Our own consciousness is a product of our brains. ~ Canadian cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker
The now-conventional explanation for mental activity – matterism – is that the mind is a mirage. Instead, the mind is construed as an ongoing illusion fabricated by molecular interactions within the brain. The disproof that cells and organisms without brains intelligently function is ignored.
Consciousness is an elaborate creation. Self-awareness, thoughts, feelings and intentions are simply broadcasts of unconscious brain outputs. ~ English psychologists Peter Halligan & David Oakley
Matterism is the overwhelming consensus of Western science, which attributes psychological processes to neural activity in the brain. Texts talking about the brain bustling with cognition are ubiquitous.
Even most psychologists today are matterists. The herd instinct is strong among the apes called Homo sapiens.
Under matterism, the mind is euphemism. Thoughts are continuously concocted from molecular maneuvers which mystically take character into account, thus creating semi-consistent behaviors.
Personality and mental feats, such as epiphany and mind over matter, are merely electrochemical arrangements. There is no such thing as mental health; only “brain health.”
Matterism feebly confuses correlation with causality. Under matterism, the brain is a cognitive Wizard of Oz: pay no attention to the mind behind the curtain.
Along with a gullible naïveté in blithely taking that which appears to be as reality, feeling a need for empirical certainty is the reason matterism predominates. The tangible is measurable, testable, and therefore comfortably scientific. In stark contrast, the mental is intangible, leaving nowhere to stick a probe.
The mind-body problem having proven intractable, it is infinitely easier to dispense with duality and root everything in the brain, paying lip service to the mind when plowing into the weeds of mental feats for which brain science has no answer. Matterists may refer to the mind as an organ, but it is a circumlocution for incomprehension.
The mind has to be built out of specialized parts because it has to solve specialized problems… Our mental organs owe their basic design to our genetic program… Our organs of computation are a product of natural selection… We don’t understand how the mind works. ~ Steven Pinker
The primary evidence base for matterism lies in measurements of electrical patterns around the cortex. Such waves are evident during all states of consciousness. Brain waves only cite activity. They do not explain how patterns of mental activity arise or interrelate.
There is undoubtedly a connection between the absolute size of the brain and the intellectual powers and functions of the mind. ~ Friedrich Tiedemann in 1836
If matterism were true, one would reasonably expect a correlation between brain size and intelligence, as German physiologist Friedrich Tiedemann so boldly proclaimed, without so much as a whit of evidence to back his assertion. Other naturalists went along with Tiedemann, from Darwin to neurobiologists in the 21st century. Instead, the relation is tenuous at best.
Positive associations between human intelligence and brain size have been suspected for more than 150 years. But brain volume appears to be of little practical relevance in explaining IQ test performance in humans. ~ Austrian psychologist Jakob Pietschnig in 2015, upon review of a meta-analysis of research on the subject
Matterism has no credible explanation for almost all of what is known about mental functioning, including, for example, any account of personality.
Matterists would have you believe in some mystical synaptic jiggery-pokery among neurons constantly conjures character. Under matterism, despite all the study and technology applied, how cognition arises remains as much a mystery now as it was to Aristotle over 2 millennia ago. The mind-body problem confounding dualism is minor league compared to accounting for mentation under matterism.
Brains and neurons obviously have everything to do with consciousness, but how such mere objects can give rise to the eerily phenomena of subjective experience seems utterly incomprehensible. ~ American biologist Allen Orr
Hypothesizing causality with only evidence of correlation makes matterism mere wishful thinking, based upon faulty logic; brain science as a bogus religion. Such is the Church of Neuroscience, which will never find the answer of how consciousness arises by studying the brain.
The brain is not an organ of thinking but an organ of survival, like claws and fangs. ~ Hungarian physiologist Albert Szent-Györgyi
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Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. ~ American cognitive scientist and philosopher Jerry Fodor
Matterism has no explanation for how organisms without identifiable brains could possibly behave intelligently, from viruses on up. The savvy of plants is indisputable, yet they have no physical system for it.
Most damningly, matterism utter fails to provide any account of how the mind can powerfully affect the body, down to the cellular level: a phenomenon for which there is oodles of evidence.
Plants Take A Chance
They are less than pea brains; they are no brains. ~ Argentine-English ethologist Alex Kacelnik
Assessing the probabilities of favorable outcomes given an ample array of options is a cognitive skill known as risk sensitivity. To be able to do so with no material substrate for thought belies matterism.
Past experience and calculation of relative gain determine decisions in plants just as they do in animals. In one set of experiments, pea plants were given the opportunity to select, via root growth, areas which either had a consistent amount of nutrients or fluctuating food levels. When nutrients were abundant where they were, plants played it safe, opting for consistency. But when living in suboptimal soil, plants preferred to take a risk.
In bad conditions, the only chance of success is to take a chance and hope it works out, and that’s what plants are doing. ~ English behavioral psychologist Nick Chater
While less recognized than their animal counterparts, many non-neuronal organisms, such as plants, bacteria, fungi and protists, also have the ability to make complex decisions in difficult environments. ~ Australian ethologist Chris Reid
Slime molds are early evolved eukaryotes that can live freely as single cells but aggregate to form multicellular reproductive structures. Their calumnious characterization refers to that part of their lives when they appear as gelatinous slime. Many slime molds spend little time in such a state, preferring a less-slick solitude.
Slime molds smartly forage, avoiding where they have been. As it moves, a slime mold leaves a chemical trail that lets it identify its own secretions. These trails serve as an external spatial memory.
Though they exhibit sophisticated behaviors, slime molds are beyond brainless. They lack nerve cells altogether.
Physarum polycephalum is an exemplary slime mold. It is one of the easiest of eukaryotic microbes to grow in culture. As such, P. polycephalum has been a favorite subject for study, and so is the best known. What is true about the intelligence of P. polycephalum doubtlessly applies to Physarum in general, and quite possibly slime molds altogether.
In its natural habitat, a Physarum spends its days in shady, cool, moist areas of the forest, foraging on logs and decaying leaves.
Physarum is a protist with a purpose. Amoeba-like, it spreads out in search of prey (bacteria and fungi), as well enjoying salads of decomposing vegetation. Physarum extends itself by oozing tendrils along the forest flower.
The problem is knowing which direction to grow. Physarum proceeds intelligently.
The foraging algorithm centres around a tendency to exploit environments in proportion to their reward experienced through past sampling. The algorithm is intermediate in computational complexity between simple, reactionary heuristics and calculation-intensive optimal performance algorithms, yet it has very good relative performance. ~ Chris Reid et al
Though their lifestyles are incomparable, the mental acumen of Physarum is equipotential to humans, even in making irrational choices.
This unicellular protist lacks a central nervous system and possesses no neurons, yet it has been demonstrated to solve convoluted labyrinth mazes, find shortest length networks and solve challenging optimization problems, anticipate periodic events, use its slime trail as an externalized spatial memory system to avoid revisiting areas it has already explored, and even construct transport networks that have similar efficiency to those designed by human engineers.
Slime mould cells also display similar decision-making constraints to the cognitive constraints observed in brains. P. polycephalum is vulnerable to making the same economically irrational decisions that can afflict humans.
Like humans, slime moulds are subject to speed-accuracy trade-offs when confronted with a difficult choice. Certain problem-solving processes, as well as their associated trade-offs and paradoxes, are spread wide on the phylogenetic tree. ~ Chris Reid et al
Slime molds have long-term memory. They learn patterns and anticipate periodic events. Further, slime molds pass their knowledge on to others as pillow talk.
Slime moulds exhibit transfer of learned behaviour during cell fusion. ~ French biologist Audrey Dussutour & biologist David Vogel
Slime molds demonstrate memory and problem-solving without having any identifiable physical structure that supports these abilities. Sublime slime shows that intelligence has an energetic foundation.
What I find amazing to this day is how the brain can deal with something which you think should not be compatible with life. ~ American pediatric brain defect specialist Max Muenke
Many people live normal lives missing major portions of their brains. Brain scientists have no explanation for how that is possible.
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A 48-year-old French civil servant living a normal life went to the hospital for weakness in his left leg. Doctors found that 50–75% of his brain was missing; an outcome of hydrocephalus (water on the brain).
The whole brain was reduced – frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital lobes – on both left and right sides. These regions control motion, sensibility, language, vision, audition, and emotional, and cognitive functions. ~ French neurologist Lionel Feuillet
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A 24-year-old Chinese woman sought medical attention for nausea and dizziness. Doctors discovered that she had no cerebellum.
The cerebellum ostensibly coordinates muscle activity and maintains bodily balance. Physical dexterity is a product of cerebellum activity.
The woman was treated to reduce water pressure building up in her brain. She went on living a normal life, though she has always had difficulties with pronunciation.
