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Von Lommel talks out of body – Yale News

November 10th, 2010

Read about a recent presentation by Dr van Lommel on near death experiences (NDEs) and out of body experiences (OBEs).  Although the incidence of NDEs in the population is important (9 million people in the USA alone, according to Dr Van Lommel), they belong to the realm of subjective experiences and thus cannot be studied by current scientific methods. Patients’ memories during OBEs instead can be objectively verified by nurses, relatives and doctors…. Hence, could these experiences offer a way to indirectly learn more about the nature of consciousness and whether or not it is a separate entity from the brain?

Von Lommel talks out of body, Yale Daily News

The Cool Study

November 10th, 2010

 

The COOL study blog  img

The COOL study

As you may recall we brought our readers some information regarding this study. Dr Mario Beauregard of the University of Montreal recently told us during a telephone interview that they have completed a preliminary questionnaire survey of patients who have undergone “standstill surgery” – better known as deep hypothermic surgery. During this procedure patients are cooled to a temperature below 20 Celsius which leads to a state in which there is no measurable brain activity, no heart beat or breathing and hence physiologically akin to clinical death. The goal of this study is to determine whether patients can have awareness and conscious processes during this time when the brain has stopped measurable electrical activity. Dr Beauregard explained “It is going well as we had had a number of people report conscious awareness and memories from their period of standstill surgery. This now justifies the need to conduct a prospective study to evaluate the claims that patients have of being aware and able to see things from above during this incredible surgery”

Read more on our site: The Cool Study

We will also bring further updates on this study in January 2011

Comments on Eastwood’s “The Hereafter”

November 1st, 2010

The new movie directed by Clint Eastwood , “The Hereafter,” is a welcome
exploration of what happens when we die.  Eastwood brings the topic to mainstream movie audiences with just enough scientific facts and open ended questions to allow the general public the ability to have an open-mindedness about the subject of dying and death.

The limited scientific exploration and discussion, however, makes it seem like the study of near death experiences is in it’s very early stages whereas there are large, worldwide studies already in place by several well regarded institutions and professionals. See our Research Zone.  Also, see an article from The Wall Street Journal, Seeking Proof in Near Death Claims.

Gladly, having Eastwood and Hollywood take on the subject of what happens when we die in such a well balanced and “not over the top” manner (the mediumship scenes and after death visions are restrained) will hopefully continue to open our collective consciousness to further explore the reality of human consciousness and death.

There are an abundance of reviews for The Hereafter, here you will find several links to national reviews for “The Hereafter.

Neuroscience and Free Will

October 26th, 2010

There was a recent blog posted on this topic on  the newspaper website, The Telegraph,  http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tomchivers/100047972/neuroscience-and-free-will-when-definitions-become-important/

It’s interesting as it explores the concept of how advances in neuroscience are bringing up this topic of free will versus determinism which has been considered by philosophers for thousands of years. It also mentioned how humans have a tendency when we talk to separate “me” from “my brain”.   Who is this “I”? What is this consciousness? It is just the physical brain or is it something separate from that? This is the question that has baffled people from Plato to Aristotle and onwards to our present time.

Brain Region Linked to Introspective Thinking

October 25th, 2009

There was a new study reported in the September 17th issue of the research journal, Science, which showed that there may be a brain region linked to introspective thinking as the study found that a spe­cif­ic brain re­gion is larg­er in peo­ple who are good at turn­ing their thoughts in­ward and re­flect­ing on their de­ci­sions.
This pro­cess of “think­ing about your think­ing,” called in­tro­spec­tion, is a key part of hu­man con­scious­ness. Sci­en­tists, however, have not­ed plen­ty of varia­t­ion in peo­ples’ abil­i­ties to in­tro­spect. “We want to know why we are aware of some men­tal pro­cesses,” while oth­ers pro­ceed with­out awareness, said Ste­phen Flem­ing of Uni­vers­ity Col­lege Lon­don, one of the au­thors.  “There may be dif­fer­ent lev­els of con­scious­ness, rang­ing from simply hav­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence, to re­flect­ing up­on that ex­pe­ri­ence. In­tro­spec­tion is on the high­er end of this spec­trum. By meas­ur­ing this pro­cess and re­lat­ing it to the brain we hope to gain in­sight in­to the bi­ol­o­gy of con­scious thought.” The brain re­gion found to be ap­par­ently linked to in­tro­spec­tion is the called the an­te­ri­or pre­fron­tal cor­tex, right be­hind our eyes, said the sci­en­tists, who were led by re­searcher Ge­raint Rees of the uni­vers­ity. The “gray mat­ter” in this re­gion tends to be larg­er in people with great­er in­tro­spective abil­ity, they ex­plained. Gray mat­ter con­sists of the types of brain cells chiefly known for pro­cessing in­forma­t­ion, called neu­rons. See http://www.world-science.net/othernews/100916_introspection.htm

