Friday, 29 May 2015

Neuroscience is too modular

The advances in neuroimaging during the 1990's provided a strong pull for Psychologists to move into neuroscience and study the brains function in vivo.

This shift has been amazing for developing our understanding of cognitive processes from a neural perspective. However the combination of brain imaging experiments and Psychologists with their baggage of abstract conceptualisations and box and arrow diagrams, has provided fertile ground for hundreds of publications that push a modular, or neo-phrenologic, perspective on brain functioning.

In short Psychology breeding with neuroimaging has spawned many modular neuroscientists. Researchers who label the cortical anatomy by their alleged function: Language, Inhibition, or motor centres. There simply isn't enough space to fit the whole of Psychology onto the cortex!

Friday, 8 August 2014

#reddit quote

"What if your whole life flashing before your eyes right before you die happens in real time? And what if we're living it right now? And what if we get deja vu because we have small moments of consciousness where we realize this all really HAS happened before?"

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Dr John Oakes needs to practise juggling his world views



John Oakes

Dr. John Oakes is a professor of chemistry at Grossmont college. www.evidenceforchristianity.org/ 



I recently attended one of John's lectures on the scientific evidence for god, the Christian one. Hosted by King's College London I did not know what to expect. Honestly, I found the experience of being a member of his audience to be an interesting mixture of surprise, bewilderment, frustration and one that left with a feeling of being horribly violated from start to end.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

One of the best descriptions of Atheism, why families should not fear their own supernatural deniers

Reddit.com/r/atheism showed me a great text from user : /u/iopha , who posted in response to a Christian mother being worried by their sons rejection of Christianity. Worth a read, especially if you happen to be an unsuremother yourself... 

"Hi Unsuremother,
First, off, though I am an atheist myself, I want to empathize a little: this must be difficult for you and your family. Your faith commitment is an important part of your life and it is bewildering to have your own child turn away from this. I don't know exactly what you believe, but you might be worried about his soul in the next life, or his behaviour in this one. If you don't believe in God, how do you know right from wrong? If you reject God, how will you be reunited with Him in the next Kingdom?

Friday, 3 January 2014

Identity

Here's a list of labels, mainly socially constructed, applying to yours truly:

Male
Scientist
21-40yrs
non-believer
monolingual...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

-Is Psychology anything more than the mirror of societal ideology? -


The everyday business of the scientific endeavour constitutes the search for verifiable, testable and repeatable claims about reality. Some of the time something rather amazing and intrinsic of the universe can be accurately characterised. If this happens then science is able to make solid predictions that turn out to be empirically supported by data. If this scenario happens reliably and consistently, then this characterisation of the universe, or theory, can begin to be considered an accurate model of reality with predictive capability, a law of science.

'Hard', or 'basic', sciences such as Physics or Chemistry (this should hopefully not infer that the study of fundamental particles is by any means 'easy') deals with the simple stuff, in principle. Compared with biological systems, matter is relatively simple. It is this 'simplicity' that allows magnificent, evidence based, laws to be appropriately defined and extrapolated across the whole expanse of space and time.

From many points of view, homo sapiens are very very complicated.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Are abstract action words embodied? An fMRI investigation at the interface between language and motor cognition.

*

Katrin Sakreida et al. (2013)




This substantial fMRI study was very interesting to read. Recently my own thoughts about language are  leaning towards the embodied cognition camp as I am increasingly struggling with the idea that higher processing of language should be considered as 'pure thought'. I don't see any function, cognitive process of the brian to be independent of each other and working in isolation. What I see is an establishing idea that the brain is a network (a really complicated one) that includes a multitude of sensory facets that in themselves compose our conscious experiences. Is it a false dichotomy when one segregates higher level comprehension from basic low level discriminative processing? I think the embodied view of the brain provides a way of avoiding having to make such a distinction. Here, the comprehension of language is claimed to be really shaped by the body, the visuo-motor system for example.


Friday, 27 September 2013

Post-Darwin, Natural theology seems a little silly

Before the revolutionary work of Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin, understanding how complex life could have occurred naturally from simple beings was unthinkable and thus intelligent design/creationism/natural theology were largely held beliefs.

In light of Evolution by Natural Selection, these once popular ideas appear weak, poorly conceived and welcome ridicule. Natural theology poses that a supernatural deity creates an organism adapted to the environment that the deity places it in. The deity creates strong armed monkeys and places them in trees to swing from, for example. What a silly and perverse idea to believe in.

Why would the environment be created in the first place. Surely the environment itself is superfluous? Why not just create entities within a space-less void? Entities "adapted" to not require sustenance. Instantly removing the perennial issue of competing for resources for fear of starving to death.