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Falls and/or loss of balance are relatively common in the elderly. An 84-year-old man had been feeling unsteady over several months and had recurrent falls over several weeks. There was no confusion, visual or speech disturbance, and he was feeling otherwise well. ~ Irish physician Finlay Brown & Indian elderly care physician Djamil Vahidassr
Brain scans revealed that the unsteady 84-year-old had “a large air cavity in the right frontal lobe” of his brain: 9 cm at the longest, and 7 cm deep. The doctors guessed that the condition had progressed for some time, with respiratory exertions – sneezing and coughing – contributing to the growing air pocket.
We were very perplexed by the images we saw! ~ Finlay Brown
The doctors who examined the elderly man could not understand how he could manage so well with so much of his brain missing. As it turned out, the hospitalized patient was diagnosed, declined any treatment, and went back home, knowing to be extra careful.
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Hemispherectomy – removing half the brain – has been done hundreds of times since 1923 to stop chronic seizures.
These disorders are often progressive and damage the rest of the brain if not treated. Hemispherectomy is something that one only does when the alternatives are worse. ~ American neurosurgeon Gary Mathern
The surgery is often successful. 86% of 111 children in one study were seizure free or had nondisabling seizures that did not require medication. Children that underwent hemispherectomies typically had improved academic performance.
The younger a person is when they undergo hemispherectomy, the less disability you have in talking. Where on the right side of the brain speech is transferred to and what it displaces is something nobody has really worked out. ~ American neurologist John Freeman
If brain mass was critical to intelligence, hemispherectomies would not have been successful at all.
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American Michelle Mack had cognitive developmental problems, attributed to a pre-birth stroke. She has trouble controlling her emotions, but otherwise lives a normal life.
Michelle has fairly normal language abilities, certainly basic language abilities, she can construct a sentence, she can understand instructions, she can find words when she’s talking, but she has some trouble in some aspects of visual-spatial processing. ~ American neurobiologist Jordan Grafman
Mack is missing much of her brain.
There are some very deep structures remaining, but the surface of her brain – the cortex – is 95% gone and some of the deeper structures that control movement are missing. These are all structures that are important for movement, behavior, and cognition. ~ Jordan Grafman
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We tend to think of brain damage as a loss of function. But we also have to think about it in terms of gaining functions that were inhibited by certain brain areas before. The human brain is like a very, very big delta: if there is a dam on a major route, then water will flow along the minor routes, and those minor routes will become wider and more functional. ~ Dutch cognitive neurobiologist Beatrice de Gelder, whose apt analogy obscures that there is no physiological explanation for how functional reorganization of the brain is possible.
All things are possible to him who believes. ~ Mark 9:23, The Bible
A placebo is a ruse of medical treatment. The placebo effect occurs when the trick works. Homeopathy is a timeworn placebo treatment that can be quite potent when conveyed through a skillful practitioner, or in simply believing in its effectiveness.
The placebo effect can be elicited without deception. ~ Portuguese psychologist Cláudia Carvalho
The effectiveness of placebos is an existence proof of energyism, as there can be no physiological explanation for placebo efficacy. The brain cannot cure the body.
The facts clearly prove the influence of the imagination, and will, upon diseases. ~ American physician Benjamin Rush
The story of Mr. Wright was well known: he was hospitalized in Long Beach, California in 1957 with tumors the size of oranges on his neck, armpits, and groin. The diagnosis was lymphosarcoma: cancer of the lymph nodes.
Wright was on oxygen and sedatives, given only days to live; but he had not given up hope. This was because Mr. Wright had heard that the hospital he was in had been chosen as an evaluation site for krebiozen, an experimental drug derived from horse serum. He begged his doctor to give him some. Mr. Wright met none of the trial criteria, most notably having at least a 3-month life expectancy; but he was so persistent that his doctor, Philip West, relented.
Mr. Wright was given an injection on Friday. Dr. West described the scene upon visiting Wright on Monday morning.
I had left him febrile, gasping for air, completely bedridden. Now here he was, walking around the ward, chatting happily with the nurses, and spreading good cheer.
Immediately I hastened to see the others who had received their 1st injection at the same time. No change or change for the worse was noted.
Only in Mr. Wright was there brilliant improvement. The tumor masses had melted like snowballs on a hot stove, and in only these few days, they were half their original size!
2 months later, Mr. Wright read news reports that krebiozen was a quack remedy. He suffered an immediate relapse.
At this point, Dr. West resolved that a bit of duplicity was in order. He told Mr. Wright that he should not believe the newspapers; that his relapse was because the original injection he had got had decayed and therefore was substandard.
The hospital was being sent ”a new super-refined double strength” batch in a few days. Dr. West assured Mr. Wright that he would one of the first to receive it.
Following a few days of impatience, Mr. Wright got his shot. It was distilled water.
Nevertheless, Mr. Wright’s response to this 2nd injection was even more miraculous. The tumors quickly receded. Within a week Mr. Wright was declared the picture of health and sent home.
Then the American Medical Association announced in the press that krebiozen was decidedly worthless. Mr. Wright read the report and relapsed. Readmitted to the hospital, Mr. Wright died 2 days later.
We conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of arthroscopic surgery of the knee in relieving pain and improving function in patients with osteoarthritis. Both patients and assessors of outcome were blinded to the treatment assignments. ~ American physician Bruce Moseley et al
Surgeons at the Houston Veterans Administration medical center conducted a trial over a 3-year period on 165 veterans with knee pain. Patients received 1 of 3 treatments: scraping out the knee joint, washing it out, or a feigned operation that was indistinguishable from actual treatment. All patients knew they may be getting a sham treatment.
The groups were all reporting improvement; it’s just there was no greater benefit in any of the groups compared to the placebo. ~ Bruce Moseley
Eutimo Perez Jr., who has degenerative osteoarthritis, had pain in his knee that was “worse than 10.” Perez was in the sham surgery group. But he was pain free for years after receiving the “treatment.”
If you believe in something, you can get well. ~ Eutimo Perez Jr.
Parkinson’s disease is of degeneration in the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system. Early symptoms include shaking, rigidity, slowed movements, and trouble walking. Cognitive and behavioral difficulties creep in. Dementia eventuates.
There is no cure, but surgical implantation of human embryonic dopamine nerve cells into the brains of those with severe Parkinson’s has been shown to lessen some symptoms; so does sham surgery, if patients believe that they have been given effective treatment.
The placebo effect was very strong. ~ American psychologist Cynthia McRae et al
For a while, many scientists thought that placebos might work by releasing endorphins: the body’s natural pain reliever; but that does not explain the placebo effect.
While placebos may act throughout the body, they also can be quite specific. A study was done in Japan on high school boys who were allergic to poison ivy. Each was rubbed on one arm with a harmless leaf but were told it was poison ivy. Conversely, poison ivy was applied on the other arm while they were told it was harmless. Subjects universally broke out in a rash where the harmless leaf contacted their skin. Only 15% reacted to the poison leaves.
Christopher Spevak is a pain and addiction doctor at the Walter Reed US military medical center in Bethesda, Maryland. He treats military personnel and veterans in pain from service injuries.
When Spevak first meets his patients, he does not ask them about their medical histories or injuries; he has those on file. Instead, he asks about their lives, and the positive memories they have. From these tales Spevak learns what resonates with them.
When Spevak gives pain relief medicine, he works to have them associate it with a positive stimulus, such as the smell or taste of peppermint. After a while, he weans them off the drugs and just provides the associative stimulus which acts as a placebo.
We have triple amputees, quadruple amputees, who are on no opioids. Yet we have older Vietnam vets who’ve been on high doses of morphine for low back pain for the past 30 years. ~ Christopher Spevak
The master of the body is the mind. ~ Chinese scholar Wang Yangming
In one experiment, subjects were given a placebo before receiving painful electric shocks. Half of them were told that side effects of the placebo were the arousal symptoms that typify electric shocks. The other half expected no such discomforts.
The subjects believing themselves to be in an artificial state of arousal failed to attribute their shock-created arousal to the electric jolt, found the shock less painful, and were willing to tolerate 4 times the shock level of those given no suggestive illusion.
If the brain were the ruler of mentation that matterists suppose, there would be greater consistency in response to electric shock; instant belief alone could not have such power.
The potency of placebo lies in the power of the mind to create its own reality. A significant difference may be had in something as simple as conceptualization.
Imagine putting on a white coat, and being told that it belonged to a doctor, or, alternatively, to a painter. What difference would the coat owner’s occupation maker to you?
If you think “none,” self-deception has a hold on you. When participants in an experiment were asked to put on the coat of a doctor, their ability to pay attention to details sharpened considerably. But when it was a painter’s coat they put on, this improvement vanished. Perception of the coat’s significance made a surprising difference.
A nocebo is a negative placebo: a belief that makes one feel worse. Medical journals around the world have documented innumerable cases of effective nocebos: soldiers who die in wartime with no physical wounds; long-married couples who die within days, or even hours, of each other; medical patients with no cardiovascular troubles who drop dead of heart attacks after receiving disheartening news. Some patients have even accurately predicted their own demise.
Numerous studies have shown that hopelessness causes death. Once someone believes – for whatever reason – that life is no longer worth living, the belief easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mothers dying of grief in the wake of losing their offspring has been seen in several animal species, including humans.
