The Frontal Cortex

Archives for January, 2008

Recovering Lost Memory

Baudelaire famously described his memory as “a tomb, a corpse filled Potter’s field/a pyramid where the dead lie down by scores/I am a graveyard that the moon abhors.” Well, the neural reality of the brain suggests that his poetic metaphors weren’t such exaggerations. That, at least, is the implication of a bizarre new finding: Surgeons…

Olafur Eliasson

One of the questions I get asked most often when discussing my book is what artists working today are creating work that’s relevant to the discourse of science. My stock answer is to mutter something inarticulate about Richard Powers. But now I’ve got someone new to talk about: Olafur Eliasson. Until I saw Eliasson’s retrospective…

California

I just got back from a week long trip to California. (You can hear me talking about Proust on KQED here.) The weather was awful – rain and more rain – but I still got glimpses of what I love so much about the Golden State. Consider the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. It’s a weekly gathering…

The Psychology of Back Pain

I’ve got a new article on the psychology of back pain in the February issue of Best Life (the one with Jeff Gordon on the cover): I’ve put the entire article below the fold:

Popularizing Science

Are too many neuroscientists are trying to popularize the state of their science? Jason Zevin thinks so: At best, most of what is known is more complicated than I’m able to understand–much less explain to a general audience. And at least some of what I know about any topic in neuroscience is liable to have…

Regretting your investments?

I’m sorry about the lack of posts: I’ve been traveling. (I’m currently in the surprisingly chilly and wet Los Angeles area.) Given the turbulence on Wall Street recently, I thought I’d repost something I wrote last year on the neuroscience of regret and financial decisions. The experiment, designed by the lab of Read Montague, was…

Men, Women and Empathy

Interesting stuff: The research team led by Tania Singer, at UCL, asked volunteers to play a game with employees of the lab, secretly instructing the employees to play either fairly or unfairly. Afterward, the scientists measured brain activity in the same volunteers under quite different circumstances: looking on as their former game opponents were subjected…

Emotional Voters

Last week, David Brooks had a smart column on the essential “irrationality” of voters. (I’m defining irrationality here as any mental process that’s not rational/deliberate/System 2. I have no idea if our democracy would be better off if voters imitated the rational agents in economics textbooks. I only know that the mind doesn’t work that…

The Limits of Reductionism

I had an op-ed in the LA Times on Sunday. It’s about reductionism and the brain: The reductionist method, although undeniably successful, has very real limitations. Not everything benefits from being broken down into tiny pieces. Look, for example, at a Beethoven symphony. If the music is reduced to wavelengths of vibrating air — the…

Smoke Weed in Moderation

That, at least, is the consensus of a new paper in Neuropharmacology: There is a general consensus that the effects of cannabinoid agonists on anxiety seem to be biphasic, with low doses being anxiolytic and high doses ineffective or possibly anxiogenic. Besides the behavioural effects of cannabinoids on anxiety, very few papers have dealt with…