Thankfully there is now no reason to think there is intelligence to the universe,

Keep skeptical.



Friday, 6 September 2013

- Labels -

This video by Neil De Grass Tyson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZrKym7eyVU) is really interesting. He addresses the problem of labelling yourself when discussing big concepts. Labelling myself as an atheist, for example, causes my peer to suddenly drag in a load of baggage associated with atheism and means that my peer will assume things that I believe. Thus restricting an appropriate dialogue.


This makes sense as you could hold suspicions on the existence of god without having to label oneself as an atheist. Moreover by taking a scientific stance, when asked about the question of gods existence one could say, "So far I have not seen any evidence to persuade me either way, I'll hold off and wait for further information". This does sounds fairly atheistic, however it is not the sort of throat shoving that militant atheists can be known for.


Personally I favour labels as they condense a long conversation on what I exactly understand to be true about the world to a few identifiable words or phrases. Tyson is right, it can be crudely taken, but I do find them to be useful starting points. If I were to represent my beliefs precisely I would describe myself as an:

Atheist, Anti-theist, Humanist, partial Nihilist, Materialist, Neuroatheist.

Atheist
If you have read me before, this won't be a surprise. I use this word to express that I do not see any evidence for the existence of anything pertaining to, or that relies on, the existence of a supernatural dimension to the universe (or beyond). Therefore I lack a belief in god or humans having souls that survive death etc.


Anti-theist
Heavily influenced by Hitchens, Russell and Freud, this term surmises my active dislike for organised religion. Institutions like the catholic church, I genuinely believe, are not a force for good in the world (for more beautifully made arguments by Hitch & Fry see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DsWyG2-hfc). I believe that the institutions of all major religions really fail to put the interests of the human first (especially if you are female), and often take an archaic anti-humanistic and misogynistic stance towards critical issues surrounding sexuality, equality and the prosperity of humankind.


Humanist
The British Humanist Associations very own Andrew Copson recently gave a talk to which I witnessed and he really spelled out what it means to be a humanist. Fantastic values such as equality for all as we are one species, morality is not externally or divinely inspired product, morality is a quality that has evolved and has been socially constructed by humans, and that one can live a fulfilling life without the need to resort to religion. 
Most Importantly, death is a final event that gives life a meaning and emphasises the importance of utilising the one life that we are so privileged to own (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZN8Ne1nmr4).


Partial Nihilist
I think most sceptics could adopt this label, but only in the sense that when we reject all religious doctrine and dogma that it is we and only we that can influence the world. I also sort of support the idea that there is no meaning to life or to the existence of the universe. However one has to be careful when making these such statements because I do actually enjoy life and enjoy creating my own meaning and goals that make being alive worthwhile. By marvelling at our own fragile and isolated existence, one does gain a sense of pointlessness. Not to fear, it concentrates the mind and places the responsibility of what one does with their life onto the individual, where it belongs. It is our duty to improve the circumstances of our own lives and of those lives belonging to future generations.


Materialist
This may be an unnecessary label in this string of labels but it is good to highlight my belief in the natural world. A world that has come about via natural causes and follow norms that are discoverable by the scientific method.


Neuroatheist
Neuroscience is my trade! I study the human brain with the hope of gaining a greater understanding of how this remarkable organ resembles a person. So far the 150 years of cognitive neuroscience has made me sure of one thing. I am my brain. Take or damage any part of it and you will most likely cause permanent damage to any one, or numerous, part of my psyche, the part of me that make me, me. My conscious life that uniquely distinguishes me and other humans from other animals. This strongly suggests that whatever it is that allows us to be conscious, it is not ethereal or eternal, and that it resembles nothing similar to what religions describe as the soul. This stance also allows me to suggest that on my own global brain death, I won't be rising up from anywhere.



So there you have it, yes labels do bring a lot a baggage that could restrict a conversation. However, as I have just demonstrated, labels also provide the platform, the starting place, on which to embellish and ripen ones world view.



Thursday, 5 September 2013

- Waking up Late -

Confused and disorientated, we went for god. 

    
The conscious mind was not present to note and remark upon what was happening during the simple origins and initial footsteps of life. Nor was it there to observe the development of what we may call complicated. Nor was it there to observe the first organisms to adopt locomotion or predatory behaviour. No sentience, or observer, witnessed  biology's great acquisition of complexity. The conscious mind was absent of this, and it missed out. Asleep to the fact that life was developing and only able to become awake to its own phenomenon when the complexity of its central nervous system was great enough to comprehend its own existence. We, as homo sapiens, woke up late.


