CogCubed, founded by Kurt Roots and his wife Dr. Monika Heller, is a Minneapolis-based game and data company engaged in creating games that produce data to improve health and education outcomes. Dr. Heller is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist.
I spoke to Kurt Root who shared with me CogCubed’s plan to change the lives of millions across the world through their games leveraging technology and psychiatry. …
I met the entrepreneur couple at a dinner event hosted by Google in Silicon Valley and was amazed by the passion they displayed toward bringing a great product to the global market. Now over to the conversation with Kurt. …
Our team is a cross between computer science, neuroscience, and psychiatry. We started this company after I showed some new and innovative technology from the MIT Media Lab to my wife, Monika Heller, MD, who is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. I was interested because there was an SDK for this new manipulative gaming system, which means I could program games for it. She was immediately interested because it meant that we could use data collected from sensors and games to understand behavior. The Sifteo Cubes are wireless blocks or cubes, which have been described as a cross between Legos and Nintendo. They contain a variety of sensors, can be touched and moved spatially, and have an LCD screen for high-resolution graphics. As medicine, Monika’s domain, is very subjective, we thought it might be a great opportunity to see what objective data we could collect from game play and then analyze it to both identify and improve cognitive health. …
I spent roughly five years at Oracle as a programmer and have graduate degrees in Software Engineering and Information Systems. I also have an MBA. Prior to working on CogCubed full-time, I was a management consultant focused on data and analysis-driven results in health care and retail verticals. What drew me to this though was that computationally it is not very different than what I had been doing. Also, I have a brother with special needs and so the problems we are trying to solve mean a great deal personally.
Monika was completing her Fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota. Prior to CogCubed, she had already practiced in a variety of settings including schools, community outreach programs, and medical/physical rehabilitation units. She is still actively involved as a clinician, in addition to being Adjunct Faculty at the University of Minnesota. …
We recently completed a clinical trial, with analysis done at the University of Minnesota. Further, in health care, proving out an idea can typically take longer time, thus more money. Lastly, because we are based in Minnesota, we have to be creative with how we raise funds and find talent. …
We have done a lot of work analyzing the market and need for our product. For example, neurological illnesses affect more than 50 million Americans annually and cost more than $500 billion to treat. It’s estimated that 830,000 children/adolescents have Autism, with a treatment cost of $29 billion annually. ADHD impacts 5.4 million children/adolescents and costs $3.2 billion annually to diagnose and $79 billion annually to treat. These are two disorders we care deeply about.
To apply our solution to the marketplace we are currently working with schools and clinics in our local area to build additional evidence to prove both the technology and the business model. We are also going to be running controlled business experiments where we test price points, delivery mechanisms, and overall solutions over the next few months.
We are creating a suite of fun and engaging games, based on neurological correlates, which span a spectrum of behavior behavioral disorders. We are also fundamentally a data company, where we collect large amounts of data in a new way, and then utilize sophisticated and novel algorithms to extract value from it. …
We are proving out our solution in the United States first, but definitely have international plans. Without being too specific in regards to our strategy, we will be focusing on Asia and will be coming to India.
Archive for the ‘Mind’ Category
Posted by Xeno on May 20, 2013
Posted by Xeno on May 16, 2013
Tonight, while reading a thick secret Masonic book left to me by my departed Master Mason grandfather, who reached the 32nd degree (Master of the Royal Secret) on June 16, 1944, I became curious if I might be able to start a Science-Based Masonic lodge. It appears not… but things do change.
At this time in history, an atheistic Freemason must hide his true beliefs according to this:
I’m an atheist Freemason (they’d expel me if they knew)
Is it possible to reconcile being a confirmed atheist with participating in a religious organisation?
People usually think Masons are either a bunch of old farts with their trousers rolled up, or evil genuises bent on world domination. Dan Brown, in his otherwise execrable Lost Symbol, described us fairly and with a sneaking admiration (though in this country we don’t do anything like locking ourselves in cupboards with skulls). It’s a way of meeting people (well, men) on a basis of immediate friendship. It teaches a moral code: integrity, fidelity, benevolence etc. It raises a *lot* of money for charity. It offers a chance to perform ceremonies. Why does it need to be religious?
