The Frontal Cortex

Archives for June, 2010

Body Games

Ever since Pac Man, video games have obeyed a few basic principles: A player sits down in front of a screen and presses a few buttons with his or her thumbs. Perhaps there’s a joystick involved, or maybe the index finger has to do some work, too. But the body is essentially still. The only…

Implicit Learning

The intelligence test is badly named. The main problem is that we should be talking about intelligence tests in plural, so that the IQ test is merely one of the many measures we use to assess our innate mental skills. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Howard Gardner, Robert Sternberg and others, the IQ test…

The Advantages of Tourette’s

I was a stuttering child. Whenever I got the slightest bit nervous, I had an annoying tendency to run out of air on vowel sounds, so that beginning a phrase with “A” or “eee” or “I” was all but impossible. I would choke and sputter, my eyes blinking in mad frustration. This minor affliction led…

Interacting with Machines

I have a complicated relationship with my GPS unit. On the one hand, it rarely works. Here’s what happened the last time I turned it on. First, there was a five minute delay while it searched for the satellite signal. Then, it couldn’t find the street I was searching for. Then, it found the street…

Feelings of Knowing

Clive Thompson has a wonderful article in the NY Times Magazine on Watson, the supercomputer programmed to excel at Jeopardy. Thompson delves into the clever heuristics used to generate singular answers to ambiguous questions. (Watson relies on massive amounts of parallel processing, so that “he” is running thousands of Google searches simultaneously.) While Watson’s performance…

Cognitive Surplus

Over at the Barnes and Noble Review, I have a short review of Cognitive Surplus, the new book by Clay Shirky: Cognitive Surplus, the new book by internet guru Clay Shirky, begins with a brilliant analogy. He starts with a description of London in the 1720s, when the city was in the midst of a…

Old Writers

Sam Tanenhaus has an interesting essay on the relationship between age and literary genius, which was prompted by the new New Yorker fiction issue, featuring a list of 20 accomplished writers under the age of 40. Tanenhaus argues that the purpose of the list – “to offer a focused look at the talent sprouting and…

The Essence of Pleasure

The Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has written an excellent new book, How Pleasure Works, that I had the pleasure of blurbing. The book elegantly refutes the idea that our pleasures are mere sensations, or that our delight can be neatly reduced into some ingredient list of superficial perceptions. Instead, Bloom emphasizes the importance of essentialism,…

Tradeoffs

I’d like to tell you a story about a routine of modern life that is really bad for your brain. Everybody performs this activity – sometimes multiple times a day! – and yet we rarely realize the consequences. In 2008, scientists at the University of Michigan did a very clever study illuminating how this activity…

Clocks and Clouds

I recently had a short article in Wired on the danger of getting too enthralled with our empirical tools, which leads us to neglect everything that our tools can’t explain: A typical experiment in functional magnetic resonance imaging goes like this: A subject is slid into a claustrophobia-inducing tube, the core of a machine the…