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Thinking of my amygdala makes the amygdala light up

The title is my little joke. This type of stuff is everywhere nowadays, so these to are just two examples.

3 Quarks has today, ( 17 July 08 ) linked to a very good, and I consider, important essay in The New Atlantis, The Limits of Neuro-Talk*, by Matthew B. Crawford — a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia and a contributing editor of The New Atlantis — which perhaps ought to to go out with every report of a new attempt to localise cognitive functioning by scanning the brain. Make a cup of tea or coffee, and settle down to absorb this. The writers amongst you who might have been toying with the idea of doing a satire on this type of thing, note there is already company called NoLieMRI:

” No Lie MRI, Inc. provides unbiased methods for the detection of deception and other information stored in the brain.

The technology used by No Lie MRI represents the first and only direct measure of truth verification and lie detection in human history!

No Lie MRI uses techniques that:

  • Bypass conscious cognitive processing
  • Measure the activity of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) rather than the peripheral nervous system (as polygraph testing does).”
  • (1) My Amygdala, My Self,  Jeffrey Goldberg,  Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2008

    Intrigued (and alarmed) by the new science of “neuromarketing,” our correspondent peers into his own brain via an MRI machine and learns what he really thinks about Jimmy Carter, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bruce Springsteen, and Edie Falco.

    “[…] dorso-lateral prefrontal-cortex activity means … trying to inhibit your automatic responses.”

    Which is what happened when I saw a picture of my wife. This had me concerned, but Iacoboni explained: “The dorso-lateral prefrontal-cortex activity means you’re trying to exercise cognitive control, that you’re trying to protect the privacy of your relationship with your wife. I interpret this positively because there’s also medial orbito-frontal cortex activity, which is a region associated with positive emotion.” Iacoboni could not explain one other response to my wife’s photograph: “You have weird auditory-cortex activity, almost like you’re hearing her voice, even though we just showed you her picture without sound.” When I told my wife about this, she asked me how it could be that I hear her when she’s not speaking, but don’t hear her when she is speaking. I said that this was a question well beyond the capacity of neuroscience to answer.

    (2) Passive learning imprints on the brain just like active learning

    This too, is an fMRI* study. Here a short report on the research in Physorg.

    It is quite instructive to go back to the old fashioned type of psychology experiment relying on subjective report such as psychological studies on ironic effects, for example Daniel M. Wegner’s Ironic Processing Theory.  A page of Wegner‘s which has a list of pdf format papers on this subject  here.  One of his well-know papers is the short, data-free Seeds of Our Undoing.  People who scribble: note the last para.

    July 8, 2008 Posted by | human nature, neuroscience, psychology, science | , , , , | Leave a comment

    Smorgasbord {1}

    Radio 4’s Start the Week introduces two new books: Raymond Tallis’, The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Fantastical Journey Around Your Head , on the brain ( TimesOnline review: Why we kiss, laugh, yawn and cry ) and a new biography of Sartre and de Beauvoir, A Dangerous Liaison by Carole Seymour-Jones, summarised on radio by the author herself and reviewed here by Graham Robb in the Times.

    Having got to within 25 pages of the end of Nausea – spurred on by a suggestion to compare it to Woolf’s The Lighthouse *- without in any way removing from mind the Author versus the Work Problem churned up by considering Naipaul, the snippets of revelation about their sordid lives only adds to the problem: it was pointed out on the radio program the French couple’s sordid lives began well before they were both famous: which logically leads to sordid lives in of people who are not or who do not become famous and generally known. Well, sordid lives in general and what effect they have on others. Or to something along the lines of do the sordid lives of famous people have greater impact than the sordid lives of the not-famous, if so, why?

    Wood s Lot (the mysterious lack of apostrophe) leads to David Weinberger’s post in JOHO, The Future of Book Nostalgia, which in it’s turn leads back to Anthony Grafton’s New Yorker piece , Future Reading: Digitization and its Discontents (which I have already linked to in another post). DW also links to a GoogleBook (if you don’t know what that is it’s a partial fascimile of a published book which invariably has the page you are most interested in missing), The Social Life of Information, By John Seely Brown, Paul Duguid, which is comprehensively reviewed at The Complete Review.

