The Illusions of Neuroscience and the Certainty of the Mysterious

In an article in the April-June 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind called “The Power of Symmetry,” by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran, we learned that through our own subjective experience of visual stimuli, we can verify the brain’s tendency to impose symmetry on what we see, and through a deliberate method of presenting specific visual patterns, researchers can evoke the brain’s inclination to make sense out of visual patterns. Our knowledge of how the brain functions enhances our understanding today of how visual stimuli is interpreted with regard to imposing symmetry. What struck me about the implications of the research conducted in the article, aside from the insightful look at how the brain processes visual cues, was the mention several times of how with “intense mental effort,” we can briefly override the brain’s “natural preference” for symmetry, when interpreting “apparent motion.” Since we frequently experience the visual aspects of the world without consciously being required to make a deliberate mental effort to interpret them, our natural inclinations generally prevail, resulting in what the Ramachandrans described as “a global imposition of coherence.”

While the precise neural mechanisms supporting our conscious and unconscious brain activities are still not well understood, the ability of an individual to exercise “intense mental effort” to override the brain’s natural inclinations is, for me, a clear indication that whatever mechanisms are engaged in ANY brain process may be subject to disruption or alteration with adequate effort, and suggests to me also that a comprehensive explanation of consciousness itself may include influences not necessarily attributable to specific neural mechanisms!

Dr. Pawan Sinha, PhD in the Summer 2011 Issue of Brain World Magazine – article by Lauren Marks
See full article here:

“There is a very influential idea in the domain of visual neuroscience that essentially says that information from the eyes is not processed as a monolithic whole, but rather it’s split up into different kinds of attributes. There’s color, there’s motion, luminance, high-resolution information, low-resolution information. And the belief is that these different attributes are being processed by different groups of neurons. The outputs of these neurons are eventually combined by some process that still remains mysterious. We don’t really know how that combination comes about.”

It is wonderfully refreshing to read in a prominent magazine dealing with neuroscience, a statement by an “associate professor of vision and computational neuroscience at MIT,” which acknowledges that there are some aspects of the way our brains work that are still mysterious. What we have learned over the decades that scientists have dedicated to figuring out the brain is enormously interesting and has given us many benefits in treatment options for all sorts of pathologies and traumatic injuries, but the brain is so complex and so essential to the ability to figure itself out that we sometimes lose sight of the enormity of the task, and the far-reaching implications of each new discovery.

More to come….

5 thoughts on “The Illusions of Neuroscience and the Certainty of the Mysterious

  1. This may be a little off-topic, and simplistic in comparison, however experiences and findings like this are the reason it pains me a great deal when people DON’T explore, question, and pick-apart fields of study. I’m still young—turning 21 this year—and I have friends who’re in love with the symbolism of a nice car, or are perfectly content drinking beer every weekend because classes are out. This life, this existence, this scientific—and possibly even metaphysical—miracle is worth exploring. Delve as far as humanly possible into understanding life.

    Not only because it’s incredibly wonderful and fascinating, but because we CAN.

    1. Your concern for your fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth is commendable, Jennifer, and I also sometimes have viscerally painful experiences with individuals who seem blissfully unaware of the richness that life has to offer each of us, as well as the benefits of exploring its many fascinations, and much of its abundant beauty. Not long ago, I put together a video presentation of the abundant beauty uncovered right around my own home and found in the very neighborhood in which I live. Uncovering the startling beauty which inhabits the very same space we ourselves inhabit sounds like a “no-brain-er,” but I received many queries about the origin of the objects in the photos I used for the video, in spite of the fact that I had announced in advance that they were all images from the very place I call home!

      It seemed that none of the people who asked the question actually believed that such beauty could be found right in the back yard! I even had one respondent actually accuse me of fabricating the images deliberately from another source!

      I also once wrote an article called, “A Conversation With A Silent Friend,” about my affection for a grand old maple tree in my backyard, and some of the responses seemed to infer that cultivating a relationship with a tree bordered on madness! To this day, when referring to this grand old friend, I speak of my love of this living arboreal being, and still get that sideways look that seems to say, “huh?”

      Young people are often distracted by the latest trends in any number of commercial interests, and look upon higher learning as a burden they must bear, as opposed to an opportunity to explore an endlessly fascinating experience of life. We need to examine our educational system for ways to reverse this trend, and I think you would make an exceptional candidate for someone to lead the charge!

      It has been said that youth is often wasted on the young, but you are the exception that makes that a rule, and in my experience, when those young folks with a nice car eventually figure out that there’s more to life than beer and fun, most of them will find out what you already know–life is fascinating and wonderful if you simply open your eyes and see.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m looking forward to reading more from your blog!

  2. I enjoyed this comment, especially your relationship with the oak tree. I’ve found myself sitting under trees, or among the brush, and inhaling. Then speaking out loud (sorting through my thoughts) but also sharing with nature what I think. It’s a notion that makes me feel a little less “above” nature, as most say humans are, and a little more apart of their existence. I forget that they don’t have brains and ears or can feel pain, or a conscious existence, for just a few minutes.

    I also look forward to reading more of your discoveries. Take care.

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