Pope returns to cocaine

Image from Wikipedia. Click for source,According to a report from BBC News the Pope ‘plans to chew coca leaves’ during his visit to Bolivia. Although portrayed as a radical encounter, this is really a return to cocaine use after a long period of abstinence in the papal office.

Although the leaves are a traditional, mild stimulant that have been used for thousands of years, they are controversial as they’re the raw material for synthesising powder cocaine.

The leaves themselves actually contain cocaine in its final form but only produce a mild stimulant effect because they have a low dose that is released relatively gently when chewed.

The lab process to produce the powder is largely concerned with concentrating and refining it which means it can be taken in a way to give the cocaine high.

The Pope is likely to be wanting to chew coca leaves to show support for the traditional uses of the plant, which, among other things, are used to help with altitude sickness but have become politicised due to the ‘war on drugs’.

Because of this, recent decades have seen pressure to outlaw or destroy coca plants, despite them being little more problematic than coffee when used in traditional ways, and consequently, a push back campaign from Latin Americans has been increasingly influential.

However, two previous Popes have been cocaine users. Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius X were drinkers of Vin Mariani, which was essentially cocaine dissolved in alcohol for its, er, tonic effect.

Pope Leo XIII even went as far as appearing in an advert for Vin Mariani, which you can see in the image above.

The advert says that “His Holiness THE POPE writes that he has fully appreciated the beneficient effects of this Tonic Wine and has forwarded to Mr. Mariani as a token of his gratitude a gold medal bearing his august effigy.”

But being a Latin American, the new Pope seems to have a much more sensible view of the drug and values it in its traditional form, and so probably won’t be giving away some of the papal gold after having a blast on the liquid snow.

 
Link to BBC News story.
And thanks to @MikeJayNet for reminding me of the historical connection.

Never mind the neuromarketing

CC Licensed Photo by Flickr user SMI Eye Tracking. Click for source.I’ve got an article in The Observer about the state of neuromarketing – where companies pay millions of wasted dollars to apply brain science to marketing.

The piece looks at the three forms of neuromarketing – advertising fluff, serious research, and applied neuroscience. The first is clearly bollocks, the second a solid but currently abstract science, and the third a triumph of selling style over substance.

Finally, there is the murky but profitably grey area of applied neuromarketing, which is done by commercial companies for big-name clients. Here, the pop-culture hype that allows brain-based nonsense in consumer adverts meets the abstract and difficult-to-apply results from neuromarketing science. The result is an intoxicating but largely ineffective mix that makes sharp but non-specialist executives pay millions in the hope of maximising their return on branding and advertising.

The piece also looks at what turns out to be the most powerful innovation in marketing taken from cognitive science, but which doesn’t make the headlines like neuromarketing.

Full article at the link below.
 

Link to article in The Observer.

Spike activity 26-06-2015

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

Picture This? Some Just Can’t. The New York Times covers a new study on people without visual imagery – that science writer Carl Zimmer helped discover.

New Republic on how the Romans understood hallucinations. “They did not have a single concept of ‘hallucination’ until very late on”.

Science of the pornocalypse. Aeon has an excellent piece that looks at the evidence for benefits and harms of pornography.

Pacific Stand has an important piece on copy number variant genetic mutations and intellectual disabilities.

Neuroscience and Politics: Do Not Hold Your Breath. Good critical piece in E-International Relations on how neuroscience is being used and abused to understand political views.

The Guardian has a reflective piece on inter-generational fathering and child psychology.

There’s a good piece over at Neurocritic about one of the many mouse studies spun by the media in folk psychology terms.

Hold infinity in the palms of your hand

CC Licensed image from Wikipedia. Click for imageA rare documentary about three people who have had hallucinatory and profound revelatory experiences is now available online.

Those Who Are Jesus examines the borders between revelation and psychosis and hears people recount their intense experiences while looking at how they can be understood in terms of sociology, neuropsychiatry, religion and radical mental health.

Julian believes he has been shown Jacob’s Ladder, how a universe is created and told his soul is Time itself.

Sadat says a vision of an angel said to him: “You were Jesus Christ before and you were raised to life again and you are Jesus Christ”

Rachel is a prolific artist who claims her hand is controlled by an “other energy” or “Christ consciousness” which guides her to paint universal structures.

It’s a great non-judgemental documentary that looks at what happens when intense and idiosyncratic experience intrude on everyday life.
 

Link to Those Who Are Jesus on Vimeo.
Link to info about the documentary.

