Delaware Public Media

Alva Noë

Alva Noë is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos and Culture. He is writer and a philosopher who works on the nature of mind and human experience.

Noë received his PhD from Harvard in 1995 and is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Center for New Media. He previously was a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has been philosopher-in-residence with The Forsythe Company and has recently begun a performative-lecture collaboration with Deborah Hay. Noë is a 2012 recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship.

He is the author of Action in Perception (MIT Press, 2004); Out of Our Heads (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009); and most recently, Varieties of Presence (Harvard University Press, 2012). He is now at work on a book about art and human nature.

A friend of mine, a professor at a university in Canada, confided to me a few days ago that she thinks she might be addicted to email.

She feels compelled to check her email all the time. And she feels bad about it. She experiences anxiety if she doesn't check, and anxiety if she does. Email gets in the way of her productivity at work and makes her feel distracted from family when she is at home.

Yup, sounds like addiction to me.

Are we conscious during dreamless sleep?

According to an opinion piece in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences published last month, scientists interested in the topic have tended to assume that the answer is no. We lose consciousness when we fall asleep, at least until we start to dream.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal wanted to be an artist. His dad wanted him to study medicine and encouraged him to draw cadavers at the graveyard.

The rest is history.

What is art? Why does it matter to us? What does it tell us about ourselves?

It's something of the rage these days to turn to neuroscience for answers.

I love my battered old copy of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English. I've rarely needed to look up a word that I can't find in there.

Take, for example, the word "word." Its primary definition, according to the Concise Oxford, is:

The demands of communication put constraints on how everyone talks, regardless of what language they are using.

These pragmatic linguistic universals are the subject of a new study published this week.

Imagine a race of beings who use language just like we do, but who never misunderstand each other; they never need to stop and ask for clarification, as language operates between them in a fluid way. Communication is like the flow of currents and they are all caught up in the flow.

Carl Safina, in his new book on animal minds — Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel makes a strong case for the claim that animals, such as wolves, elephants — and maybe also crayfish — have rich mental lives.

The headline of a Washington Post article from Aug. 11 reads: "It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner."

The new Pixar animation Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter (Monster's Inc., Up), is the playful and ambitious story of the emotional life of a young girl, Riley, who is uprooted when her parents move to a new city so that her father can take up a job. Like a lot of science fiction, however, the fiction drags because the science never really makes any sense.

Soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — a trauma-induced condition in which individuals experience heightened emotional arousal and anxiety — see a world full of threat.

A new study by Rebecca Todd, and colleagues at the University of British Columbia and the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto, shows that that they really do. That is, they experience the presence of real threats the rest of us cannot see.

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