Psychogenic death is real. It isn’t suicide, it isn’t linked to depression, but the act of giving up on life and dying usually within days, is a very real condition, often linked to severe trauma. ~ English psychologist John Leach
Formally termed “stress cardiomyopathy,” the disease is popularly known as broken heart syndrome. No one knows how it happens physiologically, but hormone discharges related to mental stress are suspected. Heart muscle is not damaged, as it is in a heart attack. Instead, the heart is stunned, badly enough to stop altogether.
When I’m asked, can you die of a broken heart, I say, absolutely, yes, you can. ~ American cardiologist Ilan Wittstein
Prisoners of War
The Nazi concentration camps during World War 2 were a horrendous mass experiment in human will. Reports placed mortality in the camps between 20–50%. The overall death rate hides a most revealing statistic.
The vast majority of prisoners died soon. ~ Austrian-born American psychologist Bruno Bettelheim
Bettelheim estimated that 15% of new prisoners died during the first few months of being confined. They simply gave up hope.
Prisoners who came to believe that repeated statements of guards – that there was no hope for them, that they would never leave camp except as a corpse – were, in a literal sense, walking corpses. ~ Bruno Bettlelheim
Many died in Nazi concentration camps simply due to a loss of desire to live. ~ English psychologist John Leach
The US military documented very similar behavior among the more than 7,000 Americans taken prisoner during the Korean War. The Chinese – North Korea’s ally – subjected prisoners of war to extensive brainwashing programs, stripping away any sense of control these men might have held over their own fate. It was supremely effective.
It turned the American prisoners into the most docile uniformed men we have ever seen. ~ American psychologist William Mayer
Brainwashed prisoners rarely tried to escape, nor did they organize any resistance to their captors. Over 1/3rd of the brainwashed prisoners – fit young men – simply lost the will to live.
He would crawl off in a corner, refuse to eat, and – without having any disease whatsoever – simply die. ~ William Mayer
The mortality of North Korean War prisoners had a notable exception: Turks. Several hundred Turkish prisoners of war were held by the North Koreans under conditions nearly identical to those experienced by the Americans; yet they survived “almost to a man.”
Unlike the Americans, the Turks maintained a system of organization and discipline so resilient that it never allowed men to lose hope. A sick soldier would receive care from his comrades “with a tremendous degree of devotion.” In contrast, among the Americans, it was mostly every man for himself.
If a man started to get sick, the chances were that his fellow soldiers would, for all practical purposes, abandon him. ~ William Mayer
Relief Without Belief
The dominant theories of placebo effects rely on a notion that consciously perceptible cues provide signals that activate placebo effects. ~ American psychiatrist Karin Jensen et al
An experiment conducted in 2012 highlighted the power of the mind to induce bodily states. Healthy participants were tested for placebo and nocebo effects by flashing images of faces, either happy (to test placebo) or in pain (to test nocebo). The image cues were only shown for 12 milliseconds: flashing too quickly for conscious recognition. Nonetheless, the suggestions subconsciously registered and produced effects.
A person can have a placebo or nocebo response even if he or she is unaware of any suggestion of improvement or anticipation of getting worse. ~ Karin Jensen
Sugar, Willpower & Belief
That food steadies the mind-body is practically axiomatic. But does energy intake need to be steady to keep the mind alert in demanding circumstances?
Popular theories suggest that glucose directly fuels brain functions, which would otherwise suffer from a lack of glucose. ~ Swiss psychologist Veronika Job et al
Personal belief about the relationship between mind and body affects the performance of the mind, notably willpower.
There’s a dominant theory in psychology that willpower is limited, and whenever you exert yourself to do a hard task or to resist a temptation, you deplete this limited resource. ~ American psychologist Carol Dweck
In a 1st experiment, participants were asked about their beliefs on willpower. They were given lemonade, sweetened with either sugar or a sugar substitute.
10 minutes later, participants took tests of mental acuity and self-control. Those who subscribed to a self-generating belief about unlimited willpower scored equally well whether their drinks were sugared or not. Those who felt that willpower was limited by immediate energy supply needed a sugar fix to perform as well.
In a 2nd experiment, some participants were told that willpower was a limited resource in dealing with a mental challenge. Those led to believe that willpower was tethered to energy intake needed sugar to perform as well as those not deluded.
In a 3rd experiment, participants were told that their drinks were sugary when they were not, and vice versa. Participants with belief in limited willpower still needed sugary drinks to do as well: the body was not fooled by what participants had been told about the specific drink.
The gut sends a signal of renewed energy to the brain; a cue that people who are positive about sugar’s importance to willpower are quick to pick up on.
But when you think willpower is abundant and self-energizing, you’re not paying attention to that. ~ Carol Dweck
Though the body ultimately needs sustenance to sustain mental functioning, the mind is its own taskmaster.
Ideas set free beliefs, and the beliefs set free our wills. ~ American psychologist William James
Bone density lessens as people age. It can lead to osteoporosis: a progressive disease that weakens bones, often resulting in painful fractures.
In a study of 1,147 American women at least 60 years old, bone density dropped an average 4% in a decade. The average difference in bone density loss between those satisfied with their lives and those unsatisfied was 52%. In women who experienced deteriorating life satisfaction compared to those who were happy, bone density weakened by 85%.
Loneliness and social isolation are linked with coronary heart disease and stroke. ~ Danish public health scholar Anne Vinggaard Christensen
Loneliness is a mental condition fraught with health implications. Matterism cannot begin to explain how feeling lonely could damage cells, let alone having an especial effect upon the heart.
Loneliness is a strong predictor of premature death, and a much stronger predictor than living alone. ~ Anne Vinggaard Christensen
The capacity of the non-conscious perceptual system is considerably larger in humans when compared to the limited capacity to attend to conscious information. Hence, only a trivial amount of momentary information is brought to conscious attention. This means that the majority of this momentary information is processed non-consciously. Furthermore, this non-consciously processed information can influence human behaviour in a manner that resembles conscious awareness of the same information. ~ English psychologist Anthony Blanchfield et al
Cycling endurance athletes wearing special glasses were shown subliminal images (lasting less than 0.02 seconds) during their performances. Those shown images of positive affect, such as happy face emoticons, pedaled 12% longer than those that subconsciously saw sad faces. Cellular fatigue was equivalently less.
Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts. This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health. ~ American public health scholar Rosalba Hernandez
A dissociate state of arousal may modify the components of sleep-wake behavior, consciousness, and also pain perception. ~ French psychiatrist Régis Lopez
Sleepwalkers present an intriguing paradox: although they suffer more headaches and migraines while awake, while sleepwalking they are unlikely to feel pain, even upon suffering physical injury. A 2015 study found that sleepwalkers were 4 times more likely than the general population to have a history of headaches, and 10 times more likely to report migraines; but among those who injured themselves during a sleepwalking episode, 79% perceived no pain at the time: remaining asleep despite hurting themselves.
One man sustained severe fractures after jumping out of a 3rd-floor window while sleepwalking but did not feel it until he woke up later in the night. Another broke his leg during a sleepwalking episode in which he climbed onto the roof of his house and fell; but he did not wake until morning.
It is hard to credit this happening if the brain were running the show. Only if an energy system manufactures physicality does this make any sense.
An out-of-body experience (obe) is conscious awareness detached from the physical body. Though still energetically tethered to the body, the mind sensates remotely.
obes have been reported throughout history. obes were known to the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, American Indians, Hindus, Hebrews, Muslims, and Oceanic peoples. 90% of the cultures in the world have a tradition regarding obes.
15–20% of people experience an obe sometime during their lives. obes tend to be spontaneous, typically occurring during sleep, meditation, anesthesia, illness, or traumatic pain. Many recall the experience as blissful.
The validity of out-of-body experiences has been repeatedly confirmed by out-of-body travelers relating physical details of environments they could not have otherwise known.
There is no duality of body and mind when this happens. I do not see myself above my body. Rather, my whole body has moved up. ~ anonymous 24-year-old female Canadian psychology student capable of at-will obe, who had her out-of-body experiences physiologically monitored via MRI. She thought out-of-body was a normal experience for everyone.
You can’t be involved in this for any length of time and not be convinced. ~ American CIA official Norm J, responsible for the US military’s Fort Meade remote viewing unit
Local out-of-body experiences are the dime store version of long-distance vision called remote viewing.
I never liked to get into debates with the skeptics, because if you didn’t believe that remote viewing was real, you hadn’t done your homework. We didn’t know how to explain it, but we weren’t so much interested in explaining it as using it. ~ American Major General Edmund Thompson
The US military used remote viewers to find a downed Russian bomber in Africa, know the health of American hostages in Iran, locate a kidnapped American general in Italy, surveil Soviet weapons factories, witness a Chinese atomic bomb test 3 days before it occurred, and map numerous otherwise undetectable archeological sites.
