The Frontal Cortex

Archives for October, 2008

Umami and Dashi

Dashi, a Japanese stock made from kelp and dried fish, is going mainstream. It’s suddenly appearing on the menus of all sorts of fancy restaurants, many of which have little to do with Japanese food. The reason? Umami. “It’s basically water, but fantastically perfumed water,” said Eric Ripert, the chef at Le Bernardin. He complements…

Anchoring and Credit Cards

Another way that credit cards dupe the brain into spending way too much money on interest payments: New research by the University of Warwick reveals that many credit card customers become fixated on the level of minimum payments given on credit card bills. The mere presence of a minimum payment is enough to reduce the…

Agricultural Reform

Michael Pollan makes so much sense it’s actually a little painful, since such basic agricultural reforms will never, ever get through Congress. At some point in the twentieth century, American lawmakers forgot that the sole goal of farming wasn’t efficiency; high-fructose corn syrup should not be the epitome of modern agriculture. It must be recognized…

The Certainty Bias

Over at Mind Matters, I’ve got an interview with Dr. Robert Burton on the danger of certainty and its relevance during a presidential election: LEHRER: To what extent does the certainty bias come into play during a presidential election? It seems like we all turn into such partisan hacks every four years, completely certain that…

The Inner Argument

At any given moment, the cortex is riven by disagreement, as rival bits of tissue contradict each other. Different brain areas think different things for different reasons; all those mental components stuffed inside our head are constantly fighting for influence and attention. In this sense, the mind is really an extended argument. This vociferous debate…

Broken Trust

A fundamental problem in the financial markets right now – a problem that’s often traced to the failure of Lehman Brothers last month – is the breakdown of trust. Because financial institutions don’t “trust” the solvency of other institutions and corporations, they aren’t willing to lend money. The end result is a frozen credit market.…

Locked-In Syndrome

I’m pretty sure that if Dante had known about locked-in syndrome he would have rewritten the chapter in the Inferno devoted to the ninth circle of hell. In the most recent Esquire, Joshua Foer has an excellent profile of Erik Ramsey, who suffered a devastating injury to his brain stem, leaving him entirely paralyzed. (The…

Presidential Decision-Making

My latest article in the Boston Globe Ideas section is on presidential decision-making and the virtues of metacognition, or being able to think about thinking: For the last eight years, America has had a president with an audacious approach to making decisions. “I’m a gut player. I rely on my instincts,” President Bush has said…

Calories are Rewarding

Last night, while stuck in an airport (the inevitable delay), I decided to get a Wendy’s milkshake. Not a particularly noteworthy decision – when traveling, I like to subsist entirely on fast food – but it occurred to me, while standing in line, that I wasn’t actually hungry. At all. (I’d just finished a greasy…

The Function of New Cells

One of the enduring mysteries of neurogenesis – the process of creating new neurons in the brain – is the purpose of all these new cells. After all, one of the reasons scientists believed that neurogenesis didn’t exist (this was the scientific dogma for most of the 20th century) was that newborn neurons seemed so…