Every candidate for initiation is asked “Do you believe in a Supreme Being?”. When I was asked this, I replied “Yes”, and meant it – nothing further is ever asked or expected. At the time I was a wishy-washy not-quite-a-Christian, like many other members I’ve met. People from any faith are welcome, and oaths of secrecy and fidelity are taken on a bible, or other holy book if appropriate (requests for Darwin or Dawkins wouldn’t be well received!). Each meeting involves prayers to the generic “Great Architect of the Universe” to look favourably upon the organisation and its members, and to keep us steadfast in our oaths. I question whether any passing God would trouble Himself to shine His rays upon a bunch of men waffling on in coloured aprons, but this low-key interventionism is woven in. The secrets themselves serve no purpose other than identification, aren’t hard to find on google, and really aren’t interesting in their own right.
Moral teachings are a central part of the ceremonies, in which the “candidate” (new member) is taught various lessons about how to be a better man. There are some wonderful moments in these ceremonies, which are genuine once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I can honestly say that they’ve had a very real and positive effect on my conduct in everyday life. One key point they hold that I utterly reject is that God is the moral compass and fount of all goodness.
I derive a lot of enjoyment from performing the ceremonies. They involve learning large tracts of dignified, old-fashioned dialogue and monologue, and performing them in such a way as to give the candidate a memorable and impressive experience. Any frustrated actor would revel in this. Amateur pageantry is also an important part, and for anyone who enjoys watching the pomp and circumstance of a royal wedding, military parade, or a high church service, this is good fun to take part in. Some of the buildings are nothing short of magnificent and it’s a privilege to use them. Alas, those small parts of the ceremony which reflect the religious underpinning engender in me feelings of hypocrisy; I’ve filled various offices which involve leading short prayers. It feels dirty – perhaps more so than mumbling the Lord’s Prayer at a wedding, though there is no logical reason for this to be the case. Is it any different from being in a church and not agreeing with the letter of everything being said? Maybe it’s the difference between being an atheist church-goer and an atheist priest.
Why do I do this? It’s fun. It fills a gap which I think church fills in the lives of the religious – community, morality, ceremony etc. I agree strongly with the intent of its teachings, even though I reject the jump from “being nice to people is good” to “God is good and He wants you to be nice to people”. Given the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy after the initial interview (religion and politics are taboo subjects on account of being too divisive), all that’s required is a certain amount of finger-crossing and keeping my mouth shut. It’s a price to pay, but the benefits (strictly non-pecuniary!) of membership far outweigh this price.
There’s no secular equivalent, alas – society is still to emerge fully from the assumption that all good people are religious, and all religious people are good, and Freemasonry is lagging far behind. In my opinion, the religion could be removed from Freemasonry to no loss, but I’m probably in the minority.
You may call me a hyprocrite, and you may very well be right. So be it. I’ve made a significant positive contribution to a number of lodges over a number of years, and they to me. I have every hope this will continue.
Of course, if I had successfully formed an Non-Religious Masonic lodge bent on proving that moral behavior is a human right, a human creation, and a universally human struggle, I couldn’t tell you about it.
My grandfather only said one thing about the Masons to me… Ever. It seemed totally random to me at the time because I didn’t know he was one. He said that if anyone ever tells you the Masons asked him to join, they were lying. You have to go to them.
Posted by Xeno on May 16, 2013
Japan has a conviction rate of more than 99%. But in recent months there has been a public outcry over a number of wrongful arrests where innocent people confessed to crimes.
It started with a threat posted on the city of Yokohama’s website in late June: “I’ll attack a primary school and kill all the children before the summer.”
In the months that followed, there were a number of similar threats posted on the internet – some threatening famous people, including the Emperor’s grandchildren.
After a police investigation, four people were arrested. Two, including a 19-year-old student, confessed while in custody.
But on 9 October, the real perpetrator sent an email to a lawyer – Yoji Ochiai – and local media, explaining how he or she made those threats by taking control of innocent internet users’ computers with a virus.
His or her purpose, as stated in the email to Ochiai, was “to expose the police and prosecutors’ abomination”.
And in a way, it did. It raised the question – why did the innocent people confess to a crime that they didn’t commit? What kind of pressure were they put under?
“I was surprised to have received the email but I wasn’t surprised that the innocent people confessed,” says Ochiai.
There have been a number of wrongful convictions in the past, he says.
“But unlike other cases, the fact that these cyber threat incidents happened to ordinary people who were just using the internet raised the fear that it could have happened to anyone,” he adds.
When Ochiai posted the email on his Twitter account and blog, he received hundreds of responses from the public – most of which were more critical towards the police than the real perpetrator.
Shoji Sakurai spent 29 years in jail for a robbery-murder that he didn’t commit. It took him another 15 years to win a not-guilty verdict at his retrial last year.
“I was a bit naughty when I was young and the Japanese police go after people with criminal records, so my friend Sugiyama and I became prime suspects for the murder.”
