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April 21, 2009
I've got a new article in the latest issue of Wired, guest-edited by J.J. Abrams. It's quite an excellent issue, I think, although I'm still utterly befuddled by the hidden puzzles on the glossy pages. My article is an investigation of what stage magicians can teach us about the human mind and the…
April 20, 2009
Virginia Heffernan, writing in the Times magazine, takes Bruce Sterling's SXSW talk about connectivity and poverty mainstream: Bruce Sterling, the cyberpunk writer, proposed at the South by Southwest tech conference in Austin that the clearest symbol of poverty is dependence on "connections" like…
April 20, 2009
Robert Krulwich has a typically brilliant piece on Shakespeare, roses, gendered language and the latest version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Boroditsky proposes that because the word for "bridge" in German -- die brucke -- is a feminine noun, and the word for "bridge" in Spanish -- el puente --…
April 18, 2009
Just a quick note to say that I'll be at the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute this coming Monday, at 6 PM, in conversation with Robert Lee Hotz. We'll be talking about science journalism, blogging, aha moments, the prefrontal cortex, etc. It's free and open to the public. Note: Thanks to…
April 15, 2009
I know the medium is the message, but does every message have to be about the medium? People on twitter love tweeting about twitter, just as people on facebook love writing about the facebook redesign. Sometimes, this navel gazing can get out of hand, which is what I think happened with a recent (…
April 14, 2009
Wired Science reports on a fascinating finding: schizophrenics have trouble seeing the hollow mask illusion, in which people perceive the concave inside of a mask as an actual face. The reason we're vulnerable to this illusion is that our expectations of what we'll see - we're used to seeing real…
April 13, 2009
In the Boston Globe Ideas section, Drake Bennett has a typically excellent article on the logical fallacies underlying best-selling business books, such as In Search of Excellence or Good to Great : While the particulars vary, the basic idea underlying the literature is the same: that the secrets…
April 10, 2009
Stress has been a hot topic lately. In the past week, we've looked at how chronic stress can trigger working memory deficits among the poor and lead, eventually, to severe depression. But there's hope, at least if you're a stressed out lab rat. (In theory, these findings should apply to humans, but…
April 9, 2009
Over at Mind Matters, I've got an interview with Judith Rich Harris, author of the influential and infamous The Nurture Assumption, which provocatively argued that parents aren't particularly important when it comes to determining the behavior of their children, at least outside of the home.…
April 9, 2009
Sometimes, the human brain can seem astonishingly ill-equipped for modern life. Our Pleistocene olfactory cortex craves glucose and lipids, which makes us vulnerable to high-fructose corn syrup and Egg McMuffins. We've got an impulsive set of emotions, which makes us think subprime mortgages are a…
April 8, 2009
For the most part, basic neuroscience research has had zero influence on public policy. Knowing about the dopamine reward pathway and the substrate of addiction hasn't changed the War on Drugs. (Although it certainly should. At the very least, we should decriminalize marijuana.) Knowing about…
April 7, 2009
There's a charming article by Hannah Seligson over at The Daily Beast on the "science" of when to get married. (I've put scare quotes around "science" only because it's not a science at all.) On the one hand, it's rather obvious that making romantic decisions isn't exactly a rational process.…
April 3, 2009
Here's a question: Consider two individuals, Ann and Barbara, who graudated from the same college a year apart. Upon graduation, both took similar jobs with publishing firms. Ann started with a yearly salary of $30,000. During her first year on the job there was no inflation, and in her second year…
April 2, 2009
A new study has demonstrated, once again, that being poor is stressful, and that chronic stress is poison for the brain. Here's the paper: The income-achievement gap is a formidable societal problem, but little is known about either neurocognitive or biological mechanisms that might account for…
April 1, 2009
In the latest New Yorker, Rebecca Mead has a wonderful profile of two poets (Michael and Matthew Dickman) with starkly different poetic styles who happen to be identical twins. Michael and Matthew share more than the same raw material; they share the same genetic material. Although there is a rich…
March 31, 2009
An inspired metaphor for the inherent instability of the brain by Moshe Bar: The fighter plane F-16 is the first aeroplane intentionally designed to have an aerodynamically unstable platform. This design was chosen to enhance the aircraft's manoeuvrability. Most aeroplanes are designed to be stable…
March 30, 2009
Wired has now put more photos from my article on the Allen Brain Atlas online. They're grotesquely gorgeous: While the Allen Atlas of gene expression has already proven itself to be a valuable research tool, I think the project's most profound long-term impact will come from its methodological…
March 30, 2009
My short post on breast-feeding from a few days ago (inspired by this article by Hanna Rosin) has inspired a lot of dissenting email. Since comments are still disabled - I hope to have them back soon, though - I want to post a selection of the criticism. Just to reiterate and clarify: I don't want…
March 28, 2009
A quick note: I'll be giving my stump speech at the Dartmouth Bookstore in Hanover, NH tomorrow (3/29) at 3 PM.
