Would You Recognize a Mind When You See One?

This was one of my very first blog posts on Contemplating Cognition, originally published September 13, 2012. The Chinese Room continues to be one of my favorite philosophical puzzles. Human beings see minds everywhere. In one classic experiment, Heider and Simmel showed people simple animated shapes and asked people to describe the events afterward. Most…

The animated default network

Some days I think I must live in the golden age of teaching, because I am spoiled for choice in most of my demonstrations. Pop over to YouTube, enter a few search terms, and find an incredible assortment of possible videos to show, many of which have surprisingly high production values. My most recent find…

Awe and the Supernatural

Majestic mountains, vibrant vistas, stunning scenery – and, perhaps, the transformation of a blob of molten glass into a rearing horse – these are sights that can truly be awe-inspiring, generating those feelings of reverence and wonder. They make time seem to slow down. But do they also make it seem more likely that there must be…

Getting into the mind of the Chinese Room

My nephew has recently rediscovered his love of Wall-E, and inspired me to rediscover one of my very first blog entries, exploring the Chinese Room and how we decide who has a mind and who doesn’t. Originally posted as “Would you recognize a mind when you see one?” on September 13, 2012. Human beings see minds…

Smiles really might warm your heart (or brain)

Part 1 of 2 about the overlap between social and physical perception. Those heartwarming touches can give us a warm feeling inside, and help us warm up to someone we don’t know well. On the other hand, a cold-hearted person will leave us cold, and if you give people the cold shoulder too often your…

Meditation alters your brain’s default settings

One of the more recent discoveries of neuroscience is that when you stare into space, gather wool, daydream, or otherwise let your mind wander, the “default-mode network” of your brain starts to rev up into high gear. This network has quite naturally captured the fancy of meditation researchers: meditation is a practice of being mindfully present,…

Keeping Past and Future at a Distance

One day a few years ago I asked my students to meditate with their hands on the desk in front of them. They were to designate one hand to represent the past, and the other hand to represent the future. Whenever they noticed their attention had drifted away from their breath, they would note whether…

At the Speed of the Unconscious Mind

This is the week when I get to introduce a new batch of students to the idea that our unconscious minds can make better decisions than our conscious ones (if you’re not an expert, anyway). Which may be even more important to know, given some new evidence about just how quickly our unconscious minds can…

To Wake, Perchance to Remember (Your Dreams)

My morning coffee is often accompanied by a series of text messages from my sister relaying her latest bizarre dream. The latest installments the Annals of Sisterly Nighttime Hallucinations have featured piano sheet music composed by threading different colors of cross-stitch floss, a dryad guilt-tripping her for standing on rotten acorns, being left to be…

How many states of consciousness?

Although I have let doctors administer drugs that would alter my consciousness – most notably, nitrous oxide for a wisdom tooth extraction – I have not yet had a compelling reason to let them remove me from consciousness entirely. Which is just as well, since anesthesia has only been around since 1846 (younger than 28 states)…