    The book is more than just a welcome antidote to digital silliness. It is also an important description of the complexities of innovation. – The Economist

    Also from Wood s Lot a review Farhang Erfani of a new book on Walter Benjamin called Walter Benjamin, By Esther Leslie.

    There is also a lecture (in 10 minute 16 parts) on YouTube by Dr. Sean Homer which its titled Reading Film with Lacan, which may or may not be interesting to filmophiles depending on whether you are into psychoanalysis and Lacan’s theories. Part of the education shall we say? Certainly I am comforted by a quick check under Jouissance in the Literacy Enclyclopedia that:

    For Lacan, on the other hand, jouissance seems to imply a desire to abolish the condition of lack (la manque) to which we are condemned by our acceptance of the signs of the symbolic order in place of the Real.

    On Start the Week, they were briefly discussing the idea that we are the only species detached from reality. Forgive me: I have been wading through Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre. And reading a smidgen on phenomenology.

    * Sartre was said to acknowledge a debt to Virginia Woolf’s writing.

    April 21, 2008 Posted by | de Beauvoir, human nature, Internet, neuroscience, Sartre | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    FOVA.TV Debate – My Brain made me do it

    My Brain made me do it

    I didn’t want to do it

    Raymond Tallis discusses the debate in a Times article

    January 24, 2008 Posted by | epistemology, evolutionary biology, free will vs. determinism, human nature, neurolaw, neuroscience, Philosophy, science | Leave a comment

    10 Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature

    Again, I use the title of another article entire, but acknowledge it came from an article in Psychology Today

    10 Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature

    By Alan S Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa

    It came to pass because I was reading a particularly unsatisfying piece from The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Robo Love {via 3 Quarks}. Though robots are cleverer than they ever were, the AI debate went a bit flat decades ago. Remember Marvin Minsky’s The Society of Minds?

    The section of the article which perked me up was:

    ……what scientists know about why humans fall in love with other humans. There are 10 factors, he writes, including mystery, reciprocal liking, and readiness to enter a relationship. Why can’t these factors apply to robots, too?

    which made me think that the factors they come up with are generally applied with more alacrity to humans than robots. Well, they would since we don’t all have robots handy.

    January 3, 2008 Posted by | AI, Artifical Intelligence, evolutionary biology, human nature | Leave a comment

    Little Rock, Pasternak

    It suddenly occurred to me, as I listened to the first episode of Dr. Zhivago on BBC Radio 4, 1957 was the year Pasternak’s book was first published in the west. When I searched for the radio programme, I came across The Years of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start the Fire”

    which which quotes the lyrics:

    Little Rock, Pasternak

    Mickey Mantel, Kerouac,

    Sputnik, Chou En-Lai,

    Bridge on the River Kwai

    explaining each reference.

    1957, it reminds us, is the year in question, Pasternak-wise ( though strictly-speaking 1958 in English), but the Joel song deals with all the years between 1949 – 89, which this page lists with each of its reference points from the song. Another page does the same thing Billy Joel : We Didn’t Start the Fire at The Octopus’s Garden.

    What can one make of this? Anything you like. I feel inclined to ask questions about other songs and what they refer to (in the world outside), but in particular to what books they refer to, if at all. And if not why not. Or, if songs refer to book less than other things like people and places, why?

    A history or sociology teacher might find this useful for a lesson or two!

    Though I don’t want to chase this rabbit right down it’s hole right now, but post immediately so that it is side by side with the other post, Blogging added value , it will give someone enough to write something more substantial, perhaps in a newspaper – for which they will receive a fee. Why – knowing someone else might end up with money in the bank having got an idea from my post – should I post it in the first place? Because I got pleasure from recollection, finding some facts, writing them down and throwing a quick idea in for good measure. And doing it quickly. But why publish it? Why not keep it to myself for a later date? Maybe I could use it to write a musical based on Billy Joel songs?

