‘On Being an Octopus’ by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Here.

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Why are pain patients all unique? A type-token identity theory answer

Variations in response to pain have been reported in clinical settings (e.g., Bates et al. 1996; Cherkin et al. 1994; Jensen et al. 1986; Unruh, 1996; Wormslev et al. 1994). Patients with similar types and degrees of wounds vary from showing no pain to showing severe and disabling pain. Many chronic pain patients show disabling chronic pain despite showing no observable wound. Other patients show severe wounds but do not show pain. Why is it that two persons with identical lesions do not show the same pain or no pain at all? Why are all pain patients unique?

I propose that mind-brain identity theory may offer an answer to this difficult question. There are two main versions of identity theory: type and token identity. A sample type identical property is to identify “Being in pain” (X) with “Being the operation of the nervous-endocrine-immune mechanism” (Y) (i.e., X iff Y) (Chapman et al. 2008; van Rysewyk, 2013). For any person in pain the nervous-endocrine-immune mechanism (NEIM) must be active, and when NEIM is active in a person, he or she is in pain. Thus, type identity theory strongly limits the pattern of covariation across persons. According to token identity theory, for a person in mental state X at time t, X is identical to some neurophysiological state Y. However, in the same person at time t1, the same mental state X may be identical to a different neurophysiological state Y2. Token identity theory doesn’t limit the pattern of covariation across persons; it only claims that, at any given time, some mind-brain identity must be true.

In response to the topic question, I propose a hybrid version of identity theory – ‘type-token mind-brain identity theory’. Accordingly, for every person, there is a type identity between a mental state X and some neurophysiological state Y. So, when I am in pain, I am in NEIM state Y (and vice versa), but this NEIM state Y may be quite different across persons. Type-token identity theory therefore proposes a type identity model at the level of every person (i.e., it may vary across persons). A type-token identity theory implies that group-level type identities (i.e., type-type) cannot fully explain the pattern of covariation in pain responses across persons. Measuring changes of a pattern of psychological and neurophysiological indicators over time may then support a unidimensional model of chronic pain for each pain patient. Thus, being in chronic pain for me is identical with a specific pattern of NEIM activity (Chapman et al. 2008; van Rysewyk, 2013), but for a different patient, the same state of pain may be identical to a different pattern of NEIM activity. In preventing and alleviating chronic pain, it is therefore essential to best fit the intervention to the type-token pain identity profile of the patient.

References

Bates, M. S., Edwards, W. T., & Anderson, K. O. (1993). Ethnocultural influences on variation in chronic pain perception. Pain, 52(1), 101-112.

Chapman, C. R., Tuckett, R. P., & Song, C. W. (2008). Pain and stress in a systems perspective: reciprocal neural, endocrine, and immune interactions. Journal of Pain 9: 122-145.

Cherkin, D. C., Deyo, R. A., Wheeler, K., & Ciol, M. A. (1994). Physician variation in diagnostic testing for low back pain. Who you see is what you get. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 37(1), 15-22.

Jensen, M. P., Karoly, P., & Braver, S. (1986). The measurement of clinical pain intensity: a comparison of six methods. Pain, 27(1), 117-126.

Unruh, A. M. (1996). Gender variations in clinical pain experience. Pain, 65(2), 123-167.

van Rysewyk, S. (2013). Pain is Mechanism. Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of Tasmania.

Wormslev, M., Juul, A. M., Marques, B., Minck, H., Bentzen, L., & Hansen, T. M. (1994). Clinical examination of pelvic insufficiency during pregnancy: an evaluation of the interobserver variation, the relation between clinical signs and pain and the relation between clinical signs and physical disability. Scandinavian journal of rheumatology, 23(2), 96-102.

Eben Alexander: ‘Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife’ (2012) – is consciousness cortical?

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife‘ (2012), by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, presents a narration and interpretation of the near-death experience (NDE) of its author. Alexander developed bacterial meningitis, and was hospitalized. During hospitalization, he became deeply comatose, a condition which lasted seven days. Alexander was fortunate to come out of his coma state and retain full wakeful consciousness. Following wakefulness, Alexander reported remarkably clear visions, sensations and thoughts he claims to have had during his near-death coma. In his book, Alexander interprets this NDE as proof that life follows death, death is not the end, there exists an extremely pleasant and serene afterlife, and that consciousness is independent of the cortical brain. It is the last claim of Alexander’s that I will consider in this post. Specifically, is consciousness independent of cortex?

According to Alexander, his coma-induced NDE occured when his cerebral cortex was ‘completely shut down’, ‘inactivated’, and ‘totally offline’. In the article he wrote for Newsweek, Alexander writes that the absence of cortical activity in his brain was ‘clear from the severity and duration of my meningitis, and from the global cortical involvement documented by CT scans and neurological examinations.’ The problem with Alexander’s view of coma is that it is not supported by evidence. First, ‘global’ (complete) cortical ‘shut down’ does not result in coma, as Alexander believes. Complete cortical ‘shut down’ is fatal, and results in brain death (e.g., Cavanna et al. 2010; Charland-Verville et al. 2012; Laureys et al. 2004a; Laureys et al. 2004b). Second, ‘flat’ EEG recordings concurrent with high alpha cortical brain activity are frequently observed in comatose patients; this event is termed ‘event-related desynchronization’. There is a vast and well-established scientific literature on this topic (e.g., Pfurtscheller & Aranibar, 1979; Pfurtscheller, 1992; Pfurtscheller et al. 1999). Thus, coma does not require complete cortical deactivation.

Alexdander’s claim that NDEs require complete cortical shut down carries the implication that fully (wakeful) sensory consciousness must involve only cortex. Alexander’s argument is in line with a trend in consciousness studies research to investigate cortical regions, pathways, and activity guided by the slogan ‘seeking the neural correlates of consciousness.’ Clinical studies of cortical lesions have motivated this approach, largely due to robust correlations such as fusiform lesions leading to prosopagnosia, or ventral stream lesions leading to the visual inability to percieve shapes. The convenience of neuroimaging cortical activity with MEG, EEG, PET and fMRI has likely also played a part in the focus on cortex.