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Unlike Saturn’s rings, which are clearly visible from the Earth even through small telescopes, Jupiter’s rings are so difficult to see that they weren’t discovered until the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1979. ~ American physicist Russell Targ, who studied Ingo Swann
The psychic abilities of American painter Ingo Swann were extensively studied as a facet of the US government remote viewing project dubbed Stargate that ran 1978–1995. Early (successful) exercises, such as describing pictures in sealed envelopes, quickly bored Swann. So, the researchers gave Swann a formidable challenge: to view Jupiter from his chair in a California lab. At the time (1973), specifics of Jupiter’s appearance were unknown. 6 years later, the Voyage 1 probe transmitted back details. What Swann precisely described in 1973 – thin, glittering rings in the upper atmosphere (among other things) – were confirmed by the satellite in 1979.
By the standards of any science, remote viewing is proven. ~ English psychologist and paranormal skeptic Richard Wiseman
It has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with ‘real’ events when the heart isn’t beating. In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a 3-minute period when there was no heartbeat. This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted. Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events. ~ American physician Sam Parnia
Near-death experiences afford insight into mind-body monism. A study of 140 survivors of cardiac arrest found numerous instances of awareness while their body was non-functional, yet they had “explicit recall of actual events related to their resuscitation. One had a verifiable period of conscious awareness during which time cerebral function was not expected.”
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In 1983, David Bennett was chief engineer on Aloha, a research vessel. One night off the California coast he and his crew tried to outrun a storm in an inflatable boat. They didn’t make it. About a mile from shore their boat capsized.
Tossed into the chilly Pacific, Bennett’s life vest was faulty. He sank, and his lungs filled with water. Bennett remembers feeling total bliss, saturated in pure love.
That love was permeating my being and actually transforming me. As I got closer, I was in awe of this light; it was infinite. It looked like millions upon millions of fragments, and they were all dancing and interacting together. They were breathing, expanding and contracting, and working in unison. ~ David Bennett
Then Bennett was told that it was not his time. After 18 minutes underwater, Bennett popped to the surface. His crewmates, floating on the water, were shocked to see him. Bennett survived and became a spiritual activist.
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Ruby Graupera-Cassimiro underwent surgery to deliver a healthy newborn. Moments later, she stopped breathing.
Doctors spent 3 hours trying to revive her. She had no heartbeat for 45 minutes. (Brain activity was not being measured.) Then she revived. She said she felt as if floating down a tunnel until “a force” turned her back.
I was chosen to be here. ~ Ruby Graupera-Cassimiro
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Near-death-experiences seem to be regularly triggered by a sense of detachment from the physical body and end when returning to one’s body. ~ Belgian psychologist Charlotte Martial
While obes are common in near-death experiences, the most frequent report (80%) is a feeling of peacefulness. Shuffling off the mortal coil provides the emotive experience of enlightenment: detached contentment.
Correspondent with closure approaching death, brain activity surges with a coherent harmony of waves that typifies transcendence during meditation.
The mammalian brain can paradoxically generate neural correlates of heightened conscious processing at near-death. ~ Mongolian neurobiologist Jimo Borjigin et al
The most common aftereffect of having a near-death experience is a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in life.
People who have had out-of-body experiences feel less fear of death. Experiencing materiality as a mirage fosters a proper perspective for living.
There have been innumerable anecdotes of unexpected or paradoxical mental lucidity in the days and weeks before death among people with longstanding dementia. ~ American neurobiologist George Mashour
Terminal lucidity occurs when those with a severe chronic brain disease experience a revival of mental clarity before dying. This phenomenon has repeatedly been reported since antiquity.
The most remarkable cases involve patients whose brains were destroyed by diseases such as tumors and Alzheimer’s, but who seemed to recover shortly before death with their memory intact. ~ German American neurobiologist Michael Nahm
Psychological influences over bodily function illustrate the proverbial “mind over matter.” (Scottish geologist Charles Lyell coined the phrase “mind over matter” in his 1863 book The Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man.) Matterism fails to elucidate how terminal lucidity, out-of-body and near-death experiences may occur.
The pupils of human eyes dynamically dilate or constrict to admit a physiologically optimal level of light for the scene being taken in. Pupil dilation is autonomic and cannot be controlled at will; yet imagining certain scenes adjusts pupil size accordingly.
In all experiments, participants’ eye pupils dilated or constricted, respectively, in response to dark and bright imagined objects and scenarios. ~ Norwegian cognitive psychologists Bruno Laeng & Unni Sulutvedt
Stimuli in the natural world are extremely complex, and a complete record of the sensory stimuli impinging on the nervous system would be immense. It would not be unreasonable to expect this complexity to be reflected in the neural response. ~ American molecular biologist Thomas Adelman, American biophysicist William Bialek & American entomologist Robert Olberg
The complexity of sensation becomes inscrutable in considering that neural activity is stunningly simple compared to the sensations produced in the mind.
Neurons respond to stimuli with action potentials or spikes. ~ Thomas Adelman et al
Neurobiologists have, for over a century, promoted the neuron doctrine: ascribing neurons as the cells of sensory processing, despite never being able to identify how, or even whether, nerve cells might store and share information. Current tales about chemical reactions between the synapses of nerve cells storing information are unconvincing.
Instead of nerves, glia cells accomplish the physical correlate of information storage and sharing via calcium waves. Glia manage neurons. Neurobiologists have been looking in the wrong place all along.
Even properly understanding the physiology associated with sensory processing does not explain the fullness of sensation. Sight, which is the most complex of the senses, illustrates this.
Our perception of the world seems so effortless that we take it for granted. But think of what is involved when you look at even the simplest visual scene. You are given 2 tiny, upside-down images in your eyeballs, yet what you see is a unified three-dimensional world. This phenomenon, as the late neuropsychologist Richard Gregory once said, is “nothing short of a miracle.” ~ Indian neurobiologists Chaipat Chunharas & Vilayanur Ramachandran
We can see things because photons bounce off objects. Atoms selectively absorb specific wavelengths of photons (if they don’t eat the photons whole). It’s the photons that get away that can tattle about an object in the distance.
Sight is matter of reflective absorption and translation. That simple statement masks an astounding real-time transformation of intricate quantum information into a visual map of mind-boggling complexity in its construction.
The principle of reflection is well known. There are multiple forms of light reflection; here we note 3: specular, diffuse, and retroreflection.
Specular reflection is mirror-like, with each incident ray bouncing off at the same angle as its encounter with matter (incident angle = reflection angle). Sight works by its reliance on specular reflection.
Contrastingly, diffuse reflection fails to pull off the same stunt: retaining its energy but mystically losing its image memory.
Retroflection sends a photonic packet back to its source with a minimum of scattering. The angle of incidence is incidental. Dew on grass exhibits retroreflection, owing to the droplet’s curved surface and reflective properties on the backside of the droplet.
Some nocturnal animal’s retinas act as retroreflectors (as can be seen by their mirror-like eyes at night). This physics principle effectively improves night vision, though exactly how is a mystery. Come to think of it, everything about vision is a mystery.
The physics and optics of reflection being well understood explain nothing when you examine what goes on atomically. Light energy – a localized field represented by a photon packet – encounters a swirling cloud of electrons covering a gaggle of nucleons which are collectively masquerading as a solid, liquid, gas, or plasma – the form having been decided via molecular consensus from ambient energy pressures (a scurrilous process termed thermodynamics).
What exactly happens to a photon when it violently encounters an atom? Do the electrons – whirling dizzily near light speed – have at it? How does the photon bounce off so precisely? We don’t know. Anyway, from this ghastly happenstance, the photon concocts a story about how it was violated by fermions, and all too willing to tell the sad tale as a saga in waveform.
Photons are packetized fields. Each photon ports its history by its waveform. The shape of the waveform (envelope) that a photon has when it encounters an atom affects its interaction and determines its scattering dynamic (its reflective property). In short, every time a photon is banged up, its story changes. You’d have to be a gullible receptor to believe every photon you eat, but these cells are hungry for stories.
When a photon arrives at its ravenous receiver, it relates a harrowing tale of survival: a violent rebound with only a portion of its spectrum left intact. By what light energy was not absorbed, object luminance and color are conveyed.
Photons are the sacrificial victims of vision. Raped by atoms, photons are then killed for telling what happened to them. For sight involves murdering its messengers: devouring the light that relates its last meaningful encounter.
The human eye can detect a single photon, though it takes 3 to sense a flash of light. A little light goes a long way in conveying enveloped photonic information.
Every incoming spray of photons are bent by the eye’s lens, and then strangely splayed on the retina. To afford peripheral vision, and to be able to see objects larger than the pupil, the light imagery of the world presented on the retina is upside-down and reversed.
Your retina is a terrible imaging device. ~ American neurobiologists Stephen Macknik & Susana Martinez-Conde
Before being absorbed by the cells that receive the message which light has to offer, photons must first pass through the nerve tissues that act as signal transmitters. The rods and cones that absorb light are at the back of the retina.
