Sunday, February 19, 2017

Gilles Deleuze on why the individual is not the species.

For Deleuze, perhaps to exist was not just to make a difference: it was to be a difference, to be uniquely configured by the effects of the singular flows within the configuration spaces by which a thing becomes what it individually is. One wonders what exactly Deleuze would now point to as the Source of difference in what exists? The vagueness of species is predicated on the difference of the individual.

Beneath the general operation of laws, however, there always remains the play of singularities. Cyclical generalities in nature are the masks of a singularity which appears through their interferences; and beneath the generalities of habit in moral life we rediscover singular processes of learning. The domain of laws must be understood, but always on the basis of a Nature and a Spirit superior to their own laws, which weave their repetitions in the depths of the earth and of the heart, where laws do not yet exist. The interior of repetition is always affected by an order of difference: it is only to the extent that something is linked to a repetition of an order other than its own that the repetition appears external and bare, and the thing itself subject to the categories of generality.

--Difference and Repetition (tr. Paul Patton, 1994), p. 25.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Too much of a good thing? Autism and Cortical Architecture

Brain microscopic anatomy in persons with autism shows an increase in the numbers of neuronal "dentritic spines" whuch conect neighboring cells in the brain. The dendritic spine density of the apical dendrites of pyramidal neurons are increased in several cortical layers (cortical layer 2 in frontal and parietal lobes and layers 2 and 5 in the temporal lobes). Spine density seems inversely correlated with cognitive function. Neurologists have hypothesized that the autism patient's brain is locally overconnected, so that the good connections are crowded out by poorly pruned, inefficient ones.

Something along those lines seems to fit the report below. Perhaps even in the first year of life, the brains of those who are to more obviously develop autism in the second year of life grow in a way that causes an unusual increase in cortical surface area. That means that their outer brain cortex is actually expanding faster than that of normal infants. Unfortunately, not all such brain size increases are desirable ones.



Early brain development in infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder

Heather Cody Hazlett, Hongbin Gu, Brent C. Munsell, Sun Hyung Kim, Martin Styner, Jason J. Wolff, Jed T. Elison, Meghan R. Swanson, Hongtu Zhu, Kelly N. Botteron, D. Louis Collins, John N. Constantino, Stephen R. Dager, Annette M. Estes, Alan C. Evans, Vladimir S. Fonov, Guido Gerig, Penelope Kostopoulos, Robert C. McKinstry, Juhi Pandey, Sarah Paterson, John R. Pruett, Robert T. Schultz, Dennis W. Shaw, Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, et al.

Nature 542, 348–351 (16 February 2017) doi:10.1038/nature21369

Received 15 April 2016 Accepted 06 January 2017 Published online 15 February 2017

Brain enlargement has been observed in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but the timing of this phenomenon, and the relationship between ASD and the appearance of behavioural symptoms, are unknown. Retrospective head circumference and longitudinal brain volume studies of two-year olds followed up at four years of age have provided evidence that increased brain volume may emerge early in development. Studies of infants at high familial risk of autism can provide insight into the early development of autism and have shown that characteristic social deficits in ASD emerge during the latter part of the first and in the second year of life. These observations suggest that prospective brain-imaging studies of infants at high familial risk of ASD might identify early postnatal changes in brain volume that occur before an ASD diagnosis. In this prospective neuroimaging study of 106 infants at high familial risk of ASD and 42 low-risk infants, we show that hyperexpansion of the cortical surface area between 6 and 12 months of age precedes brain volume overgrowth observed between 12 and 24 months in 15 high-risk infants who were diagnosed with autism at 24 months. Brain volume overgrowth was linked to the emergence and severity of autistic social deficits. A deep-learning algorithm that primarily uses surface area information from magnetic resonance imaging of the brain of 6–12-month-old individuals predicted the diagnosis of autism in individual high-risk children at 24 months (with a positive predictive value of 81% and a sensitivity of 88%). These findings demonstrate that early brain changes occur during the period in which autistic behaviours are first emerging.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

This is your Brain on E-Cigarettes

From the preprint site, some evidence that e-smoking is potentially habit-forming. Like ordinary smoking as well as several other habit forming drugs, e-cigarette smoking causes increased posterior striatal metabolism, which often correlates with addictive craving and behavior.



The effect of smoking on the brain revealed by using electronic cigarettes with concurrent fMRI

Matthew B Wall, Alexander Mentink, Georgina Lyons, Oliwia S Kowalczyk, Lysia Demetriou, Rexford D Newbould


Cigarette addiction is driven partly by the physiological effects of nicotine, but also by the distinctive sensory and behavioural aspects of smoking, and understanding the neural effects of such processes is vital. There are many practical difficulties associated with subjects smoking in the modern neuroscientific laboratory environment, however electronic cigarettes obviate many of these issues, and provide a close simulation of smoking tobacco cigarettes. We have examined the neural effects of 'smoking' electronic cigarettes with concurrent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). The results demonstrate the feasibility of using these devices in the MRI environment, and show brain activation in a network of cortical (motor cortex, insula, cingulate, amygdala) and sub-cortical (putamen, thalamus, globus pallidus, cerebellum) regions. Concomitant relative deactivations were seen in the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex. These results reveal the brain processes involved in (simulated) smoking for the first time, and validate a novel approach to the study of smoking, and addiction more generally.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Earlier Noncontact Exercise May Decrease Risk of PostConcussive Syndrome in Youth