When arrested, aged just 20, he was treated like a guilty criminal, he says.
“They interrogated me day and night, telling me to confess. After five days, I had no mental strength left so I gave up and confessed.”
“It may be difficult for people to understand, but being denounced repeatedly – it is harder than you think,” he adds.
Sakurai says his interrogators weren’t aggressive but there have been cases in which the police or prosecutors are alleged to have treated their suspects badly.
Hiroshi Ichikawa was a prosecutor for nearly 13 years – until he lost his job for threatening to kill a suspect during an interrogation.
“I am not trying to make an excuse for my behaviour by saying that others did the same, but I don’t think I was some kind of a monster in making a death threat to a suspect,” he says.
“I have overheard other prosecutors yelling at suspects and one of my bosses boasted how he kicked the shin of a suspect underneath the desk.”
Another thing he regrets – aside from making the death threat – is writing up a confession statement which did not correspond with the truth.
“After I grilled the suspect for eight hours, I got him to sign this statement even though he didn’t say a single word of it,” he says.
“My boss was pressuring me to get his confession so I thought I couldn’t go home without it.”
For Ichikawa, it didn’t matter if it was true or false as long as he had the confession. …
Don’t be certain that someone is guilty. What you think you know or see may be false. Even a confession may be completely false. If you arrest 100 random innocent people and have cops interrogate them, cops who are told by other cops that they are guilty, how may of the 100 would end up confessing to something they didn’t do? Answer: 100%. All of them will sign a confession or will say they did it eventually as the interrogation becomes more intense. Honesty is not more important than breathing, eating, sleeping, avoiding pain, the distress of being hated by an authority figure, etc.
Most people, particularly members of the jury acting as the fact-finder, have difficulty comprehending that an innocent person may confess to a crime he did not commit. However, false confessions are not uncommon. Some common elements that can lead to a false confession are:
- Diminished Capacity
- Mental Impairment
- Ignorance of the Law
- Fear of violence
- Threat of Harm
- Misunderstanding of the Situation
Understanding what can lead to a false confession is the key to recognizing one in the future …
Coerced Confession Forced Confession False Confession Pressure Physical Threats Youth Deception Emotional Threats Mental Health Issues Persuasion Isolation Linguistic Clues Mental Health Issues Deprivation of Food Inaccurate Answers False Promises Physical Contact Non-Responsive False Facts Several Interrogators Contradictions Youth Length of Detention Exaggeration Low Self-Esteem Fear Desire to Pleas
…Edgar Garrett presents another example of a false confession resulting from extreme interrogation and persuasion by the police. Garrett’s 14 year old daughter, Michelle, was murdered. After a 14-hour interrogation, Garrett confessed. The police told him that witnesses placed him with his daughter shortly before her disappearance. One of the officers suggested to Garrett that he could have blacked out and reminded Garrett that he had once struck Michelle while drinking. Garrett, who had initially insisted that he hadn’t seen Michelle before she disappeared, began to change his story and signed a confession. However, his confession contradicted all the major facts of the case and the police lacked any additional evidence. Garrett was acquitted by the jury. A partial excerpt from the transcript of his police interrogation is provided below:
Garrett: I just don’t remember if I went out, if I did talk to Michelle…. I can’t remember fighting with Michelle on Sunday.
Detective: You did. Not only did you fight but you thumped her. You didn’t mean to hurt her.
G: What did I thump her with?
D: I don’t know.
G: I don’t know either.
D: But you thumped her.
G: Well, I killed my own daughter?
When Garrett kept insisting that he didn’t remember attacking her, the interrogator again raised the possibility of an alcohol-induced blackout.
D: Okay, then what happened next?
G: I must have left her there.
G: And must have went home.
D: All right. What did you do with the stick?
G: It’s in the house. I must have took it back to the house.
This excerpt from Garrett’s interrogation illustrates how interrogators can railroad a suspect into believing they committed the crime.
Most people still do not realize that we invaded Iraq based on a false confession elicited by torture.
what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.
So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee “was compliant” (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.
There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just “committed suicide” in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi….)
On April 21, McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay first suggested the Bush Administration used torture to intentionally extract false confessions linking Al Qaeda (and 9/11) to Iraq, to give Bush a false “casus belli” to invade Iraq.
Landay’s suggestion was shocking. I called it the “Iraq-Torture Scandal” because of its similarity to the Iran-Contra Scandal, where two seemingly unconnected scandals (Reagan’s illegal sale of weapons to Iran and his illegal funding of the Nicaraguan contras) were suddenly linked. Paul Krugman called it the “Grand unified scandal”:
Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.
