Thursday, December 15, 2022

Personhood, Identity & Artificial Intelligence


                             Personhood and Identity: Finding oneself in modern times 

Personhood-- the concrete definition of what it means to be a person is a question that has baffled philosophers and scientists for centuries. While the concept of personhood seems like one that is known, everyone has a different basis for the way in which they define it. This has been the center of the issue for constructing an objective definition of personhood. Two distinct, but also overlapping approaches regarding personhood are rooted from Naturalism vs Nihilism-- from the biological and philosophical/ethical bases of what it means to be human. What has been found, is that personhood is " the product of an evolved brain system that develops innately and projects itself automatically and irrepressibly onto the world whenever triggered by stimulus figures" (Farah et. Al 2007). This model meshes and encompasses both aspects of the ethical and philosophical, as well as biological, aspects which ultimately govern and distinguish personhood. The concept of personhood relies heavily upon the existence of brain networks that are triggered by "stimulus figures", which can be constituted by anything ranging from a smiley face, to recognizing contingent human behavior even when aware that the stimulus is not a person. Essentially, this principal exemplifies that humans tend to attribute human like qualities in order distinguish humanness from the absence of it, and this personhood is largely impacted by this innate brain model (Farah et. Al 2007). In the modern era, the prevalence of technology-- especially artificial intelligence-- blurs the line between natural human cognition and technology based on human behavior. The advancement of this type of technology ultimately aims to replicate the human experience and personhood, but can also have detrimental effects on the way people view personhood and distinguish their sense of self.

    The question of how personhood is defined is articulated in the paper by Farah et. Al, and focuses on certain mechanisms of the brain which attribute personhood to how the brain represents " the appearance, actions and thoughts of of people in a distinct set of regions, different from those used to represent the appearance, movements and properties of other entities". Other mechanisms which aid in the perception of personhood is "the tendency of the person network to be triggered by certain stimulus features even when we are aware that the stimulus is not human". These characteristics of what it means to be human serve in brain systems which attribute human like characteristics to sometimes even inhuman objects-- further solidifying the ideal that perception of personhood is largely based on the human experience and looking for it in other aspects of the world. Neuroscience has functioned to show us that personhood is to a certain extent objective-- that it is constructed by our brain and projected onto the world around us. 

    Living in the modern era, the majority of the world is exposed to the effects of modern technology and social media in one way or another. Humans are constantly being influenced by technology and social media in one way or another; consciously or subconsciously. Ads, campaigns, products, and endorsements are constantly being fed to humans via social media-- the presence of artificial intelligence and technology that mimics human behavior is becoming almost indistinguishable from actual human behavior due to the current state and progress of technology. The progress of Artificial Intelligence may be beneficial in efforts to revolutionize the world as we know it, but many have reservations on this as it severely disrupts the perception of personhood and intensely blurs the distinctions attributed to personhood. According to an article by Dina Babushkina on the implications of AI, there has to be work done to "identify the risks that the modern technology creates for personhood and the concrete vulnerabilities of the agency in the light of the use of technology". She further states that there needs to be more research done on the possible harmful effects related to the rise of the influence of AI, and "the problem of hybridization of agency (human-technology hybrids) and to explore the disruptive potential of technology for the cognitive practices of a human". Ultimately-- researchers like Babushkina, among various others, are asking the questions regarding AI which need to be asked; is morphing technology and human nature more harmful to the human experience than it is beneficial? 

    In a world where technology is progressing faster than most can keep up to, its important for scientists to step in and understand how the influence of technology and AI on humans can cause a major disruption and shift in personhood-- in quantifying and understanding what it means to be human. Blurring the line between technology and the nature of being human can ultimately have far worse implications than benefits. 


