface creates what you see on the screen when you interact with the computer, while Boolean logic gates and transistors give rise to the common description of the computer as “just ones and zeroes.”

The brain has more layers of abstraction and they probably aren’t mutually exclusive. But different areas of the brain are tuned to process specific things, and it operates in a very logical way. From the first article we can see that the prefrontal lobes handle logic, but language relies on other specific areas. When confronted with a grammar-logic problem, both areas are used.

I don’t have a link handy, but some scientists built a super-computer to simulate a single cortex of a rat’s brain. The thing is massive and uses a whole desktop cpu to simulate a single synapse. The brain is a computer, but on a much different scale. I think remembering the difference between a circle and a sphere is appropriate right now and remembering the adventures that took place in flatland (and flatterland) would be good.

Something tells me that the author of this article believes in dualism -that the brain and the mind are separate entities, which is a pleasant thought anyway.


Being Chemistry trailer

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009


Free Will from Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principal

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Free-will vs. determinism is a very scary subject to broach and one that most people will avoid like the plague. It impedes on our very self-worth. Our uniqueness stems from our individuality, which stems from the fact that each and every single one of us is the master of our own destiny. And because without it, there might not be a God.

If this were an illusion (hard determinism) then the implication is that our actions are akin to a very complex set of dominoes cascading. Our creations are just echoes of machinations that appear to be freely chosen, but cannot occur any other way. Even natural, random events are pre-determined and human reaction is determined. The entirety of existence would be a very precisely tuned Rube-Goldberg and that idea scares the living crap out of every one of us. Having developed such a complex psychology begs that there is something more to existence than highly ordered and complex systems. Our brains are wired to operate within a relative range, unable to really comprehend either infinity nor absolute nothing, and hyper-actively recognizes patterns. They can be grasped a priori, but there will never be a postiori evidence for either non-existence or infinity. But they’re fascinating none the less.

Which is why we attempt to rationalize everything.

Some people use religion. Others use Quantum Mechanics and mathematics:

“We must believe in free will, we have no choice,” the novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer once said. He might as well have said, “We must believe in quantum mechanics, we have no choice,” if two new studies are anything to go by.

Early last month, a Nobel laureate physicist finished polishing up his theory that a deeper, deterministic reality underlies the apparent uncertainty of quantum mechanics. A week after he announced it, two eminent mathematicians showed that the theory has profound implications beyond physics: abandoning the uncertainty of quantum physics means we must give up the cherished notion that we have free will. The mathematicians believe the physicist is wrong.

And if they decide that there is determinism at the quantum level, then it’s kind of depressing… you are like one of those little toy monkeys that bangs cymbals together and then die. Interaction with the universe is still limited to influence and it still seems real, but the illusion would just mask the fact that humans are automatons.

But the very fact that the illusion exists is what troubles me. There are three possibilities that I’m going to consider:

  1. Thoughts are products of the physical activity within the gray bits in a skull. They are the products of very complex machinations.
  2. Thoughts are actions, not the product of actions.
  3. Thoughts are a combination of some attribute unique to each individual and the resulting feedback of its interaction with the physical universe, even the gray bits inside the skull.

The third option is more or less dualism. There is strong evidence for complex feedback loops, but they apply in all situations. There is also a slippery slope for the mystical with every postulation and premise. This covers in the internal. The external has roughly the same options:

  1. Chaos is fictional but we cannot recognize the pattern because it is too expansive.
  2. Chaos is real.
  3. There are large expansive patterns that overlap with chaos in a system, but do not interact.

I don’t like the idea of being a slave to determinism. If we take 1 from both as true, then we are slaves to a universe that is predetermined. Taking 2 from both as true, free will is very much alive and kicking. Taking 3 from both is a compromise that allows humans to influence the universe, but restricts us through systems and laws. Option 3 is an acceptable comprimise to most people because it retains the individual self but accepts that there are limits.

But there is much more work to be done in this line of thought, I think. The marriage of quantum mechanics and philosophy seems to be very important.

But why is Will such an important guy that he should be freed? I say we pitch in to support his appeal and get him some good lawyers.


Imaginary Friends & The Universe

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Born Believers: How your brain creates god:

WHILE many institutions collapsed during the Great Depression that began in 1929, one kind did rather well. During this leanest of times, the strictest, most authoritarian churches saw a surge in attendance.

This anomaly was documented in the early 1970s, but only now is science beginning to tell us why. It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.