However, viewing (wakeful) sensory consciousness as purely cortical neglects essential subcortical-cortical behavioural aspects (e.g., Churchland, 2002; Damasio, 1999; Guillery & Sherman, 2002; Llinas, 2001; van Rysewyk, 2013). Put very simply (and briefly), a basic function of mammalian and non-mammalian nervous systems is to enable and regulate movements necessary to evolutionary goals such as feeding and reproducing. Peripheral axons that carry sensory information have collateral branches that project both to subcortical motor structures (primarily, thalamus) and cortical motor structures (primary motor cortex, M1). According to Guillery and Sherman (2002), all peripheral sensory input communicates information about ongoing instructions to such subcortical-cortical motor stuctures, which implies that a sensory signal can become a prediction about what movement will happen next. Thus, as an organism learns the effects of a specific movement, it learns about what in the world will likely occur next (planning), and thus what it might do following that event (deciding, acting). Temporality emerges as central to the nature of consciousness. In order to keep the body alive, nervous systems face numerous complex challenges in learning, continuous effective prediction, attention to different sensorimotor events, and calling up stored (timing) information. Neuroanatomical loops between thalamocortico structures are a plausible physical substrate involved in (identical to?) the temporal and causal aspects of the world, and of one’s own body (e.g., Damasio, 1999; Guillery & Sherman, 2002; Llinas, 2001). This leads to the empirical prediction that in a near-death event, normal functioning of thalamocortico loops is compromised.

References

Cavanna, A. E., Cavanna, S. L., Servo, S., & Monaco, F. (2010). The neural correlates of impaired consciousness in coma and unresponsive states. Discovery medicine, 9(48), 431.

Charland-Verville, V., Habbal, D., Laureys, S., & Gosseries, O. (2012). Coma and related disorders. Swiss archives of neurology and psychiatry, 163(8): 265-72.

Churchland, P. M. (2007). Neurophilosophy at work. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Churchland, P. S. (1989). Neurophilosophy: Toward a unified science of the mind-brain. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Churchland, P. S. (2002). Brain-wise: Studies in neurophilosophy. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Churchland, P. S. (2011). Braintrust: What neuroscience tells us about morality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Damasio, A. R. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Guillery, R. W., & Sherman, S. M. (2002). The thalamus as a monitor of motor outputs. Philos. Trans. R Soc. Lond. B Biol. Sci., 357: 1809-1821.

Laureys, S., Owen, A. M., & Schiff, N. D. (2004a). Brain function in coma, vegetative state, and related disorders. The Lancet Neurology, 3(9), 537-546.

Laureys, S., Perrin, F., Faymonville, M. E., Schnakers, C., Boly, M., Bartsch, V., Majerus, S., Moonen, G., & Maquet, P. (2004b). Cerebral processing in the minimally conscious state. Neurology, 63(5), 916-918.

Llinas, R. R. (2001). I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Pfurtscheller, G., & Aranibar, A. (1979). Evaluation of event-related desynchronization (ERD) preceding and following voluntary self-paced movement. Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology, 46(2), 138-146.

Pfurtscheller, G. (1992). Event-related synchronization (ERS): an electrophysiological correlate of cortical areas at rest. Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology, 83(1), 62-69.

Pfurtscheller, G., & Lopes da Silva, F. H. (1999). Event-related EEG/MEG synchronization and desynchronization: basic principles. Clinical neurophysiology, 110(11), 1842-1857.

van Rysewyk, S. (2013). Pain is Mechanism. Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of Tasmania.

Philip Ball on Neuroaesthetics

‘Brain String Theory’, 2012. Jeremy Strain

InNeuroaesthetics is killing your soul(MUSE, March 2013), science writer Philip Ball argues that our artistic experience and understanding cannot ever be understood in terms of neurophysiological structure and function (i.e., mechanism). Ball claims that neuroscientific research on aesthetics (‘neuroaesthetics’) is wasteful, uninformative, and impossible.

Ball’s article on neuroaesthetics received two thoughtful and critical comments from Brad Foley and Dhalia Zaidel, with whom I entirely agree. In this post, I consider the thoughts that Ball expresses in this passage of the article:

“And what will a neuroaesthetic ‘explanation’ consist of anyway? Indications so far are that it may be along these lines: “Listening to music activates reward and pleasure circuits in brain regions such as the nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmental area and amygdala”. Thanks, but no, thanks. Although it is worth knowing that musical ‘chills’ are neurologically akin to the responses invoked by sex or drugs, an approach that cannot distinguish Bach from barbiturates is surely limited.

There are certain to be generalities in art and our response to it, and they can inform our artistic understanding and experience. But they will never wholly define or explain it”.

In the first paragraph of this passage, Ball objects to the alleged utility of neuroaesthetic explanations of artistic experience. By ‘utility’, I assume Ball means ‘being informative’. The sample neuroaesthetic explanation he gives is: “Listening to music activates reward and pleasure circuits in brain regions such as the nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmental area and amygdala”. Ball denies the utility of this type of explanation because it fails to inform of the actual difference, at the level of the brain, between equally pleasurable experiences as listening to Bach, taking barbiturates or having sex.

I want to make clear here two observations that are (implicitly, I think) backgrounded in Ball’s article. First, it is conceivable that stimulus-driven (external or internal) sensory experience may be subserved by an unconscious physical base with a specific neurophysiological signature. Explaining sensory experience in this direct way aims first to describe the base as a correlate of sensory experience, then ultimately to achieve a reductive neurophysiological explanation of sensory experience (Churchland, 2007; Churchland, 1989, 2002, 2011). Second, brain mechanism responses to stimuli can be correlated for a variety of reasons: (1) the mechanism is part of the cause of the stimulus-induced experience; (2) the mechanism is part of the effect of the experience; (3) the mechanism indirectly parallels the experience; (4) the mechanism is what the experience can be identified with (i.e., x = y) (Churchland, 2007; Churchland, 1989, 2002, 2011). Discovering the neurophysiological signature of aesthetic experience as a type of experience requires the identification of some neurophysiological mechanism with aesthetic experience.

Now, Ball’s sample neuroaesthetic explanation describes a correlation between listening to music and brain response, such as we typically find reported in neuroimaging studies in neuroscience using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). But, it is not clear which one of the four neuroscientific correlation types he designates in his sample. It would be ironic if the physical signature of aesthetic experience proves to be the very one Ball now denies as even being sufficiently informative. This is possible, but highly unlikely, since the signature will probably reveal a highly complex and interdependent nervous-endocrine-immune ensemble (compare Chapman et al. 2008). In any event, and to challenge Ball’s assertion to the contrary, the correlation of brain response x (e.g., concurrent activation in nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmental area, amygdala) with pleasure in music-listening is informative because x may be the one for identifying musical pleasure. Correspondingly, a brain response y hypothesized by neuroscientists that does not correlate with musical pleasure indicates that y may not be the one. It may turn out that listening to Bach and receiving fellatio do not share the same neural signature. At the end of the day, the implicit target in Ball’s article, and the hidden target of all those people who think as he, is the theoretical identification of aesthetic experience with mechanism (i.e., mind-brain identity theory). Mind-brain identity theory is a philosophy of mind. The identity theory of mind claims that states and processes of the mind are identical to states and processes of the brain (Place, 1956; Polger, 2004; Smart, 1959; van Rysewyk, 2013). If Ball and others surely wish to engage with neuroaesthetics at the intended level, they should acquire some expertise in philosophy of mind and philosophy of art.

