Picking up voices…

Photo by Spiros Kakos from Pexels

Our brains have a remarkable ability to pick out one voice from among many. Now, a team of Columbia University neuroengineers has uncovered the steps that take place in the brain to make this feat possible.

The auditory cortex is the brain’s listening hub. The inner ear sends this brain region electrical signals that represent a jumble of sound waves from the external world. The auditory cortex must then pick out meaningful sounds from that jumble. The researchers were particularly interested in two parts of the auditory cortex’s hierarchy: Heschl’s gyrus (HG) and the superior temporal gyrus (STG). Information from the ear reaches HG first, passing through it and arriving at STG later.

The data showed that HG creates a rich and multi-dimensional representation of the sound mixture, whereby each speaker is separated by differences in frequency. This region showed no preference for one voice or another. However, in STG ” it is possible to amplify one speaker’s voice or the other by correctly weighting the output signal coming from HG”.

In other words: HG represents, while STG selects. It all happens in around 150 milliseconds.

The researchers also found that after selection, STG formed an auditory object, a representation of the sound that is analogous to our mental representations of the objects we see with our eyes. This demonstrates that even when a voice is obscured by another speaker – such as when two people talk over each other – STG can still represent the desired speaker as a unified whole that is unaffected by the volume of the competing voice. (1)

We learn to listen.

And distinguish voices from one another.

But could that be the problem of philosophy today?

Concentrating too much on specific voices? Caring too much on specific views? After all, there is no philosophical opinion today which has no opposition from an equally important philosopher. There is no case where the philosophy of one philosopher is not refuted in its entirety by the philosophy of another.

And this is where Harmonia Philosophica comes in play!

You see, for Harmonia Philosophica there is no right or wrong opinion!

For Harmonia Philosophica there is no right or wrong way of thinking!

Because for me, thinking itself IS the problem!

We must stop thinking and start accepting. Start truly living again as we once did.

You cannot explain the cosmos. You can just experience it.

You cannot understand what life is. You can just live it.

The highest forms of philosophy lie within the lowest forms of conscious thinking.

Where there is no thought to cast shadows under the light of Being.

Where there is no though to disturb the calm sea of One with ripples of existence.

The highest philosophy at the end is non-philosophy!

As I once wrote in my opening Harmonia Philosophica article, we must forget how to think in order to truly think.

Really.

Think about it…

Placebo.

Give people a sugar pill, they have shown, and those patients – especially if they have one of the chronic, stress-related conditions that register the strongest placebo effects and if the treatment is delivered by someone in whom they have confidence – will improve. Tell someone a normal milkshake is a diet beverage, and his gut will respond as if the drink were low fat. Take athletes to the top of the Alps, put them on exercise machines and hook them to an oxygen tank, and they will perform better than when they are breathing room air – even if room air is all that’s in the tank. Wake a patient from surgery and tell him you’ve done an arthroscopic repair, and his knee gets better even if all you did was knock him out and put a couple of incisions in his skin. Give a drug a fancy name, and it works better than if you don’t.

You don’t even have to deceive the patients. You can hand a patient with irritable bowel syndrome a sugar pill, identify it as such and tell her that sugar pills are known to be effective when used as placebos, and she will get better, especially if you take the time to deliver that message with warmth and close attention. Depression, back pain, chemotherapy-related malaise, migraine, post-traumatic stress disorder: The list of conditions that respond to placebos – as well as they do to drugs, with some patients – is long and growing. (1)

Fool yourself that you will live.

And you will.

Fool yourself that you will gain knowledge.

And you will.

Fool yourself that you die.

And you will.

But tell me. Why did you need to fool yourself in the first place?

Yes, at the end you will be healed.

But no one can ever be healed.

Unless he wasn’t sick in the first place…

At the end, even the healed ones will die.

While Nature is laughing at their anguish.

Look at yourself in awe.

Can you laugh while crying?

Brain. One with the body. Falling in love.

At a small eatery in Seville, Spain, Alan Jasanoff had his first experience with brains — wrapped in eggs and served with potatoes. At the time, he was more interested in finding a good, affordable meal than contemplating the sheer awesomeness of the organ he was eating. Years later, Jasanoff began studying the brain as part of his training as a neuroscientist, and he went on, like so many others, to revere it. It is said, after all, to be the root of our soul and consciousness. But today, Jasanoff has yet another view: He has come to see our awe of the organ as a seriously flawed way of thinking, and even a danger to society.

In The Biological Mind, Jasanoff, neuroscientist at MIT, refers to the romanticized view of the brain — its separateness and superiority to the body and its depiction as almost supernatural — as the “cerebral mystique”. Such an attitude has been fueled, in part, by images that depict the brain without any connection to the body or by analogies that compare the brain to a computer. Admittedly, the brain does have tremendous computing power. But Jasanoff’s goal is to show that the brain doesn’t work as a distinct, mystical entity, but as a ball of flesh awash with fluids and innately in tune with the rest of the body and the environment. “Self” doesn’t just come from the brain, he explains, but also from the interactions of chemicals from our bodies with everything else around us.

