Summary of paper in workshop on the cognitive neuroscience of film held in 2005.
Links to pdf paper in Science 12 march 2004:
New research is linking dopamine to complex social phenomena and changing neuroscience in the process.
By Jonah Lehrer 18 August 2006, Seed Magazine
An article on the fMRI work of Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Lab at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.
There’s a Sucker Born in Every Medial Prefrontal Cortex
Clive Thompson, Oct 26, 2003 New York Times
which deals with neuromarketing with fMRI
By Jeremy Hsu
Scientific American September 2008
Author of Proust was a Neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer discusses in a NPR programme how novelist such as Virginia Woolf anticipated what neuroscientists discovered decades later. A summary article.
There is an extract from the book at the bottom of the page.
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.
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.
Nicolas Carr writes in Atlantic Monthly (link from 3 Quarks) on reading and writing styles and technology. Though it deals with surfing vs. old fashioned reading, it also picks up on such fascinating arcanerie as Nietzsche having to resort to a typewriter when he couldn’t write by hand any more and what effect this had on his writing style attested to by contemporaries.
John Naughton [Observer, 22 June 2008 ], I Google, therefore I am losing the ability to think, takes up the cudgels bringing in mention of Sven Birkerts’ The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age and the notion that having it so readily to hand removes the need to remember it. Then he finishes with:
But people have worried about this since… well… the Greeks. In the Phaedrus, Socrates tells how the Egyptian god Theuth tried to sell his invention – writing – to King Thamus as ‘an accomplishment which will improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians. I have discovered a sure receiptfor memory and wisdom.’ To which the shrewd old king replied that ‘the discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practise it… Those who acquire writing will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful… What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory.’
If you are talking about the web you are talking about hypertext, which can be revised by checking out The Electonic Labyrinth. One of the main points is that hypertext existed before the web. This particular website deals with the creative implications of digital hypertext — pointing out that hypertext itself existed before digitally hyperlinked hypertext — which can be read starting from the page, The non-linear tradition in literature.
I have written on the web as hypertext, including what a blog is and isn’t in this respect( e.g. TiddlyWiki ). When checking this post from Moleskine Modality, make sure to go to Eli Springer’s home page, then open up links in it to see how the new information is added to the original home page text. Stage I: open link Eli Springer in the home page then in that page, as an example, the link ‘moral change’ to show how all three sets of text are available on the same page. Note in each new text box, in the top right-hand corner, there is a choice to close the box down. It is possible to open every link in the home page, and every link in (for simplicity) the Eli Springer page.
In the Carr is the argument that something radical is happening to both reading and writing, in the suggestion there might be some sort of cognitive change going on. This, from the background of writing being something we learn as opposed to spoken language which we are essentially born with the ability to use.
Since the brain is an associative organ (but this only works because it had something stored away in memory) it seems more likely that the web, as the ultimate, though not infinite, hypertext, is echoing what the brain is already good at. And that linear texts, though traditional and popular, are the anomoly. It is just that the technology took time to catch up with the the way the brain works. Saying this does not mean that surfing is more efficient than reading books.
There can be no better analogy to this than conversation. There are different styles, but in the main we latch onto keywords and respond to them, much in the same way we are attracted to a particular link in a webpage. When we pick out a keyword from someone else’s speech, we might intervene if we know something about the subject and want to say what we know or think. We often semi-switch off our concentration when someone is saying something we feel we already know a lot about, but switch back on (if we are good listeners) when words and phrases alert us.
A conversation between two people, is often surrounded by other external events such as other people talking who may not be connected with that particular conversation and other things going on which the couple talking are not interested in. It is not unknown for a person to be distracted by something happening even if the conversation is riveting. A child falls off his tricycle; a car backfires; a light-bulb blows; a woman breaks down in tears. This can stop a conversation and lead to the two people talking about the ‘external’ event. What is this if not coming across something startling in a webpage and taking the link to find out what it offers?
Leaving aside surfing as a way to pass time, there is ‘good’ surfing and ‘bad’ surfing just like good conversation. Good surfing is a discipline in which the surfer does not stray too far from the intended object just like good research from books. The worst surfing is a kind of Freudian free-association, in which at the end of the session you have no idea why you started, and may be a bit vague as to why you began. A good surf always stays within bounds or reason because there is a limited goal and because within each brain is a core of what the individual possessing it considers important or significant. So a fact already known or an idea already familiar, will be skipped or rapidly scanned. Isn’t this what we do in books? Book index people check what is in a book by checking its index. This may lead one to decide not to read a particular book because enough keywords do not appear to overcome a threshold of interest or relevance. So what is the difference between all this and leaping over web pages to get to one you think is important?
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.