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Kylli Sparre


Frumpy and lumpy. That is an accurate characterization of much academic prose.

It is possible to write declarative sentences while preserving the creativity of language.

‘The burnt hand is the best lesson’. Pain is a pattern from a memory that traces your first yesterday.

A flash of lightning produces a single sound. Pain in the brain is not like that. Neurons in the brain can excite or inhibit many other neurons, to which they are connected. Pain is not controlled by a single neuron.

A flash of lightning has no intended direction. But pain in the brain is not like that. The synaptic connections between neurons enable coordinated patterns of activation between millions of interconnected neurons. A type of pain is just a type of activation pattern.

Pain in the brain is not conducted like a symphony orchestra by a single individual. It is more like a free-jazz ensemble whose music is produced by loose and coordinated effort among the ensemble members.

‘Do you try to find the real artichoke by stripping it of its leaves?’ Wittgenstein once said. The same can be said of pain in the brain.

The brain is a causal mechanism to convey pain as a sensation. Pain also conveys to us itself. Pain in the brain is like a melody in music. When we feel a pain, the pain doesn’t convey something else that compounds with the activation patterns in the brain. We get the feeling of a pain because pain just is an activation pattern.

In the absence of a general theory of pain or brain function, metaphor and philosophy serve useful placeholder roles.

It is not obvious that experiences of pain are identical to brain activation patterns. In reply, it is not obvious that an ensemble of human beings could produce exciting jazz music, either.


If mind-brain identity theory is correct, it has great potential to unify our theories of human nature and the universe.

Still, it is not obvious that mental states are identical to brain states. It is difficult to believe that they are one and the same thing.

Reductionism in identity theory causes hard feelings in some philosophers because they feel pressured to abandon their wiggle room, the almost imperceptible space between mind and world where philosophical imagination roams free.




Ben Zank

The brain is wet: like fluid, it shapes and reshapes itself depending on context.

I shouldn’t have to pay for what life has cost you.

How to write with soul? Reach and fall, reach and fall.

In daily life we reach and fall. Why should a book proposal be any different?

If your book proposal is honest and vulnerable, a publishing editor will find it easier to forgive you.

Launch big and strange ideas! Be compelling.




More George Christakis here.

My apologies, but I think we should cease the bad habit of thinking that something is real just in case it can’t be proven that it can’t exist! Otherwise, anything you personally dream up but which other people can’t prove can’t exist, must therefore exist! Really, this a bad habit which deserves an honest boot into the abyss.

Pain is one of our great success stories. That we are still around to say so is itself proof of its enduring value.

The self is a unit, but is not unitary, since I may not know what others think of me, nor even facts about myself that I don’t currently know, such as my genome, or my immune profile.

The self is the sum of a creature physically, biologically, culturally, and personally. A developmental theory of self should be able to explain how these dimensions of self become integrated and functional, in normal cases across developmental time, and how, in abnormal cases, how they become disintegrated and dysfunctional.




Diggie Vitt.

William’s reasoning for the title of his excellent article – that dualism inspired by radical skepticism can mystify and confound experimental results – conveys a truth often neglected in a majority of philosophy of mind and consciousness; namely, skepticism is an organ of doubt, but please don’t forget what we already know. Doubt is useful in philosophy; but radical doubt is self-consuming.

I know, human beings are often despicable, but don’t on that account neglect the children.

Why do you fear truthfulness? Because it is so rare? Or do you fear its power to suddenly transform a conversation, to disrupt the social necessity of ‘conversational flow’? Do you fear mindfulness? Or, are you only mindful of imitating others?

Despite the best efforts of government, a deeply conservative society may resist any proposed change to traditional beliefs and values. I am thinking here of Saudi Arabia: fixed gender roles are so deeply embedded in traditional Saudi culture, that recent government-led efforts to modernize Saudi attitudes to women are actively resisted. And what else can the government do when the same cultural attitudes towards gender are mirrored in the institution of Islam itself?

The secret wish of every writer? whim.

A living human being: way and wayfarer.

Skepticism is healthy, but don’t forget what we do know.

If you always focus on what we don’t know, you may already worship uncertainty.

Doubt is useful; radical doubt is self-consuming.

Radical doubt easily infects others. It is fairly easy to implement: simply find a gap in the scientific evidence on some topic, and use it to initiate a shadow of doubt in the minds of others. Radical doubt takes hold when a shadow of doubt becomes all-encompassing darkness.

Radical skepticism begets more radical skepticism.

Assertions of radical doubt:

“Since evolution could be false, God exists.”

“There is no scientific consensus on general brain function, so there must be a non-physical soul.”

“Neuroscience cannot ever explain consciousness because explaining consciousness is really really hard.”

“I cannot imagine how neuroscience could explain consciousness, so neuroscience cannot ever explain consciousness.”

