Brain Science Podcast discussion

Consciousness and the Social Brain
2014 > BSP 108: Consciousness as Social Perception

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Virginia MD (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
Tomorrow I will be posting an interview with Michael Graziano about his latest book Consciousness and the Social Brain. I am starting this thread early so that you can post comments about the episode.

I will post the links tomorrow.

Virginia MD (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
Here are the episode links:

show note for BSP 108

Listen to BSP 108 or right click to download mp3

message 3: by Justin (last edited Apr 19, 2014 12:24PM) (new)

Justin Case | 1 comments I enjoyed the episode and Mike's theory of awareness. It struck me that the 'time standing still' phenomenon in an emergency fits well into his theory. Instead of partial attention to our surroundings, the brain goes "Emergency! Process every input I have right now!" Just like you can have a burst of endurance or strength in an emergency, you can have a burst of awareness. (Though I would hate to be a glial cell that has to clean up the ions after that!)

edit: relevant recent story

"This is the first study to reveal our brains rely on an active suppression mechanism to avoid being distracted by salient irrelevant information when we want to focus on a particular item or task."


message 4: by Dalton (new)

Dalton Seymour | 20 comments I don't know if anyone else sensed it, but there was a lot of stress in Michael Graziano voice and that effected my perception of what he had to say about consciousness and his apparent confidence in what he had to say. Be that as it may, he has my sympathy for I realize how difficult it is to describe consciousness.

As I see it, the term consciousness suffers an ambiguity. I don't know about you, but in my mind, the term consciousness seems to imply a singular concept, when in reality, you might refer to it as a Metword or a word that embodies a multiplicity of concepts - similar to other words like God, country, family, universe, world, law, etc. The realization that it is a word with so many different dimensions provides an insight suggesting that consciousness is not a thing in and of itself, but the product of many different mechanisms without which any missing component, consciousness fails. In brief, as I see it, it is the product of awareness, modal reflexes, attention, focus, proprioception, priming, LTM, comparison, reasoning, autonomic responses, and subjective sensations, plus serial feedback from motor related responses. If any of these are missing, the subject being observed doesn't appear to be conscious.

Next, realizing that the allocated resources for consciousness are miniscule and that we can be both consciously aware of things and at the same time, unconsciously aware of things, suggests that consciousness is a subdivision of awareness that is in the feedback loop from the bottom up and top down comparison (consciousness gets the results a 100 ms or so after awareness). So, one needs to know what constitutes awareness and I would suggest that awareness exists within the input sensory buffers (like V1 for vision). The input buffer/mapping stage both provides and retains the sensory data for background processing and seems to support the notion of how we can be unconsciously aware of things. It also provides a stage early enough for both attention and focus to isolate and attend to distracters, dynamically adjust to features within the field, and to optimize performance. At this stage, it also provides for imagination, or the self initiation and priming of long term memories that can be played back and reintegrated to finally become conscious again.

The one thing missing from all this is an answer to the question, "what is the purpose of consciousness." I really believe that this is the question that should be asked - it makes more sense. Many would call consciousness a convergence zone, but it doesn't appear to be one if attention and focus have their way.

message 5: by Madelyn (new)

Madelyn Griffith-haynie | 7 comments Your first paragraph fascinates me most, Dalton - a wonderful example of how each of us perceives uniquely - "our brains' cartoons of [the focus of our] attention."

Unless you are speaking of the faint glottal fry in his voice that certainly was also there, I believe I heard the tone of which you speak, primarily at the beginning quarter to third of the podcast -- but I "interpreted" it completely differently.

I heard him as "careful in his speaking, not to over-reach or misrepresent."

Graziano struck me as quite confident, as a result, and my reaction was increased trust in his knowledge-base and his representation of what he has learned. I was primed to follow him when he picked up speed (and added a note of humor to his speaking voice and his examples).

RE: your great question in your last paragraph,"what is the purpose of consciousness?" -- how would you put together a procedure designed to answer it? How could it be tested and replicated?

I certainly have no idea, but it seems to me that those are foundational questions.

Sending you "white light" ::grin::
(Madelyn Griffith-Haynie - ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
- ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder -
"It takes a village to educate a world!"

Virginia MD (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
My feeling as I edited our conversation I was struck by the contrast between Dr. Graziano's writing and his speaking voice. His writing is both clear and eloquent so I suspect he is one of those writer's who feels most comfortable the written word. I encourage ever one to read one of his books.

message 7: by Dalton (new)

Dalton Seymour | 20 comments Madelyn wrote: "RE: your great question in your last paragraph,"what is the purpose of consciousness?" -- how would you put together a procedure designed to answer it? How could it be tested and replicated?"

Well Madelyn, you got me there! When it comes to how one would actually test for it would have to be indirect and then it would be open to a wide variety of interpretations - chicken and egg kind of thing. I suppose the only approach would be emulation and experimentation - if we ever get to that stage in computer science. For the time being, imagination along what might be plausible is probably the best that can be done. For some time I have had the notion that it might have something to do with the assignment of emotional type and intensity retroactively to novel experiences.

Magda Kadlubowska | 1 comments I enjoyed the episode enough to listen to the whole book.
I like the general idea of bringing vague, general, philosophical concepts into the realm of more functional and defined. However, there was still too much philosophical debate for my taste here.
Some criticism:
1) - the author insists on his theory being falsifiable, but I'd like to know what exactly could falsify it. It may be possible to prove Dr. Graziano wrong in terms of specific brain areas he points to, but then the general theory could still be maintained with other brain areas instead of STS or TPJ.
2) - i wish there was a more detailed, research based discussion of the impact of awareness on brain function ("second arrow")
3) - the book lacks an exhaustive discussion of the 2 kinds of consciousness (self and other)
4) - most importantly, there are factor of which we're not directly aware, but it would be socially/biologically if we were - take fertility for example. if awareness is a "booster" of sorts, then why?

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