Showing posts from 2013

Guides to the journey into the brain

A journey into the human brain starts with the usual travel decisions: will you opt for a no-frills sightseeing jaunt, a five-star luxury cruise, or trek a little off the beaten track, skipping the usual tourist attractions?

The Self as Brain. By Patricia S. Churchland.
W. W. Norton. 291 pages. $26.95.

The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience. 
By Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld. Basic Books. 218 pages. $26.99.

Now that science’s newfound land is suddenly navigable, hordes of eager guides are offering up books that range from the basic to the lavishly appointed to the minutely subspecialized. But those who prefer wandering off trail may opt for two new ones, neither by a neuroscientist.

On challenging the growing appeal of neuroscience to remove blame

Sally Satel [a practicing psychiatrist] writing on James Q Wilson book ”The Moral Sense" in honor of the occasion of  the 75th anniversary of the American Enterprise Institute where Wilson was on the Council of Academic Advisers:

“ Although we generally think of ourselves as free agents who make choices, a number of prominent scholars claim that we are mistaken. "Our growing knowledge about the brain makes the notions of volition, culpability, and, ultimately, the very premise of the criminal justice system, deeply suspect," contends Stanford University biologist Robert Sapolsky. “Progress in understanding the chemical basis of behavior will make it increasingly untenable to retain a belief in the concept of free will,” writes biologist Anthony R. Cashmore.

Electrodoping with Transcranial Electrical Stimulation – Fact or Fiction?

By Kohitij Kar, PhD candidate
When most of us think of electricity and the brain together, we generally visualize what is known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) with an image of a man’s face in gruesome pain. Thanks to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for that! But, recently, there has been a revival of interest in a somewhat subdued version of ECT referred to as transcranial electric stimulation (tES) encompassing direct current (tDCS), alternating current (tACS) and random noise (tRNS) stimulation. One key difference between these methods and ECT is the intensity of current being used. Whereas tES techniques only use a few milliamperes of current, ECT often uses hundreds of milliamperes ensuring a much more vigorous manipulation of the brain state. tES also comes in at a low cost and with negligible discomfort or side effects. So the idea of someone just hooking their heads up t…

Determination' can be induced by electrical brain stimulation

Applying an electric current to a particular part of the brain 
makes people feel a sense of determination, say researchers 

Doctors in the US have induced feelings of intense determination in two 
men by stimulating a part of their brains with gentle electric currents.
The men were having a routine procedure to locate regions in their brains that caused epileptic seizures when they felt their heart rates rise, a sense of foreboding, and an overwhelming desire to persevere against a looming hardship.The remarkable findings could help researchers develop treatments for depression and other disorders where people are debilitated by a lack of motivation.

Electroceuticals and Mind Control

PublishedOctober 14, 2013 | ByJulian Savulescu “Electroceuticals”, or therapies utilising electricity, are nothing new and range from the widely accepted defibrillator/ pace makers to the more controversial electric shock therapies like ECT sometimes employed to treat severe depression. But a recent article in Nature argues that these are just a small, crude sample of what electroceuticals may be able to offer in the future. Universities and pharmaceutical companies are researching a wide range of therapies based around electrical stimulation, promising benefits (in the long term) as diverse as mind-controlled prosthetic limbs to a treatment for anorexia. Transcranial Electric Stimulation (TES) is delivering some promising results in depression and treatment of learning disabilities.


I'm now thoroughly convinced that Epicureanism is THE antidote for the malaise we are experiencing in the present and will continue to experience especially in the US--the stress that stems largely from inequality, poverty, a sense of helplessness, lack of control, and the rest of the negative aspects of being at the bottom or middle of the status pole (where more and more people now or will find themselves).  The strivers and achievers could benefit from this philosophy, but would largely find it mostly irrelevant.

The following article, which is hidden behind a paywall on the NY Times, so I have pasted the entire essay, summarizes the negative effect on health that comes from a feeling of low self esteem. Neuroscience research is clearly finding the link between brain malfunctioning caused by a socioecomic anxiety and physical maladies.

We are not going to shrink this gap like Finland has done largely because of its homogeneity. Instead we must learn to live with it, which is wher…

Brain scans of inmates turn up possible link to risks of reoffending


By Michael Haederle
July 15, 2013, 5:00 a.m.
ALBUQUERQUE — It began with a casual question that neuroscientist Kent Kiehl posed to a postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory who had been conducting brain scans on New Mexico prison inmates. "I asked, 'Does ACC activity predict the risk of reoffending?'" Kiehl recalls, using the scientific shorthand for the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain structure associated with error processing. The postdoctoral fellow, Eyal Aharoni, decided to find out. When he compared 96 inmates whose brains had been monitored while they performed a test that measures impulsiveness, he discovered a stark contrast: Those with low ACC activity were about twice as likely to commit crimes within four years of being released as those with high ACC activity. "We cannot say with certainty that all who are in the high-risk category will reoffend — just that most …
Survival of the Nicest? A new theory of our origins says cooperation-not competition-is instinctive
A century ago, industrialists like Andrew Carnegie believed that Darwin’s theories justified an economy of vicious competition and inequality. They left us with an ideological legacy that says the corporate economy, in which wealth concentrates in the hands of a few, produces the best for humanity. This was always a distortion of Darwin’s ideas. His 1871 book The Descent of Man argued that the human species had succeeded because of traits like sharing and compassion. “Those communities,” he wrote, “which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” Darwin was no economist, but wealth-sharing and cooperation have always looked more consistent with his observations about human survival than the elitism and hierarchy that dominates contemporary corporate life.

Regression toward the mean and IQ

From Steve Sailer's blog

A reader sends Steve an Excel file for calculating expected IQs of children based on their parents' IQs. 

Researchers Used to Blame Parenting but Studies Suggest a Genetic Link; Procrastination is a Problem

New studies on perfectionism show it may have a genetic link. Other studies suggest that parenting plays a role. But there are upsides and downsides to the findings. Melinda Beck has details on Lunch Break.

human aggression



Those who doubt that human aggression is an evolved trait should spend more time with chimpanzees and wolvesWe, Too, Are Violent AnimalBy JANE GOODALLRICHARD WRANGHAM and DALE PETERSON

Chimpanzees are known to attack vulnerable stranger

Where does human savagery come from? The animal behaviorist Marc Bekoff, writing in Psychology Today after last month's awful events in Newtown, Conn., echoed a common view: It can't possibly come from nature or evolution. Harsh aggression, he wrote, is "extremely rare" in nonhuman animals, while violence is merely an odd feature of our own species, produced by a few wicked people. If only we could "rewild our hearts," he concluded, we might harness our "inborn goodness and optimism" and thereby return to our "nice, kind, compassionate, empathic" original selves. If only if it were that simple. Calm an…