The question that interests me right now is: When did we (or the proto-homo sapien) become sentient? When did we, wake up?  When did one of our ancestors look down at their open palms and compose a thought along the lines of: "What are these odd projections coming out of me? These elongated sensitive pieces of me that I use to reach out onto the world with? Where did they come from? What are they? Hang on. What am I?" I would love some way of finding out when these perennial conundrums were first posed.



                  
Unfortunately we can only look at the fossilised remains of our ancestors to indirectly calculate the intra-cranial volumes to infer the size of their brain tissues and, in combination with tools and jewellery found, attempt to answer which time periods these questions could have arisen.
                  

Studying the evolution of life reveals an utterly staggering enterprise. Spanning vast geological and biological time, it is near impossible to gain a comprehensive perception of the ordeal that biology has endured. Sharing a common ancestor with our fellow apes, we hominids are estimated to be well over 200,000 years old. These times scales are challenging to comprehend, and even more so when scaled against the estimated 4.65 billion year age of the earth.


These time scales are so tricky to deal with due to the selection pressures that our brains and behaviours went under. Our evolutionary past has restricted us to understand very small or very large spaces or timescales. We evolved an ability to negotiate 'middle earth', where we dealt with objects and timescales that are somewhere between the micro and macro scales. Being able to imagine centuries and to plan for the next millennia would be a rather fruitless affair because we would be long gone before those plans came into fruition. Moreover, by increasing the temporal capacity of our foresight would  not likely improve our ability to produce viable offspring.


In the lack of the knowledge and the ability to comprehend the vast time scales that led up to the beginning of human life, it then makes sense that gods and creation myths would have been quite literally created. Those answers to the question would have been better than nothing, and also provided a cognitive equilibrium that satisfied the desperate demands of our enlarged prefrontal cortices at the time.


This I feel is an interesting angle on the origins of supernatural beliefs that is inspired by Evolutionary Psychology, in particular by the work of Jesse Berring and Michael Shermer.
      







Figure from my MSc thesis:
Anatomy of the FAT & its relationship to Semantic fluency in Motor Neurone Disease. 


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

-   Who said it? –

Morality is a tricky and interesting topic. Philosophers take a rational approach to openly discussing the finer points of right and wrong. The conscientious philosopher will take the time to reflect upon her own presuppositions and of any a priori biases brought along towards her approach to thinking about a topic.

When thinking of what is right and wrong, our presupposed “baggage” will undoubtedly swing the way we reflexively think. Our automatic gut reaction, if you like. For example, your typical folk in cognitive neuroscience or comparative Psychology will have an advanced understanding of the multitude of animals that are, beyond any reasonable scepticism, sentient creatures and could also use evidence to suggest one or two others that we may call “conscious”.  Therefore they will be presupposed to assume that adult creatures capable of experiencing suffering and also an awareness of their environment, to a far greater degree than a new born human, are typically treated with much less respect than is deserved. This stance, among other factors, also describes our colloquial speciesism, and is also the sort of argument that is espoused by the fantastic moral philosopher Peter Singer. His faultless rhetoric describes our everyday speciesism, our human-centric values system, that allows us to industrially farm meat, research on animals, abandon pets, destroy forestry, and so on.

When thinking about species equality, my own presuppositions are composed by my Materialistic and Neuroscientific orientations. Naturally, I therefore consider humans as animals that are cousins and descendants of other animals. This obviously influences the way my thoughts reflex when I think and discuss topics that regard animal welfare for example.

My presuppositions and subsequently formed beliefs are critically different to those that assume a divine intelligence to the cosmos because mine are subject to change given the refreshing light of new evidence. This is a good thing. I am aware that my beliefs are fallible and that the knowledge I posses is incomplete and always will be. I know that the most rigorously tested assumption that I own can be dropped without remorse, as long as the appropriate evidence is there to do so.

It is very important for ones beliefs to be fluid (open to change) because it is difficult to know whether your original starting place is on a solid foundation. How can you know? With religion this really is a casing point. With religion you are encouraged to not question dogma because the big G said so. This is a non-reliable structure for describing reality as it restricts one from questioning the origins of the knowledge and why one supports whatever big G endorses. Especially when one is willing to lay your life for those beliefs.

The scientific approach relies on using a transparent method of evidence based enquiry that allows you to find out how previous conclusions have been made. You can look at the source material, go into a research study's methodology and openly critique whatever you please. With religion we typically see, non-transparent phrasing such as "This was how the Lord saw fit", or "The Lord works in mysterious ways", as the reason for something being classed as good or bad. I say that this is an intellectually dishonest and opaque way of investigating reality because even if you disagree with 'the lord' you still have to abide by the alleged decision.

