The Frontal Cortex

Archives for November, 2008

Baltimore

A quick programming note: I’ll be in Baltimore this Sunday (11/16), giving a talk at the Walters Art Museum. The event starts at 2PM.

Credit

Tyler Cowen weighs in on the latest twist in the bailout plan, which involves funneling money to credit card companies. Tyler asks if the Feds should really be in the business of encouraging more credit card borrowing. (I’ve actually been enjoying getting fewer credit card offers in the mail.) His answer: No, and especially not…

Zadie Smith and Realism

Zadie Smith has a terrific essay in the NY Review of Books on the future of the novel, or why realism – even when perfectly executed – has limitations: From two recent novels, a story emerges about the future for the Anglophone novel. Both are the result of long journeys. Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill, took…

Parrots and Mirrors

I’ve been really enjoying Alex and Me, the new book by Irene Pepperberg, and not only because I’ve got an African Grey of my own. It’s full of wonderful anecdotes like this: The students occasionally took Alex to the washroom, where there was a very large mirror above the sinks. Alex used to march up…

The Hazards of Hyperlinks

It’s hard to imagine that fifteen years ago scientists were forced to read old science papers on actual paper, as they paged through bound volumes of past journals. How quaint! How inefficient! (All that wasted shelf space…) How scholarly, in an old-school kind of way! It’s so much easier to just rely on Google Scholar…

Don’t Trust an Insomniac

Think, for a moment, about one of your cherished childhood memories, one of those sepia-tinged recollections that you’ve repeated countless times. I’ve got some bad news: big chunks of that memory are almost certainly not true. According to scientists, the brain is a consummate liar, a bullshit artist of the first order. To remember is…

The Cognitive Benefits of Nature

Thoreau would have liked this study: interacting with nature (at least when compared to a hectic urban landscape) dramatically improves improve cognitive function. In particular, being in natural settings restores our ability to exercise directed attention and working memory, which are crucial mental talents. The basic idea is that nature, unlike a city, is filled…

Self-Awareness and Obama

From the fanastic series of just-released Newsweek articles on the presidential campaign: Obama was something unusual in a politician: genuinely self-aware. In late May 2007, he had stumbled through a couple of early debates and was feeling uncertain about what he called his “uneven” performance. “Part of it is psychological,” he told his aides. “I’m…

Poverty and the Brain

Whatever It Takes, the new book by Paul Tough that profiles Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone, is one of the most bracing, sobering and inspiring books I’ve read in a while. It’s the story of one man’s attempt to systematically disrupt the cycle of poverty, and fundamentally alter the nature of childhood in…

Dreaming of God

The Boston Globe Ideas section recently published a short interview I did with Kelly Bulkeley, author of the quite interesting “Dreaming in the World’s Religions”. It’s an attempt to extract some common psychological themes from the descriptions of dreaming and dream-states in various religious texts. In a sense, Bulkeley is employing a similar strategy to…