‘Mind reading machine’ for sale on eBay

eBay_mindread.JPGMore futuristic eBay tomfoolery: “hello, i am selling what i believe to be a mind reading machine built by Dr. J. S. Strauss in the year 2282″.

It is difficult to write anything about the auction page that even partially captures its kooky brilliance.

Although you may be interested to know that apart from getting a mind reading machine from the future, you also get a “picture of a young lady in a waterfall” thrown in.

Something tells me that despite solving some fundamental problems in cognitive science by the year 2282, neuroscientists may still be spending a little too much time in the lab.

Link to eBay page MIND READING MACHINE ?for minds? like time machine: i found it in my attic wrapped in a bed sheet (via anomalist)

2005-04-29 Spike activity

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


Brain scan sees hidden thoughts says sensational BBC headline. Interesting research mostly spun as a ‘mind reading’ discovery. Also here.

Steven Johnson discusses the possible cognitive
benefits of modern media
– although this Scientific American article (PDF) has another take on the issue.

Drug advertising has a profound effect on prescribing researchers report (for doctors, a classic study showed that 61% of doctors believed promotions do not influence their own prescribing, but only 16% believed other physicians were similarly unaffected. No Free Lunch for me please).

An article from Time Magazine, discusses the links between madness, chess and Bobby Fischer.

Mystery mental illness baffles experts in Sweden, and a case of suspected mass hysteria arises in a ‘gassing’ scare in Melbourne.

Brief but competent summary of cognitive theories of empathy and understanding others’ motivations.

Pressure from conservative groups cuts funding for sex research in the USA.

Seeing alcohol related words can influence men’s attractiveness ratings of women in a similar way to actually drinking alcohol (via PsyBlog).

Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time

This week, the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time (“Melvyn Bragg and three guests explore the history of ideas”) is on ‘Perception and the Senses’ (it must be neuroscience week at the BBC!).

Listening to it now, it’s a fantastic romp through the low-level neuroanatomy, visual perception, how senses are integrated and so on, and higher-level topics like illusions, what does the brain do (make and test hypotheses, says one guest). Great fun, and really good to hear super-smart guests talk about concrete examples (the McGurk effect, say), then the nitty gritty, and next bump up a few abstraction layers to talk about their personal models of the brain. I’m learning a lot. Near the end they discuss one of my favourite topics: intuitive physics.

The whole show is available as an MP3 download, and this episode will be up till next Wednesday (4 May), so grab it while you can.

See the In Our Time ‘Perception and the Senses’ archive page (where you can listen to the show in Real format even when the MP3 has gone), and download the MP3 here.

BBC Frontiers on the psychology of risk

climber_face.jpgBBC Radio 4’s science show Frontiers goes for a cognitive science two-in-a-row as it follows-up last week’s programme on neuroprosethics with an analysis of the psychology of risk-taking, sensation seeking and risk-based reasoning.

Psychologist Marvin Zuckerman tackles evolutionary explanations for individual differences in risk-taking, and discusses the personality attributes and biological influences of sensation seeking people.

The programme also interviews people who are typically defined as high sensation seekers about their motivations and experiences, such as author and adventure climber Mick Fowler.

Link to Frontiers web page on ‘Risk and Risk Taking’.
Link to realaudio archive of programme.

Scientific American on neuromorphics, laterality, apophenia

Sciam_May2005.gifThe May edition of Scientific American has just hit the shelves, containing articles on neuromorphics – the science of building electronics inspired by brain cells, gender differences in brain function and sex-specific psychiatric treatments, and how the brain makes unlikely connections between events.

The cover article discusses ‘neuromorphics’, a new term describing the application of knowledge from neuroscience to designing and implementing microchips. Sadly, the article is not freely accessible, but two articles of interest are.

The article on sex differences and the brain is available online and covers the latest research on how male and female brains differ, from the cellular level – to differences in overall structure and psychological style.

Consequently, scientists are beginning to disregard the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to medical treatment, and have begun to take advantage of brain diversity when developing treatments for psychiatric and neurological illness.

Another article, also available online, takes a skeptical neuroscientific approach to the formation of unlikely theories and detection of meaningful information in noise.

This is sometimes called apophenia and has been linked to electronic voice phenomena, where people claim to hear the voice of spirits amid the static of tape recordings.

Link to article His Brain, Her Brain.
Link to article Skeptic: Turn Me On, Dead Man.

Ockham’s Razor on qualia

think.jpgABC Radio National’s 15-minute science programme Ockham’s Razor discusses the philosophy and neuroscience of qualia – the conscious experience of sensation.

The importance of qualia is hotly debated within cognitive science. Some argue that it is the essential thing to explain in consciousness, with others arguing that either it is a red-herring and no more worthy of scientific explanation than phlogiston, or simply that it is too complex to explain.

Nevertheless, neuroscientist Colin Hales does an admirable job of discussing the current thinking on the topic, and outlining the potential links between qualia and brain states.

Realaudio or transcript of Ockam’s Razor on qualia.

Girl swirl neuro shirt

whoiam_shirt.jpgDesign-by-anarchy t-shirt shop Threadless have a fantastic new shirt available by designer Guilherme Marconi, combining a beautiful girl, decorative swirls and the underlying structure of the brain.

The picture of the brain seems to have dots in the orbitofrontal cortex, genu of the corpus callosum and the medial surface of the postcentral gyrus, plus a flower in the cerebellum.

What more could you ask for ?

Link to shirt from Threadless.com

Rate my shrink

A new website has been launched that allows patients to rate their psychiatrists. Think of it as an ‘Am I Hot or Not’ for mental health, but without the stomach churning pictures.

