The Frontal Cortex

Archives for May, 2008

Last Night

I just wanted to thank everyone who came out to Water Taxi Beach last night to hear me, Dan Ariely and the Radio Lab team talk about the irrational brain. I had a great time. I hope you did, too. I’d never been to that “beach” before, but it’s quite the spot to enjoy a…

Getting Good

Before I became a writer, I assumed that some people (Nabakov, Updike, Bellow, etc.) were natural writers. They were born speaking in pithy prose, with taut sentences and interesting verb choice. But then, after reading all the usual Bellow masterpieces, I started reading his early novels. And I realized that even Bellow had to learn…

Predicting the Brain

Every science goes through several distinct phases. First, there is the dissection phase. The subject is broken apart into its simplest possible elements. (As Plato put it, “nature is cut at the joints, like a good butcher.”) For neuroscience, this involved reducing the brain into a byzantine collection of chemical ingredients, from kinase enzymes to…

Cleaning Teeth

In the past year, I’ve spent a small fortune at the dentist. Between wisdom teeth removal, a few routine cleanings and the replacement of an old cavity, my tab has come to several thousand dollars. (Needless to say, I don’t have dental insurance: I’m a freelance writer. But I do have a dental plan.) After…

Mindfulness

At first glance, “mindfulness” meditation practices seem completely counterintuitive. If people are suffering from pain, shouldn’t they learn ways to not focus on their pain? Isn’t it better to block out the negative sensations? (Repression isn’t always such a bad thing…) And yet, there’s some tantalizing evidence (much of it anecdotal) that aspects of mindfulness…

Dance and Neuroscience

The body control on this guy is utterly insane: While there have been some interesting studies of dance and the brain, most of this research focuses on the learning of motor movements. (Not surprisingly, expert dancers exhibit increased activity in the cortical “action observation network” when watching dances “in the movement style of which they…

Home Field Advantage 2.0

Last Sunday, I had an article in the Boston Globe Ideas section on the underlying causes of home field advantage. The Celtics are an extreme example of a sporting phenomenon known as home-field advantage: teams playing on their home field, or court, are significantly more likely to win. The advantage plays a role in every…

The Hangover

Joan Acocella has an interesting article on the science of hangovers: Hangovers also have an emotional component. Kingsley Amis, who was, in his own words, one of the foremost drunks of his time, and who wrote three books on drinking, described this phenomenon as “the metaphysical hangover”: “When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these…

Iceland, apparently, is the happiest country on earth: Highest birth rate in Europe + highest divorce rate + highest percentage of women working outside the home = the best country in the world in which to live. There has to be something wrong with this equation. Put those three factors together – loads of children,…

Mozart and Medicine

There are lots of ways to combine science and art. Some of them are more problematic than others: One of the strangest exhibits at the opening of “Design and the Elastic Mind,” the very strange show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that explores the territory where design meets science, was a…