The Frontal Cortex

Archives for August, 2009

Andrew Sullivan

I’ll be filling in for Andrew Sullivan this week, so most of my blogging will be over there. I’ll try to cross-post some of the meatier posts, like this one: The LA Times profiles the normalization of pot: After decades of bubbling up around the edges of so-called civilized society, marijuana seems to be marching…

Money and Happiness

Drake Bennett has an interesting and nuanced article in the Boston Globe Ideas section on money and happiness. To make a long story short, money can buy us some happiness, but only if we spend our money properly. Instead of buying things, we should buy memories: A few researchers are looking again at whether happiness…

Health Insurance

Why do people buy insurance? On the one hand, the act of purchasing insurance is an utterly rational act, dependent on the uniquely human ability to ponder counterfactuals in the distant future. What if my a fire destroyed my house? What if my new car got totaled? What if I get cancer and require expensive…

Moments

I won’t waste too many words trying to explain this stunning video, which is by Will Hoffman and the folks at Radio Lab. At first glance, it’s a mere collection of ordinary moments – a falling teardrop, an escaped balloon, a dive into a pool – but I think it’s also evidence that the things…

Ferris Bueller

In the LA Times, Megan Daum has an interesting reflection on the late comedy director John Hughes, and his eccentric cinematic representations of adolescence: If the brooding, solitary Andie played by Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink” were in high school in 2009, it’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t be a candidate for anti-depression therapy. Likewise,…

Porn and Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons are a classic illustration of a scientific idea that’s so elegant and intriguing our theories get ahead of the facts. They’re an anatomical quirk rumored to solve so many different cognitive problems that one almost has to be suspicious: how can the same relatively minor network of motor neurons be responsible for tool…

Weaponizing the Brain

There’s an excellent and thought-provoking column in the latest Nature, arguing that basic neuroscience research will be weaponized unless researchers are vigilant. It is, of course, a scary prospect to imagine: a fleet of biological and chemical weapons targeted at the brain, and benefiting from decades of research into the details of our cellular pathways:…

Netflix

The Netflix Prize will soon be over: it sounds as if the team “Bellkor Pragmatic Chaos” will be granted the million dollar prize, awarded for improving Netflix’s own algorithm by more than 10 percent. As a heavy Netflix user, I certainly appreciate the design of the website, which does a masterful job of framing my…

The Beginner Mind

Alison Gopnik, a psychologist and philosopher at UC-Berkeley, has a wonderful op-ed over at the NY Times on the surprising intelligence of infants: New studies demonstrate that babies and very young children know, observe, explore, imagine and learn more than we would ever have thought possible. In some ways, they are smarter than adults. Three…

The Stress Spiral

Natalie Angier has an excellent column on the self-defeating feedback loop triggered by chronic stress. According to a new paper, when mice are chronically stressed, they end up reverting to habit and routine, even though these same habits are what led to the chronic stress in the first place: Reporting earlier this summer in the…