Ideas of Rita Carter, by Theme

[British, fl. 1998, Freelance science journalist.]

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7. Existence / E. Categories / 2. Categorisation
Brain lesions can erase whole categories of perception, suggesting they are hard-wired
     Full Idea: The discovery that a single brain lesion can erase all knowledge of man-made artefacts, or all knowledge of animals, suggests that these categories somehow hard-wired into the brain - that we all have a set of 'memory pigeonholes'.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.190)
     A reaction: Presumably something can become 'hard-wired' through experience, rather than from birth. The whole idea of 'hard-wired' seems misleading about the brain. What matters is that the brain physically constructs categories.
12. Knowledge Sources / B. Perception / 5. Interpretation
Sense organs don't discriminate; they reduce various inputs to the same electrical pulses
     Full Idea: Despite their variety, each sense organ translates its stimulus into electrical pulses; rather than discriminating one type of input from another, the sense organs actually make them more alike.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.174)
     A reaction: An illuminating observation, which modern 'na´ve realists' should bear in mind. Secondary qualities are entirely unrelated to the nature of the input, and are merely 'what the brain decides to make of it'. Discrimination is in our neurons.
The recognition sequence is: classify, name, locate, associate, feel
     Full Idea: The sequence of events in the brain for perceptual recognition is first identifying a rough class for the object, then a name, then a location, then some associations, and finally an emotion.
     From: report of Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.181) by PG - Db (ideas)
     A reaction: This seems to be one of those places where neuro-science trumps philosophy. You can't argue with empirical research, so philosophical theories had better adapt themselves to this sequence. The big modern discovery is the place of emotion in recognition.
12. Knowledge Sources / E. Direct Knowledge / 3. Memory
There seems to be no dividing line between a memory and a thought
     Full Idea: It has become clear from research that there is no clear dividing line between a memory and a thought.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.308)
     A reaction: This always struck me as an obvious criticism of Descartes, when he claimed that memory was not an essential part of the 'thinking thing'. How can you think or understand without memory of the different phases of your thoughts? No memory, no mind!
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 7. Animal Minds
No one knows if animals are conscious
     Full Idea: No one knows if animals are conscious.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.155)
     A reaction: This is a report from the front line of brain research, and should be born in mind when over-confident people make pronouncements about this topic. It strikes me as important to grasp that animals MIGHT not be conscious.
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 8. Brain
Proper brains appear at seven weeks, and neonates have as many neurons as adults do
     Full Idea: The main sections of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, are visible within seven weeks of conception, and by the time the child is born the brain contains as many neurons - about 100 billion - as it will have as an adult.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p. 17)
     A reaction: Of interest in the abortion debate, and also in thinking about personal identity. However, it seems clear that the number of connections, rather than neurons, is what really matters. A small infant may well lack personal identity.
In primates, brain size correlates closely with size of social group
     Full Idea: Brain size in primates is closely associated with the size of the social group in which the animal lives.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.257)
     A reaction: Intriguing. Humans can have huge social groups because of language, which suggests a chicken-or-egg question. Language, intelligence and size of social group must have expanded together in humans.
Pain doesn't have one brain location, but is linked to attention and emotion
     Full Idea: Scans show there is no such thing as a pain centre; pain springs mainly from the activation of areas associated with attention and emotion.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p. 12)
     A reaction: Most brain research points to the complex multi-layered nature of experiences that were traditionally considered simple. We can be distracted from a pain, and an enormous number of factors can affect our degree of dislike of a given pain.
15. Nature of Minds / B. Features of Minds / 1. Consciousness / c. Parts of consciousness
Consciousness involves awareness, perception, self-awareness, attention and reflection
     Full Idea: Awareness, perception, self-awareness, attention and reflection are all separate components of consciousness, and the quality of our experience varies according to which and how many of them are present.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.300)
     A reaction: Philosophers like to emphasise 'qualia' and 'intentionality'. This remark slices the cake differently. 'Attention' is interesting, dividing consciousness into two areas, with some experience fading away into the darkness. Hume denied self-awareness.
15. Nature of Minds / B. Features of Minds / 1. Consciousness / e. Cause of consciousness
There is enormous evidence that consciousness arises in the frontal lobes of the brain
     Full Idea: A huge volume of evidence suggests that consciousness emerges from the activity of the cerebral cortex, and in particular from the frontal lobes.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.298)
     A reaction: Dualists must face up to this, and even many physicalists have a rather vague notion about the location of awareness, but we are clearly homing in very precise physical substances which have consciousness as a feature.
15. Nature of Minds / B. Features of Minds / 5. Qualia / a. Nature of qualia
Normal babies seem to have overlapping sense experiences
     Full Idea: Connections in a baby's brain probably give the infant the experience of 'seeing' sounds and 'hearing' colours - which occasionally continues into adulthood, where it is known as 'synaesthesia'.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p. 19)
     A reaction: A fact to remember when discussing secondary qualities, and the relativism involved in the way we perceive the world. If you have done your philosophy right, you shouldn't be surprised by this discovery.
15. Nature of Minds / B. Features of Minds / 7. Blindsight
In blindsight V1 (normal vision) is inactive, but V5 (movement) lights up
     Full Idea: Scans show that a sub-section of the visual cortex called V5 - the area that registers movement - lights up during blindsight, even though V1 - the primary sensory area that is essential for normal sight - is not active.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.307)
     A reaction: The whole point of blindsight is to make us realise that vision involves not one module, but a whole team of them. The inference is that V1 involves consciousness, but other areas of the visual cortex don't.
17. Mind and Body / A. Mind-Body Dualism / 8. Dualism of Mind Critique
Out-of-body experiences may be due to temporary loss of proprioception
     Full Idea: Out-of-body experiences may be due to temporary loss of proprioception.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.187)
     A reaction: This is only a speculation, but it is an effect which can be caused by brain injury, and dualists should face the possibility that this evidence (prized by many dualists) can have a physical explanation.
17. Mind and Body / E. Mind as Physical / 2. Reduction of Mind
Scans of brains doing similar tasks produce very similar patterns of activation
     Full Idea: The pattern of brain activation during, say, a word retrieval task is usually similar enough among the dozen or so participants who typically take part in such studies for their scans to be overlaid and still show a clear pattern.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p. 17)
     A reaction: This doesn't surprise me, though it could be interpreted as supporting type-type identity, or as supporting functionalism. Armstrong and Lewis endorse a sort of reductive functionalism which would fit this observation.
Thinking takes place on the upper side of the prefrontal cortex
     Full Idea: The nuts and bolts of thinking - holding ideas in mind and manipulating them - takes place on the upper side of the prefrontal cortex.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.312)
     A reaction: Keep this firmly in view! Imagine that the skull is transparent, and brain activity moves in waves of colour. Dualism would, in those circumstances, never have even occurred to anyone.
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 3. Emotions
Babies show highly emotional brain events, but may well be unaware of them
     Full Idea: Babies show emotion dramatically, but the areas of the brain that in adults are linked to the conscious experience of emotions are not active in newborn babies. Such emotions may therefore be unconscious.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p. 19)
     A reaction: Traditionally, 'unconscious emotion' is a contradiction, but I think we should accept this new evidence and rethink the nature of mind. Not only might emotion be non-conscious, but we should even consider that rational thinking could be too.
The only way we can control our emotions is by manipulating the outside world that influences them
     Full Idea: We try to manipulate our emotions all the time, but all we are doing is arranging the outside world so it triggers certain emotions - we cannot control our reactions directly.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.155)
     A reaction: This seems to me to throw a very illuminating light on a huge amount of human behaviour, such as going to the cinema or listening to music. The romantic movement encouraged direct internal manipulation. Compare sex fantasies with viewing pornography.
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 6. Rationality
A frog will starve to death surrounded by dead flies
     Full Idea: A frog will starve to death surrounded by dead flies.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p.195)
     A reaction: A nice warning against assuming that rationality is operating when a frog feels hungry and 'decides' to have lunch. We should take comfort from the fact that humans are NOT this stupid, and philosophers should try to accurately describe our gift.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 3. Pleasure / d. Sources of pleasure
The 'locus coeruleus' is one of several candidates for the brain's 'pleasure centre'
     Full Idea: Noradrenaline is an excitatory chemical that induces physical and mental arousal and heightens mood. Production is centred in an area of the brain called the locus coeruleus, which is one of several candidates for the brain's 'pleasure' centre.
     From: Rita Carter (Mapping the Mind [1998], p. 30)
     A reaction: It seems to me very morally desirable that people understand facts of this kind, so that they can be more objective about pleasure. Pleasure is one cog in the machine that makes a person, not the essence of human life.