Neuron Culture

Some great stuff I’ve come across, lack time to blog on, but would hate for you to miss:

In On being certain, neurologist and novelist Robert Burton, who writes a column at Slate Salon, looks at the science of what makes us feel certain about things — even when we’re dead wrong about them. His book on the subject, which I read in advance copy a while back, is fascinating fun reading. The most startling (and disorienting) finding he describes is that, from a neurocognitive point of view, our feeling of certainty about things we’re wrong about is pretty much indistinguishable from our certainty about things we’re right about. Not something to think about when you’re in the middle of an argument — or maybe it is, because maybe it’s the other guy who’s certain but wrong. Hard to know!

Why are drug costs are going up?“Because they can,” say the folks at Managed Care Matters

From Cognitive Daily, When we see a brain “light up,” [most of] our brains shut off. How we are suckers for brain-scan pictures.

Mind Hacks drew attention to the wonderful poem below by Wislawa Szymborska, which is a reaction to a not-so-wonderful film, from 40s Soviet science, of a decapitated dog head that (supplied with blood) still reacts to many stimuli. Grim film, beautiful poem. Excellent commentary and links at Mind Hacks.

The Experiment
by Wis?awa Szymborska

As a short subject before the main feature –
in which the actors did their best
to make me cry and even laugh –
we were shown an interesting experiment
involving a head.

The head
a minute earlier was still attached to…
but now it was cut off.
Everyone could see that it didn’t have a body.
The tubes dangling from the neck hooked it up to a machine
that kept its blood circulating.
The head
was doing just fine.

Without showing pain or even surprise,
it followed a moving flashlight with its eyes.
It pricked up its ears at the sound of a bell.
Its moist nose could tell
the smell of bacon from odorless oblivion,
and licking its chops with evident relish
it salivated its salute to physiology.

A dog’s faithful head,
a dog’s friendly head
squinted its eyes when stroked,
convinced that it was still part of a whole
that crooks its back if patted
and wags its tail.

I thought about happiness and was frightened.
For if that’s all life is about,
the head
was happy.

We all seem convinced we’re right about politics, religion or science these days. What makes us so sure of ourselves?


Feb. 29, 2008 | Certainty is everywhere. Fundamentalism is in full bloom. Legions of authorities cloaked in total conviction tell us why we should invade country X, ban “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in schools, eat stewed tomatoes, how much brain damage is necessary to justify a plea of diminished capacity, the precise moment when a sperm and an egg must be treated as a human being, and why the stock market will revert to historical returns. A public change of mind is national news.