The Frontal Cortex

Archives for March, 2007

Prison and Mental Illness

Here are your disturbing prison facts for the day: Percentage of American adults held in either prison or mental institutions in 1953 and today, respectively: 0.67, 0.68 Percentage of these adults in 1953 who were in mental institutions: 75 Percentage today who are in prisons: 97 That’s from the latest Harper’s magazine. My first reaction…

Birds Acting Human

It’s hard to believe that just over fifty years ago psychology was in the firm grip of behaviorism, which denied any semblance of intelligence or emotion in animals. (They were just biological machines.) Talk of anything but stimulus and reward was just sentimental pseudoscience. Then came Chomsky and Goodall and de Waal and a legion…

The Smart Car Comes to America

If you fancy a very small car that gets 60 miles per gallon, or just fell in love with the cute Smart roadster while vacationing in Europe, then you’ll be happy to know that you can now reserve, for $99, a Smart car of your very own. How small are Smart cars? Small enough that…

Can Exercise Make You Smarter?

Descartes is turning over in his grave: the mind and body grow more intertwined by the day. It’s becoming clear that maintaining a healthy mind into old age isn’t simply a matter of keeping the brain active with card games and crossword puzzles. Perhaps equally important is an active body. Physical exercise is a crucial…

Morality and War

It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since the war began. If you missed Bob Woodruff’s important documentary on the epidemic of brain injuries caused by war, I highly suggest watching it. According to Woodruff, up to 10 percent of all veterans suffer some sort of brain injury – often caused by explosive shock…

Huntington’s and Genetic Testing

This is an unbelievably poignant story about what it’s like to learn that your nervous system is fated to self-destruct. Katherine Moser, a 25 year old occupational therapist, decided to take a genetic test that would tell her whether she carried the gene for Huntington’s disease: The test, the counselor said, had come back positive.…

Happiness, Wealth and the Amish

The 20th century was the American century, but we got progressively less happy as the years rolled along: The authors also find that over the last century, Americans, both men and women, have gotten steadily–and hugely–less happy. The difference in happiness of men between men of my generation, born in the 1960s, and my father’s…

Combining Foods

Apparently, Wilfrid Sellars came up with this “philosophical time-waster“: Identify three foods A, B, and C such that any two of these are complementary (taste good in combination) but the trio does not. So A and B must be complementary, B and C must be complementary, and A and C must be complementary, but A,…

Quantum Consciousness

Do any neuroscientists actually take Roger Penrose’s theory of quantum microtubules seriously? When I hear phrases like “quantum Platonic non-computational influences” being applied to the brain, I tend to get very sleepy. But Andrew Sullivan, in a post titled “The Big Wow,” recently featured a long letter laying out Penrose’s latest musings on the quantum…

Neuroscience and Science Writing

In response to a recent post on spindle cells in which I referred to that neuronal cell type as a transmitter of social emotions, I received a very astute comment: This doesn’t as a statement make any sense “their antenna-like cell body is able to convey our social emotions across the entire brain”. Neurons fire…