Wouldn't it be more useful to understand the roots of religious doctrine? Independent of whether the rules were divinely inspired or not, these texts have been edited, re-edited, printed, re-drafted, translated, modernised, burned, restored, manipulated, corrupted... Two versions of the King James Bible printed a few decades apart, aren't even written using exact phraseology.


What if one of these transformations of scripture was made by someone who was appalled by homosexuality? They would be much more inclined to embellish or to faithfully reproduce the alleged homophobic word of the big G. Plus, if one was more inclined to emphasize "mans" superiority over women and animals, then well who knows, you just can't be sure about that. The propagation of this sort of material is full of biases throughout history, especially with no evidence based regulatory process. 

This shouldn't be a problem for the believer though should it? No because it's based on the truth right? So whenever authors that are supposedly inspired by divinity shouldn't all of the writers reproduce the exact same words and sentences? Look across the world, no religions are compatible. Indian religion (apologies for the crude classification) is a million miles away from Anglican religion. Contrast this with Science, is there a difference between Indian Physics and Physics performed in Manchester UK? No, scientific consensus is a global phenomenon because science using an evidence based perspective allows communities across the globe to draw converging conclusions. Ultimately providing the most reliable assessment of reality that humanity can make.

"Who said it?" Is a very important question to ask when reading anything that carries truth claims. Research scientists, politicians, statisticians, Doctors, vicars, imams, priests, rabbi's. Truth claims about right or wrong made by religious leaders and the authors of scripture are completely subjective, deductive, and based on internal revelation! We know that human common sense does not lead us to accurate predictions about the world. In science we modestly acknowledge our fallibility and sensibly use data to test hypotheses that are confirmed or rebutted independent of the opinion of the researcher. A means of aiming towards an objective explanation of reality.


 

Friday, 2 August 2013

- Defined by Materialism? -
What is it that defines me? We, Us, or You? Perhaps an imminently obvious answer is that I and we am/are defined by my beliefs, or my personal system of beliefs.

There are many labels that your everyday Secular Humanist may use to define their self, that being one of them. Many use 'Atheist', as do I, fewer use 'Anti-theist', some say 'naturalist', many also say 'Materialist'. Materialist is definitely an interesting label here because it could be regarded as the most common denominator belief of all of these other labels. Anyone calling themselves an atheist or a naturalist would almost certainly not believe that they own/are a soul that could survive the death of their physical body. A belief that the universe is solely composed of material, that is material that is unexceptionally subject to the laws of the physical. Tied in to this is the assumption is that the opposite does not exist in reality, the immaterial is a non-existent concept.

What else defines me? Well the material that I am using to type this certainly belongs to me, but does it define me? Do my physical attributes define me? Well yes, I think that they do. People often refer to each other based on their physical attributes. 'Derek, you know, that tall and handsome gentleman? Has a beard and wears glasses.' This is all too common and is definitely a process of definition. Certainly my face defines me, in terms of others forming schemas defined by me. My face, and what comes out of it, unquestionably defines me. What comes out of my face, referring to the speech and subsequent social interactions also define me as well but this starts to push onto the fringe of what we normally call 'Material', in a sense. To be strict, social interactions are all mediated by physical processes. For example, a reductionist perspective would describe my voice as a series of sounds produced by the physical processes of pressurised air being manipulated to cause my throat to vibrate and project waves of air pressure towards a receptacle, like ears and a brain, that can decode it . That's all my voice is?

We know that the physics of sound and air pressure can be appropriately applied to explain a voice. We also know that this explanation, despite being correct, is incomplete. Yet hear at the 'fringe' of this voice metaphor, many would start describing the added, humane, extra part as some sort of perhaps immaterial conscious entity that adds a conceptual layer of semantic understanding to the physical sound of the voice. Is this social, human, conceptual, communicative quality of a physical sound within the framework of materialism? My voice and beliefs define me, but I am a solely physical being, right?

Psychology is complicated. The study of behaviour, when considered at a human level, almost always involves directing questions towards the brain. As an orchestrator of experience and behaviour, the brain must be involved in the explanation of human behaviour, from time-to-time. The current model of Neuroscience is one of materialism, in that all conscious experience, cognition, memory and so on is mediated by explicitly material processes. How the brain achieves this may always be unknown, and because of this it does leave space for those that do believe in the soul to believe that this amazing neurobiological feat is some spooky ghost in the machine.

