Brain hacking

In “The Mind’s Biology,” Amy Ellis Nutt reports that some doctors are reaching past the symptoms of mental illness to identify and fix the brain circuits underlie the problems. One of those doctors is Hasan Asif. “Asif says that a person’s mental makeup is a kind of hierarchy, with personality on top, which is created by brain states that arise from circuits firing in a certain pattern below. With psychotherapy, you tweak the brain from the top down, dealing first with a patient’s personality and temperament. But with neurofeedback, combined with qEEG, he said, he tweaks his patients from the bottom up, identifying the brain areas involved and then retraining those circuits to fire differently, resulting in changed moods or mental outlooks.”

Self, with or without selfies

Stan Persky’s book review of Barry Dainton’s Self: Philosophy in Transit is an extended, entertaining, and instructive grand tour of many ideas about the self, that remarkable ability humans have “to sleepily glance at the bathroom mirror in the morning, and not only recognize ourselves, but also reflectively note, ‘Hmm, I don’t like myself very much these days. I wonder what I can do to change who and/or what I am.’” Thought experiments like the “ultimate simulation simulation machine” and “teleportation” make an appearance along the way.

The hard problem

Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness? First-rate review of competing ideas about what makes human beings more than complex robots. “It would be poetic – albeit deeply frustrating – were it ultimately to prove that the one thing the human mind is incapable of comprehending is itself. An answer must be out there somewhere. And finding it matters: indeed, one could argue that nothing else could ever matter more – since anything at all that matters, in life, only does so as a consequence of its impact on conscious brains. Yet there’s no reason to assume that our brains will be adequate vessels for the voyage towards that answer. Nor that, were we to stumble on a solution to the Hard Problem, on some distant shore where neuroscience meets philosophy, we would even recognise that we’d found it.” Highly recommended. Clear, thorough.

Two heads: Paul and Patricia Churchland

Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of Paul and Patricia Churchland’s “marriage devoted to the mind-body problem.” “One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. ‘She said, “Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.” ’ ”