Given that photonic energy is altered by its substantive encounters – the very nature by which vision works – how the light patterns that strike the cornea make their way to the back of the retina unmolested is inexplicable. While retinal tissue layers are largely transparent, various cells that sit in front of rods and cones obstruct incoming photons, doubtlessly altering the wave energy.
(Though not a primary photoreceptor, ganglion and bipolar cells are sensitive to overall light level (brightness). The hypothesis that the eye is optimized for the myriad of biological trade-offs involved does not address that there is no purely physiological explanation for how human sight can work. See Spokes 4: The Ecology of Humans for more about vision.)
The acuity of vision operates at the outermost bounds of the known laws of physics. Just as rods have been honed by evolution to detect a single photon, so biological vision processing is a mathematical wonder beyond comprehension.
There are no light-sensitive receptors on the retina where the optic nerve is. The creates a blind spot in the visual field. (Only vertebrate eyes have the oddity of an optic nerve creating a blind spot by running in front of the photoreceptors. Other animals, including cephalopods, do not have this design defect.) To prevent perceiving this gap, the mind fills in the blank space with inferred information from surrounding areas.
While this is usually accurate enough, it means that our perception in the blind spot is objectively unreliable. ~ German cognitive psychologist Benedikt Ehinger et al
An experiment to discern how the blind spot is filled in determined that people can prefer the imagined patch that the mind provides over actual sensory input.
Generated information is sometimes treated as more reliable than sensory information from the outside world. ~ Benedikt Ehinger et al
The eye’s photoreceptor mesh is a 200° field. Given that, human visual acuity creates an image corresponding to 1,600 megapixels (million pixels) within a millisecond (1/1000th of a second). (High-definition TV images, such as with Blu-ray discs, are 2.1 megapixels. So, a single visual image brought to you by your eyes is 274 times more detailed than HDTV.) A single such image is assimilated by translating the precise directional sources and complex waveform characteristics of a couple billion incoming photons into an electrochemical cellular depository: an amazing feat. No explanation has ever been made as to how the precise spatial arrangement and atomic intensity of the light that breached the eyeball is electro-chemically transmitted to the brain and mapped within.
If we actually saw what our eyes take in, the world would be a chaotic place. ~ American cognitive psychologists Michael Hout & Stephen Goldinger
What is known is that sight is a mental fabrication: a fact which cannot be contradicted given the limited capacities of the physical tissues involved.
Your only high-resolution vision is in the very center of your eye – about 0.1% of your entire visual field. You are legally blind to objects more than a finger width or 2 from the center of your vision. ~ Stephen Macknik & Susana Martinez-Conde
While the human eye is a wide-angle lens, the acuity over most of that range is poor. From physical input, only 15° has any sharpness (in the macula), and only 2º renders high-resolution acuity (in the fovea). Further, the optic nerve creates a central blind spot which is compensated for via multiple snapshots, by the eyes constantly microscopically moving (saccades), which is an autonomic function.
The fovea is well-suited for fine tasks like reading, but, compared to the peripheral retina, the fovea is quite slow in processing visual signals. This slow sensitivity is why we perceive motion in flipbooks and movies. It is also what prevents us from seeing flicker unless we glance from the corner of our eye, where processing is quicker (though resolution is much coarser).
The upshot is that what we perceive as a single static picture is in fact a massive montage, inscrutably assembled. Many thousands of snapshots must be correlated and exactly aligned into a seamless image in less than 1/100th of a second. To do this requires eliminating the extreme distortion caused by the eyes’ lenses, vertically flipping and horizontally reversing the incoming image data, enhancing sharpness for edge detection, balancing light levels, ensuring color constancy, and many other differential processing tasks, so as to detect distinct objects and their relative distances, all in a flawless montage. 1/3rd of the brain is furiously active during the parallel processing that magically creates a vivid panorama.
It’s become quite clear that there are many, many aspects of our visual system that are taking place at levels you might call reflexive, automatic, or subconscious. ~ American neurobiologist David Berson
Given the massive simultaneity of processing involved, ostensibly within the visual cortex, how and where an assembled image physically comes together into coherency remains utterly unknown. But that mystery is just the tail end of how neural signals with insufficient information manage to portray image bits in the first place.
Invisible information can be maintained within the higher processing stages of visual perception. ~ cognitive neurobiologist Jean-Rémi King et al
In 2016, researchers used magnetoencephalography to monitor brain activity during visual processing. They found a striking lack of correlation between the imagery presented and its neural representations. Quite simply, they could not demystify vision physiologically when looking at the electromagnetic patterns that transpire when seeing.
Undoubtedly, our current understanding of the neural mechanisms of conscious perception need to be revised. ~ Jean-Rémi King
Further, the visual acuity we take for granted is beyond biological physics. The mind fills in with imagery of its own making.
A large part of the periphery may be a visual illusion. For many basic visual features, this “filling in” is a general, and fundamental, perceptual mechanism. ~ Dutch psychologist Marte Otten
Unlike humans, squirrels possess peripheral vision as sharp as focal eyesight. Whereas people have only 2º high-resolution acuity, squirrels see well at some 50º; an astounding feat.
This follows from the squirrel’s rapid detection of visual stimuli and quick response time, as observed by its phenomenal ability to avoid predators. ~ Canadian physicist Dafna Sussman
Peripheral vision acuity is particularly puzzling considering that the squirrel eyeball has a construction similar to humans.
The squirrel’s visual acuity is likely dictated by its photoreceptor sampling. Such sampling is determined by the spatial distribution of the photoreceptors in the retina. The photoreceptor spacing of the ground squirrel can be assumed to be similar to that of other diurnal mammals, which is approximately 3 µm in the central retina. This distribution restricts the data sent to the brain, thereby limiting the neural image reconstruction process, and the final image perceived by the brain. ~ Dafna Sussman
Purely physiological explanation for a squirrel’s excellent peripheral vision is impossible.
Owl eyes are round but not spherical. They are immobile, tubular structures which sit on the front of an owl’s face like a pair of built-in binoculars.
Owl brains are much different than those in humans. For one, owls lack the neocortex humans have, which is active during higher-order sensory perception. Yet owls visually process scenery the same way that people do.
A critical task of the visual system is to arrange incoming visual information into a meaningful scene of objects and background. ~ Israeli neurobiologist Zahar Yael et al
Seeing an object as salient requires a preceding process: grouping the object and background elements as perceptual wholes. Whether person or owl, visual elements moving together gives a strong cue for grouping.
In short, owls and people see the world in the same way. If brain circuitry dictated sight, the identicality of visual processing in owls and humans could not be reconciled. (The physiological differentiation of brain parts indicates that brains are not analogous to general-purpose computers, even though mentation acts that way. See Spokes 4: The Ecology of Humans.)
Basic visual perception shares universal principles across species. ~ Israeli neurobiologist Yoram Gutfreund et al
To perceive motion is much more complicated than assembling a single image: detecting positional changes, and the velocities of objects, within the context of the scenery in its entirety, as well as accounting for movement by the perceiver. These differentials must be calculated within a small fraction a second – practically as fast as they occur. But the brain is overwhelmed handling fast-moving objects. So, a predictive algorithm is applied.
The object is not perceived in the position where the eye tells us it is. The object is shifted forward in the direction that it’s moving, predicting where things are going to be. ~ American psychologist Gerrit Maus
Blinking is another indication that vision is partly a product of energetic immateriality.
Human blink both eyes synchronously. Some animals, including tortoises and hamsters, independently blink their eyes.
Though blinking rate varies considerably, depending upon emotional and mental states, humans blink their eyes about every 4 seconds. A blink lasts 1/10th of a second.
Eye blinks cause disruptions to visual input and are accompanied by rotations of the eyeball laterally by 0.5° or 1.0°. Like every motor action, these eye movements are subject to noise and introduce instabilities in gaze direction across blinks. ~ Gerrit Maus et al
Visual imagery remains constant despite the frequent outages and misdirection in eye movement caused by blinking. This cannot be accomplished through purely physiological means.
The material paradox of consistent vision despite blinking is brought home by the fact that there must be image consistency at least every 13 milliseconds not to detect jitter; far faster than the time it takes the eyes to blink. The threshold rate at which flickering light is perceived as steady is known as the flicker fusion threshold.
If vertebrate sight as a purely physical phenomenon is inexplicable, consider how much more complex vision is for dragonflies and other insects with compound eyes.
Dragonflies can see in all directions at the same time. ~ Robert Olberg, who specializes in dragonfly vision
Predatory flying insects have a far greater need for speedy sight at high resolution than humans, as they must visually track prey at least as fast as you can wave your hand. A dragonfly attack flight may last only 200–500 milliseconds.
Insects, like mammals, seem to possess mechanisms for extracting spatial features from visual scenes. ~ Australian neurobiologist David O’Carroll, who specializes in insect vision processing
Dragonflies are superb hunters. They track their prey via compound eyes that each have up to 30,000 facets (ommatidia), which are functionally arranged for the different light characteristics of sunlight from above and refraction from below. The sky appears especially bright to a dragonfly to provide a clear contrasting background against which small agile prey can be detected.
