The Frontal Cortex

Archives for December, 2006

Here’s how Michel Gondry – director of the Science of Sleep,* and cinematic master of low-tech effects – created the illusion of solving a Rubiks Cube with his feet. Hint: it involves time. And here’s the Seed video of Gondry talking to sleep scientist Robert Stickgold. *Beautiful movie, but really weird. [Hat Tip: Kottke]

The Real Mysteries of Our Time

These are just a few questions that Slate’s Explainer couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer: What comes after 999 trillion? Lasers are now powerful and small (at least I think they are), so why don’t our troops carry laser guns? Is it possible to collect all the cookie dough in Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream and…

Neuroscience and Free Will: The Sequel

My last post on neuroscience and free will generated lots of interesting comments. Please check them out. But I think a few readers misunderstood my ambition. It’s easiest to begin by saying what I wasn’t trying to do: I wasn’t trying to construct a philosophically sound defense of free will (I’m not sure such a…

Proustian Hotels

We all know about Proust and his madeleine. One whiff of that buttery cookie, shaped like a seashell, and Proust suddenly remembered his long forgotten childhood in Combray. Proust makes it clear that his sense of smell was the trigger for his memory. He knew that our nose bears a unique burden of memory: “When…

Neuroscience and Free Will

The Economist believes that “modern neuroscience is eroding the idea of free will”: In the late 1990s a previously blameless American began collecting child pornography and propositioning children. On the day before he was due to be sentenced to prison for his crimes, he had his brain scanned. He had a tumour. When it had…

How Many Deaths Will It Take?

So I don’t think we should send more troops to secure Baghdad. This song explains why: Note to Bruce: While I enjoyed your Seeger Sessions – even if I really don’t listen to it that much – may I suggest that your next record of covers feature Bob Dylan?

Nabokov Was Right

Nabokov always said that the only thing he enjoyed more than writing novels and solving chess puzzles was studying butterflies. As he notes in Strong Opinions: Frankly, I never thought of letters as a career. Writing has always been for me a blend of dejection and high spirits, a torture and a pastime — but…

The Neuroscience of Dreaming

The purpose of dreaming is learning. While you are sleeping, your brain is digesting the day, deciding which new experiences to consolidate into long-term memory. That’s the implication of Matthew Wilson’s latest paper, which documented the neural activity in the brains of dreaming rats. Here’s the Times: The finding, reported on the Web site of…

William James and Biography

There was an excellent review this past Sunday of the new William James biography, by Robert Richardson. The review was written by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. I heartily agree with this passage: James’s own philosophical positions were fused with his reactions to the experiences of his life. A deeply divided man who squandered years just trying…

The Pentagon and Neuroscience

DARPA, the often secretive research unit of the Pentagon devoted to sponsoring “revolutionary, high-payoff research,” has recently turned its attention to neuroscience. DARPA is best known for creating the precursor of the internet, and for decades lavished its considerable resources on high-end physics. It should not be surprising that the Defense Department is now interested…