There’s a word for this: it’s evil.
A number of prominent progressives came to the same conclusion, including Keith Olbermann (who calls it “backfilling”), Rachel Maddow, Ron Suskind, Frank Rich, and Dan Froomkin. But serious coverage of this humongous scandal did not go beyond progressives.
Posted by Xeno on May 16, 2013
Posted by Xeno on May 15, 2013
“Consider the human brain,” says the physicist Sir Roger Penrose. “If you look at the entire physical cosmos, our brains are a tiny, tiny part of it. But they’re the most perfectly organized part. Compared to the complexity of a brain, a galaxy is just an inert lump.”
In a new study, scientists argue that many of our high-level abilities are carried out by more extensive brain networks linking many different areas of the brain. They suggest it may be the structure of these extended networks more than the size of any isolated brain region that is critical for cognitive functioning. The frontal lobes in humans vs. other species are not – as previously thought – disproportionately enlarged relative to other areas of the brain, according to a study by Durham and Reading universities.It concludes that the size of our frontal lobes – an area in the brain of mammals located at the front of each cerebral hemisphere – cannot solely account for humans’ superior cognitive abilities.
The study also suggest that supposedly more “primitive” areas, such as the cerebellum, were equally important in the expansion of the human brain. These areas may therefore play unexpectedly important roles in human cognition and its disorders, such as autism and dyslexia, say the researchers.
The Durham and Reading researchers, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, analyzed data sets from previous animal and human studies using phylogenetic (“evolutionary family tree”) methods, and found consistent results across all their data. They used a new method to look at the speed with which evolutionary change occurred, concluding that the frontal lobes did not evolve especially fast along the human lineage after it split from the chimpanzee lineage.
Human brains share a consistent genetic blueprint, and possess enormous biochemical complexity, they said, based on the first deep and large-scale analysis of the vast data set publicly available in the Allen Human Brain Atlas. Among other findings, these data show that 84% of all genes are expressed somewhere in the human brain and in patterns that are substantially similar from one brain to the next. …
If it occurred to you that our galaxy contains all of the known brains in the Universe, and that it is logically impossible for any part to be come complicated than the whole, then you pass the test and most likely have a brain.
Posted by Xeno on May 12, 2013
Happy Mother’s Day!
Everything that we are or hope to be, we owe to those who raised us.
As part my Mother’s Day gift this year, I will spend several hours today talking with my mother to figure out why I have not met my highest potential. Why have I not used my time to the greatest benefit of society? Is there still time to change my selfishness? How did I get so selfish?
Perhaps in the effort to build a strong ego my parents did not include appropriate negative feedback, limit setting and discipline.
How can I rewire my brain’s reward centers to align my habits with my highest ideals… permanently?
Did you cure a deep rooted selfishness? If so, how? I may need a long silent nature retreat.
… Although many elements of our society may encourage it, selfishness just hurts other people, sometimes at little to no personal gain. A selfish person also ends up losing friends or loved ones because no matter how charming or interesting a selfish person may be, a relationship with a selfish person is hard to maintain. A truly selfish person would never consider the possibility that they are selfish. Many think selfishness and pride are good things, and that putting the needs of others above your own is for suckers. …
Try to develop empathy… Allow yourself to imagine how they feel, what hurts them or makes them happy. …
Look for ways to help; anticipate the needs and feelings of others. Join others who are kind and reciprocate kindness. …
Selfishness is a root cause, it seems to me, of many correctable maladaptive and even antisocial behaviors. You may never be able to make up for past selfishness, but you must do what you can to right your wrongs. What counts is the sum of all of your actions. Add them up now.
If you owe, pay up. Apologize with a year of good behavior. Start today. Take a vow.
Science says we actually may not have free will. If you are unable to end selfish behaviors on your own, join my new self help group: Inner Change for Selfish Bastards.
The ICfSB is a non-religious organization dedicated to finding and adjusting memories and thoughts that lead to self-centered behaviors.
Members are Anonymous to the limits of current technology. You start by signing up for a Tormail.org email address.
Further directions will follow. Do it. http://icfsb.org/
Posted by Xeno on May 5, 2013
… When you listen to music, much more is happening in your body than simple auditory processing. Music triggers activity in the nucleus accumbens, a part of your brain that releases the feel-good chemical dopamine and is involved in forming expectations.
