The Frontal Cortex

Archives for February, 2010

Insomnia

I’m a terrible sleeper, which is perhaps why I got invited to contribute to a NY Times group blog on “insomnia, sleep and the nocturnal life”. Here is my first contribution, which focuses on the work of Dan Wegner: My insomnia always begins with me falling asleep. I’ve been reading the same paragraph for the…

The Upside of Depression

I’ve got an article on the upside of depression in the latest New York Times Magazine. If you’d like to learn more about this controversial theory, I’d suggest reading the original paper, “The Bright Side of Being Blue: Depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems,” by Paul Andrews and Andy Thomson. Here’s my lede:…

Sarcasm

Sarcasm is a cognitive challenge. In order to get the sarcastic sentiment, we can’t simply decode the utterance, or decipher the literal meaning of the sentence. Instead, we have to understand the meaning of the words in their larger social context. For example, if it’s a beautiful day outside – the sun is shining, etc…

David Galenson

In my recent WSJ article on age and creativity, I didn’t have space to discuss the fascinating research of David Galenson, an economist at the University of Chicago who brings together a vast array of evidence to better understand the nature of creative production over time. Galenson divides creators into two distinct categories: conceptual innovators…

Laughter and Grief

A few weeks ago, I got an email wondering why people sometimes “break into uncontrollable laughter or smiling when faced with terrible situations, like death or illness.” Where does this perverse emotional reaction come from? Why do we smile at the most inappropriate times? I looked into the peer-reviewed literature and didn’t find much. While…

Creative Youth

I’ve got a new article in the Wall Street Journal on the complex relationship between age and scientific creativity: When James Watson was 24 years old, he spent more time thinking about women than work, according to his memoir “Genes, Girls and Gamow.” His hair was unkempt and his letters home were full of references…

Cartesian Metaphors

I’ve been reading a number of papers on the “science” of consciousness – I’ll let the quotes express my skepticism – and I thought this clever metaphor from Francis Crick and Christof Koch, in their influential 2003 Nature review, was revealing. They compare the competition among our sensations to a democratic election, in which all…

The Soda Tax

Mark Bittman wonders if soda is the new tobacco, and explores the possibility of a tax on sugary, carbonated beverages: A tax on soda was one option considered to help pay for health care reform (the Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that a 3-cent tax on each 12-ounce sugared soda would raise $51.6 billion over…

Facebook Friends

In the latest New York Review of Books, Charles Petersen has an interesting and even-handed analysis of Facebook and social networking: What many find most enticing about Facebook is the steady stream of updates from “friends,” new and old, which sociologists refer to as “ambient awareness.” This is not a new phenomenon: everyone from our…

Too Many Fastballs

One of the lingering questions in decision science is the extent to which game theory – an abstract theory about how people can maximize their outcomes in simple interactions – is actually valid. It’s a lovely idea, but does it actually describe human nature? As usual, the answer depends. With few exceptions, lab tests of…