Monthly Archives: July 2008

Dennett on magic and misdirection

While musing over yesterday’s post on the use of psychological language as a form of a magician’s misdirection, I remembered Dennett’s 2003 article [pdf] on consciousness where he uses exactly this as a metaphor for why consciousness doesn’t exist as some scientists think it does. Dennett argues that the ‘hard problem‘ is a red herring […]

Sleight of mind

I’ve just watched a video of an immensley entertaining TED presentation by ‘brain magician’ Keith Barry who does an act with various ‘mind control’ or ‘mind reading tricks’. It reminded me of an early book by Derren Brown, an English magician who has a similar pitch. Brown is better known for his more recent TV […]

Head in a vice

Scientific American has an article on migraines that takes a comprehensive look at the science of this painful and hallucinatory disorder. The piece updates the science on migraines from the traditional but oversimplified ‘constricted blood vessels’ explanation to explore the interplay between nerves, neurotransmitters and lifestyle. A crucial process seems to be cortical spreading depression […]

Through the looking glass

The New York Times has a great article on the psychology of mirrors that shows that they’re both cognitively challenging and have the power to change our social behaviour. As a kid I spent hours puzzling over the fact that mirrors seemed to swap left and right but not up and down and it seems […]

Five minutes with psychedelics researcher Bill Richards

Psychologist Bill Richards studies the medical potential of the hallucinogenic drug psilocybin, the active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’. He’s part of the research team at the respected Johns Hopkins Medical School who are studying whether psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy can help people with cancer cope with the psychological impact of their condition. The project is a hot […]

Oliver Sacks’ Rage for Order

Oliver Sacks’ fantastic 1996 autism documentary Rage for Order is now available on Google Video, where he meets some completely remarkable people and explains some of the more curious features of the syndrome. The programme explores the sort of interests, behaviours and talents that are associated with autism through Sacks’ irresistible interest in the human […]

Encephalon turns gold at 50

The 50th edition of the Encephalon psychology and neuroscience writing carnival has arrived, with the best of the last fortnight’s mind and brain writing ably hosted by the excellent Sharp Brains. Alvaro stars with a tongue-in-cheek request to remind people of the benefits of participating and hosting Encephalon at your blog. If there’s a particular […]

Values, taste perception and psychological blind spots

An ingenious study just published in the Journal of Consumer Research has provided a striking demonstration that taste perceptions and product preferences are strongly influenced by our personal values – to the point where people who believe in the importance of social authority perceived a sausage roll labelled as vegetarian as far inferior to a […]


Neuroanthropology has found a highly amusing video clip from the satirical US comedy show The Colbert Report on the increasing use of psychiatric drugs in children, something he dubs ‘psychopharmaparenting’. Colbert riffs on 2006 article from The New York Times that reported a five-fold increase in children being prescribed antipsychotics. These drugs are typically not […]

Cogito ergo t-shirt

Indie t-shirt designers 410BC are channelling Descartes in their spring collection, with a brain emblazoned t-shirt that declares ‘I think therefore I am’. Not a bad shirt for $15 dollars I think you’ll agree, especially if you’re hip to 17th century French philosophers. The phrase “I think therefore I am” originated because Descartes wanted to […]

On the brink of a social psychology revolution

The Times has a brief article noting the growing influence of social psychology in government thinking and economic policy, mirroring the popular interest in a slew of new books on behavioural economics. It’s interesting that the article lists various ways in those close to the British political establishment are increasingly bringing ideas drawn from empirical […]

2008-07-18 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: One I missed before – The New York Review of Books has an extended and thoughtful review of a stack of cognitive science books and Neurophilosophy has a great commentary. The New York Times reports on the challenges of $600-a-session patients. Interesting to note […]

One step beyond

Neurophilosophy has found a fascinating black and white TV documentary on Mexican hallucinogenic mushrooms from 1961, where the presenter samples some of the psilocybin-containing fungus and reports the effects during the trip. In the January 4th, 1961 episode of One Step Beyond, director and presenter John Newland ingests psilocybin under laboratory conditions, to investigate whether […]

Audio rising high illusion

I’ve just found this fantastic auditory illusion after browsing through Tom’s blog. It’s a YouTube video but the visuals are just text, all you need to do is listen and replay. It’s like the audio equivalent of a moving spiral. It always seems to be moving up but you realise after a while it can’t […]

Crumbling cuckoo’s nests

Time reports that Oregon State Hospital, the psychiatric hospital used to film the Oscar-winning movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is being demolished. It’s not the hospital that Kesey based his play on, but it’s interesting that even the demolition of the hospital which was the background for the movie makes big news. The […]

Tom Wolfe on a decade of neuroscience

I’ve just got round to watching the Seed Salon discussion between novelist Tom Wolfe and neuropsychologist Michael Gazzaniga where they debate free will, criminal responsibility and the similarities in the creative processes of writers and scientists. Wolfe is best known as the author of ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ and ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’, […]


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