Can Life Produce Chaos?

In the 1980s and 1990s, scientists around the world raced to answer a simple question: is life capable of chaos? Mathematically, chaos means extreme sensitivity to small changes (Figure 1). This is sometimes referred to as the “butterfly effect”: in a chaotic system, it is as if something as small as the flapping of a […]

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You Don’t Have a Lizard Brain

Despite our best intentions, scientists sometimes make a very basic mistake: we look for what makes humans unique. Certainly, humans are not just unique, but extraordinary. Nothing else in the known universe has produced art, science, technology, or civilization. But, our history of searching for how, precisely, we came to be exceptional has often led to […]

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Measuring Consciousness in Bits

Consciousness is an ambiguous concept. It can mean a lot of different things, depending on the context. For example, I can say that I am conscious of something, as in, “I am conscious of the fact that I am currently writing about consciousness.” It can also mean self-consciousness or self-awareness: the notion that you know […]

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We Are All Brains In Vats

The following post is from my new article for Knowing Neurons, an online publication about neuroscience and the mind.   The Matrix made all of us ask the same disturbing questions: How do I know that the world I see, hear, and touch is real? Can I prove that I’m not actually in a pod created by machines […]

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There Is No Ghost In The Brain

As long as the nature of consciousness will remain a mystery, we will be in the grip of anxiety. And that is because we are, all of us, haunted by that uniquely human question: what awaits us after death? Although the vast majority of Americans believe in some sort of afterlife, such beliefs are starkly at odds […]

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Love In A World Of Atoms

The threads that weave the cloth of our mentality are soulless. Our experience of the most beautiful sunset, our most fervent desires, our loftiest thoughts, and our most expansive feelings of love are storms of neural activity, nothing more. Science – and neuroscience in particular – has stripped our mental lives of a soul. But […]

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Is Neuroscience a Mature Science?

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Mark Baxter, Ph.D. about the status of neuroscience as a field. Mark is a neuroscientist who studies the molecular mechanisms of learning and memory. This is my second conversation with Mark. Several months ago, we discussed a controversial paper on the effects of marijuana consumption on the […]

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