Social interactions are what give meaning to the material that makes me. Mediated by my complex 'neuro-organ', I can ascribe (reasonably) complicated conceptual associations to many other people, or material that makes others, through my brain. This will ultimately be found to be within the framework of materialism.
That'll do for now, signing off.  





Monday, 22 July 2013

Language Tractography

Ant Left, Post. Right


Have been performing a large number of Frontal Aslant Tract (FAT) dissections recently and felt like I needed a change in my dissection, to keep me fresh (and sane). Here is an image of the structural networks associated with linguistic processing; the arcuate fasciculus (in Red) and the parallel perisylvian pathways (ant. segment in green, post. segment in yellow).

Predominantly involved with the production and comprehension of language. These tracts originate in the inferior frontal gyrus, known as Broca's area, damage to the cortex hear results in difficulties in the production of language, whilst sparing the ability to comprehend language. Following the course of the arcuate fasciculus, and half way between the bundles origin and destination, the anterior segment of the parallel perisylvian pathway compose fibers that terminate in Geschwind's terrritory. Located in the Inferior parietal lobule, this region appears to a densely connected hub between Broca's and Wernicke's that may be involved with the acquisition of language and of the emotional sensory processing associated with language tone, subtext and gesturing etc. Following on from Geschwind's territory, the posterior segment follows the arcuate's descent into the posterior temporal lobe, where both sets of fibers terminate in Wernicke's. A region most associated with the comprehension of language.

Dissections were performed on the very easy to use Trackvis (download for free @ http://www.trackvis.org/download/).


Acquisition
3T GE scanner 
Spin-Echo-EPI Diffusion weighted imaging
32 directions
b = 1300 s/mm2
40 mT/m
2.4 mm isotropic voxels




Tuesday, 25 June 2013

I am my Brain



These T1 weighted images show off my beautiful brain in 1.2mm voxels, and in all three orthographic orientations. I have made the most space for what I think is my best side, which is the saggital view. I think the midline saggital view really gives a beautiful perspective of the anatomy. Depicting the brains gyrification reaching right down toward, and around, the corpus callosum. Also these images show one of the many benefits of volunteering for MRI research. Besides gaining your own data (and being able to practise your own image analysis skills), you do get a sort of free health check as some imaging centers employ radiographers that examine your structural scans for abnormalities and contact your GP is there is cause for concern.

As a near 22 year old, left handed writer, right handed guitarist, left-eye dominant male, I believe this image is of typical anatomy. Which resolves a non-existent, retrospective concern for my health.

I was participating in a pilot of a pain study, so this structural scan preceded the resting state and task based functional scans (BOLD+ASL), where an electrode intermittently stimulated my right foot. It was my first time exposed to the GE-EPI sequence environment. As forewarned, it was very loud. However it was enjoyable because it was awesome to think that 'right now my brain is being digitized'. Every 1.5 seconds a whole volume of my brain was being created in an attempt to represent the physiological reactions to the various stimuli I was being exposed to over time.

Enjoy looking at my brain, this 1.4 kg mass represents me, which is amazing. Take or damage any part of it and you have potentially removed any aspect of my human nature that will be especially tricky to regain. My abilities to recognise you, remember my first memory, to use speech, to walk, to laugh, to cry. There is no part of me that is ethereal, everlasting, greater than or impervious to my biology. This is where my thinking takes place, where I (unconsciously) instruct other parts of my body to just carry on. Carry on breathing, pumping, digesting. Carry on doing these things so I can carry on thinking, doing, loving, observing and enjoying the brief sneeze of time that I have been granted by the parents that bore me, who used their respective 1.4 kg's to procreate (Let's assume thought was used!).















To get these images from the scanner to you readers

After downloading the DICOM files from the scanner itself to my unix terminal. I used the command 'tar xjf', which essentially uncompresses the files and creates a folder containing numerous files that need to be converted into nifti format in order to be read by programs such as FSLview and SPM etc.

To convert all of the dicom files to nifti I used the 'dcm2nii' command:

       : dcm2nii -o . -i n -p n 0005/*

This function conveniently also provided cropped, oriented and cropped & oriented '.nii.gz' images in its output that have 'c', 'o', and 'co' prefixes respectively.

From this point the images can be viewed in FSL, however in order for them to be visible in SPM you have to apply the gunzip command to remove the '.gz' extension

      : gunzip *.gz

Here you are left with plenty of tar.bz2 files and the DICOM file folder, which I tend to delete from this point to clean up my folder (as long as the images open correctly and look okay otherwise you may need these compressed versions for subsequent conversion!).

        rm -r 0005/
        rm *.bz2

After opening the 'co' images in FSLview and finding the most aesthetically pleasing slices, one can use the tools_>single view button.