At the same time, the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotion, and the prefrontal cortex, which makes possible abstract decision-making, are also activated, according to new research published in the journal Science.1
Based on the brain activity in certain regions, especially the nucleus accumbens, captured by an fMRI imager while participants listened to music, the researchers could predict how much money the listeners were willing to spend on previously unheard music. As you might suspect, songs that triggered activity in the emotional and intellectual areas of the brain demanded a higher price.
Interestingly, the study’s lead author noted that your brain learns how to predict how different pieces of music will unfold using pattern recognition and prediction, skills that may have been key to our evolutionary progress. Timereported:2
“These predictions are culture-dependent and based on experience: someone raised on rock or Western classical music won’t be able to predict the course of an Indian raga, for example, and vice versa.
But if a piece develops in a way that’s both slightly novel and still in line with our brain’s prediction, we tend to like it a lot. And that, says [lead researcher] Salimpoor, ‘is because we’ve made a kind of intellectual conquest.’
Music may, in other words, tap into a brain mechanism that was key to our evolutionary progress. The ability to recognize patterns and generalize from experience, to predict what’s likely to happen in the future — in short, the ability to imagine — is something humans do far better than any other animals. It’s what allowed us (aided by the far less glamorous opposable thumb) to take over the world.”
Why Music Makes Us Feel United
… music also has an, almost uncanny, ability to connect us to one another.
Separate research published this month showed one reason for why this might be. When listening to four pieces of classical music they had never heard before, study participants’ brains reacted in much the same way. Areas of the brain involved in movement planning, memory and attention all had similar activation patterns when the participants listened to the same music, which suggests we may each experience music in similar ways.
The study’s lead author noted:3
“We spend a lot of time listening to music — often in groups, and often in conjunction with synchronized movement and dance … Here, we’ve shown for the first time that despite our individual differences in musical experiences and preferences, classical music elicits a highly consistent pattern of activity across individuals in several brain structures including those involved in movement planning, memory and attention.”
Co-author Daniel Levitin, PhD, expanded:4
“It’s not our natural tendency to thrust ourselves into a crowd of 20,000 people, but for a Muse concert or a Radiohead concert we’ll do it … There’s this unifying force that comes from the music, and we don’t get that from other things.”
Music Relieves Anxiety Better Than Drugs and Benefits Premature Babies
If you want a more concrete example of music’s powers, a meta-analysis by Levitin and colleagues found some striking benefits of music after reviewing 400 studies.5 Among the data was one study that revealed listening to music resulted in less anxiety and lower cortisol levels among patients about to undergo surgery than taking anti-anxiety drugs. Other evidence showed music has an impact on antibodies linked to immunity and may lead to higher levels of bacteria-fighting immune cells.
Still more research revealed that playing music in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) improved the health of premature babies with respiratory distress or sepsis.6 When parents sang to their babies, or sounds mimicking those in the womb were played, numerous benefits occurred, including changes in heart rates, sucking behavior and parents’ stress levels. The researchers noted:
“Entrained with a premature infant’s observed vital signs, sound and lullaby may improve feeding behaviors and sucking patterns and may increase prolonged periods of quiet–alert states. Parent-preferred lullabies, sung live, can enhance bonding, thus decreasing the stress parents associate with premature infant care.”
Taken together, the latest research makes a strong case for using music as a therapeutic tool for babies and adults alike.
Why Music Should be a Part of Your Workouts, Too
Many people instinctively don a headset linked to their favorite music when hitting the gym, which makes sense since certain types of music can motivate you to run faster, or keep going even though you’re fatigued, giving you a better workout. Additionally, research has shown that listening to music while exercising boosted cognitive levels and verbal fluency skills in people diagnosed with coronary artery disease (coronary artery disease has been linked to a decline in cognitive abilities). Signs of improvement in verbal fluency areas more than doubled after listening to music compared to that of the non-music session.7
Listening to music while exercising can also improve your performance, increasing your endurance by 15 percent,8 and your movement will likely follow the tempo of the song. For instance, in one study when the music’s tempo slowed, the subjects’ exertion level reduced as well.9 And when the tempo was increased, their performance followed suit.
Your body may be simply responding to the beat on a more or less subconscious level, but the type and tempo of the music you choose while working out may also influence your conscious motivation.
One thing that can help you as a songwriter is to try to workout to your music. You may find that you need a stronger beat, different tempo, etc.
