The Frontal Cortex

Archives for March, 2007

Helping Farm Animals

Chris Shays (R-CT) has introduced an important piece of legislation. It’s called The Farm Animal Stewardship Purchasing Act, and it would set basic humanitarian standards for any farm trying to sell meat to the federal government. Humane treatment would be defined as: Adequate shelter that allows animals to stand up, lie down and extend their…

Will Wright

Here are some choice quotes from Will Wright’s recent speech at SXSW. Is it odd that one of the most insightful thinkers in our culture designs computer games? [When designing a game], we’re trying to generate the largest rulespace in a game. This is the opposite of science, where we try to find simple rules…

Physics, Neuroscience and Mystery

What’s the biggest philosophical difference between neuroscientists and physicists?* I think neuroscientists are more averse to discussions of mystery and the limits of knowledge. They’ve spent so much time convincing the public that there is no soul – the ghost is just a side-effect of our vibrating machinery – that they are unwilling to let…

Spindle Cells and Humor

Since the science of humor is in the news today, I thought I’d point out an interesting tidbit from a recent Cerebral Cortex paper: The speculation that humor may be a uniquely human cognitive trait (Bergson 1924; Caron 2002) prompted our third hypothesis: humor will activate both anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and frontoinsula cortex (FI),…

The Centrism of Generation Next

I’m pleased with my generation: Young Americans, it turns out, are unexpectedly conservative on abortion but notably liberal on gay marriage. Given that 18- to 25-year-olds are the le ast Republican generation (35 percent) and less religious than their elders (with 20 percent of them professing no religion or atheism or agnosticism), it is curious…

Self-Control is a Muscle

Experiments like this demonstrate why Puritanism is so psychologically unrealistic: A paper in The Journal of Consumer Research looks at the effects of self-restraint on subsequent impulse purchases. In one experiment, college students spent a few minutes free-associating and writing down their thoughts, under instructions not to think of a white bear. Given $10 afterward…

Predicting the NCAA Tournament

Now that the NCAA basketball tournament brackets have been announced, it’s worth reminding ourselves not to bet too much money on our (overconfident) predictions. Why not? Because the tournament is impossible to predict. That, at least, was the conclusion of a 2001 paper by the economists Edward Kaplan and Stanley Garstka. They mined every statistical…

Dreaming, Smelling and Memory

After Freud lost his scientific credibility, psychology became very dismissive of dreams. The leading scientific theory held that dreams consisted of mental detritus, the scraps and fragments of memories that your brain didn’t want to remember. While Freud mined our nighttime thoughts for hidden meanings – they were symbol laden narratives of wish-fulfillment – this…

A Bug on the Windshield

Somehow, magnification makes the grossness disappear. The insect almost looks like a religious icon, an angel nailed to a cross. See more entomological splatterings here.

A Science of Medical Performance

Everybody wants to cure cancer and pioneer gene therapy. This sort of scientific discovery, especially when the discovery could have profound consequences, is a worthy ambition. But does this ambition distract us from less appealing but even more important endeavors? Does searching for the miracle cure come at a cost? Atul Gawande, in his new…