Compulsory well-being: An interview with Will Davies

The UK government’s use of psychology has suddenly become controversial. They have promised to put psychologists into job centres “to provide integrated employment and mental health support to claimants with common mental health conditions” but with the potential threat of having assistance removed if people do not attend treatment.

It has been criticised as ‘treating unemployment as a mental problem’ or an attempt to ‘psychologically reprogramme the unemployed’ and has triggered an upcoming march on a London job centre.

Will Davies is a political scientist and the author of the new book The Happiness Industry that looks at the history and practice of positive psychology as government and ‘well-being’ as a way of managing people.

We caught up with him to get some background on the recent controversy.

Is this use of psychology in social policy a quick fix or part of a broader trend?

There is a long history of using psychological techniques in order to encourage work or boost productivity. In my book, I trace this right back to the 1920s, when industrial psychologists first started to study the attitudes and emotions of people in the workplace, with a view to understanding how people could be more committed to work. Some of this was born out of a fear of socialism or trade union organising, i.e. that unhappy workers might rebel against business in some way.

But I also think something shifted fundamentally in the 1990s, as economists started to look at psychological survey data, and the field of ‘happiness economics’ took off. Economists were struggling to understand why unemployment sometimes remained high, even during times of economic growth. And one thing they began to realise was that unemployment causes types of psychological harm (namely depression) that can leave people unable to work, or unable to seek work. From an economist’s perspective, it stands to reason that the efficient course of action would therefore be to design a policy instrument that could alleviate this psychological problem. This is exactly what Richard Layard believed he had found, when he met the psychologist David Clark, who preached the virtues of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to him.

Layard studied the evidence on CBT in the mid-2000s, and quickly put together a ‘business case’ (of the sort the Treasury needs to see, if it is to endorse any new public spending) for why it was an efficient use of public money, given its apparent success in getting people off benefits of various kinds. Of course, this strongly economistic approach to psychology also has various risks attached to it, one of which is that everything becomes viewed in a highly instrumentalised way, which is precisely what there is now a backlash against.

A lot of the protests have centred on the idea that unemployed people might be coerced into psychological treatment with threats of having their benefits removed if they don’t attend but all over the world companies and individuals are voluntarily signing up to ‘happiness technologies’ that claim to be able to monitor and improve people’s contentment. Taking the coercive aspect away, isn’t this is a positive development in terms of also valuing people as emotional beings – rather than simply cogs in an economic system?

The problem here is that ‘happiness’ is becoming conceived in a heavily reductionist way. There tend to be two main types of reduction at play here.

Firstly, ‘happiness’ is viewed in roughly the way that neo-classical economists have viewed it, as the driver of consumer choices. Happiness economists may well be interested in broader notions of flourishing or life satisfaction than this, but the market research world has become fixated on positive emotions purely in the hope that they can be targeted by advertising or branding campaigns. Since the late 1990s, with the influence of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, ’emotions’ have been the hottest research topic in the world of market research.

Secondly, ‘happiness’ is viewed in some biological, most often neurological, sense, as a physical occurence in the body. The claim that it’s now possible to see emotions via fMRI or physical symptoms (such as muscular reflexes or pulse rate) is no doubt grounded in credible scientific research, but before long, you reach the point where experts are speaking about emotions in ways that entirely bi-passes the voice of the person who is experiencing them. Philosophically, this is nonsense, for the simple reason that words like ‘happiness’ or ‘sadness’ can only make sense, to the extent that we can both witness them in others and describe them in ourselves. Behaviorist approaches to emotion ignore this.

Put these two agendas together, and you have an emerging industry of psychological surveillance, which purports to collect objective data about our feelings, and then commercialises it. The way in which digital health companies and technologies (such as wearables) are also offering consumer research or HR services is indicative of this new fusion between economic and physiological methods. All the while, our everyday articulations of ‘happiness’, ‘anger’, ‘joy’ or ‘despair’ are being ignored as ‘unscientific’. Businesses and policy-makers are so obsessed with tracking and measuring emotion, that they’re losing the capacity to listen to and understand it.

Of course, a lot of wellbeing data is collected in less clandestine, more analogue ways than this. Surveys are still the main basis for the field of happiness economics and ‘national wellbeing’ indicators. But this could change over time. One of the slightly perturbing trends amidst all of this is that a lot of this data collection is happening ostensibly for our own benefit, and yet it still happens without us necessarily granting permission. It’s not typically malicious or punitive surveillance (in an Orwellian sense), yet there’s still something creepy about it. Several of the companies above (including Affectiva) were founded to serve medical needs, but then subtly shifted towards more business-oriented applications, once they received venture capital. They start with the goal of increasing wellbeing… but gradually shift to the goal of maximising profit. This is a trend worth keeping an eye on.