To bring up a large view of a single orthographic orientation. Use the switch view button and you can happily cycle through the 3 orientations and save screenshots in .pneg format using the snapshot button (right of the switch view button).





















Saturday, 8 June 2013

Evidence for god (the christian one), direct from her favourite spokespersons. The Jehovah Witnesses...


written by Rich
I recently gave an interesting opportunity to two lovely Jehovah Witnesses. I do mean that, they were nice and they really wanted to persuade me of the existence of their supernatural deity. Unfortunately their best efforts really were very poor. Consider the majesty of overwhelming evidence that is required for me to belief that the 'creative intelligence to the universe', an intelligence who happened to have created the whole infinity of space, did so, to allow planet earth to form and allow an imperfect, polluting and destructive, Great ape hominid, to evolve on the African planes, destined to share a common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos. For this extraordinary feat I required some pretty astounding, unambigious and extraordinary evidence.

Below are the two pieces of evidence provided to me from, the bible (a trusty source for facts), but before describing the two it is important to set a little context. These two sentences from the bible are supposed proof of a god, or a 'whatever' greater than us at least, to have inspired knowledge into the writers of the bible. Knowledge that was impossible to have known without 'divine intervention' (A synonym for scientific revelation perhaps?). It could not have been known without the existence of a god. Okay so the two tidbits of interest:

1.) In Daniel, the earth is described as a circle.

Woah...Well that is pretty amazing stuff. The earth was described as a circle?! That is amazing, a circle. How could have anyone known that, before space travel, before telescopes and satellites? First of all, if you were describing the shape of the earth (remember the ultimate power and intelligence to the universe is whispering directly into mind and 'inspiring you' to write here) would 'circle' be the word to use? Not exactly, an accurate portrayal of the earth's 3-DIMENSIONAL characteristic. Furthermore, if you have a large enough open space you can see the horizon. Walk towards it and that previous point where the curvature of the earth restricted you view reseeds a little, extending your view. Now I am not a history buff and so don't know where and when the earth was first discovered to be curved, but I wouldn't be too surprised if one could deduce the lack of flatness by studying the nature of horizons.

Now for the next blow to atheism.

2.) In the Bible the earth is described as being suspended in nothing.

I took this to mean that the writers believed that the earth was literally all that there is, all of the stuff, all that is known and so considered as 'something', and so, anything outside of this, by definition, is no-thing, nothing (remember who was whispering to into the writers minds). However, no! The Jehovah's took this to again mean divine revelation! And went on to describe how they believed that the earth is indeed suspended within/surrounded by nothing. This again is slightly outside of my remit, however I am very confident that the space surrounding earth is not nothing, in fact, there is a load of things going on in so-called 'empty space'. This statement of the bible is just simply a falsehood. Space (as far as I know), is filled with quantum gravity, radiation, plenty of particles (popping in and out of existence), all sorts of things! Earth is not surrounded by nothing.

These two discourses from the bible were there main ammunition against me. I really was open to be being persuaded, however the case was frankly feeble, juvenile, barely worth reciting. Unsurprisingly my disbelief remains resolute.








Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Politics will be the excuse, Religion is the cause

written by Rich

Religion is something that I discuss on a very regular basis, perhaps too regularly. I am a firm atheist and find it fascinating, almost to the point of bamboozlement, that people across the planet believe in a supernatural, all intelligent, consciousness to the universe that cares about what humans choose to do with the 'free will' given by itself. I find it astounding that I, as an atheist, am in an alarmingly minor group.

Taken into consideration, these thoughts (currently written out on my journey home on both the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines) are even more energised than usual. They are composed of deep empathy felt for those directly involved in the terrorist events of today. I feel woeful and close to tears. One man being decapitated whilst the attacker decreed his act in the name of allah the almighty.

Yes there are socioeconomic motivations, however the filmed blood drenched knife wielding attacker was a Black male and is unlikely to be a citizen from any country currently occupied by the USA or UK. Moreover, the assailant committing the act in the name of his Islamic god, and then describing how 'our' women should be covered, and how the UK should be under shariah law, does slightly emphasize the major driving force behind this act of cold savagery. Really putting the mental into fundamentalism.