Posted by Xeno on May 5, 2013
Henry Gustav Molaison, previously known as H.M., was an American memory disorder patient whose hippocampi, parahippocampal gyrus, and amygdalae were surgically removed in an attempt to cure his epilepsy. He was widely studied from late 1957 until his death. His case played a very important role in the development of theories that explain the link between brain function and memory, and in the development of cognitive neuropsychology, a branch of psychology that aims to understand how the structure and function of the brain relates to specific psychological processes. Before his death, he resided in a care institute located in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, where he was the subject of ongoing investigation.
When an operation left Henry Molaison unable to form new memories, he became the most important patient in the history of brain science. Neurologist Suzanne Corkin reveals what it was like to work with “HM” for 46 years
In 1953, a young man named Henry Gustav Molaison, of Hartford, Connecticut, lost his memory and helped to invent neuroscience. Henry Molaison’s amnesia was the result of a highly risky “psychosurgical” procedure, an operation designed to cure the debilitating epilepsy he had suffered since childhood. In an attempt to remove the part of the brain that was causing Henry’s fits, two holes were drilled in the front of his skull and a portion of his brain, the front half of the hippocampus on both sides, and most of the almond-shaped amygdala, was sucked out. The procedure, hopeful at best, went badly wrong and Henry, then aged 27, was left with no ability to store or retrieve new experiences. He lived the subsequent 55 years of his life, until his death in 2008, in the permanent present moment.
Henry Molaison’s tragedy was, however, perhaps also the single most significant advance in understanding the function of memory made in the past century. Until his operation, it had been believed that memory was a property of the whole brain. The accident of his surgery proved a large part of its capacity to be localised in this one area. The “cleanness” of Henry’s amnesia made his brain the perfect subject for study of cognitive function in many other ways, too. After his operation, living first with his parents and later with carers, he became known to science as “HM” to protect his identity. It was through these initials that a young postgraduate researcher called Suzanne Corkin, now professor of behavioural neuroscience and head of the Corkin Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, got to know him. …
Their relationship seemed a little bit like fate. When Corkin came across Henry’s case in medical journals from the late 1950s, she discovered that their lives had already overlapped in curious ways. She had grown up a couple of miles from him, in Connecticut, and as a child had lived over the road from the surgeon who had operated on Henry’s brain; the surgeon’s daughter had been her childhood friend. In 1962, as part of her research, Corkin interviewed Henry. Over the next 46 years they spent many days in each other’s company, though for Henry, of course, it was always the first time. Corkin has now written a compelling memoir of that bond between scientist and subject, Permanent Present Tense, a relationship which Henry once described neatly: “It’s a funny thing – you just live and learn. I’m living and you’re learning.”
Corkin’s book is both a case study and a biography, partly written with the mission to show that HM was much more than a filing cabinet of test scores and brain images; he was Henry, “an engaging, docile man, with a keen sense of humour, who knew he had a poor memory and accepted his fate … and hoped that research into his condition would help others live better lives.” The striking thing about Henry’s memory loss was how specific it was. He forgot all of his experiences after the operation within 30 seconds, but he retained a good deal of the texture of life he knew up until the age of 27. His personality remained intact, he still had above average IQ and language skills, though for more than 50 years he was able to acquire only the tiniest fragments of self-knowledge. …
Speaking to Corkin by phone at her lab in Boston, I ask if she has missed Henry since his death. She laughs a little. “I feel that in a way he is not gone,” she says. “Partly because I have been writing this book but also because when he died he donated his brain to MIT. So we continue to study him. He has gone but is still very present for us every day.”
There is an estranging moment at the end of Corkin’s book, where in the hours after his death Henry’s brain is removed from his skull and Corkin gets to look at the physical object she has been probing with her questions for most of her adult life. She describes that moment with a mixture of high scientific excitement and human loss. When she looked at the “tofu-like” mass of that organ, did the neuroscientist have a sense of it being the man she had known?
“Well,” she says, “he will always be a real person for me. I tried to understand his brain when he was alive and now he is dead it is just another way of getting to know him better.” After being preserved in formaldehyde, Henry’s brain was sent to a lab in San Diego, where it has been sliced into 4,201 fine sections, on slides, as a permanent neurological research resource, soon to be available online. “Some people say Henry has been translated into 4,201 objects,” Corkin says, “but I don’t see him like that.”
One of the fascinating, unsettling impulses in reading Henry’s life is that sense of identity being a bundle of all of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Henry loved to relate the few clear memories of his childhood, over and over, though he lacked a context for them and the face he surprised himself with in the mirror each morning did not quite connect with them. Corkin heard those stories many times over the years; every time she left the room for a minute and returned to Henry he introduced himself as if they had never met before, and told the stories again. Some were the family lore of how his father had moved north from Louisiana; others involved going roller skating as a child in the park, taking banjo lessons, driving with his parents along the Mohawk Trail.
