Our computer Brain-or is it?

computer brainAbout a year ago,  Gary Marcus wrote an article for the New York Times titled,  Face It, Your Brain Is a Computer. Dr. Marcus is eminently qualified to present this perspective as he is a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, and the editor of “The Future of the Brain”.

He opens his essay, 

SCIENCE has a poor track record when it comes to comparing our brains to the technology of the day. Descartes thought that the brain was a kind of hydraulic pump, propelling the spirits of the nervous system through the body. Freud compared the brain to a steam engine. The neuroscientist Karl Pribram likened it to a holographic storage device.

Many neuroscientists today would add to this list of failed comparisons the idea that the brain is a computer — just another analogy without a lot of substance. Some of them actively deny that there is much useful in the idea; most simply ignore it.

He argues, "Too many scientists have given up on the computer analogy, and far too little has been offered in its place. In my view, the analogy is due for a rethink."

(click to read his essay)

 

This week we have another essay, this one  by  Dr. Robert Epstein, who attempts to convince us that 

neuron soup?Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer

Robert Epstein is no slouch. He is a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in California. He is the author of 15 books, and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today.  You'd think we should listen carefully to him, with these kinds of credentials.(click to read his article) . But read on. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

 

But his article seems to have generated a lot of argument. It's kind of like angry bees.

wigglythingSoon after, Sergio Graziosi had a delightful review of the the flaws, titled, Robert Epstein’s empty essay. (click to read). 

Sergio seems to have a very broad background and seems to be particularly motivated to debunk anti-science or shallow-science articles. He has some very interesting points to counter the arguments of Dr Epstein. To clarify his mood in writing the article he says, 'Sometimes reading a flawed argument triggers my rage, I really do get angry, a phenomenon that invariably surprises and amuses me. What follows is my attempt to use my anger in a constructive way, it may include elements of a jerk reaction*, but I’ll try to keep my emotions in check."

Julie Lee

The next article is by Julie Lee, a PhD student in Neuroscience in UCL. In her blog, titled, "The Not-So-Empty Brain, or Lessons Against Confusing the IP Metaphor. Julie's review is more of an analysis of the faulty logic in Epstein's article. It has some good points, and is worth a read (click to follow).

She summarized her thoughts as: "Epstein’s well-publicised argument is poorly argued as it conflates two orthogonal stances, (1) the information processing metaphor, and (2) the very much non-metaphoric computational theory of mind. Even if these were the same, Epstein frequently contradicts his anti-representational stance with logical inconsistencies. "

 

jeffThe final article gets back to the computer-brain conumdrum, and si titled, "Yes, Your Brain Certainly Is a Computer" Jeffrey Shallit opens his article with a conversation:

- Did you hear the news, Victoria? Over in the States those clever Yanks have invented a flying machine!

- A flying machine! Good heavens! What kind of feathers does it have?

- Feathers? It has no feathers.

- Well, then, it cannot fly. Everyone knows that things that fly have feathers. It is preposterous to claim that something can fly without them.

Shallit pulls no punches. "The most recent foolishness along these lines was penned by psychologist Robert Epstein" and finished with, 'I don't know why people like Epstein feel the need to deny things for which the evidence is so overwhelming. He behaves like a creationist in denying evolution. And like creationists, he apparently has no training in a very relevant field (here, computer science) but still wants to pontificate on it. When intelligent people behave so stupidly, it makes me sad."

In between are some interesting arguments as well as some irrefutable truths. Also particularly interesting is the comments after his article. (click to read more)

Dr.Shallit is a computer scientistnumber theorist, a noted advocate for civil liberties on the Internet, and a noted critic of intelligent design. He is currently a Professor in the School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo and is a Distinguished Scientist (2008)

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Parkinsons Disease and Feldenkrais

Many people with  Parkinson's Disease are finding that the Feldenkrais Method can be a useful way to find new ways to regain movement.

Ernie Adams wrote, "For a person with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), the natural rhythm and flow of perception, feeling, and movement is disrupted. There is a disconnection between the intention to move and the ability to start or complete an action. Routine automatic behaviors, such as those involved in walking, speaking, breathing, swallowing, and facial expression, become difficult or unavailable." 

He continues, 

Many people with PD are frustrated with the typical generic prescriptions of “exercise therapy’,’ “fall prevention,” or “gait training,” and want to find additional ways to help themselves. There has been an upwelling of political advocacy and fund raising in the last few years to increase research and awareness of PD by nonprofit organizations, such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Complementary medicine and mind-body approaches, such as the Feldenkrais Method, are becoming more widely recognized as significantly beneficial to people with both orthopedic and neurological conditions.