March 28, 2009
In the latest Atlantic, Hanna Rosin has a very interesting article/manifesto that rails against the "cult of breast-feeding": The medical literature [on breast-feeding] shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better; but it is far from the stampede of evidence that Sears describes.…
March 26, 2009
Nicholas Kristof has a great column today on Philip Tetlock and political experts, who turn out to be astonishingly bad at making accurate predictions: The expert on experts is Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His 2005 book, "Expert Political Judgment," is…
March 26, 2009
Over at Salon, there's a quite interesting interview with UC-Berkeley philosopher Alva Noe, author of Out of Our Heads. (I reviewed the book in the SF Chronicle last month.) Q: Maybe I'm naive but it seems kind of obvious that the brain is the mechanism that -- in the context of a person's life and…
March 25, 2009
Here's another common question I get at my book talks: "Is there a difference between the male and female brain when it comes to decision-making? Are women really more intuitive? Which sex is the better decider?" While there are certainly relevant differences between the male and female brain -…
March 24, 2009
Here's Joseph Brodsky (via Kottke), praising boredom: A substantial part of what lies ahead of you is going to be claimed by boredom. The reason I'd like to talk to you about it today, on this lofty occasion, is that I believe no liberal arts college prepares you for that eventuality. Neither the…
March 23, 2009
I've got a new feature in Wired Magazine on the Allen Brain Institute and their heroic attempts to construct a gene expression map of the human brain. I was most impressed by the way the Institute has "industrialized" the scientific process, as it transforms the artisan model of lab benchwork -…
March 23, 2009
Brad Delong summarizes an important point when it comes to evaluating whether or not the latest plan to rescue banks from their own toxic assets is going to work. In this interesting post, he contrasts his own tepid support for the plan with Paul Krugman's pessimistic opposition: I think the…
March 22, 2009
In the NY Times Book Review, Steven Johnson has a very kind review of How We Decide: Jonah Lehrer's engaging new book, "How We Decide," puts our decision-making skills under the microscope. At 27, Lehrer is something of a popular science prodigy, having already published, in 2007, "Proust Was a…
March 18, 2009
Just a quick programming note: I'll be speaking at the National Academy of Sciences tomorrow evening, in Washington D.C. The event is free. I also wanted to apologize to all those whose comments have been eaten by the spam filter in the last two days. Due to an attack of Viagra bots, I had to…
March 18, 2009
I know, I know: everybody is sick of hearing about those AIG bonuses. But bear with me for one more blog post, because I think the swell of populist anger can actually illuminate something interesting about the human response to inequality. Consider the ultimatum game, that simple economic task…
March 17, 2009
War is rapidly becoming a video game. Here, from the NY Times, is a fascinating behind the scenes look at the increasing reliance on drones by the US military: The Guard members, along with Air Force crews at a base in the Nevada desert, are 7,000 to 8,000 miles away from the planes they are flying…