An “emerging industry of psychological surveillance” sounds ominous. Can you give some examples?

Firstly there are those which focus on our physical bodies in various way. Companies such as Affectiva and Realeyes seek to monitor emotions through facial scanning, and offer services to market research companies amongst others. It is rare (though not unheard of) for these technologies to be used without the consent of those being monitored, and consumer groups are mobilising against intrusive uses of such technologies. Wearable technologies, such as Fitbit and Apple Watch, are marketed as devices which benefit the wearer, through greater self-knowledge.

But there are emerging cases of employers making it mandatory to wear them, or health insurers offering lower premiums to those that wear them, because of the data they can gather about behaviour, stress and wellbeing. Humanyze is a company that seeks to track employee activity (including emotions) using wearable technology, while Virgin Pulse is an HR service that includes various tools (including wearable technologies) to keep track of an employee’s state of mind and health.

Secondly, there are ways of calculating emotional variations through our use of language. The field of ‘sentiment analysis’ involves teaching computers to recognise the emotions conveyed in a sentence, and can be put to use to monitor the general happiness level of twitter users, for example, or the spread of emotions amongst facebook users. It is also integral to social media-based market research, or the ‘people analytics’ used by employers to look at employee performance via analysis of email traffic. One company, Beyond Verbal, offers indications of emotion based on tone of voice when on the phone. This has various commercial applications.

The sociologist Nikolas Rose has charted how governments increasingly see individual psychology as part of their governmental responsibility. What role do the psychologists, mental health workers and the like, have in affecting this trend?

We have to be wary of exaggerating the powers of governments and businesses in this area. A lot of my book – like the work of Nikolas Rose on this topic– implicitly looks at the goals, measurement tools and strategies that policy-makers and managers have at their disposal. However, these can seem more effective (and potentially more sinister) than how things work in practice. One thing that sociologists such as Rose have stressed is that the process of ‘translation’ between a public policy (such as tackling depression in job centres) and the actual front-line intervention is long and tortuous, and there are various individuals and institutions along the way that can divert and subvert it, for better or worse.

Professionals working in psychiatry, clinical psychology and psychotherapy retain some power to influence how things play out. Since the 1970s, more quantitative, positivist traditions have come to the fore, which grant less autonomy to professional judgement, and rely more on things like questionnaires and standardised metrics. Naturally, that means that expertise potentially becomes more amenable to governmental co-option. And yet, especially in an area like mental health, the success or failure of a policy is ultimately in the hands of someone providing the care or the listening. It’s not clear that something like IAPT can succeed, even by its own yardstick, if it becomes ever-more integrated into the pursuit of ‘efficiency’ and benefit cuts.

Speaking as an outsider, it seems to me that there is still further scope for the ‘psy’ disciplines to offer coordinated alternatives, which aren’t merely resistant, but offer new policies across society. At present, government policy is driven by an economic rationality, combined with a reductionist, behaviorist notion of mental health. This approach is guilty of both over-medicalising social problems and over-economising policy solutions. A critical bio-psycho-social alternative should have things to say, not only about mental health services or welfare, but about the damage wrought elsewhere in society.

Look at our schools, for example: there is a crisis of stress and anxiety amongst teachers while pupils are suffering the mental strains of constant examination, no doubt justified on the back of some nonsense about Britain being in a ‘global race’. If politicians are serious about the pursuit of happiness and wellbeing, and don’t want those phenomena to be simply manufactured in a mechanised fashion, then the psy disciplines and professions might want to develop some blueprints for how labour markets or companies should be governed on that basis. I remain sceptical as to whether policy-makers do conceive of psychology as anything other than an economistic route to ‘behavior change’, but lets find out.


You can follow Will Davies on Twitter as @davies_will. There are more details of his book The Happiness Industry here.

Phantasmagoric neural net visions

dreaming neural network imageA starling galley of phantasmagoric images generated by a neural network technique has been released. The images were made by some computer scientists associated with Google who had been using neural networks to classify objects in images. They discovered that by using the neural networks “in reverse” they could elicit visualisations of the representations that the networks had developed over training.

These pictures are freaky because they look sort of like the things the network had been trained to classify, but without the coherence of real-world scenes. In fact, the researchers impose a local coherence on the images (so that neighbouring pixels do similar work in the image) but put no restraint on what is globally represented.