                                                                                 Sources

Babushkina, D., Votsis, A. Disruption, technology and the question of (artificial) identity. AI Ethics 2, 611–622 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-021-00110-y

Martha J. Farah & Andrea S. Heberlein (2007) Personhood andNeuroscience: Naturalizing or Nihilating?, The American Journal of Bioethics, 7:1, 37-48, DOI:10.1080/15265160601064199


Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Biological Mechanisms that Effect Parkinson's Disease

   

Do we value our brains enough?

Everything we do, experience or think about begins with our brains. Studying the most complex organ that we have, neuroscience can pertain to all aspects of our lives. We can find reasons to why we feel more connected to some things and why we choose to avoid others. While we think we control our brain, perhaps the brain is what controls us. Maybe, the brain that formulates our questions about life is what also answers them. The brain can be our ultimate source to define humanity and what it means to be human.


As we use our brains to explore many parts of our world, we also survey ourselves as humans. For example, Joe Vukov and his colleagues try to find a definition for what it means to be a person by using the study of neuroscience. In their article, “Personhood and Neuroscience: Naturalizing or Nihilating?" the researchers tried to understand and define personhood by researching the human thought system (Farah et al. 2007). The researchers analyze different perspectives from thinkers in the past like Locke, Kant, and Dennet to discuss that many studies thought that there is a concept of person but didn’t realize that cognitive neuroscience is what creates this concept. The researchers find that ultimately, each of our brains makes its own decisions and criteria as to what personhood really means and how it controls our lives (Farah et al. 2007). 


Vukov and colleagues believe that our brains control us. That is why we can study our brains to understand many other things we choose to do in our lives. For example, our brains can define our desires in our lives and why many choose to practice and rely on religion. Similarly, in the article, “The neuroscience of religious and spiritual experience,” Anna Sandoui suggests that the brain can help us understand what and why we think about spirituality (Sandoui 2018). The article states that there is even a special branch of neuroscience for this type of study, called “neurotheology” (Sandoui 2018). The author explains that many researchers in this field hypothesize that because our prefrontal cortex is what controls our decision-making, practicing and relying on religion helps our brain not have to make many big decisions in our lives.


Ultimately, we need to understand that our brains have more worth than we give them. The two types of research show us that we can explore and investigate all kinds of information with our brains. The study of neuroscience is an emerging field, and will grow even more, the more we try to find answers to our many questions. In conclusion, we just need to make the decision to give more value to our brains. Of course, this isn’t possible without the help of our brains.


References:


Sandoiu, A. (2018, July 20). The neuroscience of religious and spiritual experience. Medical News Today. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322539 


Farah, Martha J., Heberlein, Andrea S. (2007). Personhood and Neuroscience: Naturalizing or Nihilating? The American Journal of Bioethics, 7:1, 37-48, DOI: 10.1080/15265160601064199, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15265160601064199


The importance of sleep in memory.

 

The discussion surrounding the mechanisms behind homeostatic and circadian control of sleep is important in learning how sleep deprivation affects organisms. In their article "Circadian programming of the ellipsoid body sleep homeostat on Drosophila", Allada and colleagues provide insight into the role of R5 ellipsoid body (EB) by sleep depriving (SD) flies to determine how it affects sleep rebound. The results of this article show evidence to support sleep homeostasis is regulated through a circadian control that causes the homeostat to go up at night and maintain sleep and lower in the morning to sustain wakefulness. The interaction of sleep homeostasis and circadian control of sleep is defined by the two-process model of sleep. Where circadian control of sleep can be seen with phasic cycles of melatonin increases and body temperature but can also respond to environmental cues like the sun. The sleep homeostasis is based on the increase in sleep debt when one does not get enough quality sleep.

