The Frontal Cortex

Archives for April, 2008

Fertilizer

So there’s an acute fertilizer shortage. The big problem is a lack of nitrogen which, although it accounts for most of the atmosphere (78.1 percent), is notoriously tough to “fix,” since it’s got those pesky triple bonds. One of the unsung heroes of modernity is the Haber process, which makes nitrogen-rich fertilizer by heating, under…

Arts Education

A calm and cool summary of the value of arts education in public schools: What are “the habits of mind” cultivated in arts classrooms, they ask in their book “Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education.” As unsatisfied with wafty promises that arts learning inspires “creativity” as with pledges that it boosts scores,…

Interviews

First, the Hotel St. George Press, a really cool literary publishing group in Brooklyn (where else?) was kind enough to ask me a few questions: Heather McCalden: Would you mind relaying a bit about your experiences in the lab, the kitchen, and the writer’s desk – how they may have fed each other, for instance?…

Madness and Creativity

The Times has an interesting review of two new books that discuss the oft cited link between mental illness and artistic creativity. It’s all too easy to indulge in cliched overgeneralizations about the thin line separating madness and genius, but the reality is that true mental illness is rarely conducive to acts of creation. Virginia…

Grey’s Anatomy and Neuroscience

You probably thought this post was going to be about how Meredith Grey (or perhaps McDreamy?) is a neuroscientist, or how Shonda Rhimes (the creator of Grey’s Anatomy) anticipated some surprising discovery of modern neuroscience. Alas, I have no such insights. Marcel Proust may have been a neuroscientist, but Grey’s Anatomy is still just an…

The Dud Stud

War Emblem, the 2002 Kentucky Derby winner, is one finicky horse: By all accounts, he [War Emblem] is a happy horse — gamboling through fields most of the day, showing the turn of foot that propelled him to lead every step of the way in America’s greatest horse race. In reality, however, War Emblem is…

Foraging

I’m no forager. Once, I took a foraging class in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and managed to find varieties of poisonous mushrooms that even the instructor had never encountered before. (They looked like porcini mushrooms to me.) Nevertheless, I’ve gotten very excited this year about the wild chives that grow in a nearby field. I trust…

The Genetics of Stress

Razib calls my attention to this new Nature study on the genetic variation underlying the stress response. The researchers focused on neuropeptide Y, an endogenous anxiolytic (it’s like an anti-anxiety drug naturally produced by the brain) which is released in response to stress. They focused on a single nucleotide polymorphism (aka SNP) which “alters NPY…

Elevators

It sounds like one of those 1950’s psychological experiments that scientific ethics boards no longer allow: Nicholas White was trapped in an elevator in New York City’s McGraw-Hill building for forty-one hours. Just thinking about such an ordeal gives me shivers of claustrophobic anxiety. Forty-one hours! In a suspended box! Thankfully, security cameras caught the…

Olafur Eliasson

Go see his new show at MoMA. Here’s Peter Schjeldahl: Eliasson is entertaining, yet his central concern seems less a working of spectacular magic than an investigation of how spectacular magic works. He raises awareness of the neurological susceptibilities that condition all of what we see and may think we know. This can be humiliating,…