May it be said here that the authorities of Islam need to make a loud public statement of digust towards this pernicious fundamentalism witnessed today. The secular community need to know that this act is not condoned by the Islamic tradition. This needs to be done in order to remove support from these extremist communities and to help douse the flames of derogation. You see, your average Brit probably doesn't know a great deal about Islam or what it means to be a Muslim and the relentless media coverage of Islamic fundamentalism effectively remains in the general public's consciousness. These acts thereby provide the hot and sticky tar to paint the rest of an entire culture with. I worry for everyday Muslims, who are valid members of the British culture, that will now face another torrent of fresh prejudice as a result of today's events. This sincere concern of mine draws images of yet another imbecile moronic women giving an innocent 'non-white' a piece of her foul, polluted, repugnant, naive, mind, by parading herself infront of a mosaic of camera phone lenses whilst on public transport.

As an atheist hearing of these horrific news stories, it is even more disheartening (although not as embarrassing or shaming for the affiliated religious communities). The odds of there being any god's in existence is unlikely and the chance that allah is the one true god is slimmer still. So to hear that acts of stupidity causing such terror and violence becomes underlined by a sense of overwhelming pointlessness and waste. Topped off with a sour irony that is most difficult to swallow, the attacker believes that he is doing the righteous thing. A holy act! He did this because he really really believes that he has god on his side. The arrogance!







Saturday, 11 May 2013

The probability that a God created the Universe.

written by Sam
This is only my second post on this blog, something that should have probably occurred a long time ago. However admittedly I've been swamped with university coursework and exams and have been left unable to get around to making a post. Anyway this is just something that I found on the internet while browsing around and it basically reasons out why the probability that a deity created the Universe is 0.

Let's assume that the Universe started with the Big Bang, why we make that assumption should be obvious to those who read this so I won't go any further into it. Therefore we can rule out any sort of direct creation of us or the planet, or of anything other than the Universe as a whole. However this leaves us with the question 'what caused the Big Bang and therefore the Universe.' This is something we may never be able to explain, however at the moment the most rational response to this question is to say 'we don't know.' There is nothing wrong with admitting ignorance on this question, in fact our ignorance gives us a platform from which we can explore the question. However it is irrational to suggest a deity, or a God, or anything else caused the Big Bang at this present moment in time. There are an infinite number of unfounded baseless 'theories' that we can use to explain what caused the Big Bang. We can say God did it, we can say the Universe created itself, we can even say that the Universe was created by an intelligent group of possums on a distant planet, or the FSM. Each of these theories can demonstrate no truth or evidence in their claims, there can also only ever be one explanation as to what caused the Big Bang. Therefore the odds that any one of these theories demonstrates more truth than any other theory is 1/infinity.
One divided by infinity is essentially 0.
Therefore the probability that anyone of these theories is correct is 0.

However this calculation only applies to the infinite amount of BASELESS theories, i.e. theories of which we can demonstrate not a shred of evidence. Despite what we may hear from fundamentalists, there is no evidence that a deity exists. The Bible and Qu'ran are not evidence of the existence of a God, however this isn't something to be discussed here. In order to increase the probability of a theory being correct we have to demonstrate evidence. I'm not going to define evidence, if you're from a science background or even just somebody who can demonstrate moderate intelligence, you should know what I mean by evidence.

So there we have it, pretty much the reason I don't believe a God exists.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Alzheimer's patients to be tracked in police trial

written by Rich

The gradual decline of a loved one through progressive dementia is obviously emotionally challenging and practically challenging. As an elderly individual becomes more and more reliant on being cared for, as a result of their eroding cognitive faculties, the risk to the individual increases. It is common for individuals with Alzheimer's disease to freely wander off from home, without be aware of the consequences of their condition. A short walk when alone can quickly become a scary and confusing environment for someone with AD, as you may forget what you were doing, where you are, and where home is.

Sussex police have provided 15 patients with wristbands that use GPS technology to track the individual in a bid to save police money and manpower required to find an AD patient that has lost their way.

Some individuals welcome the move as they are carers that often find themselves loosing a roaming loved one and enjoy the perks of an immediate text or email alert whenever the wristband wearer travels a certain distance from home. If it makes the carers life easier and increases the safety of the AD patient then is this a good idea?

Well, some people in the news today have reported that this idea is 'barbaric' as this is a cheap uncompassionate fix providing robotic care for the patients. 'Care' here I guess is not the right word according to some. Is care on the cheap bad? Is cheap care, uncaring? Arguably this is a crude form of tackling the issue by the police who plan to incorporate larger areas of greater London in the future.

Again back to the patient, the ideas here are commendable because the wristband has an emergency S.O.S button that a wearer can press if found to be in danger or injury. However the wristband is going to used by those patients most severly affected and therefore likely to remove the wristband as it is an unknown object about their person.