Sleep deprivation has become a very common and many studies have shown the effects it can have on mood, performance in tasks, immune function, and cognitive abilities. A study published in frontiers “Effect of sleep deprivation on the working memory-related N2-P3 components of the event-related potential waveform” Peng et. al, design three working memory tasks to observe the cognitive impairments in the participants after total sleep deprivation. These tasks included a pronunciation working memory, spatial working memory and object working memory. They had sixteen participants that had been regularly sleeping for 7-9 hours per day. The participants performed the tasks after a night of sleep first. Then after a 36-hour total sleep deprivation period performed the tasks again. The results showed an increase in the reaction time for the individuals during the cognitive task while there was a decrease in the accuracy.  Peng and colleagues show that the lack of sleep influences the quality of the information stored and the rate at which the information is processed. 

The Importance of Nature on Children’s Cognitive Development

            In an increasingly urban and industrialized world, easy access to a healthy and holistic environment as it relates to nature is becoming increasingly difficulty to maintain. This is specially concerning given the strong relationship that is present between cognitive development and healthy environments. In the study by Berman et al., the authors discuss how the relationship between an individual’s physical environment plays a huge role in their neuronal development, and how this is a newly developing filed of high salience to the future direction of neuroscience. In the study by Flouri et al., the researchers discuss how access to green space increases children’s capacity for emotional and behavioral resilience and regulation. When considered together, both studies demonstrate how the physical environment around individuals plays a huge part in their cognitive and neuronal development and function, which in turn shows how the intersection between environment and neuroscience is a relationship that should be heavily emphasized and studied in future research.

            In the paper “Environmental Neuroscience” by Marc G. Berman et al., the team of researchers discuss the importance of environmental neuroscience, a growing sub field of neuroscience that explores the relationship between organisms and the social/physical environments they come from (Berman et al., 2019). The researchers discussed a few different experiments to highlight the relationship between nature and cognitive/neuronal functioning. In one of these experiments, the researchers found that participants who were able to take walks in nature performed better on working memory tasks than those who did not (Berman et al., 2019). The researchers also found that increased exposure to nature results in decreased aggression, better mood, and better attention (Berman et al., 2019). Furthermore, Berman and colleagues discussed the possible role that exposure to nature can have on decreasing stress levels and increasing capacity for attention through a restorative fashion. All in all, the discussion surrounding environmental neuroscience by Berman and his colleagues shows that exposure to nature can play a mediating and restorative role in our cognitive and neuronal function.

            The implications of environmental neuroscience are made even more clear in the article “The Role of Urban Neighborhood Green Space in Children’s Emotional and Behavioural Resilience” by Flouri et al. In this study, a sample of youth from the United Kingdom is tested for their behavior and emotional patterns as they relate to the exposure to green space they have access to. The authors quantified the area of green space that the children had easy access to and saw that increased green space lead to decrease behavioral problems (Flouri et al., 2014). Furthermore, the authors also found that this relationship extended beyond socioeconomic status. Often times, correlations between youth cognitive factors and green space is moderated by the SES of the youth; wealthier children generally have greater access to green space, which usually also indicates better access to a higher quality of education, activities, etc. This study, however, found that youth with lower SES statuses from urban areas had fewer emotional problems and that green space can promote emotional well-being (Flouri et al., 2014). This shows that nature can play a huge part in the affect regulation of developing youth, and that this intersection may be a possible intervention for youth with trouble surrounding affect regulation

            Berman and colleagues established the importance of environmental neuroscience while Flouri and colleagues exemplified this importance. The study by Berman et al broadly discussed the importance of studying the environment of subjects in an effort to better understand their neuroscience. Flouri gave a specific example of this model as it relates to youth. Both studies served to show that exposure to nature, specially in the developmental phase that comes with childhood, can play a moderating role in many cognitive functions such as mood, affect, memory, attention, and more.

            

 

 

Works Cited

Berman, Marc G., et al. “Environmental Neuroscience.” American Psychologist, vol. 74, no. 9, 2019, pp. 1039–1052., https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000583. 

Flouri, Eirini, et al. “The Role of Urban Neighbourhood Green Space in Children's Emotional and Behavioural Resilience.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 40, Dec. 2014, pp. 179–186., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2014.06.007. 

