Components of Personal Identity

fingerprintPersonal identity — the conscious awareness of self — originates in the cleavage of a nebulous universe into “self” and “world”. As the brain develops and diverse capabilities emerge, many of which are entwined with “self”, personal identity becomes more complex. Its functions and features transform. John Locke made an initial contribution, the notion that personal identity depends on a continuous autobiographical memory. The list below starts with autobiographical memory, and adds five additional components. Continue reading

What is this thing called “love”?

love v3Love is both physical and psychological. It is both biological and a conscious emotion. The study of love, as with much of Neuroscience, crosses boundaries.
Here’s My blog post on BrainFacts for valentine’s day. It’s largely an introduction to Lucy Brown and Helen Fischer’s website, AnatomyOfLove.com plus Q-and-A with Lucy. (Hit “continue reading” for Billie Hiliday’s rendition).  Continue reading

My Brain Made Me Do It

Judicial Punishment in a Neuroscientific World

We’ve witnessed a steady stream of books and articles about the relationship between a Neuroscience and judicial philosophy. Although I am far from an expert, I’ll describe what I believe are the rationales for legal punishment.  This will be followed by personal reflects the legal system, Neuroscience and Psychology1. Continue reading

Schadenfreude

lostInTheCosmosv1“You are standing by your paper-tube in Englewood reading the headlines. Your neighbor comes out to get his paper. You look at him sympathetically. You know he has been having severe chest pains and is facing coronary bypass surgery. But he is not acting like a cardiac patient this morning. Over he jogs in his sweat pants, all smiles. He has triple good news. His chest ailment turned out to be a hiatal hernia, not serious. He’s got a promotion and is moving to Greenwich, where he can keep his boat in the water rather than on a trailer. “Great, Charlie! I’m really happy for you.” Are you happy for him?

(a) Yes. Unrelievedly good news. Surely it is good news all around that Charlie is alive and well and not dead or invalided. Surely, too, it is good for him and not bad for you if he also moves up in the world, buys a house in Greenwich where he can keep a 25-foot sloop moored in the Sound rather than a 12-foot Mayflower on a trailer in the garage in Englewood.

(b) Putatively good news but— but what? But the trouble is, it is good news for Charlie, but you don’t feel so good.

— Walker Percy’s (1983) “Lost in the Cosmos: The last Self-Help Book” [1]

Continue reading

What is Cognition?

snoopy2In 1981 I was an eager post-doctoral fellow, learning to record place cell’s in Jim Ranck’s lab and beginning to understand O’Keefe’s “Cognitive Map” theory of the hippocampus. One afternoon, while I had a rat in the maze and watched traces of action potentials sweep by on the oscilloscope, Jim Ranck looked over my should and said …

“This is terrific! Place cells are the gateway to understanding how the brain produces cognition.”1

This was both inspirational and opaque. Continue reading