The Frontal Cortex

Archives for February, 2007

The Humanist Jesus

I spent a year studying theology at Oxford. I focused on the relationship between religion and science (lots of Galileo and Darwin and William James), but couldn’t help learning a lot about the Bible along the way. I went in pretty unimpressed by Jesus (I’m a Jew who doesn’t believe in God), but left the…

The Virtues of A Mediocre High School

Needless to say, this is ridiculous: Settled in the well-groomed Los Angeles suburb of San Marino, Derek O’Gorman worked as an insurance broker. His wife, Mary Ann, took care of their two girls, both stellar students at top-ranked local schools. But in 2005, when the family visited a nearby private high school they expected the…

Bring Back the Diesel Engine

I’m all for clean air regulations, but sometimes they don’t make very much sense. Case in point: California, along with four Northeastern states, has imposed strict limits on the type of pollutants coming out of the tailpipe of a car. There’s only one problem: these regulations make diesel engines illegal, since even the most modern…

When Healthy Kids Think They Are Sick

I had a happy and healthy American childhood, but perhaps I was an exception. According to a new report by UNICEF on children in developed countries, the US and UK rank last and second to last in the “well-being” of their children. (The Netherlands and Sweden were first and second.) The report looked at a…

B Flat

Who knew B flat was so strange? Robert Krulwich explains, as only he can: During World War II, the New York Philharmonic was visiting the American Museum of Natural History. During rehearsal, somebody played a note that upset a resident live alligator named Oscar. Oscar, who’d been in the museum on 81st Street, suddenly began…

The Certainty Bias

Over at the academic blog Overcoming Bias, Arnold Kling makes a good point: Before the Iraq invasion, President Bush did not say, “I think that there is a 60 percent chance that Saddam has an active WMD program.” Al Gore does not say, “I think there is a 2 percent chance that if we do…

Is Neuroscience Conservative?

In his most recent column, David Brooks argues that the new discoveries of neuroscience and biology have confirmed the conservative view of human nature. Sometimes a big idea fades so imperceptibly from public consciousness you don’t even notice until it has almost disappeared. Such is the fate of the belief in natural human goodness. This…

Learning About Plasticity

According to some recently published research by Carol Dweck, knowing about brain plasticity makes kids smarter: 100 seventh graders, all doing poorly in math, were randomly assigned to workshops on good study skills. One workshop gave lessons on how to study well. The other taught about the expanding nature of intelligence and the brain. The…

The Migration of New Neurons

It’s been one of the enduring mysteries of neurogenesis: where do all our new cells go? Do they plug themselves into the cortical network? Do they travel to the olfactory cortex? Or do they wither away and die, a vestigal legacy of a more primitive brain? Now a big part of the puzzle has been…

The Incest Taboo and Kin Selection

There’s an interesting evolutionary psychology paper in the new Nature. It’s by Tooby and Cosmides, and it investigates the roots of the incest taboo. The researchers found that, on average, our repulsion at the idea of having sex with a sibling correlates with two variables: how long we lived with that sibling and how long…