“The interesting and important thing scientifically about these stories was that he would give you the gist of them, but they were never linked to a specific time and place,” Corkin says. “You and I can say what we did on our last birthday. But Henry could never remember what else happened. There were no connections, no associations for him in that way.”
In talking to Henry and testing his recall over all those years, Corkin discovered only two exceptions to that rule. One was a plane ride that Henry took as a teenager, as a present for graduation from junior high school. The other was an occasion he stole a cigarette from his father and smoking it made him sick, and he got into trouble with his parents. Both of these stories Henry could describe in quite obsessive emotional detail distinct from anything else he talked about. Again, this offered insights into the way memory functioned. In the case of the plane ride there was the anticipation of it, the buying of the tickets, all of the detail of the flight itself, sights and sounds, and then the telling of it to others once it was over.
“It was clear that he had encoded all that information and stored it across many parts of his brain,” Corkin says. “All memories are not stored in one specific spot. Strong memory is a creative process that takes in sights and sounds and textures and emotions, so a really important memory will link with all of these areas of the brain. And when we recall it there is a creative process of putting it all together. Similarly with the smoking incident, that appears to have been very emotional also. So: a very negative experience and a very positive one.”
It was out of these things, on a daily basis, that Henry seemed to work out who he was. The metaphor of well-trodden neural pathways and formative experiences which have been laid down seems particularly physically expressive here.
Henry was not capable of learning new information, though his knowledge of past events, the Wall Street Crash, Pearl Harbor and so on, was clear. Only a very few tiny details of TV programmes he watched repetitively ever stuck. He could, however, learn and retain new motor skills, which led to important understanding of the difference between conscious memory and unconscious. The latter category would include learning how to play tennis or ride a bicycle, or even play the piano – things that the brain encodes and transmits to the muscles through conditioning, memories which we come to think of as intuitive.
In all of this revelation, Henry opened up as many questions of the mystery of memory as he answered. MRI scans have helped unpick some of this, but shouldn’t be relied on too heavily, Corkin says. She places more faith in the new science of optogenetics, which has begun to understand memory processes at the level of “a specific circuit and the neurotransmitters and brain chemicals that modulate long-term memory. The future of memory research will focus on being able to activate or deactivate these circuits in the hippocampus,” Corkin says, “and see how they promote or impair memory function.”
Partly through the physical example of Henry, she has no truck with any more esoteric ideas of mind. “The mind is the brain in my view. Your mind is not in your big toe. The brain is a very physical structure, it is like your arm, but it has grey matter and white matter and a huge number of cells we are just beginning to understand called glia. All your mind is contained in there.”
As we talk, I wonder if Henry was able to feel things like guilt or regret, emotions with a temporal component. She suggests not, though “he knew that he’d had a brain operation. He knew not many people had had the operation before him. He never used the word “experiment”, but I think he had the sense of himself as that word. Of the original operation, he once said: “I think they possibly did not make the right movement at the right time.”"
She did not remind Henry of this too often, however, in the same way that it was too painful, after his parents passed away, to have to let him know, as if for the first time, that they were dead. The amnesia was both a prison and a liberation in this sense. His operation had given Henry by default the kind of concentration on the present to which Buddhist meditation might aspire. “He was never sad or depressed,” Corkin says, “though I don’t think any of us would want to change places with Henry. He had a tragic life and he made the best of it. He showed the world you could be saddled with a tremendous handicap and still make an enormous contribution to life. I found his resilience inspirational.”…
Posted by Xeno on May 1, 2013
Psychopaths are unable to show empathy toward others because their brains aren’t wired to do so, according to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry.
Researchers from the University of Chicago used brain imaging technology to find that psychopaths have less activation in certain parts of the brain and high activation in other parts of the brain, compared with people who are not psychopaths, in response to scenarios of people being purposely hurt.
Scientific American provides a good definition of a psychopath:
Superficially charming, psychopaths tend to make a good first impression on others and often strike observers as remarkably normal. Yet they are self-centered, dishonest and undependable, and at times they engage in irresponsible behavior for no apparent reason other than the sheer fun of it. Largely devoid of guilt, empathy and love, they have casual and callous interpersonal and romantic relationships.
In the new study, researchers conducted functional MRI brain imaging on 80 prisoners ages 18 to 50, all of whom had tests done to measure their levels of psychopathy. Then, they posed some scenarios of someone being hurt purposely, as well as had them watch videos of pained facial expressions.