The capture of flying insects by foraging dragonflies is a highly accurate, visually guided behavior. Rather than simply aiming at the prey’s position, the dragonfly aims at a point in front of the prey, so that the prey is intercepted with a relatively straight flight trajectory. During prey pursuit, the dragonfly adjusts its head orientation to maintain the image of the prey centered on the “crosshairs” formed by the visual midline and the dorsal fovea, a high acuity streak that crosses midline at right angles about 60 degrees above the horizon. The visual response latencies to drifting of the prey image are remarkably short: ~25 ms for the head and 30 ms for the wing responses. ~ Robert Olberg
Whereas humans have opsins (light-sensitive proteins) for trichromatic (3-color) vision, dragonflies have anywhere from 11–30 different opsins, which render unimaginable color discrimination. They can also detect light’s plane of polarization, which helps them identify and navigate bodies of water.
Different opsins are specifically arranged within each ommatidium. This means that dragonfly visual processing is orders of magnitude more complicated than human vision.
Ommatidia are segregated in the compound eye so that the upwards facing eyes has only blue and UV receptors, and the downwards facing eye has receptors for longer wavelengths, such as green and orange. ~ Robert Olberg
Dragonfly optical sensation involves initial stimulation of opsin-filled pigment cells. Each facet/ommatidium has 7–11 such sensory receptor cells.
Receptors are connected to ocellar nerve dendrites (ONDs). A receptor interprets received photons into an electrical impulse before translating it into an electrochemical signal at its axon terminal, whereupon the receptor prods the dendrite of its correspondent OND.
The OND turns this prompt into an electrical signal, which it sends as sensory input to one of the 2 optical lobes in the brain, where yet another exchange translation – from electrical to electrochemical – takes place. Supposedly, and inexplicably, precise photonic information is accurately conveyed. All told, the optical input process to the brain takes ~2.5 milliseconds.
Assuming physiological processing could do so, over 100,000 optical inputs are precisely spatially and temporally collated within several milliseconds, producing a vivid panoramic image with exponentially more color content than humans can perceive, and light polarization to boot.
Together, these thousands of ommatidia produce a mosaic, but how this is integrated in the insect brain is still not known. ~ English evolutionary biologist GrrlScientist (GrrlScientist wrote this after interviewing 3 of the world’s foremost experts in dragonfly vision: Robert Olberg, American biologist Dennis Paulson, who is interested in the biology of dragonflies and birds, and David O’Carroll.)
Dragonfly vision is infinitely more complicated than human sight, yet dragonflies manage to see with just 1% of the neurons humans have in their visual cortex. Whereas the human eye has an optic nerve of up to 1.7 million nerve fibers, the dragonfly optic nerve is an information conduit of just 16 neurons.
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The foregoing is just a dragonfly taking a snapshot image. Consider high-speed motion detection. A dragonfly can detect a tiny insect moving up to 20 meters away.
Intercepting a moving object requires prediction of its future location. This complex task has been solved by dragonflies, who intercept their prey in midair with a 95% success rate.
A group of 16 neurons code a population vector that reflects the direction of the target with high accuracy and reliability across 360°. A successful neural circuit for target tracking and interception can be achieved with few neurons.
In dragonflies this information is relayed from the brain to the wing motor centers in population vector form. ~ neurobiologist Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido et al, who blithely assumed that dragonfly neural physiology is sufficient for the lightning-fast real-time task at hand
Dragonflies can accurately estimate size and distance to their prey within a few hundredths of a second. Further, dragonflies practice selective attention: screening out useless visual information to focus on a target. This ability was long thought unique to humans.
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A small group of neurons can control complex interactions with moving objects. ~ Robert Olberg
Dragonfly vision is physically impossible. It is a fantasy to think that 16 neurons manage predation at dragonfly hawking speeds.
Many dragonflies are so agile that they can closely follow the movements of their prey even if the latter are engaged in swarming activity. ~ English entomologist Philip Corbet
A miniature brain can achieve accurate performance in highly demanding sensorimotor tasks. ~ English neurobiologist Trevor Wardill et al
At 6 millimeters in length, a robber fly is 10 times smaller than a dragonfly. Compared to dragonflies, robber fly compound eyes have 1/3rd the total number of lenses, and 99% of those are almost 4 times smaller; yet robber fly vision is nearly as sharp as dragonflies. (Though robber fly sight is acute looking forward, their peripheral vision is no match for the wide-angle acuity of dragonflies.)
Robber flies give dragonflies a run for their money with regards to spatial resolution of the retina. ~ Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido
The lenses in a robber fly’s compound eyes range from 20 to 78 microns (μ) in diameter. 78 μ, which is about the width of a human hair, matches dragonfly lens size.
The largest lenses in robber fly eyes are clustered together in the center of each eye and pointed forward. There only ~20 of these foveal ommatidia. They occupy ~20% of the eye volume, while covering only ~0.1% of the eye’s visual space. These large lenses are paired with small light-receptor cells set farther back from the lens than in other flies. The result is astonishing binocular vision.
The effect of this is like zooming in on a camera lens. By extending the focal length, the sensor at the bottom samples a smaller region of visual space. ~ English entomologist Sam Fabian
Most saliently, the neural equipment for vision processing that robber flies have is much tinier, and many times more modest, than the meager resources that dragonflies manage their impressive aerial feats with.
A robber fly attentively sits, waiting for a tempting prey to fly past. A robber fly can detect a morsel on the wing smaller than 2 mm from up to 100 body lengths away: acuity so astonishing as to be physically implausible.
Once a meal is spotted, a robber fly takes off, using an interception trajectory known as constant bearing angle: keeping the target at a constant angle to ensure eventual intersection. This same strategy is also used by fish, bats, and sailors.
Once a robber fly has closed in to 29 cm, it changes tack to a direct intercept. The lock-on phase transition is driven by invariant image properties of the targeted prey, not by any specific subtended angular size or by distance estimation.
It has been considered that the lock-on trigger relates to the angular size of the object over its rate of expansion as the robber fly closes in. This ratio, called optical tau, yields an estimated duration to contact. But the rapid robber fly attack violates 2 conditions necessary for optical tau to be reliable: constant approach speed and symmetrical head-on approach.
Whatever triggers robber fly lock-on, it is an instantaneous calculation of an advanced geometrical algorithm; something well beyond human ability at any speed.
There’s a trade-off going on between having excellent vision – which requires bigger lenses – and the size of the insect. The only way a robber fly could have vision as excellent as a dragonfly would be to have an eye with many more and larger lenses ; but then the fly itself would need to be much larger to be able to carry it. ~ Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido
Flies do a precise and fast calculation to avoid a specific threat, and they are doing it using a brain that is as small as a grain of salt. They process information so quickly. Flies’ nervous system and muscles are able to control movements to a very, very fine scale. ~ Dutch biomechanist Florian Muijres
According to matterist doctrine, each time you shift your gaze (which you do several times every second), the brain sends a command to the eyes to move. A copy of that same command is issued to the internal visual system. This allegedly allows the brain to predict that it is going to receive a flood of visual information resulting from the body’s movement, and to compensate for the movement by suppressing or enhancing certain neural activity.
A fruit fly or housefly has to do the same thing, with a brain that is a miniscule fraction of yours. But the situation is even more complicated for a fly.
A fly’s eyes are bolted to its head. For a fly to shift its gaze, it must maneuver its whole body like a tiny airplane. Despite the physical encumbrance, a fly still manages to compensate for expected and unexpected visual motion.
A group of motion-sensitive neurons in a fly’s visual system are adjusted during a rapid, intentional turn. The compensation is quite specific: only visual motion along the yaw axis is suppressed. Sensitivity to roll is unimpaired.
This makes sense because a fly must first roll, and then counter-roll, to properly execute an intentional turn. If a fly were to counter-yaw, it could never head off on a new direction. So, the fly’s visual neurons must distinguish visual signals caused by yaw from those related to roll.
Visual neurons quantitatively silence their predicted visual responses to rotations around the relevant axis while preserving sensitivity around other axes. The brain can remove one sensory signal from a circuit carrying multiple related signals. ~ American neurobiologist Gaby Maimon et al
Once again, the assumptive physiological explanation is fantastic. The supposed neural computation is equivalent to tuning out the sound of a single instrument in an orchestra – it simply cannot be done. That a small group of nerve cells can selectively edit multiplexed signals at the speed at which flies fly is beyond belief. The most advanced algorithms that mathematicians and computer scientists have come up with could not accomplish such a fine-tuned feat. The idea that a few neurons could do so literally on-the-fly is absurd.
Insect Night Vision
Reliable vision in dim light depends on the efficient capture of photons. ~ Finnish biophysicist Anna Honkanen
The compound eyes of cockroaches are on the top of their little rounded heads, looking out with 2,000+ ommatidia. They can see all around. Cockroaches can even see when they shouldn’t be able to: when a photoreceptor in their eye only captures a single photon every 10 seconds.