In the second paragraph, Ball objects to the very possibility of a neuroaesthetic definition or explanation of artistic experience (“But they will never wholly define or explain it”). This is much stronger than the claim that neuroaesthetics is uninformative. According to Ball, a complete neuroaesethetics of artistic experience is impossible. My interpretation of Ball is speculative, since the reasons for his radical conclusion are not given in the article. And it is unclear exactly what he means by ‘wholly’. Presumably, by ‘wholly’, he means a complete and final neuroaesthetics of all aesthetic experience, irrespective of whether neuroaesthetists can formulate it. A significant casualty of Ball’s view is objective scientific explanation. Since Ball thinks a final scientific explanation of aesthetics is impossible, he is thereby commited to the view that there can be no final explanation of aesthetics which does not involve essential reference to personal opinions, experiences or points of view (i.e., a subjective explanation).

Ball does not explain why he thinks neuroaesthetics cannot ever explain or define aesthetics. I invite him to explain why. Otherwise, his article will come across as little more than a negative argument to the effect that the neuroaesthetic project will not succeed. In the meantime, I hope the following is helpful. As Churchland (1989, 2002, 2011) makes clear, explicit definitions and explanations of things tend to co-evolve in science, and emerge only quite late in the course of protracted scientific and philosophical investigations. Because neuroaesthetics is an extremely young subdiscipline of neuroscience (itself barely 60 years old), I think the prudent hope is for correlations of types (1), (2), (3), described above, to lead to novel hypothetical identities and more advanced experimental and philosophical investigation. Already, we know much more about aesthetic experience than even 5 years ago (Conway & Rehding, 2013). Ultimately, neuroaesthetics wants to produce fundamental scientific aesthetic identities; that is, robust correlations of type (4). Proximately, it is reasonable to set achievable aims. Still, the reality of the brain and body may yet thwart our best investigative attempts to identify artistic experience with neurophysiology.

References

Chapman, C. R., Tuckett, R. P., & Song, C. W. (2008). Pain and stress in a systems perspective: reciprocal neural, endocrine, and immune interactions. Journal of Pain 9: 122-145.

Churchland, P. M. (2007). Neurophilosophy at work. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Churchland, P. S. (1989). Neurophilosophy: Toward a unified science of the mind-brain. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Churchland, P. S. (2002). Brain-wise: Studies in neurophilosophy. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Churchland, P. S. (2011). Braintrust: What neuroscience tells us about morality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Conway, B. R., & Rehding, A. (2013). Neuroaesthetics and the Trouble with Beauty. PLoS Biol 11(3): e1001504. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001504.

Place, U. T. (1956). Is Consciousness a Brain Process? British Journal of Psychology, 47: 44-50.

Polger, T. W. (2004). Natural minds. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Smart, J. J. C. (1959).  Sensations and Brain Processes. Philosophical Review, 68: 141-156.

van Rysewyk, S. (2013). Pain is Mechanism. Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of Tasmania.

The Brain at Rest by Martijn D. Steenwijk

Martijn D. Steenwijk’s video was a winner in the category of Best Video Illustration of the Brain in the 2012 Brain Art Competition 2012, run by The Neuro Bureau.

Martijn’s description of ‘The Brain at Rest’ video:

“By visualizing both diffusion tensor and resting-state functional MR data, this movie illustrates different concepts of image processing, connectivity and activity in a real human brain at rest. Background music was composed by assigning a musical instrument to the ten strongest functional patterns in the brain. The intensities of these patterns vary over time while the person is at rest in the scanner – these are “spontaneous” brain fluctuations that receive much attention in fMRI research now. By linking the intensity of each pattern to the pitch of its respective instrument a melody is generated, thereby making brain activity audible. The first part of the movie illustrates the source of the melody by showing functional patterns and their varying strengths. The second part shows the major fiber bundles which were obtained by running deterministic tractography from atlas seeds. In the third part, the seeds were replaced by spherical objects ‘running’ around the cortical surface. The last part combines structural connectivity with functional connectivity. Here, functional connectivity is visualized using volume rendering of the voxelwise functional correlation matrix. Together with its structural counterpart, this last part illustrates that structural and functional connectivity are quite different”.

mind-brain identity theory, ‘brain-sex’ theory of transsexualism and the dimorphic brain

Introduction

According to an influential neuroscientific theory, gender identity is encoded in the brain during intrauterine development. The brain is thought to develop in the male ‘direction’ through a surge of testosterone on nerve cells; in the female ‘direction’, this surge is thought to be absent (e.g., Savic et al. 2011; Swab, 2007). Call this the ‘standard view of gender identity’.

The standard view of gender identity offers an explanation of transsexualism. Since sexual differentiation of the brain occurs in the second half of pregnancy, and sexual differentiation of the sexual organs occurs in months 1-2 of pregnancy, trans-sexuality may occur. The relative masculinization of the brain at birth may not reflect the relative masculinization of the genitals (e.g., Bao & Swab, 2011; Savic et al. 2011; Veale et al. 2010). According to the standard view, transsexualism is entirely dependent on, and thereby reduces to, specific neurophysiological changes that occur during intrauterine growth in two interconnected organ types (i.e., brain and genitals).

The reductive nature of the standard view of gender identity is compatible with  mind-brain identity theory in philosophy of mind and consciousness. Mind-brain identity theory claims that mental states are identical to brain states. Concerning gender identity, mind-brain identity theory claims that a person’s gender identity is identical to neurophysiological mechanism. A strong and profound implication of this view, if it is correct, is that a person’s indubitable sense of being a ‘female’ or a ‘male’ is nothing more than the operations of neurophysiology encoded during intrauterine growth. Mind-brain identity theory contrasts with philosophies of mind which propose that minds are dependent but still somehow ‘more than’ the body on which they depend.

Brain-Sex Theory of Transsexualism and Mind-Brain Identity

According to the strong version of ‘brain-sex’ theory of transsexualism,  transsexualism is nothing more than (one and the same as) a specific neuranatomical (i.e., structural) intersex type, in which one or more sexually dimorphic brain areas are incompatible with bological sex. The theory therefore assumes that the relationship between transsexualism and neurophysiology is one of identity. Gender identity reduces to neurophysiology. Thus, there is a specific neuroanatomical type for female gender identity in male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals, and a specific neuroanatomical type for male gender identity in female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals. The most compelling neuroscientific evidence in support of an identity view of transsexualism comes from Kruijver et al. (2000) and Zhou et al. (1995).

