Author Archives: jfortune

Dreams and Consciousness

I know that we didn’t really go into very much detail about consciousness, but I personally find the topic to be very interesting. The abstract train of thought and the arguments that can be held over how consciousness arises and where it originates have always kind of peaked my interests. We define consciousness as our sense of self-awareness, self-concept, the voice inside our heads that tells us who we are and what we are thinking at any given moment. The philosopher René Descartes is known for his statement “Cogito, ergo sum” meaning, “I think therefore I am.” Which is why I enjoy asking questions such as: Is consciousness a product of the brain and physical body or is it a separate entity altogether? I’ll leave that it for you to decide.

But Into my topic for the post, I found this article about lucid dreamers and a study done on them by researchers from Max Plank Institute of Psychiatry, while they are asleep. Within a lucid dream state, one is completely aware that they are in fact dreaming and through this realization they assume complete control over the dream itself. The test subjects were placed in an fMRI scanner and monitored under both the conditions of before becoming conscious in their dream state, essentially just while they are dreaming normally, and then after they have become aware that they are dreaming and enter the lucid dream state. The fMRI takes readings of the blood flowing throughout the brain; regions of the brain where the blood flows to and concentrates in are the areas that are being activated.

The study showed that the areas of the brain that became the most active after the transition from normal dreaming to the state of lucid dreaming are the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the frontopolar regions of the brain. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain associated with self-assessment, and the frontopolar regions are responsible for the evaluation of one’s thoughts and feelings.

What I found most interesting about this article is that in previous studies done at the Max Plank Institute, they had asked lucid dreamers to replicate the same thoughts that they were having while in their lucid dream states while they were awake; and what they found is that the same regions of the brain were activated regardless of whether the subject was asleep or not.

I thought that this was pretty cool that such a study was done, and the results were interesting to find. But to simplify it all down to a sentence or two, lucid dreaming is essentially the same thing as being conscious… just at night while you have your eyes closed.

Family Resemblance Categories

Have you ever been given one of those riddles where “one of these things is not like the others” and you have to figure out which one it is? After the initial question you try to analyze every possible characteristic and feature of each object to try to come up with the answer. The process of searching through all the categories you have and comparing the objects to them in order to try to find the similarity held by the majority and the one that is left out.

How about this, have you ever wondered why we categorize things the way that we do? Why we have created “this” categories for one thing but not “that” category for another? The reasoning behind this could be due to the selection of prototypes as the centerpieces of our categories. A paper written by Douglas L. Medin, William D. Wattenmaker, and Sarah E. Hampson titled “Family Resemblance, Conceptual Cohesiveness, and Category Construction” provides a lot of information and insight as to how we tend to form the categories that we do.

The major problem with the classical view is that research suggests that the majority of natural concepts are not organized around defining features, but rather are structured in terms of sets of typical or characteristic features. Family resemblance categories are fuzzy categories where members are generally similar to each other but there is no set of defining properties that any and all examples have. The three go on to say, “If we construct artificial categories by selecting prototypes and generating examples to create a family resemblance structure, then these same categories should be reproduced when people are allowed to construct their own categories from these examples.”

That would be to say that after the establishment of a family resemblance structure, something that we rely on to compare other examples to via the prototype, that even when given the opportunity to categorize those same examples freely, we will tend to choose to categorize them the same way we did before. Medin, Wattenmaker, and Hampson included several experiments and their results to support this claim. There are two types of similarity, Within-category similarity and Between-category similarity. When categorizing objects, one should look to maximize Within-category similarity while minimizing Between-category similarity, though it is not always simple to do. To maximize Within-category similarity would be to create a specific category for every individual object; while minimizing Between-category similarity, which would be to sort all objects into exactly two categories, either it is or is not.

This is all very interesting stuff here, but I don’t want to bog down this whole post with just information so I will leave it up to you the reader to look into the paper and read it for yourself if you would like to learn a little more about what exactly is going on when you categorize things. Perhaps you might thing about it the next time you go to compare things and try to put a new perspective on it.


We’ve all been there, putting off work or school related tasks to the last minute and rushing to get things done. As a matter of fact it is being implemented and exemplified in this very blog post. Over the last few hours I have been trying to decide upon what the topic of my post should be, all the while trying to fill in that time doing other things in an attempt to “help me think.” Then it kind of came to me, I should write about procrastination and it’s relation to cognitive processes and attention and stuff, so here it goes.

In an article written by Joseph R. Ferrari, he says that procrastination may be related to the inability to stay focused on a task and a need for frequent sensory stimulation. In his article he also talks about the different procrastination tendencies: avoidance, arousal, and decisional; and he talks about their associations and relationships with attention deficits, boredom proneness, intelligence, and self-esteem as well.

Thinking about it logically, the aspect of selective attention can play a large role in procrastination. Selective attention is self-explanatory from the perspective that you are focusing your attention on stimuli other than what you should be focusing on. Then it can be broken down further into the argument of whether the early-selection hypothesis is being utilized, where the unattended input (your “should do” that’s been put on the back burner for other things) receives little to no analysis; or the late-selection hypothesis, where all input receives analysis but only the attended input (that which you chose over the “should do”) reaches consciousness or holds your attention’s priority.

While looking for articles to base my post on I came across others that listed other reasons for procrastination like the underestimation of the amount of time it would take to complete the task, the overestimation of the desire to complete the task come crunch time, and various other reasons of the sort. Those articles also commented on how procrastination can lead to negative effects in the individual, and in other articles there where some recommended solutions on how to treat the behavior. I guess I should probably look into those and take advantage of them… but I’ll put it off ’til later because I don’t really have the time right now.

Paper Beats Keyboard

In a time where everything is becoming increasingly more and more electronic and technologically advanced by taking notes on our computers, sending emails, and cell phone reminders; we’re replacing the act of simply writing things down with typing it into something with a battery life. Writing with pen and paper is a much more stimulating cognitive experience for children and adults as opposed to pushing the keys of a computer.

Learning how to write by hand provides a substantially greater understanding of the formation of language in young children as it allows them to learn letters and shapes in a more mentally engaging way. Due to the requirement of having to first recognize that different letters are made up of different features, and to then replicate those features onto paper, create stronger neuronal connections in the brain to distinguish which letters are which and the proper way in which the letters are formed. Thus our feature nets are formed, and after they are established and become more developed we are able to learn the language faster and broaden our vocabulary at a faster pace due to bottom-up processing.

Other research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.

She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.

And one recent study of hers demonstrated that in grades two, four and six, children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.

The degradation and diminishing use of handwriting in society can lead to some negative repercussions. Through the disuse of printing by hand we slowly lose the connections we made and our vocabulary and ability to spell slowly fade away as we are constantly reliant on spell check to catch our grammatical errors. The stimulus of hand-eye coordination that comes with writing using pen and paper is more important than some might realize. However there are some apps and technologies that allow the use of a stylus to write on a computer screen or tablet, replicating the process as if it were done with the initial tools. This feature of electronics could be taken advantage of in order to reincorporate handwriting back to its former practice.

I am sure that society probably won’t ever get to the point where we completely lose our written language, at least not any time soon or during any of our lifetimes but it is still a little concerning that there has been a shift in the frequency in which we write by hand that has resulted in a slight dulling of the mental processes used in both reading and writing.