The Frontal Cortex

Archives for September, 2008

David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest was one of those books that changed my life as a geeky adolescent and then proved to be rather unreadable a few years later. Nevertheless, I’ve always made a point of reading everything DFW ever wrote. I think of him whenever I cram a digression into a footnote, or delight in the scholarly…

Lotteries

This makes me sad: When gasoline prices shot up this year, Peggy Seemann thought about saving the $10 she spends weekly on lottery tickets. But the prospect that the $10 could become $100 million or more was too appealing. So rather than stop buying Mega Millions tickets, Ms. Seemann, 50, who lives in suburban Chicago…

Market Panic

A few months ago, when it looked as if the financial maelstrom had mostly passed – after the Bear Stearns bailout, things calmed down – I decided to write an article about Read Montague and the weird habits of dopamine neurons. While these brain cells are often used to explain the computation of rewards, until…

Goalball

I would love to watch this sport in person: Goalball participants compete in teams of three, and try to throw a ball that has bells embedded in it, into the opponents’ goal. They must use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball. Games consist of two 10 minute…

Peanut Butter

Did you know that every time you eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch instead of a meat based sandwich you reduce your carbon footprint by more than two pounds? (I love it when environmentalism affirms my own habits.) That’s about 40 percent of the savings that are achieved from driving a hybrid…

Expertise and Palin

In recent days, there has been a lot of discussion about Sarah Palin’s lack of experience in foreign policy. These criticisms all depend on the same assumption: that knowing more about foreign policy is always better. (Experience is typically used as a stand-in for knowledge, so when people say that you’re inexperienced what they’re really…

Flashbulb Memories

I was living in Manhattan on 9/11. I can vividly recall the horrifying details of the day. I can still smell the acrid odor of burnt plastic and the pall of oily smoke and the feeling of disbelief, the sense that history had just pivoted in a tragic direction. Such vivid, visceral, emotional memories are…

Mathematical Intuitions

Let’s say I flash you a picture containing a mixture of blue and yellow dots for one-fifth of a second. You clearly don’t have time to count the dots – you barely have time to register the image – but I ask you to guesstimate the ratio of blue to yellow dots anyways. Sounds like…

Diesel Engines

This makes me sad: If ever there was a car made for the times, this would seem to be it: a sporty subcompact that seats five, offers a navigation system, and gets a whopping 65 miles to the gallon. Oh yes, and the car is made by Ford Motor (F), known widely for lumbering gas…

Mania

Oliver Sacks, writing on mania and manic depressive disorder in the New York Review of Books: One may call it mania, madness, or psychosis–a chemical imbalance in the brain–but it presents itself as energy of a primordial sort. Greenberg likens it to “being in the presence of a rare force of nature, such as a…