I feel that to react so emotively and to call this idea barbaric may be a but of a 'knee jerker' reaction because if the technology helps to protect the safety of those with AD that find themselves lost, and then also provide reassurance to their full-time carers who freely choose to use the technology, then great!  



Thursday, 18 April 2013

This image is Magnificent! Utterly impressive beauty in the Axon terminal.





(Electron microscope image taken by Tina Carvalho from the University of Hawaii)



Here is a stunning electron microscope image taken of an axon terminal. It is a great example of beauty in biology and represents how science is the poetry of reality. The pseudo-colouring in the image identifies the neurotransmitter containing vesicles used for the chemical propagation of a neurones electrical action potential. These vesicles cross the synapse between one cell and another and then ignite a subsequent action potential in the next cell.

If that's excited your taste for neurobiology (which it should have!) and would like to learn the basics of cell physiology and neuronal communication, this webpage has a good introduction for you.   

  
For more impressive snapshots of the art in neuroscience, buy Portraits of the Mind by Carl Schoonover.













Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Must have books for the modern Atheist

Here is a collection of books that any 21st century atheist should know well. If reading isn't your thing, then there happen to be plenty of lectures by most of these authors on youtube that provide a good grasp of their well-made arguments.








Saturday, 6 April 2013

Islam or Atheism - Which makes more sense?

Written by Rich

  VS. 
This 'Big debate' was put on by the iERA (The Islamic Education and Research Academy) and by the Big debates project. The Debaters were the renowned cosmologist Lawrence Krauss (arguing for Atheism), and the Islamic activist and lecturer Hamza Tzortziz (arguing for Islam). This debate made a bit of a splash in the papers because Krauss refused to debate in a segregated room and threatened to abandon the event. We at theneuroatheist think that of course segregation of any kind is generally a poor way of operating with groups of people, and also believe that segregation retards the mental health of those taking part. It is shocking that it was even suggested that a room be segregated by gender on one of London's University campuses in a 21st century academic event. After Krauss expressed his sanity and disgust for the idea, the event organisers agreed to non-segregate (un-segregate?) the room. Now it would be nice to describe this as a success, but this word seems too strong because in my non-dictated and atheistic worldview all humans are equal and ya'know considered barbaric to discriminate those based on biology at least. Non-segregation is my norm and consequently rather trivial. Perhaps the success here is that the debate was already won before it even started? Bravo Zulu to you Prof Krauss. 

The traditional format for each speaker to speak for 20 minutes or so didn't last too long in this case. The debate quickly turned into more of a heated discussion between the two speakers. Krauss becoming more of an educator toward Hamza, as Hamza attempted to tie science into his 'linguistic' argument for the rationality of Islamic theism. Krauss picking up the simple errors made by Hamza, began to school his opponent in such a way that Hamza ended up looking rather foolish. Despite this early lead for Krauss, the overall quality of the debate was rather disappointing. The moderator clearly was not acting as a neutral party as he kept slipping into Arabic and references to god throughout the debate and overall the debate had an air of immaturity throughout. This may be because of the poor sportsmanship and desperation shown by Hamza, who at one point, pulls out a copy of Krauss's Universe from Nothing book and starts quoting lines from it. Moreover the audience were heavily one-sided and misunderstood Krauss many times giving them the inappropriate excuse to act out shocked gasps and over-zealous mocking laughter. Hamza, probably knowing each member of the crowd, definitely used this to his advantage and continued to use his frustrating deductive arguments for the existence of god, and hence the rationality of Islamic theism. Frustrating not because the arguments posed as a threat, but frustrating because they were ancient arguments that rely on a priori 'armchair' thinking, that in this case posed irrational conclusions that were void of any evidence or data to support his premises.


The whole debate reminded me of the agonising interview between Richard Dawkins and Wendy Wright (the fundamental christian creationist), where in both cases the theist is being presented high quality evidence and just simply rejecting it. For example, Hamza, towards the end of the debate unashamedly admits to Krauss that he would willingly reject any evidence that would directly contradict the Qu'ran. Meaning that faith trumps reality. So there you have it, the impasse. "I, as a believer, will not accept any presentation of reality because my book would be proved wrong." My head aches just trying imagine the sort of cognitive dissonance vacuum cleaner required to live in the age of science, or maybe it's from the wall I just headbutted. The frustration of hearing phrases like these is literally painful.







For those yet to watch the debate:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSwJuOPG4FI
If that hasn't angered you enough, watch the Dawkins vs. Wright interview:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFjoEgYOgRo