The Frontal Cortex

Radiolab

There’s a new full-length podcast out from the world’s finest science radio show. It’s on “Stochasticity,” which is a great word because 1) it sounds really fancy but is actually a rather simple idea 2) it’s an essential concept when it comes to understanding lots of different stuff, from neural oscillations to quantum physics.

I make an appearance on the episode to help explain what was happening inside the mind of Ann Klinestiver, a high-school English teacher who developed a severe gambling addiction after taking a dopamine agonist. (I also tell this story in my book, but it’s much better to hear Ann tell her own story. She’s an incredibly brave and kind person.) The larger point is that our brains rebel against stochasticity, which describes any system containing an inherently non-deterministic element. Whenever we detect a hint of randomness – and it doesn’t matter if this occurs while watching basketball or playing the slots – our neurons automatically try to solve the disorder, as they parse the stochastic system into (illusory) patterns.

PS. Carl Zimmer has a wonderful segment on the episode as well, where talks about the useful “sloppiness” of life.

Comments

  1. #1 Andrew Mowat
    June 16, 2009

    I’m interested in the comment made by you in the Radiolab interview that went along the lines of “we edit what happens to preserve that sense of the streak”. In other words, we selectively edit input to fit hypotheses, and perhaps even predictions, of our world.

    This seems connected with our brain, at a neural level, seeking inputs that match neural expectations. Hence, if I am thinking of buying a red BMW, then all of a sudden I notice more red BMWs about. Would you say that this is the same or a related phenomenon?

    I’m also interested in how this connects with the frame effect. Given that the limbic brain is generally not as accessible, or articulate perhaps, as the ‘cognitive’ brain (neocortex), where does the need to apply meaning to a random world arise from? Is it limbic or neocortical in origin?

    Thanks for another great post …

    Andrew

  2. #2 Riley
    June 18, 2009

    this puts a real human element to all the science behind things, i really enjoyed it

  3. #3 Alfred Handler
    June 27, 2009

    http://wwwsavingourselves.blogspot.com
    NO dot after the last “w”

  4. #4 Emily
    January 2, 2011

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    June 9, 2011

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    September 5, 2011

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