Just a few years of early musical training benefits the brain later in life

Kurzweil AI
November 7, 2013

Older adults who took music lessons as children but haven’t actively played an instrument in decades have a faster brain response to a speech sound than individuals who never played an instrument, according to a new study by Northwestern University researchers.

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Nice. So those piano lessons didn’t go to waste, after all.

frrrst

It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others—and even the way we perceive reality—makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors. Among Westerners, the data showed that Americans were often the most unusual, leading the researchers to conclude that “American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners—outliers among outliers.”

Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.

Not surprised. Do read the rest.

wildcat2030
It was just amazing to me that you could have a little more or less of some chemical and your whole worldview would be different,” he recalls, smiling with boyish wonder. “If you can switch a chemical and your personality changes, who are you?

The $1.3B Quest to Build a Supercomputer Replica of a Human Brain | Wired Science | Wired.com (via wildcat2030)

Yes! But not only part of your personality. Chemicals are intertwined within systems, so there’s no such thing as a gene-for-this-or-that-alone. Change your mind, change your body.

Braintrust contains a lot of interesting information about this.

Biologists, Neuroscientists,

Hypothetically, what would you say to someone asking the “chicken or egg” question about neural chemistry: Does neurologocal/chemical/genetic information precede personality/responses/disposition or is it simply an expression of metaphysical “events”?

For example, those who believe in soul or karma and reincarnation, usually are more partial to the latter answer. For them, “chemistry” cannot possibly add up to the complex phenomenon they witness, therefore they accept the metaphysical answers more readily.

For a scientist, there may be other reasons to question “what came first,” but a metaphysical preference isn’t one of them. I wonder how valid the question is right now, for the scientific community.

It seems to me that we don’t yet know exactly how things add up to what we witness, and yet Evolutionary theory gives tells us that things were not even as organized as this, before. So the idea that there are some metaphysical absolutes that govern behavior seems a little silly, seeing how much behavior has changed over centuries and how much it differs between species (so long as we don’t take the anthropocentric stance, and do value the “morality”/experience/behavioral patterns of other species instead of casting that information aside and believing the “humans are special and endowed” paradigm.)

But back to it — how would you answer?

qsalms
News inhibits thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory. There are two types of memory. Long-range memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is a choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through. Because news disrupts concentration, it weakens comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system.

They look like Pollocks…

But actually, these are two simulations of a whole cortical column, and 1000 pyramidal cells (a type of neuron) during a network simulation (blue cells are silent, red cells are firing), respectively, left—›right.

via EPFL, at Henry Markram’s Human Brain Project.

Kurtzweil AI:

a number of scientists have expressed serious reservations about Markram’s project.

Some say we don’t know enough about the brain to simulate it on a supercomputer. And even if we did, these critics ask, what would be the value of building such a complicated “virtual brain”? Some researchers say it is premature to invest money in a simulation while important principles of brain function remain to be discovered.

Haim Sompolinsky, a neuroscientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said: “The rhetoric is that in a decade they will be able to reverse-engineer the human brain in computers. This is fantasy. Nothing will come close to it in a decade.”

But those who say “it’s fantasy” and “never” have consistently been proven wrong. Although I agree with Sompolinsky, I do hope he will be, as well.

Meanwhile, despite all this, Itskov and the 2045 project

Dmitry Itskov thinks we can have inhabitable avatars for our minds by 2045.
I’m not convinced. Our understanding of the brain is limited, and even what we think we know is constantly in flux.
Besides that, we have no idea what it is to be a brain without a body. Is it really possible to extract thoughts, emotions, personality, etc. — all of which are epiphenomena? Perhaps it’s possible to map something that mimics neuron activities (we don’t even have that figured out) but how will that thing fare without the rest of what those neurons are normally connected to (the body)?
There’s also the question of The Uncanny Valley. It’s not unreasonable to think that this can be solved by 2045, but personally I doubt I’m going to want to interact with an avatar in 2015. A robot is fine, but when there’s supposed to be a “human” inside and one should take whatever face it has seriously, that’s a different story.

Dmitry Itskov thinks we can have inhabitable avatars for our minds by 2045.

I’m not convinced. Our understanding of the brain is limited, and even what we think we know is constantly in flux.

Besides that, we have no idea what it is to be a brain without a body. Is it really possible to extract thoughts, emotions, personality, etc. — all of which are epiphenomena? Perhaps it’s possible to map something that mimics neuron activities (we don’t even have that figured out) but how will that thing fare without the rest of what those neurons are normally connected to (the body)?

There’s also the question of The Uncanny Valley. It’s not unreasonable to think that this can be solved by 2045, but personally I doubt I’m going to want to interact with an avatar in 2015. A robot is fine, but when there’s supposed to be a “human” inside and one should take whatever face it has seriously, that’s a different story.

Asked: You don’t believe it’s possible to influence our lives via our will?

OS: Never said this.

And what I mean by “never said this” is that I may have said something like it or perhaps even those words exactly, but my meaning when I say these things is loaded —

I don’t approve of the whole “Secret” phenomenon that encourages people to think believe that they have control over their lives via magical/supernatural/”energy”-related phenomena.

