Brain and Behavior

A large scale model of a human brain has been created by a team of scientists at the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, University of Waterloo, Ontario. This is a virtual model, inside a computer, that involves 2,5 million virtual neurons structures in a pattern resembling the overall human brain’s anatomy, including cortical regions, motor control regions, etc. There are two components of the model: Visual processing including input and visual memory, and motor control sufficient to make a relatively simple, but 3D, arm move so it can draw things. The brain is called Semantic Pointer…
The title of this post is, of course, a parody of the sociobiological, or in modern parlance, the "evolutionary psychology" argument linking behaviors that evolved in our species during the long slog known as The Pleistocene with today's behavior in the modern predator-free food-rich world. And, it is a very sound argument. If, by "sound" you mean "sounds good unless you listen really hard." I list this argument among the falsehoods that I write about, but really, this is a category of argument with numerous little sub-arguments, and one about which I could write as many blog posts as I…
A man "lies crumpled on the sand ... Behind him a dark trail leads back to the spot from which he has just been dragged. Looking closer, we notice something slightly odd about the figure crouching over the wounded man. His posture does not suggest a doctor attempting to staunch bleeding, or even to check heartbeat or pulse. Look a little closer still, and you may be inclined suddenly to reel back or to close your eyes. The man sprawled at such an odd angle beside the injured [man] has his face pressed against a gaping tear in [his] throat. He is drinking blood fresh from the wound..."…
The Gender vs. Sex question...referring to the meaning of those two terms in relation to each other...is standard material for discussion in Anthropology and related fields, but is often left unattended to in day to day discourse. Both terms have internal complexity, with Gender meaning something about people’s identity as well as being a linguistic term, different but overlapping, and of course, Sex is a verby noun sometimes. But when we say “Gender vs. Sex” we are clearly talking about biological things such as chromosomes and genitalia, behavioral things such as attraction and orientation…
The history of science can be read as a series of brusque reality checks. Once, we thought the sun revolved around the Earth, but modern astronomy relegated our real estate, incrementally, from the center of everything to a hum-drum corner of an unimportant galaxy in a handful of generations. The theory of Evolution turned us from mini-gods into just a consequence of squicky biological randomness. The decipherment of the structure of DNA and the human genome turned the spark of life into something that can be written down, stored, and analyzed by computers. Again and again, we have found our…
Well, I'm here. That's right. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm at CSICon. As is the case when I'm at conferences, be they skeptical conferences or professional conferences, it's hard to predict the blogging time available. It could be a lot; it could be a little. Or it could be none. (Well, obviously it's not none, or you wouldn't be reading this.) In any case, there was lots of stuff going on, plus there was the second game of the World Series, which made me miss the live recording of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Oh, well. Steve understood. So I wasn't up for any heavy lifting or taking…
Some poor young girl, deeply miseducated and misled, wrote into a newspaper with a letter trying to denounce homosexuality with a bad historical and biological argument. She's only 14, and her brain has already been poisoned by the cranks and liars in her own family…it's very sad. Here's the letter — I will say, it's a very creative argument that would be far more entertaining if it weren't wrong in every particular. I've transcribed it below. I couldn't help myself, though, and had to, um, annotate it a bit. Homosexuality, including same sex marriage, is not an enlightened idea [But…
  (Athena takes her ease) A couple of readers have asked me to describe all the people and critters on our farm - they are newer readers or old ones who know things have changed a bit but not how, so I thought I'd do a series of short posts introducing you the residents.  For some reason, I thought we'd start with the cats. The cats are the only true pets on our farm.  That doesn't mean they don't have a purpose - they do, of course, the obvious pet control,  but ultimately we'd have them (although probably not quite so many) even if we had no use for them.  We're just kinda cat people.  I…
As hard as it is for me to believe when I look back at it, I've been writing about the antivaccine movement now for more than seven years here on this blog and combatting it online for at least a decade now. I like to think that over the years my response has evolved somewhat. Back in the beginning, I used to be a bit more—shall we say?—insolent in dealing with antivaccinationists. It's an easy thing to do because so much of what antivaccinationists write and say is just so darned idiotic. Indeed, even today, I still have a tendency to slip back into my old ways when an antivaccinationist…
by Elizabeth Grossman “Organic, schmorganic,” wrote New York Times foreign editor and International Herald Tribune editor-at-large Roger Cohen, summing up his “takeaway” from the study by Stanford University researchers that examined studies comparing the nutritional value and pesticide residues in organic and “conventionally” grown food. The study concluded that evidence was lacking to show that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food, but that organic food did have about 30 percent fewer pesticide residues. “I’d rather be against nature and have more people better fed…