Religious ideas are common to all cultures: like language and music, they seem to be part of what it is to be human. Until recently, science has largely shied away from asking why. “It’s not that religion is not important,” says Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University, “it’s that the taboo nature of the topic has meant there has been little progress.”

The origin of religious belief is something of a mystery, but in recent years scientists have started to make suggestions. One leading idea is that religion is an evolutionary adaptation that makes people more likely to survive and pass their genes onto the next generation. In this view, shared religious belief helped our ancestors form tightly knit groups that cooperated in hunting, foraging and childcare, enabling these groups to outcompete others. In this way, the theory goes, religion was selected for by evolution, and eventually permeated every human society (New Scientist, 28 January 2006, p 30)

I’ve mentioned it before, but this is a much more in-depth piece. From my rudimentary knowledge of psychology, the brain interprets and pieces together sensory information, even using imagination to weave a cohesive reality together (which is also why memories are so often wrong and why we can’t ‘get’ something we have zero knowledge/context from which to understand it). This is a protective mechanism to shield us from how shitty the cold, uncaring universe really is. There are probably more mechanisms like this than we realize (morality would be a good example of this). Previously, I’ve mentioned the brain’s aversion to non-existence.

Part of it might simply be the brain’s way of exhibiting dissatisfaction with the mere physical existence it has. This is why you should feed it.


Another step closer

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

From Psychedelic Medicine News:

Scientists have been searching for years for naturally occurring compounds that trigger activity in the protein, the sigma-1 receptor. In addition, a unique receptor for the hallucinogen, called dimethyltryptamine (DMT), has never been identified.

The UW-Madison researchers made the unusual pairing by doing their initial work the “old-fashioned,” yet still effective, way. They diagrammed the chemical structure of several drugs that bind to the sigma-1 receptor, reduced them to their simplest forms and then searched for possible natural molecules with the same features. Biochemical, physiological and behavioral experiments proved that DMT does, in fact, activate the sigma-1 receptor.

“We have no idea at present if or how the sigma-1 receptor may be connected to hallucinogenic activity,” says senior author Arnold Ruoho, chair of pharmacology at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. “But we believe that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) may be interested in biological mechanisms underlying psychoactive and addictive drug action.”

In addition to being a component of psychoactive snuffs and sacramental teas used in native religious practices in Latin America, DMT is known to be present in some mammalian tissues, and it has also been identified in mammalian blood and spinal fluid. Elevated levels of DMT and a related molecule have been found in the urine of schizophrenics.

Ruoho speculates that the hallucinogen’s involvement may mean that the sigma-1 receptor is connected in some fashion to psychoactive behavior. When his team injected DMT into mice known to have the receptor, the animals became hyperactive; mice in which the receptor had been genetically removed did not.

“Hyperactive behavior is often associated with drug use or psychiatric problems,” says Ruoho. “It’s possible that new, highly selective drugs could be developed to inhibit the receptor and prevent this behavior.”

The study revealed an additional neurologic link by confirming that the sigma-1 receptor and some compounds that bind to it inhibit ion channels, which are important for nerve activity. Work by many researchers — including some from UW-Madison — initially showed this relationship in earlier studies.

Some studies have also linked the receptor to the action of antidepressant drugs, and National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists recently found that it appears to serve as a “chaperon,” helping proteins to fold properly.

This is very exciting stuff if you have any interest in the psychedelic experience or the brain. Or living, for that matter. We are now another step closer to figuring out how Eris speaks to us.


The Brain!

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Brains ‘are hardwired to believe in God and imaginary friends’

Religion is part of human nature and our brains are hard wired to believe in God, scientists believe.

The evidence includes studies of babies and children which have shown the brain is programmed to think of the mind as being separate from the body.

This distinction allows us to believe in the supernatural, to conjure up imaginary friends – and to conceive of gods, this week’s New Scientist reports.

Other studies suggest our minds come with an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect, which primes us to see purpose and design everywhere, even when there is none.

Children as young as seven or eight believe that rocks, rivers and birds have been created for a specific purpose.

Taken together, the two traits mean were are perfectly programmed to believe in god.

I previously mentioned how the brain is incapable of understanding/comprehending it’s own non-existence. The way the brain is designed to abstract itself fascinates me.


pretty much sums it up, I think…

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008


The Dream People #30

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Featuring: me.

Go forth and read issue #30.

Specifically this: Esteban Canal’s Immortal Game as Applied to God.

By me. Of course.

Go read my story
-it’s not really a story-
read, motherfucker!


oh you know, those things that bother me but might not bother you so much.