Neuroscientific Evidence for Brain-Sex Theory of Transsexualism

Zhou et al. (1995)

Zhou et al. (1995) observed that a group of neurons in the hypothalamus, the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc), was sexually dimorphic in humans. Zhou et al. found that the average volume of the BSTc in postmortem males was roughly 44% larger than in females. However, in 6 male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals who had feminizing hormone treatment, the average volume of the BSTc was within the typical female range. The authors found that the 6 transsexuals they investigated varied in their sexual orientations and inferred that there was no relationship between BSTc size and the sexual orientation of transsexuals. I assume that this assertion implies that transsexual sexual orientation and BSTc size are not type identical; that is, they are not the same type. Finally, further postmortem investigations conducted in a small number of nontranssexual patients with abnormal hormone levels, led Zhou et al. to reason that the small volume of the BSTc in MTF transsexuals cannot be explained by adult sex hormone levels (p. 70). Thus, there appears to be a relationship of identity between transsexualism and small BSTc volume. They are one and the same.

Kruijver et al. (2000)

Kruijver et al. (2000) conducted a follow-up study in which they investigated the number of neurons in the BSTc rather than its volume. The authors examined tissue from the same 6 MTF transsexuals studied by Zhou et al. (1995). They also studied nerve tissue from one female-to-male (FTM) transsexual and from an 84-yr-old man who ‘had very strong cross-gender identity feelings but was never . . . sex-reassigned or treated . . . with estrogens’ (p. 2039). The authors found that BSTc neuron number was even more sexually dimorphic than BSTc volume; namely, the average BSTc neuron number in males was 71% higher than in females. Once again, the 6 MTF transsexuals showed a sex-reversed identity pattern, with an average BSTc neuron number in the female range. BSTc neuron number was also in the female range in the untreated gender dysphoric male and was in the male range in the FtM transsexual. Again, the putative sexual orientation of the MTF transsexuals appeared to make no difference. In contrast to the claims of the standard view of gender identity, data from the few non-transsexual patients with abnormal hormone levels led Kruijver et al. (2000) to conclude that ‘hormonal changes in adulthood did not show any clear relationship with the BSTc . . . neuron number’ (p. 2039).

Neuroscientific Objections to Brain-Sex Theory of Transsexualism

Chung et al. (2002)

Brain-sex theory of transsexualism faces several neuroscientific challenges. Chung et al. (2002) found that significant sexual dimorphism in BSTc size and neuron number does not develop in humans until adulthood. However, most MTF transsexuals self-report that their feelings of gender dysphoria began in early childhood (e.g., Lawrence, 2003). Since MTF transsexuals have not yet become sexually dimorphic by the time cross-gender feelings have become obvious, it is unlikely that BSTc volume and neuron number can be a neuroanatomical signature identifiable with gender identity. However, Chung et al. (2002) speculate that foetal or neonatal hormone levels could influence gender identity and could also produce changes in BSTc synaptic density, neuronal activity, or neurochemicals that may not affect BSTc volume or neuron number immediately, but may do so during adulthood. I am not aware of any evidence in support of this hypothesis. In any event, mind-brain identity theory can agree with Chung’s et al. (2002) speculation. Mind-brain identity theory is neutral on whether ‘brain characteristics’ will be macro or micro, or both, or what their specific developmental effects will be. Gender identity might be a state of the entire brain, synapses, or multiple, interacting physiological systems. Macro/microreductionism is optional, not required. Finally, Chung et al. (2002) speculate that inconsistency between an individual’s gender identity and biological sex might likely affect adult BSTc size and neuron number by some yet unknown mechanism or mechanisms. Given that neuroscience is in a very early stage of understanding gender identity, the implication that more time is needed to understand transsexualism appears prudent.

Joel (2011)

Joel (2011) challenges an implicit assumption in the standard view of gender identity; namely, human brains are one of two types –  ‘male’ or ‘female’ – and that the differences between these two types subserve subtype differences between men and women in gender identity and transsexualism. According to Joel (2011), this assumption is true only if there is robust correspondence (i.e., high statistical correlation) between the ‘male’/’female’ type of all of the brain characteristics in a single brain. It turns out there isn’t. As Joel points out, concerning most documented sex brain differences, there is overlap between the distributions of the two sexes (e.g., Juraska, 1991; Koscik et al. 2009). Neuroanatomical data also reveal that sex interacts with other factors during the intrauterine period and throughout life to determine brain structure (e.g., prenatal exposure to psychoactive drugs, early handling, rearing conditions, maternal separation, acute and chronic postnatal stress). Human brains therefore are a dynamic heterogeneous mosaic of ‘male’ and ‘female’ brain characteristics that cannot be type identified on a simple continuum between a ‘male type brain’ and a ‘female type brain’ (Joel, 2011). Thus, brains are not type sexed, but type intersexed; sexually multi-morphic rather than dimorphic.

Joel’s theory is compatible with brain-sex theory of transsexualism since both theories claim that transsexualism is intersexual, but incompatible because it denies what brain-sex theory asserts; namely, in transsexualism, one or more sexually dimorphic brain areas are incompatible with bological sex. Thus, Joel’s view rejects the stronger claim that gender is type identical with the sexually dimorphic brain. Accordingly, we cannot predict the specific properties of ‘male/female’ brain characteristics of an individual based on her/his sex.

However, Joel’s view implies the weaker consequence that, on average, we can predict that females will have more brain characteristics with the ‘female’ type than with the ‘male’ type (vice versa for FTM transsexuals), and males will have more brain characteristics with the ‘male’ type than with the ‘female’ type (vice versa for MTF transsexuals). Whether two individuals are similar or not is dependent on the similarity in the details of their brain mosaic; not on the quantity of ‘male’ and ‘female’ characteristics. This means that two similar individuals share characteristics of the same ‘brain mosiac’ type – they have the same type. Brains of the same type must possess the characteristics and properties typical of the type, but that does not imply that they all be exactly similar to one another. This implication is compatible with mind-brain identity theory.

References

Bao, A. M., & Swaab, D. F. (2011). Sexual differentiation of the human brain: relation to gender identity, sexual orientation and neuropsychiatric disorders. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology, 32(2), 214-226.

Chung, W. C., De Vries, G. J., & Swaab, D. F. (2002). Sexual differentiation of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in humans may extend into adulthood. Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 1027-1033.

Hines M. (2004). Brain Gender. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Koscik, T., O’Leary, D., Moser, D. J., Andreasen, N. C., & Nopoulos, P. (2009). Sex differences in parietal lobe morphology: relationship to mental rotation performance. Brain Cognition, 69, 451–459.

