No Brainer.

For decades now, I have been haunted by the grainy, black-and-white x-ray of a human skull. It is alive but empty, with a cavernous fluid-filled space where the brain should be. A thin layer of brain tissue lines that cavity like an amniotic sac. The image hails from a 1980 review article in Science: Roger […]

False Prophecy

(…being another reprint of a months-old Nowa Fantaskya column, because I’m still in Vancouver and haven’t yet had time to do my epic comparison of Fury Road and Kingsman) I’ve been called a prophet now and again. Articles about neuron cultures running robots or power grids generally provoke a comment or two about the “smart […]

Posted in: blindsight, sentience/cognition by Peter Watts 36 Comments

Desperately Seeking Citation.

Can anyone point me to an anecdote about an introvert who manifested a sudden extrovertian personality change (cracking jokes, hitting on the nurses) when one of his cerebral hemispheres was anesthetized prior to brain surgery? I’m almost certain it hails from one of Ramachandran’s books, but I can’t find the damn thing and it’s relevant […]

Posted in: misc, neuro, sentience/cognition by Peter Watts 15 Comments

Psychotic Dreams and Strange Extremes

Where do you start with dreams? People say you’re asleep when you dream, but you’re not really; it’s just that the input you’re consciously processing is generated internally, instead of coming from outside. It’s a kind of consciousness that believes the most ridiculous things, though. Your best friend doesn’t look anything like your best friend […]

Posted in: neuro, Omniscience, sentience/cognition by Peter Watts 53 Comments

Sleepwalk to Enlightenment

Judging by the number of links I’ve received, a lot of you are already familiar with this paper on consciousness and the claustrum. Or at least you’re familiar with the tsunami of popsci coverage it’s received. For the rest of you, the tale goes something like this:  54-year old female epileptic, seizure-free for four years […]

Posted in: neuro, sentience/cognition by Peter Watts 21 Comments

Mind Hives Remastered

So.  The 2013 Aurora Ballot came out a few days ago. Once again, I hadn’t been paying much attention because I didn’t actually publish anything last year.  Once again, I got a phone call telling me that whatever I talked about at last fall’s SpecFic Colloquium got me onto the ballot anyway, under “Best Fan […]


You’ve probably heard about the rat-brain network by now — it showed up in the popsci threads back at the end of February, provoking breathless comparisons with Vulcan mind melds and The Matrix. And I gotta say, the coverage certainly sucked me in: an actual (albeit rudimentary) network of brains, linked together to solve problems? […]

Posted in: Dumbspeech, neuro, sentience/cognition by Peter Watts 19 Comments

Deep Convictions, Shallow Roots.

(Being an English edit of a column that appeared in Nowa Fantaskyka a few months back) You’ll remember that I recently returned from a trip to Sweden. While I was there, by a curious coincidence, I happened to read a Swedish study from the Public Library of Science: “Lifting the Veil of Morality: Choice Blindness […]

Posted in: sentience/cognition by Peter Watts 30 Comments

The Windbreaker of Shame.

Back around the turn of the century — when I was old enough to know better, anyway — I answered a knock on the door to find an unfamiliar twentysomething  looking up at me with a disarming seal-pup expression on his face. He’d locked himself out of his car, apparently. He needed $20 to pay […]

Posted in: neuro, sentience/cognition by Peter Watts 32 Comments

Fruit Flies, Freeloaders, free will.

For the past few months an image has been itching at the back of my mind, like a piece of grit waiting for a story to accrete around it: a neuron culture in a petri dish, like a rifters head cheese but without any inputs to keep it sparking. We presume that all internal feedback […]

Posted in: neuro, sentience/cognition by Peter Watts 43 Comments