The obvious parallel is to images from dreams or other altered states – situations where ‘low level’ constraints in our vision are obviously still operating, but the high-level constraints – the kind of thing that tries to impose an abstract and unitary coherence on what we see – is loosened. In these situations we get to observe something that reflects our own processes as much as what is out there in the world.

Link: The researchers talk about their ‘dreaming neural networks’
Gallery: Inceptionism: Going deeper into Neural Networks

Power analysis of a typical psychology experiment

Understanding statistical power is essential if you want to avoid wasting your time in psychology. The power of an experiment is its sensitivity – the likelihood that, if the effect tested for is real, your experiment will be able to detect it.

Statistical power is determined by the type of statistical test you are doing, the number of people you test and the effect size. The effect size is, in turn, determined by the reliability of the thing you are measuring, and how much it is pushed around by whatever you are manipulating.

Since it is a common test, I’ve been doing a power analysis for a two-sample (two-sided) t-test, for small, medium and large effects (as conventionally defined). The results should worry you.

power_analysis2

This graph shows you how many people you need in each group for your test to have 80% power (a standard desirable level of power – meaning that if your effect is real you’ve an 80% chance of detecting it).

Things to note:

  • even for a large (0.8) effect you need close to 30 people (total n = 60) to have 80% power
  • for a medium effect (0.5) this is more like 70 people (total n = 140)
  • the required sample size increases drammatically as effect size drops
  • for small effects, the sample required for 80% is around 400 in each group (total n = 800).

What this means is that if you don’t have a large effect, studies with between groups analysis and an n of less than 60 aren’t worth running. Even if you are studying a real phenomenon you aren’t using a statistical lens with enough sensitivity to be able to tell. You’ll get to the end and won’t know if the phenomenon you are looking for isn’t real or if you just got unlucky with who you tested.

Implications for anyone planning an experiment:

  • Is your effect very strong? If so, you may rely on a smaller sample (For illustrative purposes the effect size of male-female heigh difference is ~1.7, so large enough to detect with small sample. But if your effect is this obvious, why do you need an experiment?)
  • You really should prefer within-sample analysis, whenever possible (power analysis of this left as an exercise)
  • You can get away with smaller samples if you make your measure more reliable, or if you make your manipulation more impactful. Both of these will increase your effect size, the first by narrowing the variance within each group, the second by increasing the distance between them

Technical note: I did this cribbing code from Rob Kabacoff’s helpful page on power analysis. Code for the graph shown here is here. I use and recommend Rstudio.

Cross-posted from www.tomstafford.staff.shef.ac.uk where I irregularly blog things I think will be useful for undergraduate Psychology students.

Wanted: political diversity in social psychology

A fascinating article on why social psychology needs more political diversity is due to be published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Sadly the full article is locked behind a paywall but the abstract gives an excellent summary of the article and the wider problem itself.

Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science.

Duarte JL, Crawford JT, Stern C, Haidt J, Jussim L, Tetlock PE.
Behav Brain Sci. 2014 Jul 18:1-54. [Epub ahead of print]

Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity-particularly diversity of viewpoints-for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims:

1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years;

2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike;

3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking; and

4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination.

We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.

As the article notes there is considerable evidence that social diversity is beneficial on many levels for numerous types of social groups.

This is widely believed in social science and community work except when it comes to political opinion where many believe that non-liberal views are incompatible with this type of work, when clearly they are not. This affects the field to the point where people are seemingly prepared to actively discriminate against non-liberals.

The defence of diversity matters most when you are defending the inclusion of people with whom you disagree or who make you uncomfortable. And we will all be better off as a result.
 

Link to PubMed entry for article.

Spike activity 12-06-2015

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

The New York Times has a fascinating piece about the three waves of ancient peoples who arrived in Europe to found the modern population.

I am shocked, shocked I tell you, that the UK Government are deliberately side-lining their own scientific advisors to implement an unworkable ban on psychoactive substances. Reported by BBC News.

Narratively has a gallery from a photographer covering an innovative treatment program for violent offenders to reintegrate into society.

Injectable electronics holds promise for basic neuroscience, treatment of neuro-degenerative diseases. Coverage from PhysOrg.

Motherboard have had an excellent week of special articles on neuroscience.

The British police are deploying face recognition technology to scan festival crowds for matches to their mugshot database, according to the hacks at The Register.

Head quarters covers the dodgy popularity of online quizes to test if you’re a psychopath.

A short history of medicalising stress. Good piece in The FT.

Nature reports on The Pentagon’s focus on brain implants, bionic limbs and combat exoskeletons. Sounds sinister but they’re just tooling up humans for when the robot war comes. To the bunkers fellow cyborgs!

A new big budget fantasy video game has a hero who experiences psychosis. Motherboard has a piece on what could be a groundbreaking moment for mental health, or could be a soulbreaking moment for mental health stigma.

Aeon has an interesting piece on the work of a ‘metaphor designer‘ to use in PR campaigns.

Context Is the New Black

The New Yorker has one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the Stanford prison experiment – the notorious and mythologised study that probably doesn’t tell us that we ‘all have the potential to be monsters’.

It’s a study that’s often taught as one of the cornerstones of psychology and like many foundational stories, it has come to serve a purpose beyond what we can confidently conclude from it.

Was the study about our individual fallibility, or about broken institutions? Were its findings about prisons, specifically, or about life in general? What did the Stanford Prison Experiment really show?

The appeal of the experiment has a lot to do with its apparently simple setup: prisoners, guards, a fake jail, and some ground rules. But, in reality, the Stanford County Prison was a heavily manipulated environment, and the guards and prisoners acted in ways that were largely predetermined by how their roles were presented. To understand the meaning of the experiment, you have to understand that it wasn’t a blank slate; from the start, its goal was to evoke the experience of working and living in a brutal jail.

It’s a great piece that I can probably do little to add to here, so you’re best off reading it in full.
 

Link to The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Hallucinating children

CC Licensed Photo by Flickr user Tali Le Bamba. Click for source.I’ve got an article in The Observer about childhood hallucinations which are much more common than we previously imagined.

You tend to get one of two reactions when you discuss children hallucination: that’s obvious – children live in a fantasy world, or that’s horrendous – there must be something very wrong with them.

The answer is that neither response is particularly accurate. Children’s fantasies are not the same as hallucinations but neither are they normally a sign of something ‘going wrong’ – although certain forms of hallucinations can suggest a more serious problem.

Hallucinations often reflect a bizarre, blurry version of our realities and because play is an everyday reality for children, the content can seem similar. Both can contain quirky characters, strange scenarios and inspire curious behaviour. One child described how he saw a wolf in the house, another that he had “Yahoos” living inside him that ate all his medicine. On the surface, these could just as easily be a child’s whimsy, but genuine hallucinations have a very different flavour. “In play and make-believe, children are imagining,” says Elena Garralda, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Imperial College London. “They do not have the actual perceptual experience of seeing and hearing.” Another key difference, notes Garralda, is that “hallucinations feel imposed and children cannot exercise a direct control over them”.

There’s more on these fascinating experiences in the full article linked below.
 

Link to ‘Childhood hallucinations are surprisingly common – but why?’

Spike activity 05-06-2015

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

Fusion has an oddly fascinating piece on the AI of dick pic detection which turns out to be a surprisingly hard problem (matron).

Uber poaches 40 people from Carnegie Mellon’s robotics researcher community wanting to boost their autonomous car technology according to the Market Watch.

Brain Metrics has an excellent primer on a key neuroscience technique: What does MEG measure?

There’s an excellent in-depth article in The New York Times on pregnancy and depression by writer Andrew Solomon.

MIT Tech Review covers AI’s first cheating scandal. Apparently, some of the puny humans it was trying to wipe out were already critically ill to start with.

Interesting piece in The Guardian. “My son has autism. That’s why I won’t be finishing Norman Doidge’s book.” My condolences for starting.

BBC Future has a fascinating piece on highly multilingual people.

There’s a good profile of behavioural economist Richard Thaler in Bloomberg.

Discover has a fascinating short piece on ‘phantom eye syndrome’ – like a phantom limb limb after eye removal: “symptoms included pain, visual sensations, or the impression of actually seeing with the missing eye”.

This looks excellent: trailer for an upcoming six-part documentary series on neuroscience called The Brain. Hosted by neuroscientist David Eagleman.

Essential Forbes piece on the almost approved ‘female Viagra’ flibanserin: 0.7 extra sexually satisfying events per month, no effect on sexual desire, “very significant side effects” and promoted by an astroturfed ‘equality’ campaign. Progress people!

The thin white line of future drug control

CC Licensed Image from Wikipedia. Click for source.The UK Government have announced they want to change the drugs law and ban “[any] substance which is capable of producing a psychoactive effect”. It’s a fairly clumsy attempt to tackle the wave of ‘legal highs’ but there’s a little psychopharmacological gem, hidden away, in the Home Secretary’s letter that accompanies the proposed changes.

There’s been plenty of news coverage of the proposed blanket ban, both for and against, and you can read the official documents on the Home Office Psychoactive Substances Bill webpage.

From the government’s point of view, it’s pretty much all they can do. The list of banned drugs has got so large that they’ve decided it is easier to say what isn’t prohibited. So apart from the specifically mentioned exceptions (the respectable dangerous drugs: booze, nicotine, meds) they’ve decided to ban

“[any] substance [that] produces a psychoactive effect in a person if, by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state”

It’s a vague and unhelpful definition that could include half the products in your cleaning cupboard. But it leaves a more interesting question which the Home Secretary is clearly aware of. That is – how do you know a substance is psychoactive at all?

In other words, imagine the police find a suspicious looking white powder but the drug isn’t in their database. New drugs are appearing at about one a week, so it’s a very likely scenario. Working out whether it is psychoactive or not is key for legal purposes.

This issue has clearly already troubled the Home Secretary. In her letter to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Home Secretary says “I would welcome the Council’s views on how best we can establish a comprehensive scientific approach for determining psychoactivity for evidential purposes.”

But what science tells us is that the only way of confidently working out whether something is psychoactive or not, is to take it.

This is because you can’t confidently predict what a drug will do to the mind from its chemical structure.

We can say some general structures are more likely to be psychoactive than others, but it’s never guaranteed. For example lots of tryptamines are psychoactive but even here structurally very similar drugs may have very different effects.

Some tryptamines – like DMT and psilocybin are powerfully hallucinogenic – other very similar tryptamines – like the drugs used to treat migraines, are not.

As drugs are essentially keys to the ‘locks’ of the brain’s synaptic receptors – even a tiny change might suddenly mean it won’t fit in the keyhole and has no psychoactive effect.

Interestingly, this means both the manufacturers of new psychoactive compounds and the UK government will have the same problem. Because you can’t do a chemical test on a new drug and say for sure it’s psychoactive, and animal tests won’t give you a definite answer, someone has to take it to find out.

Grey market labs in China and Eastern Europe solve this problem by, well, getting someone to take the drugs. Christ knows what the Government are going to do.

Cheeky line of as-yet-untested phenethylamine derivative Home Secretary?

Another angle on the Human Brain Project

An important interview with the neuroscience laboratory manager from the Human Brain Project revealing some previously unknown details about the running of this important scientific endeavour.

via @jpeelle

Spike activity 29-05-2015

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

The Psychologist has a great piece by leading neurosurgeon Henry Marsh on mistakes, mystery and the mind.

When Does Consciousness Begin and End? Interesting piece from PBS.

The Lancet Psychiatry has a great piece on a unique suicide crisis resolution house in London.

Who Are You Now? Brilliant site from Headway East London on life stories of brain injury survivors.

The Dana Foundation discusses research on how ‘cognitive peaks‘ happen at different ages for different abilities.

Cavemen didn’t live in caves. Why we see early humans through modern humans’ eyes. Good article in Nautilus.

BBC Radio 4 has the first part of a two-part documentary on psychology and the origins of the Satanic ritual abuse panic.

Hacking the nervous system through the vagus nerve. Excellent piece in Mosaic Science.

An alternative history of the human mind

Nautilus has an excellent article on a theory of consciousness that is very likely wrong but so startlingly original it is widely admired: Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind.

Based on the fact that there is virtually no description of mental states in the Ancient Greek classic The Iliad, where the protagonists are largely spoken to by Gods, Jaynes speculates that consciousness as we know it didn’t exist at this point in time and people experienced their thoughts as instructions from external voices which they interpreted as gods.

His book is a 1976 is a tour de force of interdisciplinary scholarship and although the idea that humans became conscious only 3,000 years ago is extremely unlikely, the book has been hugely influential even among people who think Jaynes was wrong, largely because he is a massively creative thinker.

Consciousness, Jaynes tells readers, in a passage that can be seen as a challenge to future students of philosophy and cognitive science, “is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of.” His illustration of his point is quite wonderful. “It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not.”

The Nautilus article is a brilliant retrospective on both Jaynes as a person and the theory, talking to some leading cognitive scientists who are admirers.

A wonderful piece on a delightful chapter in the history of psychology.
 

Link to Nautilus article on Julian Jaynes.

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