Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.
Having a sense of self lies at the heart of what it means to be human. Without it, we couldn’t navigate, interact, empathise or ultimately survive in an ever-changing, complex world of others. We need a sense of self when we are taking action, but also when we are anticipating the consequences of potential actions, by ourselves or others.
If you’ve ever had to work in a draughty office, warehouse or classroom, you’ve probably been tempted to keep your coat on inside. And you were probably also advised against it because you wouldn’t “feel the benefit” when you went outside. This might seem counter intuitive. If you’re cold already, surely you should do whatever you can to retain warmth? It turns out things aren’t that simple. To understand what’s really going on, we need to know a bit about why we feel cold in the first place.
Unlike the effervescent bubbles that stream to the top of champagne flutes on New Year’s Eve, what I call brain bubbles are far from celebratory. These bubbles are metaphorical rather than physical, and they distort the stream of reality processed by our brains. Like a real estate bubble that reflects an inflated perception of home values, a brain bubble twists your perception of the world around you. And when either of these bubbles bursts, the results can be devastating.
As the very word used to describe it has been “worn smooth by a million tongues”, consciousness is a fertile topic for confusion. We all know what it is to be conscious. It is, basically, being aware of and responding to the world. Similarly, we all possess a common sense notion of how consciousness works.
Healthy sleep leads to healthy brains. Neuroscientists have gotten that message out. But parents, doctors and educators alike have struggled to identify what to do to improve sleep. Some have called for delaying school start times or limiting screen time before bed to achieve academic, health and even economic gains.
Why is my awareness here, while yours is over there? Why is the universe split in two for each of us, into a subject and an infinity of objects? How is each of us our own center of experience, receiving information about the rest of the world out there? Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A gnat? A bacterium?
Say you meet an old friend at the train station. She is standing about a metre ahead of you, and on the tracks to your right a train has just pulled into the station. Behind your friend you see a bakery. We often remember such scenes in vivid detail. But exactly how we do that by forming mental images has long been a bit of a mystery.
Understanding the biology behind consciousness (or self-awareness) is considered by some to be the final frontier of science. And over the last decade, a fledgling community of “consciousness scientists” have gathered some interesting information about the differences between conscious and unconscious brain activity.
Parents and teachers are painfully aware that it’s nearly impossible to get a teenager to focus on what you think is important. Even offering them a bribe or issuing a stern warning will typically fail. There may be many reasons for that, including the teenager’s developing sense of independence and social pressure from friends.
Benjamin Franklin once quipped: ‘There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know oneself.’ Every decision we make, from pinpointing the source of a faint sound to choosing a new job, comes with a degree of confidence that we have made the right call. If confidence is sufficiently low, we might change our minds and reverse our decision. Now scientists are using these choice reversals to study the first inklings of self-knowledge. Changes of mind, it turns out, reflect a precisely tuned process for monitoring our stream of thoughts.
What does this mean:
wht has Don Trm don nw?
You’ve probably decided the intended question is: “What has Donald Trump done now?”But how did you reach that conclusion? The word fragments could be part of many different words. You even expanded two almost identical fragments – “Don” and “don” – to different words – “Donald” and “done”.
When we have a new experience, the memory of that event is stored in a neural circuit that connects several parts of the hippocampus and other brain structures. Each cluster of neurons may store different aspects of the memory, such as the location where the event occurred or the emotions associated with it.
When you hear someone laugh behind you, you probably picture them on the phone or with a friend – smiling and experiencing a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Chances are just the sound of the laughter could make you smile or even laugh along. But imagine that the person laughing is just walking around alone in the street, or sitting behind you at a funeral. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so inviting.
Understanding the human brain is arguably the greatest challenge of modern science. The leading approach for most of the past 200 years has been to link its functions to different brain regions or even individual neurons (brain cells). But recent research increasingly suggests that we may be taking completely the wrong path if we are to ever understand the human mind.