Consciousness depends, it turns out, on how different parts of the brain speak to one another.
Marcello Massimini at the University of Milan has done some important studies, stimulating the brain with brief pulses of energy for the purpose of studying its response in different conditions. This is known as transcranial magnetic stimulation.
The TMS work indicates that in dreamless sleep and under general anaesthesia, the brain "echoes" the magnetic pulse in a simple way.
But ... apply the pulse to the brain of someone fully conscious, and the echoes are much more complicated, disappearing from one part of the organ and re-appearing in a complex way that seems to suggest the parts are communicating with one another about this new thing.
How can one measure the "complexity" of an echo? I don't know, because I'm not an IT guy. But I gather the means of measurement involves compressibility, something like the way digital photos are compressed into JPEG files. So perhaps we are more or less conscious throughout our waking day, or during a dream, in a way correlated with this complexity, and Massimini has invented a consciousness meter.
In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"
Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."
The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.
The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.
Let's unpack this a bit. What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…
Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.
The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot.
The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously.
This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.
The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question.
GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…
I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.
The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.
Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:
What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!
So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …