Monthly Archives: February 2009

On believing you died during the operation

I just found this interesting paper in the medical journal Anesthesiology on fear of imminent death or the delusion that death has actually occurred, both linked to anaesthetic intoxication. Despite our repeated explanations that she had suffered a local anesthetic-induced complication, the patient remained convinced that she had died and come back to life. This […]

Sir Humphrey teaches questionnaire design

Classic British TV comedy Yes Prime Minister has important lessons for those who want to interpret questionnaire data. This clip shows two civil servants discussing a policy suggestion. Bernard Woolley, who we see first, thinks the public are in favour of the policy – the minister has had an opinion poll done. Luckily senior civil […]

2009-02-27 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: BBC Radio 4’s science programme Leading Edge covers memory in the dock, and memory and ageing. New Scientist discusses virtual autopsies and looks inside the skull of a suicide victim with a medical scanner. One for Spanish language readers: El Pais discusses the neuroscience […]

Warning of ghosts in the machine

Today’s issue of Science has a letter from neuroscientist Martha Farah and theologian Nancey Murphy warning against ‘non-materialist neuroscience’ becoming the new front-line in the religion wars. Most religions endorse the idea of a soul (or spirit) that is distinct from the physical body. Yet as neuroscience advances, it increasingly seems that all aspects of […]

Brain implants and cognitive side-effect trading

This week’s Nature has an interesting article on the ethics of electronic brain enhancements. It does something quite unusual for an article on technological brain enhancements – it talks about the side effects. Brain implants and ‘neuroprosthetics’ have been widely covered by the science media in recent years owing to a number of impressive advances […]

The life and times of the truth serum

I just found this fascinating photo in a 1932 book on forensic psychology in the Universidad de Antioquia’s history of medicine section. It pictures the inventor of the truth serum, Dr House, administering the drug to an arrested man in a Texas jail. The book is called Manual de Psicolog√≠a Jur√≠dica (literally ‘manual of legal […]

The future of experimental philosophy

March’s Prospect magazine has an excellent article on ‘experimental philosophy’ that gives a good overview of an exciting new branch of philosophy as well as picking up on some of the growing criticisms and detractors. The first half of the article covers the current methods and strands of thought in the field, discussing brain scans, […]

Match maker’s intuition

The BPS Research Digest covers an intriguing study finding that observers can reliably tell within 10 seconds whether a girl and a guy who have just met fancy each other. The research was based on a speed dating study, which, to be honest, immediately put me off as they typically just correlate features of the […]

Love is ye drug

Today’s Nature has a fascinating letter from ecologist Joan Ehrenfeld who notes that Shakespeare describes how potions made from certain psychoactive plants were used to encourage reluctant lovers in one of his most famous plays. Ehrenfeld is riffing on a recent Nature feature article that discussed the neuroscience of love, which seems to have been […]

Think of the children, not the evidence

The BBC’s flagship news analysis programme Newsnight featured a hefty segment on the ‘Facebook causes cancer / the end of the world as we know it’ nonsense that recently hit the headlines. The Beeb invited alarmist psychologist Aric Sigman on the show but, God bless ’em, they also invited Bad Science author Ben Goldacre who […]

Reigning in the extended mind

Philosopher Jerry Fodor has written a sceptical and entertaining review of a new book on the extended mind hypothesis – the idea that that we use technology to offload our mental processes and that such tools can be thought of as extensions of the mind itself. The book in question is by fellow philosopher Andy […]

Key to neurosurgery success

I’ve just found this remarkable CT scan in a 1997 article entitled ‘Trans-orbital penetrating head injury with a door key’. The paper reports that “A 71-year-old-female was answering the door when she misjudged the step and fell forward impaling herself on the large key protruding from the lock.” She was found with the key still […]

Engraved brains

Neurophilosophy has just found some beautiful neuroanatomical engravings from an 1823 book called The Anatomy of the Brain, Explained in a Series of Engravings by the pioneering brain researcher Sir Charles Bell. Those with a slightly medical tendency may know his name from Bell’s palsy, a facial muscle paralysis that usually affects one side, and […]

Social influences on the drug hit

BBC Radio 4’s eclectic sociology programme Thinking Allowed recently had a fascinating discussion on how drug users learn to experience the effects of a substance and how society has an influence on the personal drug experience. We tend to assume that drugs have fairly fixed effects but sociology has a long history of studying how […]

Experimental philosophy of others’ intentions

Today’s ABC Radio National All in the Mind has a fascinating discussion on how we attribute intentions to other people which covers some surprising and counter-intuitive examples of how our understanding of other people’s desires are biased by the situation. There’s a great example depicted in this YouTube video which I highly recommend, but essentially […]

Car crash over before consciousness kicks in

This is a fascinating run down of an ‘anatomy of a crash’ from Australian car magazine Drive suggesting that the accident can be over before we’re even consciously aware of it happening. This is a reconstruction of a crash involving a stationary Ford Falcon XT sedan being struck in the driver’s door by another vehicle […]


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