Kruijver, F. P., Zhou, J. N., Pool, C. W., Hofman, M. A., Gooren, L. J., & Swaab, D. F. (2000). Male-to-female transsexuals have female neuron numbers in a limbic nucleus. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 85, 2034-2041.

Joel, D. (2011). Male or female? Brains are intersex. Frontiers in integrative neuroscience, 5, 57.

Juraska J. M. (1991). Sex differences in “cognitive” regions of the rat brain. Psychoneuroendocrinology 16, 105–109. doi: 10.1016/0306-4530(91)90073-3.

Lawrence, A. A. (2003). Factors associated with satisfaction or regret following male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 299-315.

Savic, I., Garcia-Falgueras, A., & Swaab, D. F. (2010). 4 Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation. Progress in Brain Research, 186, 41-65.

Swaab, D. F. (2007). Sexual differentiation of the brain and behavior. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 21(3), 431-444.

Veale, J. F., Clarke, D. E., & Lomax, T. C. (2010). Biological and psychosocial correlates of adult gender-variant identities: a review. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(4), 357-366.

Zhou, J. N., Hofman, M. A., Gooren, L. J., & Swaab, D. F. (1995). A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality. Nature, 378, 68-70.

mind-brain identity – evidence from transsexualism

Is gender identity – the sense of being a man or a woman – a perception identical with the nonconscious physical brain or the conscious non-physical soul? Since people who identify as transsexual verbally self-report strong feelings of being the opposite sex and a feeling that their sexual characteristics are not constitutive of their actual gender, they are a powerful case in explaining the nature of gender identity and phenomenal consciousness.

It is possible that a person’s sense of gender identity may be subserved by an
nonconscious physical base with a specific neurophysiological or neural ‘signature’. Explaining gender identity in this direct way aims first to describe the base as a correlate of gender identity, then ultimately to achieve a reductive neurophysiological explanation of gender identity.

Neurophysiological mechanism and transexual experiences can be correlated for a variety of reasons: the mechanism is part of the cause of transexualism; the mechanism is part of the effect of transsexualism; the mechanism indirectly parallels transsexualism; the mechanism is what transsexualism can be identified with. Discovering the neurophysiological signature of transsexualism requires the identification of some neurophysiological mechanism with transsexualism. The correlation of mechanism x with transsexualism is informative because x may be the one for identifying transsexualism. Correspondingly, mechanism y that does not correlate with transsexualism indicates that y may not be the one. If there is a mechanism of transsexualism with a neurophysiological signature identifiable with transsexual experiences, the scientific and clinical benefits could be huge. Thus, investigating transsexualism directly is worth a try.

There is support for theoretical identification of gender identity with neurophysiological mechanism. According to the most influential theory, during the intrauterine period, two mechanical operations may occur: (1) in the female ‘direction’, there is no surge of testosterone on nerve cells; (2) in the male ‘direction’, there is a surge of testosterone on nerve cells. Since sexual differentiation of the brain occurs in the second half of pregnancy, and sexual differentiation of the sexual organs occurs in months 1-2 of pregnancy, transsexuality may result. Thus, the relative masculinzation of the brain at birth may not reflect the relative masculinization of the genitals (e.g., Berenbaum & Beltz, 2011; Savic et al. 2011; Veale et al. 2010).

One line of neuroscientific support for a neuroanatomical signature of gender identity derives from studies on whether gray matter volumes in (heterosexual) male-to female (MTF) transexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment are correlated with people who share their biological sex (i.e., men), or people who share their gender identity (i.e., women). Luders et al. (2009) analyzed MRI data of 24 male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals and found that regional gray matter variation in MTF transsexuals correlates with the pattern found in men than in women. Luders et al. (2012) found thicker cortices in MTF transsexuals, both within regions of the left hemisphere (i.e., frontal and orbito-frontal cortex, central sulcus, perisylvian regions, paracentral gyrus) and right hemisphere (i.e., pre-/post-central gyrus, parietal cortex, temporal cortex, precuneus, fusiform, lingual, and orbito-frontal gyrus) than age-matched control males.

In contrast, Rametti et al. (2011) found that the white matter microstructure pattern in MTF transsexuals is halfway between the pattern of examined male and female controls. These differences may indicate that some fasciculi do not complete the masculinization mechanical operation in MTF transsexuals during foetal brain development. This implies that the social environment is co-constitutive of gender identity. Clearly, more research is needed to answer this question.

Another line of neuroscientific research has focused on intrinsic brain activity (i.e., brain resting-state) to investigate correlations between the spontaneous brain connectivity of transexuals and control groups. Santarnecchi et al. (2012) used both seed-voxel and atlas-based region-of-interest (ROI) approaches and found that brain regions sensitive to gender dimorphism (e.g., left lingual gyrus, precuneus) revealed robust correlations between the female-to-male (FTM) subject and female control group with regard to control males, with comparable extension and location of functional connectivity maps. ROI analysis supported this result, demonstrating an increased pattern of differences between the FTM subject and males and the FTM subject and females. No statistically significant difference was found between seed-voxel results in the FTM subject and females. This study supports the hypothesis that untreated FTM transgender shows a functional connectivity profile comparable to female control subjects.

Taken together, these findings provide evidence that transsexualism is correlated with a specific physical signature, in terms of neuroanatomy and brain connectivity, which supports the claim of mind-brain identity theory that neurophysiological mechanism is constitutive of gender identity. Thus, the most reasonable explanation of transsexualism and gender identity is that it is entirely physical in nature.

References

Berenbaum, S. A., & Beltz, A. M. (2011). Sexual differentiation of human behavior: Effects of prenatal and pubertal organizational hormones. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 32(2), 183-200.

Luders, E., Sánchez, F. J., Gaser, C., Toga, A. W., Narr, K. L., Hamilton, L. S., & Vilain, E. (2009). Regional gray matter variation in male-to-female transsexualism. Neuroimage, 46(4), 904-907.

Luders, E., Sánchez, F. J., Tosun, D., Shattuck, D. W., Gaser, C., Vilain, E., & Toga, A. W. (2012). Increased Cortical Thickness in Male-to-Female Transsexualism. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 2, 357-362.

Rametti, G., Carrillo, B., Gómez-Gil, E., Junque, C., Segovia, S., Gomez, Á., & Guillamon, A. (2011). White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study. Journal of psychiatric research, 45(2), 199-204.

Santarnecchi, E., Vatti, G., Déttore, D., & Rossi, A. (2012). Intrinsic Cerebral Connectivity Analysis in an Untreated Female-to-Male Transsexual Subject: A First Attempt Using Resting-State fMRI. Neuroendocrinology, 96(3), 188-193.

Savic, I., Garcia-Falgueras, A., & Swaab, D. F. (2010). 4 Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation. Progress in Brain Research, 186, 41-65.