The Feldenkrais Method influences brain and behavior through a learning process involving movement exploration, trial and error, and problem solving. With the Feldenkrais Method students develop their ability to attend to internal (proprioceptive ) as well as external and environmental feedback. Children learn to lift their heads, crawl, roll over, sit, stand, walk and talk using this same process. Rather than “correcting” or “showing’’ the student how to do something, the practitioner presents possible choices that may help the client solve the problem for herself or himself. These ‘choices’ are carefully designed movement sequences that can be adapted to the student’s specific needs. The student decides what feels right and what works. It is a self-organizing learning process, rather than a prescription to follow a generic exercise regime. The Feldenkrais Method offers persons with Parkinson’s Disease a way to discover and implement action patterns that can enhance functional ability. It will be different for each student. The goal of the practitioner is to create the optimal conditions for learning. (click to read more)

Parkinson's Recovery - Irene Pasternack

 Irene Pasternack speaking at a Parkinsons Recovery conference

A short (3.5 minute) video version of the presentation can be viewed  -- click the yellow square.

In 2010, Irene Pasternack of Seattle spoke with a radio program on Parkinson's Recovery. In this program  she describes how you can use the Feldenkrais Method to improve your balance, prevent falls, cope with freezing, maintain facial mobility, speech volume and swallowing, and find greater comfort and ease in day-to-day activities.

The show includes a short Feldenkrais lesson to improve posture, comfort and stability in sitting. In addition to making you feel more comfortable, this lesson helps improve the mobility of your neck, head, and eyes, and has a direct impact on your balance in standing. (The broadcast is 89 minutes: click to go to the page and hear the presentation)   

 Matt Zeppelin of Denver has been providing support for persons with Parkinsons for some time, including a 4-hour workshop. On his website he has audio versions of the four lessons in the recent workshop. He writes, "The lessons build on each other thematically, and you may hear me make reference to a prior lesson from time to time, but they are also intended to stand alone." Click to go to his website.

 

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Study-FM and Parkinson's

The following was from MedScape, May 28, 2015. I will re-edit it to make it more readable to the regular reader. --rob

PALM SPRINGS, California — An exercise program based on the Feldenkrais Method can improve the mood and quality of life among people with Parkinson's disease, a new study shows.

By damaging neurologic functioning, Parkinson's disease often diminishes quality of life and leads to depression.

"The Feldenkrais Method uses easy movement and breath control and flexibility and balance to facilitate more control in the whole body," said first author Lavinia Teixeira-Machado, PT, PhD, from the Education in Health Department, Federal University of Sergipe in Sergipe, Brazil. "I use it in cerebral palsy, autism, and Down syndrome."

"We reduced the isolation," said Dr Teixeira-Machado toldMedscape Medical News. "It's very interesting."

She presented the finding here at the American Pain Society (APS) 34th Annual Scientific Meeting.

Whole-Body Exercise

To see whether the Feldenkrais Method could help with Parkinson's disease, Dr Teixeira-Machado and her colleagues administered the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), the Parkinson's Disease Quality of Life (PDQL) questionnaire, and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) to 36 people with Parkinson's.

They excluded four people from further study because of cognitive impairment, cardiopathy, or advanced impairment. Two others declined to participate.

The researchers then randomly assigned 15 of the patients to instruction in exercises based on the Feldenkrais Method. The remaining 15 got educational lectures. Both groups attended 50 one-hour sessions, with two sessions given per week.

The patients had an average age of 61 years, an average weight of 64 kg, an average height of 159 cm, and an average body mass index of 26 kg/m2. These measures did not statistically significantly differ between the two groups.

The groups were also statistically similar at baseline on the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rate Scale Part III (UPDRS III), the MMSE, and the BDI.

After the 50 sessions, the researchers tested the patients once again on the PDQL and the BDI. The group receiving Feldenkrais instruction improved significantly on both quality of life and depression while the control group got slightly worse on both scales.

 

The change in the Feldenkrais group compared with baseline was statistically significant for both PDQL (P = .004) and BDI (P = .0005).

The differences between the Feldenkrais group and the control group were also statistically significant for both PDQL (P = .002) and BDI (P = .05).

"People with Parkinson's have all kinds of trouble with movement, so if we can modify that it would be great," said Kathleen Sulka, PT, PhD, a professor of physical therapy at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

 

But other exercise programs have also proved beneficial for people with Parkinson's disease, she said, so she would like to see a larger study in which some patients practiced the Feldenkrais Method and others practiced different exercises.

"I see this as a wonderful pilot study," she told Medscape Medical News.

The study was funded by Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Cientifico e Tecnológico. Dr Teixeira-Machado and Dr Sulka have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Pain Society (APS) 34th Annual Scientific Meeting. Presented May 14, 2015.

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