To make his case, Jasanoff offers an extensive yet entertaining review of the schools of thought and representations of the brain in the media that led to the rise of the cerebral mystique, especially during the last few decades. He then tears down those ideas using contrary examples from recent research, along with engaging anecdotes. For instance, his clear, lively writing reveals how our emotions, such as the fight-or-flight response and the suite of thoughts and actions associated with stress, provide strong evidence for a brain-body connection. Exercise’s effect on the brain also supports this notion. Even creativity isn’t sacred, often stemming from repeated interactions with those around us. (1)

An interesting viewpoint. But a very limited one.

It is not just the brain connected to your body.

It is your body connected with others.

It is your mind connected with everything else.

Would you be afraid without your stomach?

Could you speak without your food?

Would you dream without your heart?

Could you cry without your daughter?

Your soul is connected with the cosmos.

Yes, you are your body. And your mind. And your brain. And your heart. And your mother. And your children. And everything around you. You are these things and these things are you. Look at the stars in the vast cold space. They are there. And you are here. And yet, you wouldn’t be able to fall in love without them. Look at the stars in the sky. You are here. And they are there. And yet, they couldn’t even shine without you…

Compulsive disorder: We all have it. Forget the sweater.

If you’re pretty sure that it’s going to be cold in the office, you’re likely to throw a sweater in your bag to ward off the chill. It makes sense that those two ideas would be related: if you’re confident about something, it’s natural for your actions to be consistent with what you know.

But for people with obsessive compulsive disorder, that natural relationship isn’t so natural. For them, there’s a disconnect between their understanding of a likely outcome and their eventual action, according to a study published last week in the journal Neuron.

About two percent of adults in the U.S. have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a mental illness characterized by the inability to control certain actions. Some people experience the stereotypical manifestations of the disorder—cleaning, counting—but it can also include obsession with a particular thought or idea, or rearranging items in a particular order. (1)

We believe that this disorder is for some people only.

But who lives not based on his or her obsessions?

We are all obsessed with life.

And we live as if though there is no death.

Isn’t this “compulsive disorder” on a magnified scale?

And even those people who like to think of them as “spiritual”, live their lives as if there is no body.

Isn’t this “compulsive disorder” as well?

It takes a real man (or woman) to just accept things and live life as it is: A union of matter and the spirit. A place where the opposites become one. A place where man and woman come together and the matter is enlightened with the immaterial spirit. A place where everything is created out of nothing. The cosmos of dasein and meaningfulness. A universe full of meaning and light. A place full of darkness and sorrow, as well as unlimited joy and love.

Yes, it will be cold at work.

Throw a sweater in the bag.

And perhaps you just forget to wear it.

Just to enjoy the morning cold in the office…

Neuron connections… Not so important?

Neurons are connected to each other to form networks that underlie behaviors. Drs. Akira Sakurai and Paul Katz of Georgia State’s Neuroscience Institute study the brains of sea slugs, more specifically nudibranchs, which have large neurons that form simple circuits and produce simple behaviors. In this study, they examined how the brains of these sea creatures produce swimming behaviors. They found that even though the brains of two species – the giant nudibranch and the hooded nudibranch – had the same neurons, and even though the behaviors were the same, the wiring was different.

The researchers blocked some of the connections in the giant nudibranch using curare, a paralyzing poison used on blow darts by indigenous South Americans. This prevented the brain of the giant nudibranch from producing the pattern of impulses that would normally cause the animal to swim. Then, they inserted electrodes into the neurons to create artificial connections between the brain cells that were based on connections from the hooded nudibranch. The brain was able to produce rhythmic, alternating activity that would underlie the swimming behavior, showing these two species produce their swimming behavior using very different brain mechanisms.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

“Behaviors that are homologous and similar in form would naturally be assumed to be produced by similar neural mechanisms,” said Katz, co-author of the study and a Regent’s Professor in the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State. “This and previous studies show that connectivity of the neural circuits of two different species of sea slugs differ substantially from each other despite the presence of homologous neurons and behaviors. Thus, the evolution of microcircuitry could play a role in the evolution of behavior”. (1)

Change the brain and you will still have a being which swims.

Change the brain and you will still have a being that thinks.

Change the brain and you will still have a human who is self-conscious.

Your brain changes all the time and yet you are still “you”.

The cosmos changes all the time and yet the laws governing it are the same.

The universe changes all the time and yet it is eternal.

Everything seem different and yet similar patterns arise everywhere.

Time seems to pass and yet you can always remember.

People die only to show that they are still alive.

Things change only to prove that they do not…

Go swimming.

We all do.

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