The cockroach has extremely high night-vision capability. ~ Anna Honkanen
Cockroaches are not the only insect which can inexplicably see in the dark.
On a moonless night, light levels can by more than 100 million times dimmer than in bright daylight. Yet while we are nearly blind and quite helpless in the dark, moths are flying agilely between flowers. ~ Australian biophysicist Eric Warrant
Despite diminutive physical visual systems, nocturnal insects see so amazingly well in near darkness that they can distinguish colors, detect faint movements, learn visual landmarks for homing later, and avoid obstacles during their rapid flights. They can even orient themselves according to polarized moonlight.
For example, the nocturnal Central American sweat bee absorbs just 5 photons into its tiny eyes when light levels are at their lowest – a vanishingly small visual signal. And yet, in the dead of night, it can navigate the dense and tangled rainforest on a foraging trip and make it safely back to its nest. ~ Eric Warrant
The nocturnal elephant hawkmoth uses colour vision to discriminate coloured stimuli at intensities corresponding to dim starlight (0.0001 cd m–2). It can do this even if the illumination colour changes, thereby showing colour constancy – a property of true colour vision systems. In identical conditions, humans are completely colour-blind. ~ German zoologist Almut Kelber et al
The proffered physical hypothesis is that cockroaches and insect night flyers see 100 times better by summing photons “from different points in space and time.” According to this myth, disparate photonic summation somehow creates “super pixels” of imagery.
Spatial and temporal summation combine supralinearly to substantially increase contrast sensitivity and visual information rate. ~ Swedish neurobiologist Anna Lisa Stöckl et al
The physics of this are impossible, especially for creating a reliable visual image; but then consider the physical equipment these insects possess for vision processing, and even supralinear summation could not possibly provide the necessary visual acuity and color discrimination in such low light and at the speeds which many nocturnal bees and moths fly. While experiments have proven the visual abilities of nocturnal insects, accounting for these abilities by physical means alone can only be a science-fiction story.
Insect vision is precisely adapted to the light and movement conditions of their environment. ~ American biophysicist Simon Sponberg et al
Scallops are cosmopolitan, bottom-dwelling, marine bivalves, found in all the world’s oceans. Scallops can swim. Many can rapidly spurt short distances to escape prey. Some scallops migrate.
Like all bivalves, scallops lack brains. Scallops suffice with a nervous system controlled by 3 paired clusters of nerve cells (ganglia). The most extensive ganglia group connects to all the tentacles and eyes that a scallop has.
A scallop has up to 200 eyes, each about the size of a poppy seed. Rather than a lens, each eye acts as a mirror, similar to the reflector telescope invented by Isaac Newton. Some crustaceans and deep-sea fish also have mirror eyes.
A scallop’s optical mirrors are formed of guanine, a nucleobase. Each mirror has 20 to 30 layers of crystalline squares, separated by thin layers of cytoplasm. Each layer is composed of tightly packed crystal plates, precisely arranged so that each micron-wide square lies directly beneath another, forming a vertical stack.
The most complex optical function of guanine crystals in Nature is in image formation. This function demands an extremely high degree of ultrastructural organization because light must not only be reflected but also focused. The hierarchal organization of the scallop mirror is finely tuned for image formation, from the component guanine crystals at the nanoscale to the overall shape of the mirror at the millimeter level. ~ Israeli biologist Benjamin Palmer et al
Every scallop eye has millions of crystal squares, each just over 1 micron (μm). These tiles themselves don’t reflect light: they are transparent, but their arrangement fantastically turns them collectively into a mirror.
As a ray of light passes through the layers of tiles and fluid, it gets bent further and further from its original direction. The light eventually reverses its direction and heads back toward the front of the eye.
The scallop eye has 2 retinas: one for direct gaze, the other for peripheral vision. The optical axes of the mirror and the retina are not aligned. While scallop eyes are completely different from mammalian eyes, they function alike: an enigmatic functional convergence given the structural disparities.
There is a striking correspondence between the apparent functions of the scallop’s distal and proximal retinas and the cone and rod cells of mammals. ~ Benjamin Palmer et al
A scallop’s mind collates the disparate inputs and creates a panoramic view. A sharp central view allows scallops to quickly recognize oncoming predators. Well-focused peripheral vision helps a scallop find the perfect spot to settle down to feed. A scallop has a range of vision spanning ~250°.
Chameleons manipulate guanine crystals just under their skin to change their color at will. Scallops mentally control their mirror eyes at nanoscale to see.
The scallop controls the crystal morphology and spacing to produce a tiled multilayer mirror with minimal optical diffraction aberrations, which reflects wavelengths of light that penetrate its habitat and are absorbed by its retinas. The mirror forms functional images on both retinas. ~ Benjamin Palmer et al
There is no physiological explanation for how scallops can control their mirror eyes, or how the simple nerve network that a scallop has can create excellent vision from such a strange arrangement.
Fruit Fly Larvae
The human eye has over 125 million photoreceptors. Fruit fly larvae have a just 24, but they see quite well.
Fruit fly larvae are able to take just a couple dozen points of light and process that into recognizable images. They are – to a very high degree – visually sensitive to detail and rate of motion and can recognize their own species. ~ American neurobiologist Barry Condron
Sight evolved in innumerable organisms, many without any identifiable physical means to process vision.
Sea urchins are mobile pincushions, without a brain or eyes. Instead, a sea urchin is an eye, a very prickly one. Sea urchins have opsins scattered over their surface and on their feet. Though their mental images are rough, the urchin body-eye is good enough to tell light from dark and detect movement: sufficient to know when to put one’s spines up or run for cover.
Warnowiids are a family of single-celled marine protist. These unicellular eukaryotes have an organelle eye – an ocelloid – that is used to catch prey and avoid predators. An ocelloid can even detect polarized light.
Ocelloids consist of subcellular components which together resemble the camera-type eyes of some animals. It’s an amazingly complex structure for a single-celled organism to have evolved. ~ Canadian evolutionary biologist Gregory Gavelis
Warnowiid eyes are so extraordinary that no one believed German zoologist Oscar Hertwig for nearly a century after he first described them in 1884. But then, it is hard to explain how a unicellular organism can see when it has no brain nor even nerves.
How is the image processed by a single cell? It’s very difficult to wrap your mind around. ~ Canadian marine cytologist Brian Leander
Rhodopsin is a pigment-containing sensory protein that converts light into an electrical signal. As a photoreceptor, rhodopsin is employed by a wide range of organisms, from bacteria to mammals.
Rhodopsin has 2 components: a protein called scotopsin and its covalently bound cofactor retinal. Scotopsin is an opsin. Retinal, a pigmented form of vitamin A, is the chemical agent that affords light-sensing via photoisomerization: changing isomer upon absorbing a photon. The configuration change provokes scotopsin to dissociate from retinal, resulting in photobleaching, which lessens opsin sensitivity to light. In humans, bleached rhodopsin-powered vision rod cells fully regenerate in ~30 minutes.
Animals have 2 kinds of photoreceptor cells that use rhodopsin: rhabdomeric and ciliary. In each case, light activates rhodopsin, but the subsequent stages of phototransduction diverge. In rhabdomeric receptors, light causes cation channels to open in the photoreceptor cell membrane, thereby depolarizing the cell, whereas in ciliary receptors light hyperpolarizes the cell by closing these channels.
The common ancestor of animals had both ciliary and rhabdomeric photoreceptors, and they continue to coexist. One puzzle is how these photoreceptors evolved to perform opposite roles in different animals.
Visual photoreceptors – those present in eyes – are ciliary rods and cones in vertebrates, but rhabdomeric in protostomes (segmented worms, arthropods, and mollusks). Conversely, vertebrate rhabdomeric receptors have non-visual roles such as regulating circadian rhythms, whereas protostome ciliary receptors are non-visual sensors.
Insects have rhabdomeric receptors and vertebrates have ciliary receptors, but both have excellent vision. ~ English neuroscientist Daniel Colasco
In bright light, ciliary receptors are superior to rhabdomeric receptors because they consume less energy and suffer less response variation, which would reduce signal reliability. Also, a higher photopigment density in ciliary receptors enhances their sensitivity.
The morphology and phototransduction cascade of the rods and cones enable them to count photons more efficiently in terms of the space they occupy, the materials and energy they use, and the accuracy with which they register photon hits. For this reason, the majority of vertebrates adopted a duplex retina with slow, high-sensitivity rods for efficient scotopic vision in dim light, and lower-sensitivity cones for fast and accurate photopic vision in bright light. ~ American physiologist Gordon Fain et al
To their credit, rhabdomeric receptors function over an enormous intensity range: from starlight to bright sunlight. By contrast, the ciliary mechanism has to trade off response speed against the rate of spontaneous photopigment activation in the absence of light. This spontaneous activation, or dark noise, creates a constant veiling pseudo-light effect, which, in cone photoreceptors, overwhelms vision at low intensities but is insignificant in daylight.
To overcome this ciliary functional deficiency, vertebrates have a duplex retina of rods and cones. Whereas retinal cones are responsible for photopic (bright-light) vision, rods afford scotopic (low-light) sight.
