Learning diary – 1st lecture

Alas, yet another learning diary blog for the course Structure and Operation of Human Brain at Aalto University! First introductory lecture is down, several more to go. Feels rather weird to be participating a course after so many years since I’ve last actively studied new subjects under lectured settings. Weird, but refreshing! To paraphrase one of my gurus, Matti Nykänen, progress has progressed: the teaching methods seem to have evolved since the early iron age what with the propagation of learning diaries, excursions, and the paradigm shift from mumbling stone idols to actual interaction. Very nice! The course seems to be structured carefully as well as resourced properly – I’ve yet to see another with two professors and so many assistants at the service of the learning.

The Big Questions, oh yeah! Having pondered them myself to quite some extent, the promise of digging deeper into these is fetching! Keen on meditation, I’ve spend a lot of time with “Who am I?” and “What am I?”, classical questions of many traditions such as Zen Buddhism and Advaita Vedānta. I have experience of how these questions feel, when I present them to myself, let my mind calm down and wait for the answer, and have also read of the neural correlates they have been linked to. It will be good to hear

Speaking of correlates, I’m also looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of the diffuse boundary between correlation and causality. I’ve read of the effects of physically tampering with the brain, such as severing the corpus callosum, and of damages caused by illnesses and accidents limited to specific regions of the brain, and how they are manifested on the behavioral level. From such data, it would be very alluring to draw hard mechanistic assumptions of the brain a “mere” machinery – flip this switch and that light goes on. But to what degree this really applies?

New pieces of information I found very interesting were the bits related to color blindness. The idea of us as homunculi living inside of our bodies observing the very separate, external world, is a strongly held intuition. It’s easy to feel that reality is outside and that our senses rely information of it to us as it is. This belief of externality of reality is, per eastern meditative traditions, one source for suffering.  Vision is a very strong sense modality with great reality effect, even if visible spectrum is but a tiny fragment of electromagnetic radiation that surrounds us. I knew animals and humans see colors differently depending on species, and that some women have receptor for four colors instead of the typical three, but I hadn’t heard of color blind people with only one colorblind eye. This offers a very nice access to subjective experience of colors!

Posted by Tapio Saarinen

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