The Being Human Conference, which looks at the science behind the human experience, presents this session on "Mental + Representations & Decision-Making.""
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2006. His research focuses on correlating emotional states with the brain activity underlying them. Davidson has reached the conclusion that our brain circuitry isn't set in stone: though our emotions are evolved responses, they are remarkably plastic and can be shaped over time. As he says, "I think that what modern neuroscience is teaching us is that, in fact, there is a lot of plasticity, that change is indeed possible, and the evidence is more and more strongly in favor of the importance of environmental influences in shaping brain function and structure and even shaping the expression of our genes." At the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, Davidson and other researchers investigate qualities of mind such as compassion and mindfulness in order to understand how healthy minds might be cultivated. He is perhaps most famous for his investigations into the neurological effects of meditation, showing how this practice can functionally rewire the brain. In 2012, he spoke at the Being Human conference in San Francisco.
Dr. David Eagleman
Dr. David Eagleman is a neuroscientist, New York Times bestselling author, and Guggenheim Fellow who holds joint appointments in the Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Dr. Eagleman’s areas of research include time perception, vision, synesthesia, and the intersection of neuroscience with the legal system. He directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action, and is the Founder and Director of Baylor College of Medicine’s Initiative on Neuroscience and Law.
Dr. Eagleman has written several neuroscience books, including Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain and Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia. He has also written an internationally bestselling book of literary fiction, Sum, which has been translated into 27 languages and was named a Best Book of the Year by Barnes and Noble, New Scientist, and the Chicago Tribune. Dr. Eagleman has written for the Atlantic, New York Times, Discover, Slate, Wired, and New Scientist, and has been profiled in The New Yorker. He appears regularly on National Public Radio and BBC to discuss both science and literature.
Thomas Metzinger is currently Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg-UniversitätMainz and an Adjunct Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study (FIAS). He is also Director of the Neuroethics Research Unit in Mainz and Director of the MIND Group at the FIAS.
In 2008 he received a prestigious one-year Fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Berlin Institute for Advanced Study), is past president of the German Cognitive Science Society (2005-2007) and of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (2009-2011).
His focus of research lies in analytical philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophical aspects of the neuro- and cognitive sciences, as well as in connections between ethics, philosophy of mind and anthropology. In the English language, he has edited two collections on consciousness Conscious Experience and Neural Correlates of Consciousness, and one major scientific monograph developing a comprehensive, interdisciplinary theory about consciousness, the phenomenal self, and the first-person perspective, Being No One - The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity.
In 2009, he published a popular book, which addresses a wider audience and also discusses the ethical, cultural and social consequences of consciousness research, The Ego Tunnel - The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self.
Laurie Santos researches the evolutionary background of the human brain by studying non-human primates in her Comparative Cognition Lab at Yale. In a series of fascinating experiments, Santos’ team has investigated economic decision making in capuchin monkeys. Researchers created a form of money: tokens that the monkeys could trade for food. They found that the monkeys made consistently irrational decisions, mirroring the same bad financial choices that people make. For example, the monkeys demonstrate the same loss-aversion behavior—treating losses as more important than gains— as human beings. This suggests that some of the core biases of the brain that shape human behavior were also present in our remote pre-human ancestors, and have been maintained through evolution. Santos believes that understanding the built-in biases of the human brain is crucial to encouraging rational behavior. As she puts it, “...the irony is that it might only be in recognizing our limitations that we can really actually overcome them.” She is currently researching whether primates have a precursor to theory of mind, the ability to imagine the thoughts and feelings of others. In 2012, she spoke at the Being Human conference in San Francisco.
Fundamental dispositions and traits of humans. Theories about the nature of humankind form a part of every culture. In the West, debate has traditionally centred on whether humans are selfish and competitive (seeThomas Hobbes; John Locke) or social and altruistic (Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim). Recent research in genetics, evolutionary biology, and cultural anthropology suggests that humans may be both, and that there is a complex interaction between genetically inherited factors (nature) and developmental and social factors (nurture). Basic drives shared with other primates include food, sex, security, play, and social status. Gender differences include greater investment in reproduction and child-rearing among females, hence less risk-taking; and concomitantly less investment and greater risk-taking among males. See alsobehaviour genetics; Homo sapiens; personality; philosophical anthropology; sociobiology.