    One answer to posting for free instead of writing for money is too obvious but needs repeating: because humans have been shown often to prefer short-term to long term gain. If someone thinks up something (or is passed a tidbit), the pressure to pass it on is great. Chatting and gossip (which includes blog posts including intellectual ones) can’t wait. You just gotta tell someone the news! If you don’t someone else will.

    November 15, 2007 Posted by | 1957, blogging, blogosphere, Chou En-Lai, human nature, kerouc, Novel, Pasternak, Sputnik, Writing | Leave a comment


    Stephen Fry has added a blog to his website. His second post Let Fame, long and discursive – the length of which the concern of many of the so far over 200 comments it received – led me in short strides to some of the academic work on celebrity. One of the most interesting (though at one unscientific remove, slight barmy) studies was the effect (or not) of fame on the creative writings of Kurt Cobain, Cole Porter, and John Cheever:

    The Psychological Consequences of Fame: Three Tests of the Self-Consciousness
    by Mark Schaller (1997), Journal of Personality 65:2, June 1997 by Mark Schaller, Department of Psychology,University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada .

    The abstract explains:

    Three investigations tested the hypothesis, that the attainment of fame leads to chronic self-consciousness. One of these studies also examined the relationship of self-consciousness with self-destructive behavior. Analyses of Kurt Cobain’s and Cole Porter’s song lyrics indicated increased use of first-person singular pronouns after each songwriter attained celebrity. An analysis of John Cheever’s short stories indicated greater use of the first-person narrative voice following his first brush with fame. Other analyses revealed that variations in Cheever’s fame were positively correlated with use of first-person singular pronouns in his private letters and journals. These measures of self-consciousness were also positively correlated with Cheever’s self-reported alcohol use. Together, these, three studies offer the first empirical support for a self- consciousness hypothesis linking celebrity to self-destructive behavior.

    and includes a quote from Leo Gaudy at the end:

    In the urge to find a better, more perfect self, the possibility of uncovering a worse, more misshapen one hangs like a threatening cloud. Lurking behind every chance to be made whole by fame is the axeman of further dismemberment.

    I suppose it is but a short step to the analysis of Stephen’s writing.

    Although Let Fame covers a lot of ground, I am as intrigued by the comments stream. The number of comments in such a short space of time is surely a measure of fame: whatever these people are writing about, the suspicion is that they are attempting in one way or another to brush, albeit mostly lightly, against fame. Quite a few mention incidents where they were in his proximity.

    It is not always easy in the writing styles of these comments to detect the humour and irony. Apart from a few quite funny ones, what comes over is the earnestness, which would seem to fit with the fan-tasy: that’s what the fan’s role in the fame nexus is. Though some of my reading suggests that built in, too, is “you can build ’em up and you can pull ’em down.”

    The wiki:celebrity is quite useful. I should advise Stephen to get cracking on an edit of that entry! He could use himself as an example.



    “Only connect”. One thing thing almost certainly leads to another on the web. I ended up (half wondering about myself in that medical book syndrome state) reading extracts of a book and interviews with its author, Sam Vaknin (“world expert” on narcissism ) : Malignant Self-Love:Narcissism Revisited.

    In interview he says:

    ….celebrities fulfil two emotional functions: they provide a mythical narrative (a story that the fan can follow and identify with) and they function as blank screens onto which the fans project their dreams, hopes, fears, plans, values, and desires (wish fulfilment). The slightest deviation from these prescribed roles provokes enormous rage and makes us want to punish (humiliate) the “deviant” celebrities.

    There’s a pile of it in that vein, but taking away the jargon, there certainly something there. He’s bound to have expounded a poor man’s version of narcissism and its malignancies on Oprah Winfrey. It’s the sort of book title she would love to read off the book cover as she held it high as her latest recommendation.

    October 4, 2007 Posted by | celebrity, Fame, human nature | , , , | Leave a comment