Thought influences action. It influences chemistry. It influences processes, and thus what an individual system notices, what they focus on and carry out and look for.

Thought is definitely powerful, but let’s think about why that happens and how, and find out more about it… not just chalk it up to magic*.

That’s all I’m saying.

*Nor attribute it to wave-particle duality &/or quantum physics.

WHY GENERAL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE HAS FAILED AND HOW TO FIX IT.
Excerpts from an essay by David Deutsch:

It is uncontroversial that the human brain has capabilities that are, in some respects, far superior to those of all other known objects in the cosmos.
It is the only kind of object capable of understanding that the cosmos is even there, or why there are infinitely many prime numbers, or that apples fall because of the curvature of space-time, or that obeying its own inborn instincts can be morally wrong, or that it itself exists. Nor are its unique abilities confined to such cerebral matters.
The cold, physical fact is that it is the only kind of object that can propel itself into space and back without harm, or predict and prevent a meteor strike on itself, or cool objects to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, or detect others of its kind across galactic distances.
But no brain on Earth is yet close to knowing what brains do in order to achieve any of that functionality.
The enterprise of achieving it artificially — the field of ‘artificial general intelligence’ or AGI — has made no progress whatever during the entire six decades of its existence.

What is needed is nothing less than a breakthrough in philosophy, a theory that explains how brains create explanations 
… and hence defines, in principle, without ever running them as programs, which algorithms possess that functionality and which do not.

… Despite this long record of failure, AGI must be possible. And that is because of a deep property of the laws of physics, namely the universality of computation.
This entails that everything that the laws of physics require a physical object to do can, in principle, be emulated in arbitrarily fine detail by some program on a general-purpose computer, provided it is given enough time and memory.

Emphases mine.Abridged version via Kurzweil AI.Full version at Aeon Magazine.

WHY GENERAL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE HAS FAILED
AND HOW TO FIX IT
.

Excerpts from an essay by David Deutsch:

It is uncontroversial that the human brain has capabilities that are, in some respects, far superior to those of all other known objects in the cosmos.

It is the only kind of object capable of understanding that the cosmos is even there, or why there are infinitely many prime numbers, or that apples fall because of the curvature of space-time, or that obeying its own inborn instincts can be morally wrong, or that it itself exists. Nor are its unique abilities confined to such cerebral matters.

The cold, physical fact is that it is the only kind of object that can propel itself into space and back without harm, or predict and prevent a meteor strike on itself, or cool objects to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, or detect others of its kind across galactic distances.

But no brain on Earth is yet close to knowing what brains do in order to achieve any of that functionality.

The enterprise of achieving it artificially — the field of ‘artificial general intelligence’ or AGI — has made no progress whatever during the entire six decades of its existence.

What is needed is nothing less than a breakthrough in philosophy, a theory that explains how brains create explanations

… and hence defines, in principle, without ever running them as programs, which algorithms possess that functionality and which do not.

Despite this long record of failure, AGI must be possible. And that is because of a deep property of the laws of physics, namely the universality of computation.

This entails that everything that the laws of physics require a physical object to do can, in principle, be emulated in arbitrarily fine detail by some program on a general-purpose computer, provided it is given enough time and memory.

Emphases mine.
Abridged version via Kurzweil AI.
Full version at Aeon Magazine.

beben-eleben

Amazing Facts About Our Bodies

beben-eleben:

Swallow and Breathe

Fact: Humans are the only mammal that can’t swallow and breathe at the same time.

Every other mammal, and many other non-mammalian animals, can breathe while they eat. In fact, human infants are also able to do so, which lets them breathe while they nurse. We lose this ability around the age of 9 months, when our voice box drops as part of our development. As children and adults, the human voice box lays unusually low in the neck compared to other animals. This allows sound to resonate much more, which is why we are able to produce the wide range of sounds that makes up our speech.

Second Brain

Fact: You have a second brain in your gut.

Well, sort of. You have around 100 million neurons, more than are in your spinal cord, that line your gut from your esophagus to your anus. This is known to scientists as the enteric nervous system. This second brain is incapable of conscious thought and is largely responsible for digestion, but it does more than that. If you’ve ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach or felt as if you’ve been punched in the gut when receiving bad news, that was caused by your enteric nervous system. This also plays a roll in your overall mood, why certain foods can alter your mood and why bad situations or feelings often cause you to lose your appetite.

Loneliness

Fact: Loneliness is physically painful.

Ok, you probably knew that. But do you know why? Researchers at the University of California asked volunteers to play a computer game that simulated a simple game of catch with two other players. What they didn’t know was that the other “players” were just the computer and it was designed to leave them out after a few minutes of play, resulting in feelings of loneliness and rejection. They found that the feeling of loneliness is actually processed in the same part of your brain as physical pain, called the anterior cingulate cortex. This explains the human desire to fit in, to seek out companionship and helps to understand the power of peer pressure. Scientists are also hoping to use this information to help explain and treat some forms of depression.

Saliva

Fact: You salivate more before you vomit.