The best practice estimates regarding the timing of return to high levels of physical activity in sports after concussion keeps changing in recent years. The study below suggests that early return to exercise type, non-contact sports practice may be beneficial after concussion. The best protocol then might be early reintegration into non-contact practice but only later restart of physical contact practice and games after concussion in sports, at least at the junior high and high school levels, contingent at least until further study is done.



Association Between Early Participation in Physical Activity Following Acute Concussion and Persistent Postconcussive Symptoms in Children and Adolescents

Anne M. Grool, MD, PhD1; Mary Aglipay, MSc1; Franco Momoli, PhD1; et al William P. Meehan III, MD2; Stephen B. Freedman, MDCM, MSc3; Keith Owen Yeates, PhD4; Jocelyn Gravel, MD5; Isabelle Gagnon, PhD6; Kathy Boutis, MD7; Willem Meeuwisse, MD, PhD8; Nick Barrowman, PhD1; Andrée-Anne Ledoux, PhD1; Martin H. Osmond, MDCM9; Roger Zemek, MD9; for the Pediatric Emergency Research Canada (PERC) Concussion Team

JAMA. 2016;316(23):2504-2514. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.17396

Key Points


Is participation in physical activity within 7 days following acute concussion associated with lower rates of persistent postconcussive symptoms in children and adolescents compared with conservative rest?


In this prospective, multicenter cohort study of 3063 children and adolescents aged 5.00 to 17.99 years after propensity matching, the proportion with postconcussive symptoms at 28 days was 28.7% with participation in early physical activity vs 40.1% with conservative rest, a significant difference.


Participation in physical activity within 1 week after injury may benefit symptom recovery following acute concussion in children and adolescents.



Although concussion treatment guidelines advocate rest in the immediate postinjury period until symptoms resolve, no clear evidence has determined that avoiding physical activity expedites recovery.


To investigate the association between participation in physical activity within 7 days postinjury and incidence of persistent postconcussive symptoms (PPCS).

Design, Setting, and Participants

Prospective, multicenter cohort study (August 2013-June 2015) of 3063 children and adolescents aged 5.00-17.99 years with acute concussion from 9 Pediatric Emergency Research Canada network emergency departments (EDs).


Early physical activity participation within 7 days postinjury.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Physical activity participation and postconcussive symptom severity were rated using standardized questionnaires in the ED and at days 7 and 28 postinjury. PPCS (≥3 new or worsening symptoms on the Post-Concussion Symptom Inventory) was assessed at 28 days postenrollment. Early physical activity and PPCS relationships were examined by unadjusted analysis, 1:1 propensity score matching, and inverse probability of treatment weighting (IPTW). Sensitivity analyses examined patients (≥3 symptoms) at day 7.


Among 2413 participants who completed the primary outcome and exposure, (mean [SD] age, 11.77 [3.35] years; 1205 [39.3%] females), PPCS at 28 days occurred in 733 (30.4%); 1677 (69.5%) participated in early physical activity including light aerobic exercise (n = 795 [32.9%]), sport-specific exercise (n = 214 [8.9%]), noncontact drills (n = 143 [5.9%]), full-contact practice (n = 106 [4.4%]), or full competition (n = 419 [17.4%]), whereas 736 (30.5%) had no physical activity. On unadjusted analysis, early physical activity participants had lower risk of PPCS than those with no physical activity (24.6% vs 43.5%; Absolute risk difference [ARD], 18.9% [95% CI,14.7%-23.0%]). Early physical activity was associated with lower PPCS risk on propensity score matching (n = 1108 [28.7% for early physical activity vs 40.1% for no physical activity]; ARD, 11.4% [95% CI, 5.8%-16.9%]) and on inverse probability of treatment weighting analysis (n = 2099; relative risk [RR], 0.74 [95% CI, 0.65-0.84]; ARD, 9.7% [95% CI, 5.7%-13.7%]). Among only patients symptomatic at day 7 (n = 803) compared with those who reported no physical activity (n = 584; PPCS, 52.9%), PPCS rates were lower for participants of light aerobic activity (n = 494 [46.4%]; ARD, 6.5% [95% CI, 5.7%-12.5%]), moderate activity (n = 176 [38.6%]; ARD, 14.3% [95% CI, 5.9%-22.2%]), and full-contact activity (n = 133 [36.1%]; ARD, 16.8% [95% CI, 7.5%-25.5%]). No significant group difference was observed on propensity-matched analysis of this subgroup (n = 776 [47.2% vs 51.5%]; ARD, 4.4% [95% CI, −2.6% to 11.3%]).

