The Frontal Cortex

Archives for March, 2007

A friend of mine recently asked me a simple question that I couldn’t answer: i want to know if there is a physiological explanation for why we have an easier time remembering things that we perceive to be true. bad example: suppose that you believed that the earth was flat. then i took you out…

Murder and Medicine

I’m a junkie for medical stories. You give me a good narrative description of a mysterious set of symptoms, and I’m hooked. If you share my obsession with patient histories and diagnostic case-studies, then I highly recommend Complications, by Atul Gawande (2003). It’s easily the best medical book I’ve ever read. Gawande writes with the…

Taking Trans Fats Too Far

This is getting ridiculous: Matthew Reich is a baker dedicated to natural ingredients. He prefers butter in the cookies and brioche he turns out at Tom Cat Bakery in Long Island City, Queens, and like many professional cooks he applauds the public health effort to get artificial trans fat out of food. But, in a…

Whitman and Neuroscience

I’ll be away from my desk tomorrow, so I thought I’d keep you entertained with a video of me. (Forgive the shameless self-promotion.) In this short video, I’m discussing how Walt Whitman anticipated some truths of modern neuroscience. (I’ve written a whole book on this subject, which will come out this fall.) To be honest,…

Spiders Like Meat

Here’s your crazy factoid of the day. It’s from the recent article on spider hunters in the New Yorker by Burkhard Bilger (not online): Spiders kill at an astonishing pace. One Dutch researcher estimates that there are some five trillion spiders in the Netherlands alone, each of which consumes about a tenth of a gram…

First of all, I apologize for the most grandiose blog title of all time. I was going to add Love and War to the title too, but I ran out of space. My subject is yesterday’s Times Magazine synopsis of the current scientific explanations for the universal human craving for some sort of God. The…

The Evolution of Spice

If you like spicy food – and I love spicy food – then you’ll find this report from Harold McGee’s blog rather interesting. It concerns the evolution of capsaicin, the pungent chemical that makes chilis so spicy: Levey, Tewksbury and colleagues tested the theory that capsaicin selectively repels rodents and other grain-eating mammals, which would…

The Benefits of Loss Aversion

It’s easy to deride our irrational bias against losses. From the perspective of economics, there is no good reason to weight gains and losses so differently. (Losses feel twice as bad as gains feel good. We demand a $40 payoff for a $20 bet.) Opportunity costs should be treated just like “out-of-pocket costs”. But they…

Unpatriotic Christians

This is a totally frightening poll: Yes, you read that right: 42 percent of Christian Americans are Christians before they are Americans. In general, Christians in America are about as conflicted in their identities as Muslims in France. And they call atheists un-American… I’d be curious if there’s any historical data on this poll question.…

Some people are really, really rich: Take Oracle’s founder, Lawrence J. Ellison. Mr. Ellison’s net worth last year was around $16 billion. And it will probably be much bigger when the list comes out in a few weeks. With $16 billion and a 10 percent rate of return, Mr. Ellison would need to spend more…