Low spontaneous activity allows rods to signal detection of a few photons, but rods suffer from slow response and take considerable time to recover from bleaching, which leaves them blind in daylight. Vertebrate cones give snappy responses, but dark noise makes them useless at night.
Rods burn out in bright light and cones create a haze in the dark, yet we have no awareness of these failings. Our vision seems seamless regardless of light level. Continuous signal clarity is a mystery given the biodynamics of photoreceptors.
Gene duplications provide raw material for functional adaptations. ~ Gordon Fain et al
To create the vertebrate photoreceptor complex, the genome duplicated early on in these animals’ descent. (The genome of the vertebrate ancestor was doubled twice at the dawn of these creatures. These massive gene duplication events led to many novel functions, not just vision.) The original acted as a base of gene conservation while the copy served as a workshop for innovation. New sets of opsin genes were generated.
Ciliary cone-based color vision evolved before the dim-light capability of rods developed – low-light vision being a refinement. Yet rods must have been on the evolutionary plan, as ciliary-based vision is inferior overall to rhabdomeric vision without low-light rod cells.
Ciliary photoreceptors come to dominate the chordates due primarily to the invention of the high-sensitivity rod. ~ Gordon Fain et al
The Sun’s brightness was gaining intensity as life developed on Earth. Early evolved animals stuck with the traditional rhabdomeric receptors, whereas the chordates that became vertebrates crafted the more complex but energy-efficient ciliary system. This adaptation anticipated sunnier days. (This book brushes past adaptive evolution as existence-proof of coherence and an argument against matterism, which cannot explain the observed dynamics of evolution. For an exploration of this subject, see Spokes 3: The Elements of Evolution.)
The purpose of a visual system is to sample light in such a way as to provide an animal with actionable knowledge of its surroundings. In most cases, this is achieved most effectively by a highly regular 2-dimensional (2D) array of photoreceptors that evenly sample incoming light to produce an accurate representation of the visual scene. The optimal arrangement of a 2D array of detectors is a triangular lattice (i.e., a hexagonal array). Indeed, any deviation from a perfectly regular arrangement of photoreceptors will cause deterioration in the quality of the image produced by a retina. Accordingly, many species evolved an optimal arrangement of their photoreceptors. For example, the insect compound eye consists of a perfect hexagonal array of photoreceptive ommatidia. In addition, many teleost fish and some reptiles possess nearly crystalline arrangements of photoreceptors. ~ Italian American scientist Salvatore Torquato et al
Of vertebrates, diurnal birds have a most sophisticated system of visual cone cells. Their eyes have 4 types of a single cone cell for color vision (violet, blue, green, and red) and double cones to detect light level (luminance). Despite numerous adaptive specializations in the avian eye, the overall arrangement of cone cells in a bird’s eye appears oddly irregular.
The 5 avian cone types exist as 5 independent spatial patterns, all embedded within a single monolayered epithelium. The individual cone patterns in the retina are arranged such that cones of one type almost never occur near other cones of the same type. In this way, the bird achieves a much more uniform arrangement of each of the cone types than would exist in a random (Poisson) pattern of points. ~ Salvatore Torquato et al
The apparent disorder belies a distributive homogeneity. Both retinal cone cells overall and individual cell types are simultaneously hyperuniform in their spatial arrangement. Each set of cones by type, although not regularly arranged, is as uniform as possible given the packing constraints of having 5 distinct cone cell sizes.
A disordered hyperuniform many-body system is an exotic state of matter that behaves like a perfect crystal or quasicrystal in the manner in which it suppresses large-scale density fluctuations and yet, like a liquid or glass, is statistically isotropic with no Bragg peaks. ~ Salvatore Torquato et al
Hyperuniformity is a hallmark of a deeper optimization process. ~ American mathematician Henry Cohn
Because we can see, the naïve assumption has always been that sight is somehow accomplished through known electrochemical neuronal processing. This is faith, not science. Examining the biomechanical details involved reveals that real-time vision processing simply is not physically possible. Sight is just the tip of the iceberg.
The fundamental problem is that our brain doesn’t work in real-time. The brain actually works rather slow. Information that the brain receives from the eye is already out of date by the time it gets to the visual cortex. ~ Gerrit Maus
If human brains are too slow for visual processing, the pathways and processing power for insect vision, and especially color sight at night, are woefully inadequate. The matterist explanation for vision is not credible.
You might think that vision is easily accomplished because cameras capture images, but the processes are quite different. Photography involves cumulative deposition of photons onto a photo-reactive chemical substrate; a relatively simple operation thousands of times slower than sight. And single-lens cameras are nothing like compound eyes.
As animals vocalize, their vocal organ transforms motor commands into vocalizations for social communication. ~ Danish zoologist Coen Elemans et al
Sound is a vibration propagating as an audible wave of pressure. Audition is sound perception.
Animals make sounds in a variety of ways. The subtlest and most complex is via vocalization: willfully pushing air through the respiratory system in a precisely controlled manner.
Humans and other mammals vocalize through their vocal cords, which are more accurately called vocal folds: 2 folds covered in a mucous membrane which extends across the interior cavity of the larynx, which is the hollow tube atop the windpipe (trachea).
The vocal folds are twin infoldings of 3 distinct tissues. A central, thin, loose, gel-like layer of connective tissue, the lamina propria, forces a vocal fold to vibrate and produce sound when muscles regulate the folds as air from the lungs rushes past.
The lamina propria includes an array of different cells, some of which form intricately arranged and layered elastic fibers. A pair of vagus nerve cables physiologically provide the necessary stimulation to twitch specific lamina propria fiber cells so that they stretch and tighten with molecular precision. Dissection has failed to reveal how this exactly works, especially in light of the ability to punctiliously adjust pitch, intensity, and timbre at the millisecond interval.
Birds vocalize through their syrinx, which has no vocalizing membrane. Instead, avian vocalizations are made by muscling the walls of the syrinx during airflow. They can do so at over 10 times the speed at which humans can vocalize. The physical structures of avian syrinxes differ considerably.
The syrinx is a tiny box of cartilage. It reinforces the airway, and when air passes over the folds in it, it produces a sound: birdsong. ~ American zoologist Chad Eliason
Despite using disparate organs independently evolved, mammals and birds converged on the same mechanism for vocalization, corresponding with the myoelastic-aerodynamic theory.
Expiratory airflow is mechanically converted by vocal folds into pulse-like airflow, which causes air pressure disturbances constituting the acoustic excitation of the system. The mechanical properties and recruitment of different layers of vibrating tissues affect their resonance properties, which in combination with aerodynamic driving forces determine the frequency and mode of oscillation. ~ Czech biophysicist C.T. Herbst et al
While sound is merely a mechanical pressure wave at a frequency which is audible, the specific process of vocalization is astounding when considering the precise control which animals must have to produce the exact sounds that they do. Sound-producing tissues must be continuously moved with molecular precision while meticulously adjusting airflow.
Just like vision, the everyday activity of utterance is so mundane that we take it for granted as being physically accomplished. Considering the precise atomic intricacies involved, it is impossible to imagine that twitched cells and physical forces alone make vocalization happen. Modulated energy must be involved, and energy is not material, even as it has physiological effect.
Over 90% of the matter in a human body is replaced every month. Yet people remain themselves. It is not the physical material that matters, only the integrity of the energetic pattern.
Physicality renders a rough ruse approximating functionality, to provide the illusion that matter alone is enough; but sensory systems and mentation show that matter does not suffice.
From sensation to perception to cognition, making sense of the moment, and of the world, is the province of the mind. A mind may correspond with physiological organs to process sensory stimuli and regulate behaviors, but not necessarily. Whereas animals have identifiable brains of considerable variety, plants, fungi, and microbes do not. Yet all – brain or no – perceive well their respective worlds and act intelligently within their sphere of existence.
Finally, it is impossible to deny what physicists have shown about the nature of matter: that fermions comprise nothing more than localized coherent HD energy fields, pitched about by immaterial forces (bosons), which obey their own laws of interaction.
Matter is only energy at play, and so is not fundamental. If there is a monism, it simply cannot be matterism.
The ontology of matterism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct ‘actuality’ of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation, however, is impossible. Atoms are not things. ~ German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg
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All truth passes through three stages. 1st, it is ridiculed. 2nd, it is violently opposed. 3rd, it is accepted as being self-evident. ~ German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer
All theories which rely upon the tenets of matterism are discredited. As with the disjointedness between classical and modern physics, observations must be considered as proximate only: applicable at the ambient scale, without possibility of projection to explain the underpinnings of Nature. This is a bitter pill for matterists to swallow, and so the denial will continue.
In proper perspective, the demise of matterism makes science even more demanding. With Nature as a correlated energy-matter spectacle, the intellectual challenge is to understand the interrelations of matter and energy and discern the boundaries where matterism falters: an inquiry into interfaces.
Is man related to something infinite – that is the central question. ~ Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung