The Frontal Cortex

Archives for June, 2009

DiMaggio’s Streak

It’s been a hotly debated scientific question for decades: was Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak a genuine statistical outlier, or is it an expected statistical aberration, given the long history of major league baseball? I’d optimistically assumed, based on the work of Harvard physicist Ed Purcell (as cited by Stephen Jay Gould) that DiMaggio was…

Oliver Sacks and NOVA

Just a quick reminder to watch the season premiere of NOVA tonight on PBS. It features Oliver Sacks and a few of the patients described in Musicophilia, including Tony Cicoria, an orthopedic surgeon who became obsessed with classical piano after being struck by lightning. I found the show quite compelling – NOVA was kind enough…

Is Marriage Passe?

In the latest Atlantic, Sandra Tsing Loh argues (with her usual panache) that the institution of marriage is passé, and that it’s time to cast off the antiquated concept of eternal monogomy: Sure, it [marriage] made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft…

Yale

If anybody happens to be in New Haven this evening, I’ll be speaking about Proust, art, science, wine and Descartes with the psychologist Paul Bloom. It will be fun and it’s free. The event starts at 5:30 and is at the Yale Center for British Art.

Naps, Learning and REM

It’s a shame that we stop encouraging naps once the preschool years are over. After all, there’s a growing body of scientific evidence that the afternoon siesta is an important mental tool, which enhances productivity, learning and memory. (It’s really much more effective than a cup of coffee.) Here’s the Times: Have to solve a…

The Endowment Effect

I went jean shopping this weekend. Actually, I went to the mall to return a t-shirt but ended buying a pair of expensive denim pants. What happened? I made the mistake of entering the fitting room. And then the endowment effect hijacked my brain. Let me explain. The endowment effect is a well studied by-product…

Caring for Animals

I’ve gotten numerous emails about my recent post on animal rights – I called animal experimentation a “necessary evil” – but I think this note from a reader eloquently captures the ambivalence that many scientists feel: I have a child with insulin-dependent diabetes. I am constantly aware that every single advance keeping her not only…

Smell and Obesity

Here is the NY Times, describing the latest weight-loss fad: Like almost every dieter in America, Wendy Bassett has used all sorts of weight-loss products. Nothing worked, she said, until she tried Sensa: granules she scatters on almost everything she eats, and which are supposed to make dieters less hungry by enhancing the smell and…

Energy Efficiency

I think one of the most important tests of behavioral economics will arrive in the next few years, as we attempt to persuade consumers to improve energy efficiency in the home. Just imagine if, instead of installing granite on every kitchen countertop, we’d instead spent that money on better window seals and insulation. Of course,…

Joyce

Yesterday was Bloomsday – the day Leopold Bloom wandered around Dublin – and so I drank a pint of Guiness and read some Joyce. Now that Ulysses is part of the modernist canon it’s easy to forget what a radical shift in form and content the novel represented. (Even Virginia Woolf thought Joyce went too…