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neurosciencestuff:

Does ‘free will’ stem from brain noise?

Our ability to make choices — and sometimes mistakes — might arise from random fluctuations in the brain’s background electrical noise, according to a recent study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis.

"How do we behave independently of cause and effect?" said Jesse Bengson, a postdoctoral researcher at the center and first author on the paper. "This shows how arbitrary states in the brain can influence apparently voluntary decisions."

The brain has a normal level of “background noise,” Bengson said, as electrical activity patterns fluctuate across the brain. In the new study, decisions could be predicted based on the pattern of brain activity immediately before a decision was made.

Bengson sat volunteers in front of a screen and told them to fix their attention on the center, while using electroencephalography, or EEG, to record their brains’ electrical activity. The volunteers were instructed to make a decision to look either to the left or to the right when a cue symbol appeared on screen, and then to report their decision.

The cue to look left or right appeared at random intervals, so the volunteers could not consciously or unconsciously prepare for it.

The brain has a normal level of “background noise,” Bengson said, as electrical activity patterns fluctuate across the brain. The researchers found that the pattern of activity in the second or so before the cue symbol appeared — before the volunteers could know they were going to make a decision — could predict the likely outcome of the decision.

"The state of the brain right before presentation of the cue determines whether you will attend to the left or to the right," Bengson said.

The experiment builds on a famous 1970s experiment by Benjamin Libet, a psychologist at UCSF who was later affiliated with the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience.

Libet also measured brain electrical activity immediately before a volunteer made a decision to press a switch in response to a visual signal. He found brain activity immediately before the volunteer reported deciding to press the switch.

The new results build on Libet’s finding, because they provide a model for how brain activity could precede decision, Bengson said. Additionally, Libet had to rely on when volunteers said they made their decision. In the new experiment, the random timing means that “we know people aren’t making the decision in advance,” Bengson said.

Libet’s experiment raised questions of free will — if our brain is preparing to act before we know we are going to act, how do we make a conscious decision to act? The new work, though, shows how “brain noise” might actually create the opening for free will, Bengson said.

"It inserts a random effect that allows us to be freed from simple cause and effect," he said.

The work, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published online in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

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justinejoli:

the-actual-universe:

Austria Opens First Permanent Star Walk Installation WorldwideAstronomy enthusiasts all over the world just got a new travel destination. Grossmugl, a small town near Austria’s capital Vienna, recently opened a brandnew astronomical attraction: A permanent star walk installation designated for astronomical observations with the unaided eye. The Grossmugl Star Walk was designed by project nightflight and built in close collaboration with the municipality of Grossmugl.On a 90 minutes’ walk, visitors get an easy introduction to observing the night sky, live and with their own unaided eyes, awesomeness guaranteed. Nine stations with descriptive displays guide the visitors through the starry sky. The 1.5 km long tour is free of charge, open all year round day and night and available without booking or reservation. The ‘Sternenweg Großmugl’ was officially opened on a bright late spring day, on May 24, 2014. A group of enthusiastic visitors from neighboring villages and from Vienna came to celebrate the first walk together. In the light of a magical glowing sunset, the joyful party of star aficionados started their trek. Walking in the falling twilight, they followed the nine stations to Stars Rest, the last stop of the Grossmugl Star Walk. Later in the night, huge storm clouds built up on the horizon. Heavy lightning in all directions provided a spectacular light show and brought the event to a fantastic culmination.For more details about the Grossmugl Star Walk installation and how to get there an illustrated PDF (1.6MB) is available for free download
Credit: project nightflight

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justinejoli:

the-actual-universe:

Austria Opens First Permanent Star Walk Installation Worldwide

Astronomy enthusiasts all over the world just got a new travel destination. Grossmugl, a small town near Austria’s capital Vienna, recently opened a brandnew astronomical attraction: A permanent star walk installation designated for astronomical observations with the unaided eye. The Grossmugl Star Walk was designed by project nightflight and built in close collaboration with the municipality of Grossmugl.

On a 90 minutes’ walk, visitors get an easy introduction to observing the night sky, live and with their own unaided eyes, awesomeness guaranteed. Nine stations with descriptive displays guide the visitors through the starry sky. The 1.5 km long tour is free of charge, open all year round day and night and available without booking or reservation.

The ‘Sternenweg Großmugl’ was officially opened on a bright late spring day, on May 24, 2014. A group of enthusiastic visitors from neighboring villages and from Vienna came to celebrate the first walk together. In the light of a magical glowing sunset, the joyful party of star aficionados started their trek. Walking in the falling twilight, they followed the nine stations to Stars Rest, the last stop of the Grossmugl Star Walk. Later in the night, huge storm clouds built up on the horizon. Heavy lightning in all directions provided a spectacular light show and brought the event to a fantastic culmination.

For more details about the Grossmugl Star Walk installation and how to get there an illustrated PDF (1.6MB) is available for free download

Credit: project nightflight

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news is slowly surfacing that shows the US Department of Justice may be strong-arming banks into banning porn stars.
 
It’s called Operation Choke Point, and it has nothing to do with deep-throating.
 
Instead, it’s a targeted effort to shut down as many as 30 separate industries by making it impossible for them to access banking services.
 
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Thursday, American Banking Association CEO Frank Keating wrote that the Justice Department is “telling bankers to behave like policemen and judges.”
 
“Operation Choke Point is asking banks to identify customers who may be breaking the law or simply doing something government officials don’t like,” Keating wrote. “Banks must then ‘choke off’ those customers’ access to financial services, shutting down their accounts.”
 
Keating said the highly secretive operation was launched in early 2013. That’s when porn stars started to complain to the media that their bank accounts were being shut down without explanation.
 
And while the actors are quick to blame banks like Chase and Bank of America for discrimination, those institutions may in fact have no choice.
 
“If a bank doesn’t shut down a questionable account when directed to do so, Justice slaps the institution with a penalty for wrongdoing that may or may not have happened,” Keating wrote.
 
And bankers are just as pissed as porn stars.
Is the DOJ Forcing Banks to Terminate the Accounts of Porn Stars? | VICE News (via wilwheaton)
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