Veale, J. F., Clarke, D. E., & Lomax, T. C. (2010). Biological and psychosocial correlates of adult gender-variant identities: a review. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(4), 357-366.

Will science make painfulness disappear?

Some philosophers worry that neuroscience will make painfulness disappear. Broadly, the objection is that if a science reduces a macro phenomenon to a micro phenomenon, then the macro phenomenon is not real or disappears (e.g., Searle, 1992). Using this conception of ‘reduction’, it is then reasoned that because it is observably obvious that a pain is real, it cannot be reduced to neuroscience. This misunderstanding trades on an idiosyncratic understanding of reduction, where it is expected that in science, reductions make macro phenomenon disappear. This expectation is confused.

Temperature was reduced to mean molecular kinetic energy, as recounted above, but no person expects that temperature therefore ceased to be real or became scientifically disrespectable or redundant. Visible light was reduced to electromagnetic radiation, but light did not disappear. Instead, scientists understand more about the real nature of light than they did before 1873. Light is real, no doubt; and so is temperature. Some expectations about the nature of temperature and light did change, and scientific progress does occasionally require rethinking what was believed about phenomenon. In certain instances, previously respectable properties and substances sometimes did prove to be unreal. The caloric theory of heat did not survive rigorous experimental testing; caloric fluid thus proved to be unreal. While no one expects that painfulness will cease to be real or become scientifically disrespectable if it is successfully explained by neuroscience, everyone believes that debilitating chronic pain will be controlled and eventually disappear as a result of scientific reduction. But this belief may turn out to be quite wrong. Simple prudence suggests that we wait and see.

Thus, the reduction of a macro phenomenon means only that there is an explanation of the phenomenon. Scientific explanations of phenomenon do not typically make them disappear. As neuroscience matures, the future of current conceptions of painfulness and sensory experience generally will rely on the empirical facts, and the enduring accuracy of current macro level theories (Churchland, 1993).

Churchland, P.M. (1993). Evaluating our self-conception. Mind and Language, 8, 211-222.
Searle, J.R. (1992). The Rediscovery of Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

‘Chemical Brain Preservation: How to Live “Forever” – A Personal View’ by John M. Smart

Chemical Brain Preservation: How to Live “Forever” – A Personal View.

‘The Hard Problem of Consciousness’ – so what?

The problem of consciousness – its fundamental nature – is thought to be a hard problem; in fact, a really, really hard problem. Possibly the hardest of all!

Some philosophers (e.g., Colin McGinn, Zeno Vendler, David Chalmers) argue that a science of consciousness is impossible given the poverty of what is currently known and not known about consciousness.  Science is clearly overreaching itself, the philosophers wisely aver.

However – can it be told how hard consciousness is, as a problem, when not a lot of science is available on it? How is the difficulty or tractability of a problem judged?

The composition of stars was thought to be a really hard problem: you get burnt as soon as you try to obtain a sample. However, it turned out that this problem was readily solvable with the discovery of spectral analysis.

Explaining the perihelion of Mercury was also thought to be readily solvable; however, it required Einstein’s scientific revolution in physics to solve it. Thus, the initial estimate of the difficulty of this problem was quite wrong.

When not much is known about a problem, it is impossible to judge how difficult or tractable the problem is. Thus, personal convictions or feelings of certainty should be avoided, and replaced by scientifically informed judgements. This conclusion may lack glamour, but that is all that can be grinded out when ignorance is a premise. 

Is consciousness a problem amenable to scientific explanation? Well, as above, it is hard to tell, given what is currently known about consciousness at the level of the brain. 

What is the next step? Simple: do science. 

Just get on with it.

This does not imply that armchair theorising has nothing of value to contribute to the problem of consciousness. Quite the contrary. But, factually informed philosophizing can be sensitive to the empirical dimension of a problem, and that includes learning lessons from the history of science. This seems to me to make philosophy all the more wiser. Surely a good thing. 

Why turn your back on the relevant data?

‘It cannot be imagined how consciousness could ever be explained’ – philosopher

Philosophers sometimes assume that there is a logically valid inference from ‘Consciousness cannot now be explained’ to ‘Consciousness can never be explained’ if the premise ‘It cannot be imagined how consciousness could ever be explained’ is added.

But – adding that premise is merely a psychological fact about the philosopher.

When ignorance is a premise, nothing meaningful follows.

Notes on the ‘mystery’ of consciousness

‘Consciousness is mysterious’ – this is a fact about us and what we currently know, not about the nature of consciousness. It is not a property of the problem of the nature of consciousness.

‘We cannot now explain consciousness’ – this does not mean that we can never explain it, even if we can’t imagine how we could explain it. We have to wait and see what neuroscience turns up.

The meaning of discovery in science

Science discovers basic identities. But, the identities it discovers just are the way things are. Why is a thing, the thing it is? It just is. As Bishop Butler put it: ‘Every thing is what it is, and not another thing’.

This sounds mysterious, but it is not.

Why is visible light actually electromagnetic radiation rather than something else entirely? Why is temperature mean molecular kinetic energy, rather than something else? Science does not offer explanations for basic identities. Rather, the discovery is that two descriptions refer to one and the same thing; or that two different measuring instruments measure in fact one and the same thing. There is no basic set of laws from which to derive that visible light is electromagnetic radiation or temperature is mean molecular kinetic energy.

Why is Venus Venus? Why is the Morning Star identical to the Evening Star? It just is.

 

How to lose faith in God

Moving, causing, surviving. That’s why animals have a central nervous system. And that’s how a religious person ought to lose faith in God: on the move.

Simulation (mimicry) is included under ‘moving’.

The best way for a religious person who already doubts his faith, but doesn’t know how to go on, is to enter into learning relationships with atheists. Such relationships, mediated by goodwill and the sincere desire to learn, allow the religious doubter to ‘try out’ atheism, to simulate it for its effects on self and others. Multiple simulations should be attempted.  Slow cure is all important. These experiences must be largely positive to induce attachment.

Sudden and dramatic loss of faith almost never happens, if ever, for the reward system in the brain needs to re-tune itself out of the current attractor-category (religion) and into the new attractor-category (atheism). This change takes time; sometimes years.

To lose faith in God, you need to do something. You do this by first copying others who are already masters of the game.

‘The human fetus cannot feel pain’

Fetal pain perception is often modelled on the same neural structures as in the adult.

However –

(1 The neural structures involved in pain processing in early development are unique and different from adults.

(2 Some of these structures and mechanisms are not maintained beyond specific developmental periods.

The immature pain system plays a signalling role during each stage of development, and fulfils this role using different neural resources available at specific developmental times.

Thus, the error here is reading the adult into the fetus.

‘How do I know that any person is conscious?’

‘How do I know that any person is conscious?’

‘ How do I know that I was conscious before the present moment?’

– radical skeptic

Since the radical skeptic excludes, in principle, any empirical controls to allay his doubt, he overplays his hand.

It is impossible to doubt everything, for that entails doubting the meaning of the very words used to express radical doubt (reductio ad absurdum).

 

Life’s ‘ratchet game’

How do we think about reality in a way that improves upon the old ways?

There is good news here: it is not entirely up to you to improve reality. Your children, and their children will do the job. So, sit back a little. Enjoy the ride!

Human beings have the unique capacity to play life’s ‘ratchet game’. Children learn the best society has to offer, and can improve upon it. And, your children’s children can start where your children left off. And so on.

My kids are already way ahead of me, since they started where I left off long, long ago, and also vastly ahead of cro-magnon humans. By contrast, chimpanzees start where their ancestors left off, and stay there. They don’t move from this place (chimps are still very cute, though).

Thus, humans can produce science and technology, and pass it on to their descendents. This gives human beings the chance to deploy science and AI tech to create increasingly accurate representations of ‘mind’, ‘DNA’, ‘autism’, ‘pain’, ‘happiness’, and so on. The ratchet game takes us beyond the familiar into exciting new territories.

(I wonder: Can academic philosophy play life’s ‘ratchet game’? It seems to me that philosophy is not terribly good at reaching out to other disciplines, and learning from them in the way that children naturally learn from parents.)

Does science make things disappear?

If a science reduces a macro phenomenon to a micro phenomenon, then the macro phenomenon either is not real or ‘goes away’. Is this true? Does science make things disappear?

Obstetrics is true, and babies are born every day. Or, are babies born in spite of obstetrics? Does understanding gynecology make women sterile?

At the same time, a science of pain will hopefully reduce – or eliminate – much pain (mammalian and non-mammalian). Science makes pain ‘go away’. Surely a good thing.

The nature of consciousness

‘The nature of consciousness is a conceptual problem’ – mainstream academic philosopher.

This seems mostly positioning to me: it characterizes philosophy as more fundamental than science and thereby sets the limits of science.

But, what is actually known about the target phenomena of consciousness (e.g., pain)?

A very serious man and his happy family

A very serious-minded man visited his happy family after a long time away, and was shocked. He was shocked because he found it quite impossible to interact with his family. All of his normal reactions and behaviors were out of line with his family’s reactions and behaviors. Sure, the family talked and laughed, but it seemed stilted and awkward-sounding. Tense looks were received, but none acknowledged, at least when he was in the conversation. And there was that disquiet. Such palpable disquiet.

It was terrible.

So, the very serious-minded man, who loved his family very much,  decided that the next family visit would have to feel very different.

Before the next visit, the man had a good idea: he would do the things his family members normally do. He wasn’t sure why it was a good idea, but it made sense to him. His father loved to play indoor bowls. So, he joined a bowls club and played bowls every day. He observed the behavior of the other bowls players and also what they talked about. He gave particular attention to how they talked about what they talked about. And, he copied them. It was difficult at first for the serious-minded man to copy the bowls players, but the players always encouraged him with knowing looks and happy talk. And, the man copied these behaviors too. Soon, conversations were easier and fun. He became more relaxed around others at the club, and more relaxed within himself.

The once-very-serious-now-more-relaxed man felt that copying the bowls players had really made him more like them, and that the players also saw it this way and didn’t mind at all. Maybe they saw it as a kind of complement. He wasn’t sure. It just felt positive. The man was encouraged by this promising first result, and decided to do other things his family liked. His younger brother plays the piano. So, the man took piano lessons. He wasn’t very good at it, and he had a hard time making his fingers work together to create music. But, the man was pleased because he understood that his brother would appreciate the effort, and they could share this experience together.

The once-very-serious-now-empathetic man did visit his very happy family again, and was pleasantly surprised.

‘You’ve changed’, his family soon noticed.

‘I have changed’, he breathed happily. ‘I am a different person now. I am like you’.

How would you explain to a person who cannot experience pain, what pain is?

How would you explain to a person who could never experience pain, what pain is?

Do the following:

1. Get a dairy food that is extremely spoiled.

2. Get the person to fill his or her mouth with this delightful food.

(ESSENTIAL: The food has to remain in the person’s mouth! Under no circumstances can the person spit out the food and clean his her mouth.)

3. Chew the food.

This test is a good model for the nature of pain.

Pain is aversive. We want to avoid pain. Eating spoiled food is the same: we want to avoid at all costs putting, much less chewing and swallowing, bad food.

Having a really bad taste in your mouth is like having a pain in your body.

Computers will soon act like human beings – then what?

One day, artificial thought will be achieved.

An artificially intelligent computer will say, “that makes me happy.”

Will it feel happy? Assume it will not.

Still: it will act as if it did.  It will act like an intelligent human being. And then what?

My hunch is that adult human beings will view intelligent computers as simplified versions of  themselves (child-like). Human children will view them as peers; ‘friendships’ will form between children and intelligent computers.

Why? I am reminded of Wittgenstein’s remark: ‘The human body is the best picture of the human soul’.

Look at this video of ASIMO.

How would you interact with ASIMO? What would your reactions be?

It is also remarkable that ASIMO does not possess any physiology.

 

#SciFund update: video complete!

My #SciFund video is finally complete!

Quite a mission to do (first time), but I am happy with the finished product.

Click on the image:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a map showing the global distribution of participating scientists in Round 1 (2011) and Round 2 (May, 2012) of the #SciFund Challenge:

SciFunders Standing Tall and Talented

My #SciFund Challenge Project: The face of pain

#SciFund Challenge Round 2 is days away!

What is #SciFund?

From the #SciFund website:

The #SciFund Challenge is a grand experiment in science funding. Can scientists raise money for their research by convincing the general public to open their wallets for small-amount donations? In more and more fields – from music to dance to journalism – people are raising lots of money for projects in precisely this way. The process is called crowdfunding. The first round of the #SciFund Challenge showed that this model can work for funding scientific research. Now, let’s take it to the next level!

My #SciFund project is: ‘The face of pain’

I am finishing my #SciFund Project video as we speak!

In the meantime, here is the project image:

What is religion? Next question, please.

What is religion? If this question asks what all religions have in common, then the answer is: next question, please.

What do all religions have in common? Nothing.

In contrast to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Buddhism is atheistic with regard to a creator god. There is no doctrine of karma in Christianity. Hinduism is opulently polythesitic, but Islam is not. And so on.

In this kind of situation, it is more promising to offer a simile. What is religion like? Religion is like a cord composed of braided strands (e.g., a rope). The strands overlap and lie over each other in complex ways. The integrity of the cord does not consist in one strand, but in the arrangement of many strands.

