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Jonah Lehrer

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July 24, 2009
Henry Markram, the director of the Blue Brain project, recently delivered a talk at TED that's gotten lots of press coverage. (It was the lead story on the BBC for a few hours...) Not surprisingly, all the coverage focused on the same stunningly ambitious claim, which is Markram's assertion that an…
July 23, 2009
I've got a feature article in the latest Psychology Today on neuroaesthetics, the ambitious attempt to interpret art through the prism of neuroscience. Here's the beginning of the article: Consider the flightless fluffs of brown otherwise known as herring gull chicks. When they're first born, these…
July 22, 2009
Over at Mind Matters, we've just posted a very interesting article on creativity and distance, or why thinking something is farther away makes us more likely to solve difficult problems that require original answers: According to the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance, anything…
July 21, 2009
A few days ago, I had my first McGriddle. While I usually try to avoid McDonald's meat products - that's the benevolent influence of my wife, who rightly insists on eating humanely raised animal products - I was stuck in an airport and couldn't bear the idea of another yogurt parfait. The "standard…
July 17, 2009
Over at Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong has a great summary of a new paper trying to figure out why information (at least in primates) can be just as rewarding as primal, biological rewards, such as calories and sex. Ethan Bromberg-Martin and Okihide Hikosaka trained two thirsty rhesus monkeys…
July 15, 2009
I've just begun Richard Holmes' latest work, The Age of Wonder, and it's as good as everyone says it is. The book is a history of late 18th century romantic science, filled with digressions into hot air balloons, Tahitian beaches and the "near suicidal" experiments of Humphry Davy. One of the…
July 13, 2009
In the latest edition of Publisher's Weekly, I have a short review of The Greatest Show on Earth, the forthcoming book from Richard Dawkins: Richard Dawkins begins The Greatest Show on Earth with a short history of his writing career. He explains that all of his previous books have naïvely assumed…
July 13, 2009
I had a review of Colin Ellard's new book in the NY Times Book Review on Sunday: Let's begin with a quick geography quiz: Which city is farther west, Los Angeles or Reno? If you're like most people, you carefully reasoned your way to the wrong answer. Because Los Angeles is on the coast, and Reno…
July 10, 2009
Over at The Big Money, Mark Gimein has a fascinating article on Swoopo.com. Gimein calls Swoopo "the crack cocaine of auction sites" and says it's "the evil bastard child of game theory and behavioral economics." The site works like this: Consider the MacBook Pro that Swoopo sold on Sunday for that…
July 9, 2009
John Branch has an absolutely fascinating and beautifully told article in the Times today on Diane Van Deren, one of the premier ultra-runners in the world. Last year, she won the Yukon Arctic Ultra 300, which follows the treacherous trail of the Yukon sled dog race for hundreds of miles. (She was…
July 8, 2009
Why are schizophrenics three to four times more likely to smoke cigarettes than the general population? Over at Brainblogger, Dirk Hanson has a fascinating summary of a few recent papers that tried to understand this saga of self-medication. Nicotine, it turns out, can significantly reduce the…
July 7, 2009
It is now abundantly clear that the global economy remains mired in a dismal slump. Consumer confidence is still hurting; the unemployment is still rising; home prices are still falling. Despite the best efforts of Congress and the Treasury Department, nobody knows where the bottom is, or when it…
July 2, 2009
What led to the birth of human civilization? How did a naked ape manage to invent complex cultural forms such as language and art? One possibility is that something happened inside the mind, that a cortical switch was flipped and homo sapiens was suddenly able to paint on cave walls. But that doesn…
July 1, 2009
In the latest issue of In Character, UPenn psychologist Angela Duckworth criticizes the systematic attempt to improve self-esteem in children: Q: Educators for some time now have put a premium on self-esteem. Schools strive to help kids develop self-esteem on the theory that other good things such…
July 1, 2009
I've got a thing for things that are sweet and salty. Caramels with sea salt. French fries with plenty of ketchup. Peanut butter and strawberry jelly. Melon with prosciutto. Is there anything better to eat on a hot summer day than a ripe cantaloupe dressed with some cured meat, thinly sliced? I…
June 30, 2009
It's been a hotly debated scientific question for decades: was Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak a genuine statistical outlier, or is it an expected statistical aberration, given the long history of major league baseball? I'd optimistically assumed, based on the work of Harvard physicist Ed…
June 30, 2009
Just a quick reminder to watch the season premiere of NOVA tonight on PBS. It features Oliver Sacks and a few of the patients described in Musicophilia, including Tony Cicoria, an orthopedic surgeon who became obsessed with classical piano after being struck by lightning. I found the show quite…
June 29, 2009
In the latest Atlantic, Sandra Tsing Loh argues (with her usual panache) that the institution of marriage is passé, and that it's time to cast off the antiquated concept of eternal monogomy: Sure, it [marriage] made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two…
June 26, 2009
If anybody happens to be in New Haven this evening, I'll be speaking about Proust, art, science, wine and Descartes with the psychologist Paul Bloom. It will be fun and it's free. The event starts at 5:30 and is at the Yale Center for British Art.