I honestly think that while belief in creationism is the antithesis of scientific thought, it is still possible to be a good scientist and a creationist at the same time.  This is for two main reasons.  Firstly, creationism is a term that covers a wide spectrum of beliefs, from literal 6000 year old earth bible thumping denial of evolution to a more nuanced kind of mysticism that believes somewhere beneath the deep layers of complex and wonderful natural processes exists an unexplainable and supernatural foundation. There is no practical difference between investigating how deeply "God's"…
Now he's got a gig at Big Think. Kanazawa, you may recall, is the evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics who loves to make racist arguments and then go racing to the data to find selective support for them; he's a terrible scientist. I'm no big fan of evolutionary psychology, not because I think its premises are wrong (evolution did shape how our brains work), but because it is trivially easy to find lazy, bad scientists who have hopped on the bandwagon because it is an easy path to media sensationalism — and Kanazawa is the kibitzer dancing in the locomotive cabin,…
by Kim Krisberg Another study, another support beam in the argument that access to insurance coverage matters — a lot. In a study published this month in the journal Health Affairs, researchers took a look at rates of amenable mortality deaths — in other words, deaths that shouldn't happen in the presence of timely and effective care — between the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Their conclusion? The U.S. — home to the world's highest rate of health care spending — is lagging behind. Between 1999 and 2007, amenable mortality rates among men fell by 18.5 percent in the U…
World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet is a new book by Michael Chorost. I've not thoroughly read it yet but I've looked through it and I've listened to an interview with Chorost. Here's the book description from Amazon to give you an idea what it is about: What if digital communication felt as real as being touched? This question led Michael Chorost to explore profound new ideas triggered by lab research around the world, and the result is the book you now hold. Marvelous and momentous, World Wide Mind takes mind-to-mind communication out of the…
The mirror test is a well known indicator for some degree of self-awareness: surreptitiously mark an animal's face, show it a mirror, and see if it recognizes that the reflected image is of itself by whether it reaches up to touch or remove the mark. We see that behavior and infer that the animal has some knowledge of itself and can recognize that the mirror image is not another animal. But now robots are being specifically programmed to pass the mirror test. Ow. It makes my brain hurt. So this is a computer that has no other indicators of consciousness or awareness or autonomous "thought" (…
Houston, we have a problem. Oh, wait. I'm not talking about Stanislaw Burzynski this time. But we do still have a problem, and it's a problem that resembles the Burzynski problem I recently discussed. Specifically, it's a problem of unethical clinical trials somehow winning approval from institutional review boards (IRBs). In academia, IRBs are basically ethics boards whose purpose is to protect the human subjects who agree to take part in clinical trials and other research from harm and from being subjected to experimental therapies in which the risk-benefit ratio isn't sufficiently…
A recent meeting of neuroscientists tried to define a set of criteria for that murky phenomenon called "consciousness". I don't know how successful they were; they've come out with a declaration on consciousness that isn't exactly crystal clear. It seems to involve the existence of neural circuitry that exhibits specific states that modulate behavior. The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures. In fact, subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals.…
A couple of days ago, I did one of my usual bits of pontification about alternative medicine, this time around pointing out how religion facilitates the magical thinking that undergirds so much pseudoscientific medicine and how the belief systems that underlie so so much of alternative medicine resembel the belief systems that underlie religion. However, in retrospect, I suspect that I might have gone a little too far. Although the two share many aspects, alternative medicine is not in general a religion (with the possible exception of reiki, which, for all intents and purposes, is faith…
It seems like everybody in the Old Testament is either married, about to get married, or was recently married but something went terribly wrong. This may be becasue the bible is about marriage. The Old Testament is a history, it is a set of laws, and it is an enthnography, and the themes themes that hold the whole thing together are warfare, resorces, marriage, and a heavy dose of odd cultish rule-making about food and blood. Marriage is a central theme of cultural life, so of course it plays an important role in a culture's own history and ethnography. But is the bible, as one example of…
One in three or four women in the United States will have been raped or seriously assaulted sexually by the time they reach a few decades in age. That will have been done by one or more men. Most people who are killed by another person are killed by a man. This is true whether the killing is legal or illegal. Very few people in Western society get through their entire lives without being affected either directly or nearly directly by some sort of violent crime of some kind or another, and that crime was almost always committed by a man. Wars are mostly fought by men, and are typically…