Conclusions and Relevance

Among participants aged 5 to 18 years with acute concussion, physical activity within 7 days of acute injury compared with no physical activity was associated with reduced risk of PPCS at 28 days. A well-designed randomized clinical trial is needed to determine the benefits of early physical activity following concussion.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Split Brain Research Fails to Replicate Different Hemisphere Awareness After Corpus Callosotomy

According to the Nobel-prize-winning work in the 1960's by Sperry and Gazzaniga, after the two cerebral hemisphere are cut by callosotomy (a surgery sometimes done for intractable epilepsy), a person seeing an object in one visual field can signal seeing it with the hand on that side, but not with the hand on the other side, which will respond as if no object was seen.

I'd heard several tales in more recent years from neuropsychologists just out of university training of how researchers at their institutions were failing to replicate those classic results. This was usually attributed to variations in the surgery performed, as well as the fact the posterior commissure was usually left intact.

However, in a recent issue of Brain, Pinto and colleagues below report they have systematically re-studied many of the patients from these surgeries and are showing that a single awareness persists in such subjects-- exactly as the persons who had the surgery (I've seen three since the 1990's) themselves will tell you, if you ask them :).

What improved over the decades? Perhaps they got better at re-routing the interrupted communications. Did the subjects ever have more than one center of consciousness? Probably no more than we do when we split our attention between simultaneous tasks.



Split brain: divided perception but undivided consciousness

Yair Pinto David A. Neville Marte Otten Paul M. Corballis Victor A. F. Lamme Edward H. F de Haan Nicoletta Foschi Mara Fabri

Brain (2017) aww358. DOI:

Published: 24 January 2017

In extensive studies with two split-brain patients we replicate the standard finding that stimuli cannot be compared across visual half-fields, indicating that each hemisphere processes information independently of the other. Yet, crucially, we show that the canonical textbook findings that a split-brain patient can only respond to stimuli in the left visual half-field with the left hand, and to stimuli in the right visual half-field with the right hand and verbally, are not universally true. Across a wide variety of tasks, split-brain patients with a complete and radiologically confirmed transection of the corpus callosum showed full awareness of presence, and well above chance-level recognition of location, orientation and identity of stimuli throughout the entire visual field, irrespective of response type (left hand, right hand, or verbally). Crucially, we used confidence ratings to assess conscious awareness. This revealed that also on high confidence trials, indicative of conscious perception, response type did not affect performance. These findings suggest that severing the cortical connections between hemispheres splits visual perception, but does not create two independent conscious perceivers within one brain.

Monday, January 23, 2017

On the Vagueness of Species, Part 5: Excluding Some Higher Order Vagueness


In several earlier entries in this blog, I’ve discussed the vagueness of species, the idea that our identification of an individual life form with one species and not another can be vague. I’ve suggested that the concept of rough sets can be usefully applied to Darwin’s species concept.

Epistemic concepts of vagueness say that there really is an exact count of grains where a group of grains are a heap, or an exact count of hairs where a head becomes bald, but that we do not know what that number is. This differs from the more common idea that our terms themselves are vague in application to an exact world.

Where does the rough set concept come in in those differing ideas of vagueness? Is it a vagueness of our concept or of our knowledge of the concept? It is both.

First, as applied to whether a given individual is definitely a species member, definitely not a species member, or vaguely a member, the vagueness is either in our terms or in the members themselves: if an individual life form is only vaguely an orange tree, that is either that we do not have sufficient precision in the orange tree definition to decide, or the tree is the kind of hybrid which is vaguely an orange tree by its nature. In these cases we don’t generally think there are any further unknown facts which would decide the matter.

Second, the rough set concept is without any need for secondary, higher-order vagueness. Such higher-order vagueness is said to be when

in addition to the unclarity of the borderline case, there is normally unclarity as to where the unclarity begins. In other words ‘borderline case’ has borderline cases. This higher order vagueness seems to show that ‘vague’ is vague”

according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. However, with rough set theory, there should be no question regarding whether an individual is definitely a species member or vaguely a species member. If there remains a question of species membership at all, this puts the member entirely into the vague category, which removes the question of whether the member is vaguely vaguely a member: all such border cases are vague ones. The rough set concept thus collapses all secondary vagueness of that sort into the primary vagueness portion of the rough set.

How is this an epistemic view of higher-order vagueness? Between the life forms that are definitely in the species and those that are vaguely so there is a definite boundary. More than this, it is one we should be able to know.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Winter Soursop

Pictures taken today from the waterlogged front lawn: two immature soursop fruit (Annona muricata) on a tree planted in the front bed just a year ago. This tree has grown quickly. Supposedly, when the fruit is mature it will yellow slightly and blur the lines defining segments around each spine in the rind.

Soursop is touted on the web for anti-cancer properties of a tea made from its leaves. Although a category of plant extracts classified as annonaceous acetogenins, which are found only in the soursop (graviola or guanabana) family of trees, do kill cancer cells in vitro (cell cultures in test tubes), there is no evidence beyond hearsay of anti-cancer properties in live humans. But the leaf tea and fruit are both tasty.