This is an automatic bodily reflex designed to protect your throat, mouth and teeth. Stomach acid is, of course, highly acidic and if it weren’t for the lining in your stomach it would eat a hole right through it. Unfortunately, you don’t have that same lining in your throat or mouth. Salivating before vomiting helps to dilute and rinse away the acid so it won’t harm the rest of your body. Your saliva can also help to neutralize the acid somewhat. This is also why it’s a good idea to rinse out your mouth and brush your teeth after you vomit.

Bitter Sweet

Fact: Cut yourself? Put sugar on it!

Healers in Africa have been putting crushed sugar cane on wounds for generations. Moses Murandu is a nurse who grew up watching his father use the remedy in Africa and was surprised to find that doctors in England didn’t use it. He started a study to research the idea, testing it on patients with bed sores, leg ulcers and amputations before dressing the wounds. They found that the sugar can reduce pain and kill bacteria that slow healing. Sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it naturally absorbs water which the bacteria need to survive. Sugar is also much cheaper than more modern antibiotics. So the next time you cut yourself, give it a sprinkle of sugar before putting on a band-aid!

Forgetful

Fact: Forget why you walked into a room? There is a reason.

Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why you were there? And after that, have you ever noticed that you can sometimes remember if you go back through the doorway? There is actually a reason for that. Researchers in Notre Dame conducted several experiments on rooms and their effect on memory. Subjects in the study were divided into two groups and given a simple task while traveling the same distance. The only difference is one group went through a doorway and the other didn’t. They found that people who traveled through the doorway were three times more likely to forget their task. Researchers concluded that our mind perceives doorways as “event boundaries” and that decisions you made in that room are “stored” there when you leave. That is also why you can remember if you go back into that room.

Color Vision

Fact: Some woman actually see more colors.

Frustrated because you told your hubby to bring your peach shirt and he grabbed a pink one? It might not be his fault. A study from the University of California shows that up to 50% of women carry four types of color receptors, or iodopsins, rather than the usual three. Normal visioned people will look at a rainbow and see seven different colors, while one with four receptors will see around 10 colors. The reason this happens in woman is that the red and green receptors are located on the X chromosome, while the blue is on the Y. The red and green receptors can be slightly shifted allowing for a greater range of color vision. There are also a small number of women who will have both kinds of red and green, resulting in 5 color receptors. This is also why color blindness is much more common in men than women.

Boogers

Fact: Eating your boogers may been good for you!

Your nasal mucus (booger) is designed to filter out airborne contaminants and so eating it has long thought to be bad for you, but recent study shows that it may actually help to boast your immune system by introducing those contaminants in small amounts, training your body to recognize and fight against them. But don’t worry, you don’t have to start picking your nose. You have most likely already eaten your boogers, even if you are unaware of it. Mucus accumulated in your nasal passages is often directed backwards and down your throat by the motion of your cilia (hair like structures on your cells used to move things). Yum…

Redundant Nostril

Fact: You probably only breath through one nostril at a time.

This happens in about 85% of people. The truly interesting thing about that is in those people the body with automatically switch between nostrils every four hours or so, although it can vary based on body position, illness or just from person to person. This is accomplished through erectile tissue in your nose similar to that in a penis or clitoris. The erectile tissue will slowly swell up in one nostril, eventually blocking most of it while the tissue in the other one will shrink, allowing for more air flow. It has been found that which side you are breathing from can have an effect on your body. If you are breathing from the right side, for example, your blood glucose levels will rise and you will use much more oxygen. Also, breathing through the right will cause higher activity in the left side of your brain and vise versa. This could be useful in stimulating your right (creative) side or your left (logical) side as needed.

Blood Vessels

Fact: Every pound of fat gained causes your body to make 7 new miles of blood vessels.

Knowing this, it’s easy to see why obesity and heart disease often go together. Most of the new blood vessels are tiny capillaries, but also include small veins and arteries. This means if you are “only” 10 pounds overweight your heart has to pump blood through an extra 70 miles of blood vessels. The good news is that this also works in reverse. If you lose a pound of fat, your body will break down and reabsorb the no longer needed blood vessels. This is encouraging to dieters, as one pound does not seem like a lot to lose, but even that little bit of difference will result in a large benefit for your heart!

©List Verse

“I think that the quicker one gets these things out of one’s brain and on to the paper and off to the printers, the better. I dare say, sir,” and he smiled at Mr Norrell in a friendly manner, “that you find the same.” Mr Norrell, who had never yet got any thing successfully out of his brain and off to the printers, whose every attempt was still at some stage or other of revision, said nothing.



Horace Tott spent an uneventful life in Cheshire always intending to write a large book on English magic, but never quite beginning. And so he died at seventy-four, still imagining he might begin next week, or perhaps the week after that.

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

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The first part is true — at least for me, with most things I do. Get them out quickly and maybe regret them a little, later, when I’ve wizened up.

But at least they’re out there… I attended a science-related talk last week and, at the end, one of the speakers’ suggestions (for young people who have graduated or will soon) was to { publish } their ideas, or else those thoughts/creations/etc. may as well be nonexistent. Especially now.

The second part, I’m afraid of.