Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Neuroscience: Pop neuroscience not living up to hype?

In "Who do voodoo? They do - Social neuroscientists, that is," (January 20, 2009), I talked about the new paper, "Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience," in press at Perspectives on Psychological Science (lead author Edward Vul) which makes paper dolls out of social neuroscience.

Discover Magazine seems to have picked up the story, calling it a "pugnacious" paper - which it is, sort of. But the thing is, if social neuroscience is as silly as it sounds, it's better to admit that it is all a sort of joke now, rather than have others point it out later, when something decidedly unfunny has happened. From Discover:
At the very least, though, Pashler’s paper [pdf] illuminates pitfalls in the interpretation of fMRI scans. In an interconnected network of billions of neurons, it is unlikely that any single brain region is responsible for an experience—even if media coverage touting the “love center of the brain” suggests otherwise. Cunningham maintains that fMRI is gradually helping scientists make sense of the human mind, but he admits that “there’s a tendency for the data to be oversold, so it ultimately doesn’t live up to the hype.

It's nice to see Discover acknowledging that pop science writing has done much to spread simplistic ideas about the mind and the brain.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose


Consciousness: Where does consciousness come from?, new paper asks

In this preprint from PLOS, we are informed that "Consciousness arises as an emergent property of the human mind." Not "Consciousness arises as an emergent property of the human brain." The authors have an interesting theory you can read there:

The present work suggests that, rather than hoping for a putative unique marker - the neural correlate of consciousness - a more mature view of conscious processing should consider that it relates to a brain-scale distributed pattern of coherent brain activation," explained neuroscientist Lionel Naccache, one of the authors of the paper.
In other words, there isn't a neurological equivalent of a light switch that wwe turn on when we wake up in the morning.

It's intersting, though, how often that illusion creeps into our language, as in "He saw the light at last about Dora"or "He was out like a light."

See also: Consciousness: Best understood as like dancing, not digesting?; Consciousness: Pioneer neurosurgeon on a key question regarding our minds - double consciousness; Andrew Newberg on the problem of measuring consciousness; Consciousness: Half an oaf is better than none?; Consciousness: So familiar and yet so puzzling; Consciousness: Belated "sublimely ridiculous" award for 2006; Philosophy of Mind: In case you wondered whether you are conscious and reading this; Consciousness: Recent public squabble between philosophers of mind rates better than most sitcoms
(Note: The illustration above, from Scholarpedia, attempts to offer an account of consciousness, via researchers Mormann and Koch.)