The Frontal Cortex

Archives for September, 2007

Sucky Hybrids

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the vast majority of hybrid cars aren’t worth the surcharge. You’d get much better mileage with a smaller engine, especially if it was a clean diesel. What worries me about hybrids is that they seem to satisfy this bourgeois lust for environmentally friendly brands – nothing…

Religion Without God (Judaism Version)

So it’s the High Holy Day season again – the pious two weeks in the Jewish calendar connecting Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – and that means that many American Jews are going to shul. For most of these religious observers, this will be their only trip to temple during the year (unless, of course,…

Music and Amnesia

There’s a really wonderful article by Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker this week, excerpted from his forthcoming Musicophilia. I’ve got a profile of Sacks in the next issue of Seed (hitting newsstands soon), which was a real thrill to write, since he’s always been one of my intellectual heroes. Here’s how I describe Clive…

Why Do We Need the Humanities?

Rachel Donadio, over at the Times Book Review, had an interesting little essay on the canon wars, Allan Bloom and the fate of the humanities. But what caught my eye was this melancholy paragraph: All this reflects what the philosopher Martha Nussbaum today describes as a “loss of respect for the humanities as essential ingredients…

Birds and FoxP2

One of the more fascinating bits of research I couldn’t cram into my recent article on the bird brain concerned some work out Erich Jarvis’ lab. In 2004, Jarvis and colleagues found that songbirds have a nearly identical version of a gene known as FoxP2 that has been linked to inherited language deficits in humans.…

Synthetic Memory

One day, your iPod will be made out of biological flesh. Just kidding. In general, I’m a pretty staunch skeptic of The Singularity, but I’ve got to admit that experiments like this are pretty rad: A team in Silver’s HMS lab led by Caroline Ajo-Franklin, now at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and postdoctoral scientist David…

Split-Brain Video

I’ve always thought someone could make a great television show by featuring some of the more bizarre and enlightening neurological syndromes that afflict the human brain. What is it like, for example, to not have an amygdala, or OFC, or insula? Or to be suffering from Capgras syndrome? Or to have a severed corpus callosum?…

Birds Are Smart

I’ve got an article in yesterday’s Boston Globe on the acute intelligence of birds, which is a by-product of their sociality: There is a growing scientific recognition of the genius of birds. Scientists are now studying various birds to explore everything from spatial memory to the grammatical structure of human language. This research is helping…

Epidemiology

Gary Taubes has a pretty damning takedown of modern epidemiology at the Times Magazine: In the case of H.R.T. [Hormone Replacement Therapy], as with most issues of diet, lifestyle and disease, the hypotheses begin their transformation into public-health recommendations only after they’ve received the requisite support from a field of research known as epidemiology. This…

The Surprises of Neuroscience

David Brooks makes a really smart macro point today about one of the big themes of modern neuroscience. His op-ed (Times $elect) is about the decline of IQ as a general metric of intelligence: Today, the research that dominates public conversation is not about raw brain power but about the strengths and consequences of specific…