The Frontal Cortex

Archives for February, 2008

Fetuses and Pain

The Times Magazine had an interesting article on whether or not “preterm infants” can experience pain. “Experience” is the key word in that sentence: In a series of clinical trials, he [Kanwaljeet Anand] demonstrated that operations performed under minimal or no anesthesia produced a “massive stress response” in newborn babies, releasing a flood of fight-or-flight…

Writing Sideways

It’s so easy to take our cultural forms for granted. We get so used to their particulars that we forget there is nothing inviolate about them. Movies can have sad endings, classical music can turn atonal and novelists can get self-referential. Such transgressions are the mark of cultural progress. (Or decadence, depending on your aesthetic…

Dopamine and Orgasm

Remember a few years ago, when there were all these books that tried to explain the history of everything in terms of some seemingly minor subject, like “Cod” or “Salt”? I think it’s time to apply this publishing trope to neuroscience: we need a book on dopamine. That damn neurotransmitter is everywhere. Now it’s even…

There was something particularly infuriating about Mitt Romney’s concession speech. He’s clearly a smart guy – once upon a time, he was a socially moderate, pragmatic Republican – and yet the address was filled with utter nonsense like this: Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That’s the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator,…

All in the Mind

I recently had the pleasure of getting interviewed by Natasha Mitchell, host of All in the Mind. To be honest, I can’t bear to listen to the interview – the sound of my own voice grates against my ears, like fingernails on a chalkboard.* I know others have a similar aversion. But why is that?…

Art or Wal-Mart?

Here’s a good test of your critical acumen. This site has a quiz comparing the priceless designs of Donald Judd against cheap furniture from Ikea and Wal-Mart. It’s often surprisingly hard to tell the two apart, although I take this less as an indictment of Judd (who I’ve always admired) and more as an affirmation…

Genes, Diversity, Brains

We spend so much time fixating on our genetic differences that we tend to overlook the places where the human genome has converged over time. In a study published yesterday in Nature Genetics, geneticists from France’s Pasteur Institute compared DNA variations in people from Japan, China, Nigeria and northwest Europe. They found 582 genes associated…

The Hallucinations of Consciousness

Deprive the mind of sensory stimuli, and what does the mind do? It starts to hallucinate. It invents perceptions amid the emptiness, filling in the void with make-believe. This is known as Charles Bonnet syndrome, and it affects approximately 10 percent of who go blind: It took almost 50 years, but slowly, slowly David Stewart…

The View From Your Window

That is, if your window happens to be a cockpit over Maui. I thank the reader who sent this photo in. Not only does the tropical sunset brighten another gloomy New England day, but it reminds us that even wind farms can be beautiful:

Excessive Risk-Taking

I’m morbidly fascinated by the massive losses recently incurred by the French Bank Societe Generale. My fascination is partly rooted in the sheer scale of the disaster, a scale that’s essentially incomprehensible. (I have no idea what a $7,000,000,000 loss really means.) But I’m also interested in how, exactly, a trader could lose so much…