The Frontal Cortex

Archives for August, 2008

Fractions of a Second

I really don’t understand how Olympic athletes deal with the grief of losing by 1/100th of a second. That’s an incomprehensible amount of time and yet it’s the defining difference in the biggest event of their lives. I can only assume that, if I lost by a fraction of a second, I would have recurring…

Sweet and Salty

Over at the Times website, Harold McGee takes a question on salt and baking: Q: Is there any truth to the old cook’s adage that adding a pinch of salt brings out the sweetness in sugars? If so, can you please explain the science behind it? Harold McGee replies: I’m not sure that salt makes…

The Anatomy of Basketball Expertise

There’s a very cool study in the latest Nature Neuroscience that looks at how professional basketball players make predictions about whether or not a shot will go in. Obviously, this is a key skill, as being able to anticipate the position of a basketball gives players additional time to jostle for a rebound. The experiment…

Total Amnesia

It’s a nightmarish scenario: after a car crash, a man is brought into a hospital with a severe injury to his frontal lobes. When he wakes up, the doctors realize that their patient is missing one crucial mental faculty: his memory has been erased. He has no idea who he is, or even where he…

A New State of Mind

My profile of Read Montague and the dopamine prediction-error hypothesis is now online. I wanted to write this article for two main reasons. First of all, I think the dopamine story is incredibly exciting and remains one of the best examples of how subtle shifts in neural firing rates can allow the brain make sense…

Lies, Politics, Dissonance

Sometimes, I wish America had British libel laws. This sort of dishonesty masquerading as “scholarship” makes me furious: Mr. Corsi has released a new attack book painting Senator Barack Obama, the Democrats’ presumed presidential nominee, as a stealth radical liberal who has tried to cover up “extensive connections to Islam” — Mr. Obama is Christian…

Spice

Some new research sheds light on why chili plants are spicy: It has been thought that the chemicals known as capsaicinoids, which surround the seeds and give peppers their characteristic heat, are the chili’s way of deterring microbes. But if so, then microbial infestation should bring selective pressure on chilis — the more bugs, the…

The Takeaway

I was on The Takeaway this morning talking about the ineffectiveness of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and the potency of the placebo effect. Even though most studies demonstrate that HGH does little to enhance athletic performance, world class athletes continue to take the banned hormone. Why? Because they’re convinced that HGH is effective. As a…

Culture, Disease, Personality

This seems a wee bit reductive to me, but it’s still an interesting hypothesis: One of the more intriguing patterns in psychology is that different cultures are characterized by different personality types. A team of psychologists has proposed a new explanation: the legacy of disease. They matched the personality scores of people to historical data…

Van Gogh

Dr. Felix Rey was the first doctor to diagnose Vincent Van Gogh with epilepsy, after the artist was hospitalized following this bizarre incident: When Gauguin left their house, van Gogh followed and approached him with an open razor, was repelled, went home, and cut off part of his left earlobe, which he then presented to…