June 25, 2009
It's a shame that we stop encouraging naps once the preschool years are over. After all, there's a growing body of scientific evidence that the afternoon siesta is an important mental tool, which enhances productivity, learning and memory. (It's really much more effective than a cup of coffee.)…
June 22, 2009
I went jean shopping this weekend. Actually, I went to the mall to return a t-shirt but ended buying a pair of expensive denim pants. What happened? I made the mistake of entering the fitting room. And then the endowment effect hijacked my brain. Let me explain. The endowment effect is a well…
June 19, 2009
I've gotten numerous emails about my recent post on animal rights - I called animal experimentation a "necessary evil" - but I think this note from a reader eloquently captures the ambivalence that many scientists feel: I have a child with insulin-dependent diabetes. I am constantly aware that…
June 19, 2009
Here is the NY Times, describing the latest weight-loss fad: Like almost every dieter in America, Wendy Bassett has used all sorts of weight-loss products. Nothing worked, she said, until she tried Sensa: granules she scatters on almost everything she eats, and which are supposed to make dieters…
June 18, 2009
I think one of the most important tests of behavioral economics will arrive in the next few years, as we attempt to persuade consumers to improve energy efficiency in the home. Just imagine if, instead of installing granite on every kitchen countertop, we'd instead spent that money on better window…
June 17, 2009
Yesterday was Bloomsday - the day Leopold Bloom wandered around Dublin - and so I drank a pint of Guiness and read some Joyce. Now that Ulysses is part of the modernist canon it's easy to forget what a radical shift in form and content the novel represented. (Even Virginia Woolf thought Joyce went…
June 17, 2009
There was a telling moment yesterday on the NYTimes.com website. It was just after 10:30 in the morning and the top of the site featured a breaking news article about the S&P 500 heading into higher territory. The article offered the usual litany of explanations, from better than expected news…
June 16, 2009
There's a new full-length podcast out from the world's finest science radio show. It's on "Stochasticity," which is a great word because 1) it sounds really fancy but is actually a rather simple idea 2) it's an essential concept when it comes to understanding lots of different stuff, from neural…
June 15, 2009
Tom Vanderbilt has a fascinating article on the infrastructure of data centers, those server farms that make Google, Facebook and World of Warcraft possible. Every keystroke on the internet (including this one) relies on shuttling electrons back and forth in a remote air-conditioned industrial…
June 12, 2009
The Lakers-Magic game last night was quite the thrill-ride: it's now the morning after, and my pulse has only begun to return to its resting rate. (Full disclosure: I'm a Lakers fan.) The game was played in Orlando and the big moment came when the Lakers' Derek Fisher nailed a three-pointer at the…
June 11, 2009
Mo, over at Neurophilosophy, has a fantastic summary of a new paper from scientists at the University of Toronto investigating the link between affective mood and visual perception. The basic moral is this: If you want to improve your peripheral vision, or become better at noticing seemingly…