“I think, therefore I am.” (cogito ergo sum)

The intrauterine view of gender identity and sexual orientation

The intrauterine theory of gender identity proposes that gender identity is encoded in brain during intrauterine development (e.g., Savic et al. 2011; Swab, 2007). The brain is thought to develop in the male ‘direction’ through a surge of testosterone on nerve cells, likely in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc) in the limbic system (Chung et al. 2002; Krujiver et al. 2000; Zhou et al. 1995), whereas in the female ‘direction’ this surge is absent. This view of gender identity has been adapted to explain transsexualism: since sexual differentiation of the brain occurs in the second half of pregnancy, and sexual differentiation of the sexual organs occurs in months 1-2 of pregnancy, transsexuality is possible. Thus, the relative masculinization of the brain at birth may not reflect the relative masculinization of the genitals (e.g., Bao & Swab, 2011; Savic et al. 2011; Veale et al. 2010).

fp4-5.jpg (836×591)

The intrauterine theory implies that transsexualism is entirely dependent on a specific and dedicated neuroanatomical brain ‘module’, the BTSc). At a time during the second half of pregnancy, the BSTc comes ‘on-line’, and sexual  – or transsexual  – identity is thereby formed in the individual.

The intrauterine theory as a maturational theory

As a maturational brain theory, the intrauterine theory assumes functional localization of gender identity as an attribute of a specific brain structure or region (i.e., the BSTc) and its patterns of functional connectivity, rather than its patterns of functional connectivity to other structures or regions, to the whole brain and its external environment (van Rysewyk, 2010). Developmentally, a maturational view assumes establishment of intraregional connections, rather than interregional connectivity. It follows that the intrauterine view implies that transsexualism involves a process of organizing intraregional interactions within the BSTc. The bed nucleus of the STc appears to be critically involved.

Extending the maturational aspect of the intrauterine view to gender development also means that we should observe changes in the response properties of the BSTc during pregnancy as regions within the BSTc interact with each other to establish their functional gender roles. Thus, the onset of transsexual identity during intrauterine development will be associated with reliable changes in several regions in the BSTc.












ST ‘off-line’

Gray691 (1)











ST ‘on-line’; onset of transsexual identity

The intrauterine theory and mind-brain identity theory

Philosophically, the intrauterine view is also highly compatible with mind-brain identity theory, a philosophy of mind and consciousness (van Rysewyk, 2013). Mind-brain identity theory claims that mental states are identical to brain states. This implies that a person’s indubitable sense of gender identity as manifested in real-time feelings, sensations, thoughts and reports made to others of being a woman or a man are numerically identical to specific brain states, possibly states of a single brain structure or region. Are the brain states in question states of one brain structure – the BSTc? It appears not, for Chung et al. (2002) found that significant sexual dimorphism in BSTc size and neuron number does not develop in humans until adulthood. However, most male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals self-report that their feelings of gender dysphoria began in early childhood (e.g., Lawrence, 2003).

Clearly, these important findings are not compatible with the maturation of one brain structure or region, but with inter-regional brain development, of which the BSTc may feature as merely one, but significant, contributor. Thus, following the onset of transsexual identity, there is a reorganization of interactions between different brain structures and regions. This reorganization process could change previously existing mappings between brain structures and regions and their functions. It follows that the same phenomenal sense of gender identity in a person (e.g., recurring feelings of gender dysphoria) could be supported by different neural substrates at different ages during development. This possibility doesn’t necessarily exclude a maturational theory of transsexual identity, since the BSTc may be stimulated to reorganize its intrauterine functional connectivity following appropriate stimulation during postnatal development.

Future experimental questions for the function of the BSTc in gender identity and sexual orientation

1. The extent of BSTc localization in gender identity: how diffuse or focal is BSTc activity that results from gender-identity based stimulation?

2. The extent of BSTc specialization in gender identity: How coarsely or finely-tuned is BSTc activity that results from gender-identity based stimulation?

The inter-regional interaction theory of gender identity assumes that as brain tissue becomes more specialized (i.e., finely-tuned), it will become activated by a narrow range of gender-based experiences. With increased specialization, less extensive areas of brain tissue (BSTc?) will identify with gender-based phenomenology.


Bao, A. M., & Swaab, D. F. (2011). Sexual differentiation of the human brain: relation to gender identity, sexual orientation and neuropsychiatric disorders.Frontiers in neuroendocrinology32(2), 214-226.

Chung, W. C., De Vries, G. J., & Swaab, D. F. (2002). Sexual differentiation of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in humans may extend into adulthood. Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 1027-1033.

Kruijver, F. P., Zhou, J. N., Pool, C. W., Hofman, M. A., Gooren, L. J., & Swaab, D. F. (2000). Male-to-female transsexuals have female neuron numbers in a limbic nucleus. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 85, 2034-2041.

Lawrence, A. A. (2003). Factors associated with satisfaction or regret following male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 299-315.

Savic, I., Garcia-Falgueras, A., & Swaab, D. F. (2010). Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation. Progress in Brain Research, 186, 41-65.

