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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

    The Science Network Forum – Enlightenment 2.0 {2}



    My immediate reaction to the talks in Enlightenment 2.0 was there wasn’t quite enough discussion on Enlightenment 1.0 (the cool new way to say The Enlightenment). Presumably the assumption was (many speakers were apologetic about covering the basics in such august company) the other participants knew all about it. However, because the Forum has been publicly broadcast with an wider, general educational aim –so will be watched by many to whom much of this is relatively sketchy, and some totally new to them — it might be worth TSN’s while to fill in some of the the gaps by adding to the website.

    If you like me feel a need to start with the basics of The Original Enlightenment, the {Wiki: enlightenment} is a good way to start checking its main features were. It helpfully gives a list of names associated with the enlightenment and quite a few links.

    This short student guide to The Age of Enlightenment lists Voltaire’s view in a seven point list, which is also a short-cut way of getting to the nub. If you are not proud: SparkNotes on The Enlightenment (1650 – 1800) is also useful.

    The point, if you have watched Enlightenment 2.0, is to figure out what E v 2.0 might be or aim to be. I am not too convinced the talks did this. Some clever chap might have put up a comparison chart.

    I started by looking at what was available on-line on the academics who contributed. People like Dawkins and Dennett are pretty well know public intellectuals, but there are other who are not but who introduced interesting research or ideas.

    I will, later, put up a list of those speakers who I thought were really useful, those less useful, and those plainly there to sell books. One in the useful category is Melvin Konner, who wrote The Tangled Wing, considered a pop classic on nature v nurture, or as someone in a talk termed it, “hard-wired or culture”. This is Konner’s Notes and References (Caveat: The Dangers of Behavioral Biology), a chapter critique / analysis (pdf, be warned) of The Tangled Wing. Two good reviews of The Tangled Wing : here and here.


    Sam Harris stands out in the “I’m here to sell my book” category. Now famous for his book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason , that topped the New York Times bestseller list. Or, maybe it is back there now? I wonder if they read him in the UK, us being heathens ‘n all He later wrote Letter to a Christian Nation. He features in the E 2.0 debate a lot. Makes sense to me! One of the themes across several speakers was natural morality vs. religious morality. Harris argues at least once that there is no need for morality derived from religions because natural morality suffices. In the main he seemed to reiterating small sections of his book on two main areas: Islam (and religion – bad things) and meditation (he has become interested in Buddhist meditation, which is vaguely 70s). I haven’t read the book, and am not likely to just yet, but you can be pretty sure any ideas he has have been around in some form or other since the last Enlightenment, apart from the neuroscience, evidement.

    Dawkins (“that’s rubbish”; anti-God book out), Dennett (author of Consciousness Explained; anti-God book now out) and Harris (anti-God books now out) were the three most strident anti-religionists. Many others debated reasonably the ins and out, advantages and disadvantages of religion (and or science) while professing atheism. A small number simply put out their research interests without contextualisation. In the end it was up to the viewer to see how the ideas fitted into any notion of what E 2.0 might be. For example, there was a significant amount of neuroscience and a bit of psychology which was implied we know more about ourselves, but at no point did anyone say because we understand ourselves more clearly this and this is therefore true for E 2.0 over E 1.0

    Professor Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard psychologist, presented research results in cognitive illusion that reminded me of Daniel M Wegner’s Ironic Process Theory. Not listed on Wegner’s papers on ironic effects (pdfs!) is The Seeds of Our Undoing (1999).

    January 24, 2008 Posted by | Enlightenment, Enlightenment 2.0, epistemology, evolutionary biology, Ironic effects, religion, science | , , , , , , | Leave a comment