Take any family. Look at the faces of its members. Do they have one facial feature in common?  No. There are both similarities (e.g., eye color), and differences (e.g., face contour). The relationships are complex, not simple. That is how it is. Just look and see for yourself.

Religion is extremely complex. To make a decent start at understanding it, good questions need to be asked. This is not easy. So, I urge looking first. What is observed? Compare your visual experiences. Look first, ask questions later.

Religious pretenders

I am too honest to be religious. Religion lains waste to honest reflection and questioning.

Many people claim to be religious. How many are pretenders?

There may be good reasons why a person pretends to be religious. A religious son adores his devout mother so much that he could not bare her to learn of his atheism. However, unknown to him and family, the mother is an atheist, and has been for decades. Like the son, she became a religious pretender in order to protect her mother’s feelings, and so on.

How to break this circle of lies? Honest reflection and questioning. And that takes great courage.

There is good news here

I cannot predict your every thought and action for the simple reason that most of my own thoughts and actions are completely spontaneous.

I cannot predict what I will do in most instances. I cannot know myself, so I cannot know you. True enough? We are both in the dark, it seems.

That sounds a bit bleak.

Is there any good news?

Yes: A person is not a vacuum. Human thought and action is shared. Shared, copied, modified, suppressed, distilled – we live in each other’s facial expressions.

Why are dreams mysterious?

I wake-up and tell my wife about the dream I had while sleeping. That’s a dream-report.

Dream-reports are given by the dreamer in the first-person present-tense. Even if  I dreamed I had incarnated another person (either a real or imagined person), it is always I (the dreamer) who peers out from the face of the other person during the dream. And that’s what is communicated when I tell my dream to another person.

Why do human beings share dreams? 

Sometimes a dream is amazing. Amazing that I could even dream up such an experience. What is important to human beings in this case is that the dream really did impress me. Dream-reports can be spontaneous responses to what we see during sleep. So: that I dreamt such-and-such is amazing and of more interest to other people than what the dream describes. Dream-reports can therefore function more like exclamations or interjections than descriptions of what the dreamer experienced. 

However, the dreamer may sometimes become frustrated trying to communicate the dream in a dream-report. We try to describe what happened in the dream using the medium of language (the dream-report), but we cannot. The dream eludes the net of language. At least that’s how we feel. The dreamer is frustrated with language and may think that since the dream cannot be described, it points to something beyond itself. But – why must a dream be capable of being described? After all, can you describe all the experiences of your waking life? Try and do it. Why must dreams be any different? In life, human beings are both the way and the wayfarers.

For some reason, we see dream-reports as descriptions of dreams. We see them as fragments of a story we assume can be told in full. Yet, dreams cannot be described to our satisfaction. Frustrating. Frustration leads to puzzlement. Most of the time we are puzzled by dreams (our own, and those of other people). Why? – are dreams seen as mysterious because dream-reports are assumed to be descriptions of dreams? 

Is Simon van Rysewyk interesting?

Academics sometimes lament that the number of scholars working in their chosen field is less than the population density per square kilometer of Antarctica. They may have forgotten that to be considered interesting by the half-dozen other researchers in the field is already achievement enough.

Is classical music superior?

It has sometimes been stated that classical music is superior to other forms of music. Why would a person say it? Well, human beings are consummate imitators, and if a person stands to gain by publicly making another copy of it, then imitation – camouflage? – is a strategy for success.

There are other possibilities. Listening to and performing classical music does not conventionally engage the human body in dance. The relative passivity of the body in classical music may therefore signify by default – to some, at least – that this form of music is more cerebral than other forms of music which have a dance component and, therefore, is superior. Certainly, the body produces bodily sensations and perceptions (e.g., propioception). Take those out of the picture, and what is left: mind. We would like to say that very much. Is it correct?

Music and human imitation

Apparently, human beings who wish to be only happy in life, are the same people who the next moment willingly listen to sad music and make themselves become sad. Why?

Does such a person think to himself: ‘This music is sad; I want to be sad; therefore, I listen to this music to be sad’? No, of course not. A person in this situation does not need to inform himself why he acts as he does. In addition, there is typically no such thought process preceeding a musical experience, during it, or following it. It is not characteristic of listening to or performing music to bethink to oneself such motivating factors as if the experience must be accompanied by a spoken soliloquy to make sense. Isn’t this true of routine human behaviours generally? Second, such a thought process cannot inform me in the same way as it informs you. For you, it is information. For me, a point of emphasis? Let me develop this last idea.

A human being may talk to himself inwardly while the music is on, but not to give himself information. Then, what is the meaning of this internal monologue, and how should it be described? The words used may convey the the level of interest in the music (a melody, a recurring theme, how the trombones sound, etc), and may function more like an exclamation than a descriptive statement. Certainly, one can imagine this occurring in upbeat or joyful music. In sad or melancholic music, self-talk is expressive of the sad quality perceived in the music. Again, it stresses what is noteworthy in the music. The music merits attention. It really did amaze me.

We want to be sad for a time; at least, sad for as long as the music lasts. The listener follows the sad music as he follows the sad face which changes expression. Music is like a familiar face, and we resonate with it in understanding as long as we are interested. The music plays on, the face moves predictably. On occasion, the music is too predictable. So, we stop it in mid-flight, like an uncomfortable human conversation, and move to something else. Typically, however, the sad piece of music I know completely by heart is a rewarding experience as though I listen to it for the very first time. It really is like empathy for a fellow human being, or parity in facial expressions exchanged between close friends during conversation. Now – is your closest friend entirely predictable? No. Even deep rapport between human beings harbours dark regions. I do not even wish to say that we aim in music listening to recreate sadness, happiness, or any such fleeting emotional response. What human beings do, I believe, is empathize with what is perceived in the music as expressive of our shared human interests, wants, desires, hopes, etc. We find it there in music, and return to it habitually, just as we find it in the faces of other people.

A living human being can imitate a human corpse

A human corpse cannot respond to a living human being, but a living human being can respond to a corpse. For example, a living human can imitate a corpse, can show to others that a corpse cannot respond to questions put to it, and so on.

A living human may address the corpse of a loved one in speech and speak of the suffering and grief of personal loss. Is the person speaking to the corpse itself? No. But, the living human animates the corpse with personal memories, sensations and emotions that instead replace the corpse with the living, dynamic person that once was, and give the spoken words their point. I don’t think this is an act of make-believe, since the memories are real.

‘Is the person speaking to the corpse itself?’ What does the child address when it talks to dolls? Is the child engaged in make-believe? My hunch is that toy-play is imitation: the child animates the toy with human behaviors and thoughts.