2010-2011 Site Plans

October 3rd, 2009

Welcome to some exciting news about this website! The editorial committee has planned to bring regular updates to the Horizon website and we wanted to share an outline of our plans with you. From November 2010 onwards, we will be providing a research updates section that will examine some of the progress with the AWARE study as well as other related research carried out in different parts of the world.

In terms of the AWARE study, the updates will address certain milestones: developments on the direction of the research, interviews with the researchers, information on what the participating hospitals are currently doing and the new hospitals that have joined the AWARE study, and some early statistics on the study. We will also cover current developments regarding the topic of consciousness through monthly features such as news stories, book reviews, interesting topics from other organizations, and interviews with world leaders. Furthermore, we hope to provide educational events in 2011 and we will provide announcements regarding any upcoming public events related to the topic of consciousness.

Dr. Fenwick weighs in on the “artificial brain”

July 31st, 2009
The recent media announcement that an artificial brain is 10 years away from being constructed is an exciting possibility. The neuroscience community has been waiting some time for a realistic brain to be designed and made. The importance of this brain project is that it uses software modules to mimic each brain cell. They also note that the software is extremely complex as:  for  each cell a laptop is required to do the processing, and hence the need for a supercomputer with the power of 10,000 laptops.
Does this mean that they are any closer to finding out how the brain may actually work and to building a realistic model?. To answer this question it should be split into two, , firstly are they trying to simulate consciousness, that is the subjective awareness that we all have in our everyday life, or are they trying to simulate some of the brain’s mechanical processes. As far as the first question goes there is as yet no understanding in the neuroscience community as to what consciousness actually is. One can say a lot about the correlates of consciousness for example what brain cells come into action during a certain experience or during a certain function but you cannot get from those brain correlates to consciousness itself. I thus feel that it’s highly unlikely even with an artificial brain of this complexity that we will get any closer to an understanding of consciousness.
Secondly will this new computer be able to mimic some of the functions of the brain? The answer to that must be yes as neuroscience already has a good understanding how many of the circuits work and how they can work together. It is thus highly likely that the new computer will throw up more answers in the domain of trying to understand brain mechanism.
The philosophical question what is consciousness is bound to remain. There  are essentially two main sets of theories, the first are the  materialistic ones which suggest that brain is in some way related only to matter, the second set of theories suggests that matter is not primary that consciousness is primary and the matter is dependent upon consciousness. There is a third possibility and that is that matter and consciousness together make up the brain as we understand it. Unfortunately without  a better understanding of what consciousness is. as we have very little empirical data, it is impossible  to choose between any of these philosophical theories.
Dr. Peter Fenwick

Human, Mammal, Frankenstein?