Swaab, D. F. (2007). Sexual differentiation of the brain and behavior. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism21(3), 431-444.

van Rysewyk, S. (2010). Towards the the developmental pathway of face perception abilities in the human brain. In: A. Freitas-Magalhães (Ed.), ‘Emotional Expression: The Brain and the Face’ (V. II, Second Series), University of Fernando Pessoa Press, Oporto: pp. 111-131.

van Rysewyk, S. (2013). Pain is Mechanism. PhD Dissertation, University of Tasmania.

Veale, J. F., Clarke, D. E., & Lomax, T. C. (2010). Biological and psychosocial correlates of adult gender-variant identities: a review. Personality and Individual Differences48(4), 357-366.

Zhou, J. N., Hofman, M. A., Gooren, L. J., & Swaab, D. F. (1995). A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality. Nature, 378, 68-70.

A thought in the mind appears by stealth. No guest, but host and master.

Thoughts which repeat and eventually overwhelm the thinker function much like modern diseases: with a fixed and regular diet, they grow by stealth; when nourishment ceases, they die and consume the host.

Fear of death is fear of our naked self, the self we are powerless to change.




More here.

Should classical music audiences dance, would the music thereby be seen as less cerebral than it is now?

Fear serves its purpose. Its enduring value is obvious: we are still here. Why replace it with serenity?

I live in Taipei City, Taiwan. It’s bloody noisy where I live! How can a person think and write in such a racket? Earplugs. Very successful in muffling the cacophony raging outside.

Science makes the reality of God obsolete, but not belief in the reality of God.

Mind-brain identity theory proposes that mental states are identical to brain states. One worry with this philosophy of mind is how a person can have mental states if the brain is just a lump of meat? Interestingly, the effect of this worry is very similar to a well-known phenomenon in developmental psychology – the ‘still-face effect’.

First reported in 1975 by Ed Tronick and colleagues, the still-face effect describes a type of event in which an infant, following three minutes of face-to-face ‘interaction’ with a non-responsive and expressionless (‘still-face’) mother, ‘rapidly sobers and grows wary. He makes repeated attempts to get the interaction into its usual reciprocal pattern. When these attempts fail, the infant withdraws [and] orients his face and body away from his mother with a withdrawn, hopeless facial expression.’

Perceiving the brain as a lifeless piece of matter, rather than the astonishing ‘wonder tissue’ it really is (in the words of Daniel Dennett), encourages aversion, as observed in the infant in interaction with the still-face parent. So, it seems as though there is a genuine ‘still-brain effect’. The irony in the worry is that the perception of the brain as inert is itself caused by brain activity. Would stating this fact to the worrier make any difference?


Is mind the same as brain? Consider a pain. Pain is unpleasant, but nowhere in physical space. However, brain states all occur in physical space (the physical brain), and none of them are unpleasant. So pain cannot be identical to any brain-state. Which means mind is not the same as brain. Right?

It is true that what happens in the brain during pain is not itself unpleasant. But, a state of personal pain – a state of experiencing pain, which is always personal – is also not itself unpleasant, and based on neuroscientific evidence, does in fact occur in the brain, likely in insular and cingulate cortices (limbic system).

Pain is a certain state of experience, which we call ‘being in pain’, or ‘having a pain’. When I observe you in pain, I can use the same expressions to characterize your personal experience. So, the word ‘pain’ refers to an experience type, not an object type. A pain is not a weird object felt but not visually apprehended, but a sensory, emotional and cognitive experience, which is unpleasant, hurtful, surreal, burning, throbbing, typically accompanied by injury, and so on.

In migraine headache, being in pain is not located in the head, but a state of migraine is identical to a brain state. Pain is neither an object, nor a thing, but a personal event, and the language of pain may obscure this.

But I think it is correct to say that the painfulness of pain characterizes the appearance of a body-part or bodily portion; in the case of migraine, the apparent location of the migraine directs my attention to my actual head. Note that the phrase ‘appearance of a body-part/bodily portion’ is ambiguous because the phrase also applies to events of pain in body-parts when the apparent body-part referred to does not exist (e.g., phantom pains). Pain locations are qualitative locations.

In Taiwan, exhaustion is a way of life. Who am I to challenge tradition?

‘intimacy’ and ‘home’ are synonyms.

Identity of mental states and brain states does not imply the relationship is 1 to 1. That is one claim made in addition to the identity claim, and something we need to determine empirically. The identity claim is a philosophical claim.

Can you suffer a pain for an instant? When pain persists, and hope that it will stop soon fades, then suffering begins. Suffering is the cognition, ‘No, please stop now’. A spontaneous scream of pain is a primitive affirmation of life itself. But is a scream of pain a suffering? I would say: when a scream of pain changes to a moan, there is then both pain and suffering.

When self-control loses to pain, there is loss of hope, then suffering. A thought for those in chronic pain and their families!

Like pain, suffering is an invader. Pain invades my body, suffering invades my mind.

My mind is not my brain, but mental states are brain states.

Can a single pain event induce learning the concept ‘pain’?

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Simon van Rysewyk

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