The Frontal Cortex

Archives for January, 2009

Placebo Economics

Over at the Economist, a number of economists have been speculating on the possibility of an economic “placebo” that would boost consumer confidence without actually triggering a massive spike in government spending. In other words, it would be a Keynsian bump without the cash, akin to giving someone a sugar pill and telling them it’s…

Unstructured Play

Melinda Wenner has an excellent article on the benefits of unstructured playtime – play without any rules – in the latest Sciam Mind. The article reminded me of that great Auden quote, which he adapted from Nietzsche: “Maturity – to recover the seriousness one had as a child at play.” Play actually appears to make…

More Voodoo

I’ve got an interview with Ed Vul, the lead author of the recent paper on “Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience,” over at Scientific American. Since the paper hit the web, it has provoked a flurry of rebuttals and responses. If you’d like a balanced perspective on the issue – and it’s worth pointing out that…

The Connectome

I’ve got a long article in Nature this week on Jeff Lichtman (of Brainbow fame) and the birth of connectomics, which seeks to construct a complete wiring diagram of the brain: At first glance, Jeff Lichtman seems to be hanging long strips of sticky tape from the walls of his Harvard lab. The tape flutters…

Buffett

Via Marginal Revolution, comes this interview with Warren Buffett, where he makes the case for the current stimulus package. I highlight this excerpt not to argue for the bill, but to highlight one of Buffett’s many excellent mental habits, which we should all attempt to imitate: SG: But there is debate about whether there should…

Pregnancy and Stress

Over at Mind Hacks, Vaughan has a typically wonderful post on the “maternal impression” theory, which suggested that a psychological trauma inflicted on the pregnant mother would lead to profound defects in the unborn child. As Vaughan notes, this crude 19th century theory slowly faded away, as it became clear that birth defects had nothing…

Updike

John Updike died today. He was one of my favorite writers, although I didn’t fall in love with his work until I lived for a few years outside of America. It was then that I first read the complete Rabbit series, from “Rabbit, Run” to “Rabbit Remembered” and became rather obsessed with his short stories.…

Obama and Stereotype Threat

The NY Times reports on a fascinating new study showing that Obama’s election has improved the test scores of African Americans, at least in this one very small study which has yet to undergo peer-review: Now researchers have documented what they call an Obama effect, showing that a performance gap between African-Americans and whites on…

The Wall Street Journal

I’ve got a short column in the Wall Street Journal today where I recommend five books on human irrationality. I wanted to work in a novel too, but I soon realized that every novel is about irrational people. 1. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds By Charles Mackay 1841 There is nothing modern…

What Will Change Everything?

So far, my favorite response to the annual Brockman challenge – this year, the question was “What will change everything?” – comes from the physicist Stuart Kauffman: Reductionism has reigned as our dominant world view for 350 years in Western society. Physicist Steven Weinberg states that when the science shall have been done, all the…