Fear Conditioning and Virtual Reality

  

                                                        Fear Conditioning and Virtual Reality 

Rathna Kalluri 

Website URL: https://www.brainfacts.org/diseases-and-disorders/mental-health/2021/virtual-reality-is-creating-a-safe-space-to-face-your-fears-with-some-caveats-031621


Stephanie L. Grella’s research article, “Reactivating hippocampal-mediated memories during reconsolidating to disrupt fear” details the study she performed on mice related to the processing of fear. In this study, Grella tests a potential method to treat fears and phobias through memory reconsolidating. This is a method that involves reconditioning memories that were previously associated with fearful reactions to more positive conditions, thus “updating” the memory so that it is no longer associated with fear. To test this theory, Grella and her team used the Tet-tag system in order to identify and distinguish the positive, negative, and neutral memories and the neurons that are activated when those are experienced within mice. The memories were then artificially reactivated, and a positive memory is optically simulated while the negative neuron is active. This study showed that positive interference during reactivation of a fearful memory can disrupt the level of fear felt and help reduce the amount of fear that a person is capable of feeling. This is a method of treatment that could be incredibly impactful in the treatment of anxiety disorders, and even PTSD. 

Another article that I found that also discusses methods of fear conditioning is one that was published on March 16, 2021 by Hannah Thomasy. This article, entitled “Virtual Reality is Creating a Safe Space to Face Your Fears, With some Caveats”, discusses VR and its abilities to help people with fears and anxieties face their fears. VR therapy is said to improve various phobias, and has potential positive effects with regards to the treatment of PTSD as well. The article describes how virtual reality could be a more inexpensive way to treat fears and phobias. This article was connected to Grella’s research article in my opinion because it made me think of ways to potentially unite the two treatment methods. I feel like finding a way to combing the two therapies could be a way to provide someone with a more comprehensive way to tackle fears and anxiety.  This combination of treatments could also be used to treat more complex disorders that are associated with anxiety, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. 


Works Cited 


Grella, Stephanie L., et al. “Reactivating Hippocampal-Mediated Memories during Reconsolidation to Disrupt Fear.” Nature Communications, vol. 13, no. 1, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-32246-8. 

Thomasy, Hannah. “Virtual Reality Is Creating a Safe Space to Face Your Fears, with Some Caveats.” BrainFacts.org, https://www.brainfacts.org/diseases-and-disorders/mental-health/2021/virtual-reality-is-creating-a-safe-space-to-face-your-fears-with-some-caveats-031621. 




Sudden Gains in Two Trauma-Focused Treatments for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

 

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition that can develop in response to a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a car accident, or a violent assault. It is characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, in which the person experiences vivid and distressing memories of the trauma as if it were happening again; nightmares, in which the person experiences vivid and distressing dreams related to the trauma; avoidance of reminders of the trauma, such as certain places, people, or activities; and intense feelings of fear and anxiety.

Other symptoms of PTSD can include irritability and angry outbursts, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and hyper vigilance, or an increased state of alertness. People with PTSD may also experience physical symptoms such as a racing heart, sweating, or trembling. These symptoms can interfere with the person's daily life and relationships and can lead to other mental health conditions such as depression or substance abuse.

PTSD is a treatable condition, and there are several effective treatments available. These can include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps the person to change the way they think and react to the traumatic event; exposure therapy, in which the person gradually confronts their fears and memories of the trauma; and medication, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, which can help to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.