Researchers found that those who scored higher on the psychopathy test experienced less activation in the amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, and periaqueductal gray brain regions, compared with those who scored lower on the test. Those who scored higher on the psychopathy test had more activation of the striatum and insula brain regions — the insula brain region is known to play a role in emotion, researchers noted.
“This is the first time that neural processes associated with empathic processing have been directly examined in individuals with psychopathy, especially in response to the perception of other people in pain or distress,” study researcher Jean Decety, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Chicago, said in a statement.
In the past, British researchers found that psychopaths actually have differences in their brain structure, compared with people who aren’t psychopaths. …
In other words, the DJ may indeed be found inside the radio in the case of the criminal brain. Or they may find a way to play back the suspect’s experiences of the past year and find he absolutely didn’t do it.
Posted by Xeno on April 25, 2013
The man is named Dmitry Itskov, and no, this isn’t an April Fools’ joke. Itskov is totally serious about wanting to make humans immortal by merging them with machines, and he’s been pushing the project forward since 2011 when he founded the 2045 Initiative, ostensibly the deadline for “substance-independent” minds to receive artificial bodies — what some scientists refer to as the Singularity.
As Digital Trends describes, the ultimate goal is to be able to transfer a person’s mind or consciousness from a living brain into a machine with that person’s personality and memories intact. Freed of physical form, the person would exist in a network similar to the internet and be able to travel at the speed of light all over the planet, or even into space.
To call Itskov’s plan ambitious is an understatement, but he’s mapped out several key steps to get there. The first goal, called Avatar A, involves a person controlling a robotic human replica via a brain-machine interface (BMI), a technology that already exists today. That deadline is set for 2020.
Next up is Avatar B, due 2025, which would involve transplanting a human brain into an artificial body “at the end of one’s life”. That sounds eerily similar to what one of Doctor Who’s most notorious monsters, the Cybermen, do to their victims — granting them immortality, but at the cost of losing all emotion and individuality.
Don’t worry too much about that, though, since Itskov will take care of it by the time Avatar C rolls around in 2035, which would also involve a human-machine brain transplant, only this time with all personality intact. To achieve this step, it will be necessary to create a computer model of human consciousness.
Finally, by 2045, Itskov hopes the Initiative will have learned enough about the human mind to free it completely from physical form. From the internet-like hive mind, individual personalities could manifest themselves as holograms when they need to interact with their environment.
… Dmitry Itskov, founder of the 2045 Initiative and Global Future 2045 congress (GF2045) has announced that he will unveil the Dmitry Avatar-A head — the world’s most human-like android head — at the GF2045 congress, scheduled for June 15-16 at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City.
The Dmitry Avatar-A head is an exact robotic replica of the head of Mr. Dmitry Itskov himself and was created by award-winning roboticist Dr. David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics. Hanson is best known for his robotic androids of Albert Einstein and Philip K. Dick, and the latter will also be exhibited at the GF2045 congress.
Dmitry Itskov himself commented: “The world’s best two creators of state-of-the-art robotic faces — Dr. Ishiguro of Japan and Dr. Hanson — are speakers at our GF2045 congress. In this project Dr. Hanson pushed the state-of-the-art even further. This achievement shows that science is literally just a few steps away from being able to make an artificial human head and body shape that is extremely realistic and nearly indistinguishable from the original.“
“The Dmitry Avatar-A head represents the most expressive facial robot in history and far exceeds the life-like characteristics of previous robot portraits of humans in both technology and artistry,” stated David Hanson. “The Dmitry Avatar-A head can establish eye contact, recognize faces, and carries out natural spoken conversation. In the case of Dmitry Itskov, the robot will be controlled by Dmitry, enabling the Avatar-A head to speak both Russian and English.”
Facial expressions were created with 36 degrees of freedom (servomotors) with high-resolution sensors in the eyes. The Dmitry Avatar-A head also benefits from a new hyper-expressive formulation of Hanson’s proprietary nanotech material called “Frubber,” a spongy, structured elastic polymer that expertly mimics the movement of real human musculature and skin using 1/20th the power of other materials, as well as new mechanisms for improved facial expressions, explained Hanson. The Dmitry Avatar-A head is built for real use and is designed as a whole system for practical deployment as a telepresence representative. According to Hanson, the Dmitry Avatar-A head represents “a leap into a bold new future. The age of avatars has arrived!” …
If we can stay alive long enough, we might be able to do the consciousness transfer at the end. I wouldn’t want to be first, but once they have the bugs worked out, sure… unless they can just reverse the aging process, then I’d stay fully human.