The Frontal Cortex

Archives for June, 2008

The Itch

There are a few writers who manage to trigger a contradictory mixture of feelings in me: the joy of reading their prose is fused with the mild anguish of not having written their prose. It’s one part status anxiety, a dash of jealousy and a big heaping of aesthetic appreciation. Atul Gawande is one of…

Storytelling and Science

Robert Krulwich, speaking at the Caltech Commencement, issues a cri de coeur for the importance of stories, even (especially!) when speaking about science: Because talking about science, telling science stories to regular folks like me and your parents, is not a trivial thing. Scientists need to tell stories to non-scientists because science stories have to…

Popper

It’s a truism that the favorite philosopher of every scientist is Karl Popper. (In my own experience, this truism is mostly true.) Popper, or so the story goes, stood up for empirical fact when the post-modernists were descending into Deleuze and Derrida and difference. His popularity among experimentalists is also a side-effect of simplicity, as…

The Importance of Smell

From Rachel Herz’s quite interesting The Scent of Desire: In one study that contrasted the trauma of being blinded or becoming anosmic [losing you sense of smell] after an accident, it was found that those who were blinded initially felt much more traumatized by their loss than those who had lost their sense of smell.…

Tiger Woods

Like so many golf fans, I’d never even thought about watching golf on television until Tiger Woods. I don’t play the game and the images of all those manicured greens and hushed crowds always struck me as incredibly boring. Why would I want to watch a game that seems to consist mostly of people walking?…

Manil Suri

I really enjoyed The Death of Vishnu when it came out several years ago. It was a Calvinoesque exploration of a single Bombay apartment dwelling, as refracted through the prism of a dying peasant. But I had no idea that the author, Manil Suri, was actually an academic mathematician: Q. ARE THERE AREAS WHERE MATH…

Bumper Stickers Are Dangerous

When I first got a Prius, I was tempted to cover the rear bumper with liberal decals, like “Support Local Farms!” (that’s on my bike) or “Women for Obama!” (a popular Prius sticker here in New Hampshire). I wanted to embrace my inner cliche, to see what it felt like to be a right-wing talking…

Shyamalan and the Placebo Effect

M. Night Shyamalan, the director of the vaguely anti-evolution (and thoroughly mediocre) film The Happening, uses the brain to discuss the limits of science: There’s so much unexplained stuff. I don’t quite understand the scientific explanation of the placebo effect. What is the core of that? The fact that the placebo effect exists is a…

The Neuroscience of Fandom

It happens to me every time: I tell myself that it’s just a game, that these overpaid basketball superstars don’t really have any loyalty to a particular team, place, city, etc., that I really shouldn’t care about the outcome of the NBA finals. And yet and yet: despite my self-awareness, I can’t help but nervously…

Soap Operas and Fertility

At first glance, it’s hard to think of a more frivolous form of culture than the daily soap opera. It’s pure and delicious escapism. And yet, at least in Brazil, soap operas have powerfully influenced family planning, according to a new study: What are the effects of television, and of role models portrayed in TV…