 

         In the article “Sudden Gains in Two-Trauma Focused Treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” the current study examined the role of cognitive change and emotional expression in cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and written exposure therapy (WET), two types of therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study found that the percentage of participants who experienced sudden gains and the magnitude of the sudden gains did not differ between the two treatments. The study also found that experiencing a sudden gain predicted better PTSD treatment outcomes in both therapies and that self-reported cognitive change preceded sudden gains in one study of cognitive therapy for PTSD. The study used the CHANGE coding system to examine negative beliefs about the self and others in the first narratives of WET and CPT as predictors of sudden gains in the trial. The study included 126 treatment-seeking adults diagnosed with PTSD who were randomized to either WET or CPT. Participants were required to meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD and to be stable on any psychiatric medication for at least four weeks. Potential participants were excluded if they were at high risk for suicide, were actively psychotic or manic, had severe cognitive impairment, met criteria for severe substance abuse, or were engaged in PTSD-focused psychotherapy. Sudden gains were identified using ratings on the PTSD.

The results of the study showed that the percentage of participants who experienced sudden gains and the magnitude of the sudden gains did not differ between the two treatments. In addition, experiencing a sudden gain predicted better PTSD treatment outcomes in both therapies. The study also found that self-reported cognitive change preceded sudden gains in one study of cognitive therapy for PTSD. The CHANGE coding system was used to examine negative beliefs about the self and others in the first narratives of WET and CPT as predictors of sudden gains in the trial. The study also investigated whether more expression of negative emotions in the narratives was associated with experiencing a sudden gain.

In conclusion, the study found that the percentage of participants who experienced sudden gains and the magnitude of the sudden gains did not differ between the two treatments and that experiencing a sudden gain predicted better PTSD treatment outcomes in both therapies. The study also found that self-reported cognitive change preceded sudden gains in one study of cognitive therapy for PTSD. The CHANGE coding system was used to examine negative beliefs about the self and others in the first narratives of WET and CPT as predictors of sudden gains in the trial.

         In the article called “Reactivating hippocampal-mediated memories during reconsolidation to disrupt fear” by Stephanie L. Grella et al discusses a study that explored the use of memory reactivation and reconsolidation as a potential therapeutic mechanism for reducing conditioned fear in individuals with anxiety disorders such as PTSD. The researchers used a mouse model to show that reactivating memories associated with a positive experience during memory recall can disrupt the consolidation of negative memories, leading to a reduction in conditioned fear. These findings suggest that targeting the dorsal dentate gyrus could be a potential therapeutic approach for reducing fear in individuals with anxiety disorders such as PTSD.

         In both articles, PTSD is used as a condition that can be treated using cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and medication. In the first article, "Sudden Gains in Two-Trauma Focused Treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," PTSD is used as the primary focus of the study, which examines the role of cognitive change and emotional expression in cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and written exposure therapy (WET), two treatments for PTSD. The study aims to investigate whether sudden gains in therapy are predictive of better treatment outcomes and whether negative beliefs and emotional expression are associated with sudden gains in treatment. In the second article, "Reactivating hippocampal-mediated memories during reconsolidation to disrupt fear," PTSD is used as an example of an anxiety disorder that can be treated using memory reactivation and reconsolidation. The study shows that reactivating memories associated with a positive experience during memory recall can disrupt the consolidation of negative memories, leading to a reduction in conditioned fear. This finding suggests that targeting the dorsal dentate gyrus could be a potential therapeutic approach for reducing fear in individuals with anxiety disorders such as PTSD.

 

 

 

                                                 References

Grella, Stephanie L., et al. “Reactivating Hippocampal-Mediated Memories during Reconsolidation to Disrupt Fear.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 12 Sept. 2022, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-32246-8.  

Author links open overlay panelDenise M.SloanPersonEnvelopeJohannaThompson-HollandsAdele M.HayesDaniel J.LeeElizabethAlpertBrian P.Marx, et al. “Sudden Gains in Two Trauma-Focused Treatments for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Behavior Therapy, Elsevier, 30 Aug. 2021, https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0005789421001076?token=7B1045AF07C4FB6204D1D7309771835DBE0BF4D02903E54A58A6821D33A9BE988B2C4D8E08B647DD002B412ED3C57609&originRegion=us-east-1&originCreation=20221215005237.