Luck, jobs and learning

this is the title of a well written article by Eve Marder. She argues that important events in our lives are governed by chance to a large extent.
Nothing new so far. However unpleasant it might seem. She turns the argument though and makes a point for chance ruling our lives can be something reassuring.

Free Will as evolved brain function

I’m keen to see more of these ‘Lost Lectures’. The setting is amazing – reminds me of the video to Placebos ‘Special Needs’.

Björn Brembs argues that deterministic behaviour is expectable behaviour. If you’re prey and running away from a predator, being predictable is rather unfortunate. He has got some data on fruit flies to back up the argument. With that he got me, being a fruit fly geek myself.

Anyways, see yourself.

Yes. Do. It’s good stuff.

Brain High Low

Today I listened to a podcast (the podcast is in German) about the study of Emotions. The podcast is great and highly recommendable.

Two more comments:
Jaak Panksepp seems a cool guy: he tickles rats for science. Here is a video of him tickling rats (I’ve watched only the first minute of the video.). When tickled they become all trustful and friendly. Apparently they even burst out in ultra-sonic squeaky laughter. I will remember this technique and try it on my brother’s hamster.

All this is of course no proof of rats experiencing pleasure the same way humans do. Just because we cannot even know whether our best friend is experiencing pleasure the way we do (the old philosophical zombie problem). Though in the same Podcast Bud Craig from the University of Phoenix gave an argument, which annoyed me. He said something along the lines: rats surely do not experience pleasure the same way people do, because they don’t have higher brain regions.
So what, Bud, do you mean by higher brain regions? The prefrontal cortex? Rats have that. Six layered cortex? Rats have that too.
Whatever Bud meant, I think he used the wrong term. Higher brain regions is not only misleading but utterly WRONG. Usually people refer with ‘higher’ to the cortex as being the latest invention of evolution and its gift to the pride of creation: humans (if sarcasm does not work in blogs, announcing sarcasm does).
Though it turns out that the cortex is neither necessary for emotion nor for learning. Children born without a cortex are capable of expressing emotions, interacting socially and recognizing places and people (link to an article about this – it’s a pdf).

The cortex is not high. There is no hierarchy in the brain. So stop playing high-low with brains!

What do Reinforcement Theory and the Spaghetti Monster have in common?

My Gospel of the Spaghetti Monster

I do what I think is best for me: I’m striving for rewards and try to avoid punishment. Easy! And intuitive. This is basic reinforcement theory.

You can apply reinforcement theory to every behaviour, because everything can be rewarding, even punishment, just think of Sado-Masochists.

Reinforcement theory cannot be disproved: if I fail explaining behaviour with reinforcement, it’s either inherent noisiness of behaviour, the reward was not rewarding enough or the participant was wrong (damn depression!).

Though wait – if a theory cannot be falsified its not scientific.

I, personally, believe in the Spaghetti Monster. I cannot prove its existence, nor can anyone prove it doesn’t exist. That is why Spaghetti Monster is a believe and no science. As is reinforcement theory.