June 30, 2007

The Cartesian Movie Theater

One of my favorite courses in graduate school was Deric Bownds's class on "The Biology of Mind", which was cross-listed in psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and zoology. I even ended up TAing the course in a later semester, despite being neither psychologist, anthropologist, neuroscientist nor zoologist — a memorable experience for all concerned — and providing some very minor assistance on the manuscript. (But you should really buy the hard-copy if you like this enough to read it all.)

I recently discovered — I think, but I'm not sure, that it was through Mind Hacks — that Bownds has a blog; and among last week's offerings was the following amusing item, Perception without a Perceiver, based on this talk:

In an fMRI study in which individuals were exposed to a highly engaging popular movie they find:
a surprisingly robust and wide-spread activation of most of the posterior part of the brain — which was remarkably "synchronized" across individuals watching the same movie. These results attest to the massive engagement of sensory cortex by naturalistic sensory stimuli. However, in contrast to this wide-spread activation in sensory cortex — we have found a remarkably little activation in frontal areas of the brain (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1 Brain activation during repeated movie presentation. Yellow regions show highly activated areas in posterior, sensory cortex. Note lack of activation in frontal areas and in the intriguing "intrinsic" islands in posterior cortex (arrows).
They get the same sort of division of activity when they compare introspective tasks (frontal lobes) with "purely perceptual" ones (posterior parts of the brain). This nicely illustrates one of Bownds's maxims from that class, that "the more closely you look at the brain, the less it seems like there's anybody home in there"; extrapolations to the nacroticizing effect of movies and TV are left as an exercise for the reader*.

There's lots more worth reading where that came from, not just on the biology of mind but also classical piano performances, and empirical comparisons of Florida and Wisconsin. So, go read!

*: Actually, please don't make that extrapolation. It's a cute set of results with nice pictures, but it needs to be interpreted much, much more cautiously than that, and maybe even more cautiously than the authors are doing here. (I have not had a chance to read the underlying research papers.)

Minds, Brains, and Neurons Linkage

Posted at June 30, 2007 18:00 | permanent link

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