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Notes from the book. Associated research, citations, etc. are not important. The incomprehensible gibberish that strings my philosophy together is.

The idea of ‘god’ has been on my mind quite a bit for the last few weeks as well, mostly prompted by the sudden realization that most of my family has (during the past six years, I’m guessing) undergone some sort of revival. The exception, for the time being, is my own parents. They raised me as a free-thinker; I wasn’t not allowed to go to church if I chose to do so, but never forced to either. The idea of god, therefore, simply baffles me. On the other hand, they’re probably just as baffled by my Ayahuasca induced spiritualism.

“God? I don’t know about that, but I did have a chat with someone in a kaleidoscope once. Nearly made me shit myself.” This usually illicits very little response and I can sense pity in their voices. As if all I had accomplished was a zany hallucination that’s left me brain-damaged. Yet I can still analyze human behavior and pick-out the droplets of discontent in everything else they say -most of which I’m convinced that they don’t fully understand myself -and I cannot fathom why the phychology of this situation hasn’t destroyed them yet.

Honesty is almost worse than lying, in almost every situation. The truth, for all intents and purposes, sucks. I don’t want to hear it and I can feel my heartrate slow, my bloodpressure drop and my coporeal anchorage slip when I do. But some part of my mind ignites and its almost as if I see happy little synapses firing. To understand that other individuals really do think differently than you is a bizarre revelation. They don’t simply disagree and they will never understand why you like the smell of lilacs; they do not see the world in the same way you do, but do not realize that you don’t see the same way they do. And they’re just as real as you are. There is no language perfect enough to explain how I feel about the taste of an apple, but I can assure you that the scraping, juicy sweetness that rushes across my hard palate and is rough against my gums is nearly as good as anything ever has been. You cannot experience it the same way I do and you never will.

The fact that we’re all essentially the same, but so vastly different is something that I imagine actually keeps my heart beating. And to imagine that it has all been the creation of some holy creator makes everything bland, replicated and unimportant. The understanding gained from experience would cease to matter: the warm rush of wine, the softness of a lover’s thigh, crunching on ice-cubes, wind, colors, thoughts. Because these bodies we possess are interesting and malleable, but worthless for self-improvement.

There is a reasonable argument that our minds are neither the same as or the sum of our brain’s activities. More like a conduit from some other place, for which there is no rational explanation or name, let alone a rational concept of. Many people, I suspect, call this peripheral thought that wanders into their thoughts every now and again God. Or whatever.

I cannot help but wonder why, even with this knowledge, fear is the most influential emotion on the human psyche. And I mean the Cthulhu horror scale fear that lurks deep inside every person –the fear of the end of all existence. It’s a solipistic fear, that when say, I have expired, everything else will too. And it is there just under a few more layers of excuses for masturbating and buying mid-grade gasoline and why you never approached that girl last Tuesday despite her checking you out. Is the world white painted on a black canvas instead of the idealistic reverse? Happiness being the escape from material fear? Being content is then the same as the knowledge that a levee holds this emptiness at bay.

Yet some people look into the vast emptiness of space and are enchanted and filled with hope -do they believe that a million angels can dance on the head of a nail? The supposition is not as far fetched as one might imagine, I imagine. Homo Sapien Sapien is a crude vehicle, and it’s exhaust system is foul, the sixty-year result most often being the understanding that there never was any escape from the vehicle and that the ride does end. And that everyone dies alone. This isn’t to say you cannot die fulfilled. I’m sure many have.

And I can’t help but imagine that somehow, there is an echo of my first thought zinging through the universe right now, lost and confused, searching for this ‘God’. I wish success to that errant thought, but I cannot dwell on this too long: there is an aching in my loins that seems to be a more pressing matter at the moment. Blasted psyche!


even the clouds can attest to this experience

Monday, July 14th, 2008

From within the wellspring of the heart a very particular, very subdued joy found me. I did not feel the need to grin, nor to laugh, nor to speak of it. Indeed it was overwhelming but neither unwelcome nor debilitating, such as the rapid onset found with psychedelics. This was perhaps my mind’s insistence, and reminder, that the psychedelic experience flows from within us; that it is neither synthetic nor artificial. It first struck me to study and attempt to pinpoint the reason for this unfolding enlightenment, however the idea quickly passed as I recalled the Tao: the understanding that can be explained is not truly understood, and that which is truly understood cannot be explained. Then I smiled, and the universe smiled along with me.