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Jonah Lehrer

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September 21, 2009
I finally got around to reading Paul Krugman's takedown of modern economics, which is a lucid dissection of his own field. His core argument is that economists made the old Keatsian error, mistaking a beautiful theory for the truth: As I see it, the economics profession went astray because…
September 21, 2009
There's a fascinating article in the NY Times Magazine by Sara Corbett on the publication of Jung's infamous Red Book, in which he attempted (often in vain) to map the infinite labyrinth of his unconscious: Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read…
September 17, 2009
There's one other angle to the social network story that I wasn't able to mention in my Wired essay. Right now, retail companies are investing a pretty penny in consumer preference algorithms, that AI software which suggests books to buy on Amazon, and DVD's to rent on Netflix, and songs to…
September 15, 2009
Clearly, what the world needs is another blogger weighing in on the Kanye West/Taylor Swift controversy. But I have no interest in castigating Kanye - I don't pick my music based on the politesse of the artists. Instead, what struck me about this peculiar celebrity moment was the fact that I really…
September 13, 2009
I've got a new essay on social networks and the research of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler in the latest issue of Wired: There's something strange about watching life unfold as a social network. It's easy to forget that every link is a human relationship and every circle a waistline. The…
September 11, 2009
The human brain, it turns out, is even more efficient than previous estimates: Fifty-seven years ago, Nobel laureates Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley came up with a model to calculate the power behind electrochemical currents in neurons--a great step forward in understanding how the brain worked and…
September 10, 2009
Given recent discussions on this blog on the neuroscience of marijuana, I thought this brand new paper on stress and the cannabinoid receptor was extremely interesting. The Israeli scientists demonstrated that microinjecting an agonist of the CB1 receptor (a primary binding site of THC, the active…
September 9, 2009
What happens when a memory disappears? Once upon a time, I could actually recall the details of organic chemistry. But then I took the class final and promptly forgot every piece of information related to the chemical properties of the carbon atom. This raises the obvious question: What does it…
September 8, 2009
In the latest issue of Outside Magazine, I profile Clay Marzo, a rising star on the pro surfing circuit. In December 2007, Clay was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism. What's so intriguing about Clay's story is that his Asperger's isn't a hindrance or handicap. Instead, it's…
August 31, 2009
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…
August 27, 2009
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…
August 26, 2009
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…
August 25, 2009
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 we…
August 24, 2009
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…
August 24, 2009
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…
August 21, 2009
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…
August 20, 2009
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…
August 19, 2009
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…
August 18, 2009
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:…
August 17, 2009
One of my favorite aspects of the modern cognitive sciences (and a big part of the reason I can't stop writing about them) is the way they shed new light on old rituals. Why, for instance, are so many games for young children centered around impulse control? (Consider "Simon Says" or "Duck-Duck-…
August 14, 2009
I finally got the internet setup in my new apartment - I won't bore you with my customer service complaints - and I've never been so delighted to waste time on the web. At first, my information vacation was lovely, charming, an experiment in vintage living. It was like traveling back in time to…
August 11, 2009
Benedict Carey at the Times has an interesting article documenting the harrowing story of Adam Lepak, who has struggled with identity delusions since 2007, when he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident: The diagnosis [given to Adam] was diffuse axonal injury. "The textbook definition is…
August 11, 2009
Sometimes, while working on a story one comes across a data set that's so interesting it just has to be shared. Unfortunately, it can't quite be shoehorned into the tight narrative of the article. That's why God invented the sidebar. My recent story on grit included a sidebar on some incredibly…
August 7, 2009
Apologies for the radio silence - I've been moving across the country, my life in a big metal box. I'm leaving Boston (sadly) and just arrived in Los Angeles, my old hometown and new home. Whenever I first arrive in LA, I'm always struck by the same two thoughts: 1) it really is a beautiful city,…
August 3, 2009
I had an article in Boston Globe Ideas section on the psychology of grit. For more on the subject, check out the incredibly interesting work of Angela Duckworth. You can also take the grit survey here. It's the single most famous story of scientific discovery: in 1666, Isaac Newton was walking in…
August 1, 2009
I'm a ketchup fiend. When I was a little kid, I was famous for squirting my plastic bottle of Heinz on everything, from spaghetti to vanilla ice cream. I've seen become slightly less disgusting - I no longer eat frozen dairy products with the condiment - but I still go through a disturbing number…
July 30, 2009
The Neurocritic has a fascinating summary of a recent paper investigating different types of memory in marathon runners. Why marathoners? Because completing a 26.2 mile race is an insanely arduous exercise, and leads to the massive release of stress hormones such as cortisol. Here are the…
July 29, 2009
Over at Mind Matters, there's a cool post by Fionnuala Butler and Cynthia Picketton on the benefits of watching television when lonely, which seems to provide the same sort of emotional relief as spending time with real people: For decades, psychologists have been interested in understanding how…
July 28, 2009
Over at the Times, Benedict Carey has a fascinating article on the crucial importance of intuition on the battlefield, where soldiers are often forced to make decisions without knowing why, exactly, they are making them: The United States military has spent billions on hardware, like signal jamming…
July 27, 2009
I've got an article in the Observer Sports Monthly on athletes and choking, which is adapted from my book: We call such failures "choking", if only because a person frayed by pressure might as well not have oxygen. What makes choking so morbidly fascinating is that the performers are incapacitated…