July 30th, 2009

Prof. Markram et al discuss how an “artificial brain” might be less than 10 years away.  The Blue Brain project states that it could advance neuroscience and philosophy; I see how it would challenge humankind as to what would we do with a brain created from “scratch?” I mean, where are we going to put this thing? I cannot but think of this endeavor as a new version of Frankenstein! But wait, what happens if they put a human brain into a mammal? Will the mammal suddenly have moral instincts and the ability to rationalize? What I’d like to know is: will the creation of the artificial brain include research and insights that are coming from other sections of scientific communities? The “new brain” (the neocortex) of animals includes complex cognitive functions but does it include the parts of the brain that account for the emotional life of animals? On July 8, an article ran in the NY Times, “Watching Whales Watching Us,” by Charles Siebert.  Besides a pretty convincing story that lays the groundwork for whales having an intellectual and emotional life, doesn’t this give pause to what sort of complete artificial brain is being created? I will refer to the emotional and intellectual aspect of “being” as “consciousness” for simplicity sake; however, I understand that even “consciousness” needs to be better defined as more information is revealed on its nature (AWARE Study). Is the artificial brain going to include what I call “consciousness”? I must admit to being a long time follower of Penny Patterson and Koko the lowland gorilla. She taught Koko how to communicate using American Sign Language.  Koko often is able to communicate feelings – remember her sadness and grief when her kitten died? I remember the 1996 book and documentary, “When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals.”  In it, I watched elephants mourn their dead. Besides the whales, elephants and gorillas, what about our own human consciousness?  Are artificial brains going to incorporate consciousness? How can we create an artificial brain when we don’t yet know what consciousness is? If “consciousness” continues past the period of death (past brain or heart activity), what is The Blue Brain project creating? Hugh Fisher

An Artificial Brain – Science Fact or Science Fiction?

July 30th, 2009

I was really surprised and intrigued to read the news on the BBC the other day – Professor Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project, based in Lausanne, Switzerland believes that a detailed, functional artificial human brain can be built within the next 10 years! That is an incredible proposition!

Is the dawn of science fiction becoming science fact? If these claims are true, this could mean the end of misery for so many sufferers of devastating neurological diseases like MS, stroke and dementia. As he said during the TED Global conference held in Oxford last week a synthetic human brain would be of particular use in finding treatments for mental illnesses. Yes, of course this could help medical science whether it be to help those suffering with mental illnesses, neurological disorders, or both. But this “science fiction” turning to “science fact” really made me think of something else – What will this all really mean for people who may benefit from it?

A few years ago my mother passed away after years of suffering from a combination of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and Parkinson’s disease. I saw how these diseases ravaged her brain, turning an extremely intelligent, self-sufficient person into someone who could barely communicate (unable to speak to and understand others), overcome by socially inappropriate behaviors and irrational rages, unable to do basic things like eat, dress and go to the bathroom on her own.

Of course I wish she could have had an artificial brain and who knows maybe this potential miracle treatment would have saved her. But then again what would have happened to my sweet and kind mother’s personality? If her brain, barely functioning and destroyed by disease, had been replaced with this “artificial brain” would my mother, Sarah have come back the same person once this apparatus was working properly, or would she have become a completely new person who happened to be called Sarah or just a type of robot called “Sarah”? A sort of “iSarah” maybe?

This of course brings us back to the age old “mind-body problem” or the “problem of consciousness” that has baffled philosophers, scholars and now scientists for millennia. Scientists (at least those who care to think about it), these days are divided regarding this issue.  This “problem” concentrates on understanding how brain processes may also generate the complicated notion of the “self” — our thoughts and feelings, everything that makes each one of us into who we are. Many scientists seem to believe that the “self” cannot exist independently of the brain, while others believe that it is possible to think of the “self” as existing independently of the body. Conventional neuroscience though teaches us that all aspects of the “self” are simply products of the brain and the activity of its cells.

Getting back to my question, if the self arises from the electrochemical processes of the brain itself then we have a problem that I sincerely hope Professor Markam and his team have thought of. Lets think hypothetically that someone like my mother receives this artificial brain with a hope of cure, and in fact is miraculously cured of all neurological disorders. But then who would emerge from this miracle new brain? If conventional neuroscientific views are correct, then I would have to assume that it is unlikely the old Sarah would return, but maybe instead some computer-like being would take her place. If, however, the self actually exists independently of the physical body as some philosophers have claimed and hence the brain, the old Sarah would actually have to return once she received this artificial brain. At this point we don’t know of course!

How will we cope with the huge ethical dilemmas this sort of research poses? Well, I for one don’t have an answer, but I think the notion of an artificial brain has huge implications not only for medical treatment but also for the problem of consciousness, and I am fascinated to see what happens over the decades to come.  Good luck Professor Markram!

Katherine Lang

Consciousness

July 26th, 2009

Like others I am interested in the possibility that consciousness remains after the death of the body.  But, if that should be the case then that same consciousness resides with me (or I reside in it) while in this body on earth.  How can I become more in tune with this part of myself while I’m alive?  Just wondering.

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