The Frontal Cortex

Archives for June, 2007

Memory and Radio Lab

So I guess this belongs under the shameless self-promotion tag – I helped plan the show – but the latest Radio Lab is on a topic near and dear to my frontal cortex. It’s about the dishonesty of memory, the way we are constantly recreating, reconsolidating and refining our sense of the past. Highlights include…

So everybody is talking about the Sopranos. I might as well weigh in. Personally, I thought the ambiguous ending was pretty brilliant. The Sopranos is always being compared to literature, but the engineered vagueness of that final scene is perhaps its most literary act. As the literary critic Frank Kermode famously pointed out, classic literature…

Freud Was Wrong About Moms

Freud thought that the male psyche was forged by our relationship with our mother. Our repressed Oedipal wishes form the “nuclear complex” of our neuroses. As a result, Freudian psychoanalysis tends to emphasize the role of the maternal figure when excavating our childhood. (Look, for example, at Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi.) A new study,…

Richard Rorty

Richard Rorty has died. I was one of those innumerable undergraduates who, after failing to understand Heidegger or Wittgenstein or Quine or Davidson, picked up Rorty and felt enlightened. The man had a tremendous facility for interpreting the philosophy of others. After reading Rorty on Dewey, I went out and purchased a selection of Dewey…

I discuss the neuroscientific sensitivities of Saturday, Ian McEwan’s 2004 novel, in my forthcoming book, so I was happy to read this paragraph in Jonathan Lethem’s review of McEwan’s latest novel. Lethem is wondering why McEwan, despite his dabbles in modernist structure (Saturday is modeled on Mrs. Dalloway), doesn’t feel like a late modernist: The…

Back Pain and Health Care Costs

David Leonhardt makes a good point. Controlling health care costs – one of our most important domestic policy problems – will require our politicians to make hard (and unpopular) decisions. In Idaho Falls, Idaho, anyone suffering from the sort of lower back pain that may conceivably be helped by the fusing of two vertebrae is…

Reductionism is seductive, especially when it comes attached with a nifty sounding brain region: Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people’s abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation. We…

The Virtue of Forgetting

The headline says it all: “Forgetting May Be Part of the Process of Remembering”: The more efficiently that study participants were tuning out irrelevant words during a word-memorization test, the sharper the drop in activity in areas of their brains involved in recollection. Accurate remembering became easier, in terms of the energy required. This is…

The Fidget Diet

I’ve always been embarrassed by my relentless fidgeting. I play with my beer bottlecaps at bars and endlessly twirl the remote while watching television (this drives my girlfriend crazy). I tap my leg at the dinner table and rap my fingers all day long on my desk. I fold napkins, twirl forks and play with…

The Biology of the Imagination

Simon Baron-Cohen (of Mindblindness fame) has written a short little essay about a rather gigantic subject: Let’s make this concrete. Your eye looks at a fish. This causes your brain to form a visual image of a fish. So far, your primary representation ‘fish’ still has accurate truth relations with the outside world. The real…