From John Brockman’s The Edge, here. Dennet served on the original Krasnow Scientific Advisory Board and also played a central role in the 1993 conference that set the Institute’s scientific program direction.
Elephants and their brains….
Hat tip to Marginal Revolution, the Scientific American link is here. Money quote on how Elephants get their high cognitive capabilities without the sheer numbers of neocortical neurons that we have:
Benjamin Hart of the University of California Davis has speculated that the elephant cortex derives its intellectual prowess not from local density but from widespread interconnectivity. He suspects that, whereas the human and chimpanzee brains have evolved many tight-knit networks of nearby neurons throughout the cortex—akin to states packed with highly populous cities—the elephant brain has favored lengthy connections between far-flung brain areas, building the equivalent of an extensive cross-country railroad system. For now, though, this is mostly hypothetical.
This relates to some of my own work with my graduate student David Cooper, see here [pdf].
"Neural Dust" –electrophysiology taken to the next level….
Brain Training Resesarch
From Nature via the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Last month Nature published a study that said training your brain was pretty much useless. While practicing a particular task might make you better at that task, the improvement was nontransferrable. Doing crosswords doesn’t make you smarter, it just makes you better at doing crosswords. Those sad findings were reported all over the place.
Our constrained brains
Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish for this. Basically the notion that my colleague Tom Vogl has pushed for years: our brains’ architecture and physiology deeply constrain our complex behaviors (such as reading).
I wonder if this is true with Amazon’s Kindle?
Regarding reading words from your computer screen, from the Chronicle of Higher Education….Money quote:
people took in hundreds of pages “in a pattern that’s very different from what you learned in school.” It looks like a capital letter F. At the top, users read all the way across, but as they proceed their descent quickens and horizontal sight contracts, with a slowdown around the middle of the page. Near the bottom, eyes move almost vertically, the lower-right corner of the page largely ignored. It happens quickly, too. “F for fast,” Nielsen wrote in a column. “That’s how users read your precious content.”
How the brain interprets mirror images
Natalie Angier from today’s New York Times….
“In a sense, mirrors are the best ‘virtual reality’ system that we can build,” said Marco Bertamini of the University of Liverpool. “The object ‘inside’ the mirror is virtual, but as far as our eyes are concerned it exists as much as any other object.” Dr. Bertamini and his colleagues have also studied what people believe about the nature of mirrors and mirror images, and have found nearly everybody, even students of physics and math, to be shockingly off the mark.
Pinker on the biological substrate of human morality
Steven Pinker in today’s NY Times Magazine….an absolutely stunning read. Combines elements of evolutionary biology, the new neuro-disciplines (ethics, economics, law etc) and a wonderful philosophical analysis.
Krasnow in 2056: II
My hope is that the Institute will have no more than perhaps 150 scientific staff. That’s just a bit more than twice our current size. The reason is that, at least in my experience, scientific research institutions when they grow larger than that, inevitably gain an intermediate layer of bureaucracy–the dreaded mid-level managers. I’m guessing that 50 years from now, interpersonal interactions between real people will still be crucial to maintaining a productive milieu for doing science. Hence, the current growth path (in terms of staff numbers) will have to slow.
On the other hand, I’m imagining that the scientific productivity of our staff will reach a level qualitatively different from what we do now. Part of that will be due to advances in technology which will allow us to finally ask (and answer) some of the hard questions about human consciousness, and part will be due to a new level of data-sharing between researchers around the world. Krasnow scientists will have access to primary experimental data (and therefore be able to test hypotheses) in an open access manner. My hope is that this data-sharing gives us a much larger bang-for-the research buck.
I am also anticipating that Krasnow scientists will be studying cognition and developing theories of neural and machine computation that are much more unified with the rest of our physical model of the universe around us. It seems to me that new hierarchical levels will be added to the ones we currently study (molecules to brains) that connect us both to the quantum world but also to the galactic scale. Perhaps, we will find new rules that constrain intelligence (or at least our complete understanding of the same). Alternatively, perhaps we will find traces of the emergence of human intelligence in the initial events of The Big Bang. These are some of the mysteries for the future.