The comments are priceless, and range from adulation:

Awesome, lovely person. I could tell she really cared about me, and she didnt act weird, no matter what problem I had.

to insult:

She is a BITCH, plain and simple.

Like any sort of online review system, I would take the comments with a large pinch of salt, although it makes for an interesting window onto how psychiatrists are sometimes perceived by the patients they work with.

Link to RateMyShrink.com

New Scientist on the changing fortunes of AI

This week’s New Scientist has a lead article on the ‘artificial intelligence winter’ of the 1990s and the recent renaissance in AI research.

newscientist_210505.jpgIn recent years, AI techniques have largely been applied to modelling specific psychological processes, rather than creating seemingly intelligent software that can interact with humans, as tested by the Turing test.

Computer vision has been a particularly successful area, and has focused on understanding and interpreting visual informaton, for example, to recognise and identify faces.

More recently, companies like Cyc have been attempting to resurrect ‘classical AI’, and create systems which allow for natural language interaction.

Link to full article from NewScientist.com

2005-04-22 Spike activity

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


Researchers derive nonlinear difference equations to predict marriage outcomes, supposedly with 90% accuracy (interview with video).

People who are happy are more likely to be healthy, as research suggests happiness seems to have a direct biological effects on the body.

Politicians’ personalities can be described with only two factors. Presumably, this drops to one at election time.

Women may avoid careers in the sciences because they perceive them as solitary pursuits rather than socially-driven careers.

Difficulties in lining up golf shots while under pressure, may show similarities to some task-specific dystonias and other movement problems.

Mentat Wiki aims to collate techniques for better thinking and problem solving.

Our knowledge of how gravity works may be an innate part of our brain, suggests brain scanning study.

A class outline describes 10 unsolved questions in neuroscience. With suggestions for further reading.

TV soaps are influencing how people present with illnesses when they visit the doctor.

Psychologists Alison Gopnik, David Geary and Helena Cronin respond to Simon Baron-Cohen’s article on sex, autism and engineering that was previously mentioned on Mind Hacks.

Simulating change blindness

Open access science journal PLoS Biology describes a computer model of brain function that incorporates biological accuracy while giving important insights into consciousness.

Researchers Stanislas Dehaene and Jean-Pierre Changeux modelled the neurons that connect the thalamus and the cortex to simulate how they responded when stimulated, when compared to a ‘resting’ state.

The researchers found that spontaneous activity occurred when the model was in the ‘resting’ state, blocking the processing of external perceptual information.

They suggest this may be an explanation for innattentional or change blindness, the phenomenon where we fail to notice obvious changes because we have our attention focused elsewhere.

Most computer models of ‘high-level’ psychological processes tend to be abstracted, so the model bears only a general resemblance to the underlying biology.

Dehaene and Changeux’s model is interesting, because it attempts to simulate the biology of brain cells, while producing effects relevant to conscious experience.

Link to jargon-free summary.
Link to full text of paper.
Example 1 and example 2 of change blindness in action.

Free events: State of Mind at LSE

lse_image.jpgLondon’s LSE is running an exhibition and a series of free debates, where both artists and scientists will tackle some of the hot-topics in contemporary psychology.

The exhibition runs from 28th April to 29th May 2005 and involves a number of artists, including Rod Dickinson who has re-enacted a number of historical events, including Milgram’s conformity experiments.

The first debate in the series is on April 28th, where neuropsychologist Chris Frith and artist Abigail Reynolds will discuss Mapping the mind: a new phrenology.

Artist in residence Ruth Maclennan is organising the series and the rest of the events look equally compelling, so make sure you get there early.

Link to State of Mind website.

Mescaline and the Member of Parliament

mayhew.jpgA comedy fansite has published the transcript of an unbroadcast television experiment that took place in 1955. Psychiatrist Humphry Osmond gave Labour MP Christopher Mayhew the hallucinogenic drug mescaline and the results were filmed.

…but now I’m conscious also of remembering that the waves are going to come back, which, er, were originally physical and… mental, but are waves of consciousness, and now I’m conscious of that time disappearing, so I’m watching the camera, I’m watching Tubby [the camera man]… Tubby is disappearing in time… (PAUSE) Now I’m back with you, and I see I’ve said something rather strange to you, probably.

Link to transcript of Panorama’s mescaline experiment (Thanks Arp!)

On female intuition

woman_eye.jpgA study conducted at the Edinburgh Science Festival has suggested that female intuition may be a myth, although this is contrary to speculation in a landmark paper in cognitive neuroscience.

Psychologist Matthew Lieberman published a paper in 2000, entited “Intuition: a social cognitive neuroscience approach”, and discussed a possible biological basis for female intuition:

A review on intuition would be incomplete without reference to women’s intuition, the colloquial notion that women have a sixth sense or a more able intuition faculty than men. Like intuition itself, women’s intuition is often shrugged off as an urban myth. No strong antedote is offered here, but there are some interesting leads that fit within the scope of this article.

There is strong and consistent evidence that women are better encoders and decoders of nonverbal communication (Hall, 1984), and this evidence has frequently been cited as possible evidence of women’s intuition (Graham & Ickes, 1997). Additionally, the hormone estrogen, present in greater quantities in women than men, directly affects the amount of DA [dopamine] released into the striatum (Becker, 1990; McDermott, Liu, & Dluzen, 1994; Mermelstein & Becker, 1995; Van Hartesveldt & Joyce, 1986).

Greater DA release into the striatum in conjunction with reward should lead to the development of stronger representations of P [Predictor] -> R [Response] relationships that form more quickly, thus resulting in women’s intuition. Along these lines, Jennings, Janowsky, and Orwoll (1998) found that estrogen levels in women correlated with performance speed on a sequential learning task.

Link to story on female intuition from BBC news.
PDF of Lieberman’s paper “Intuition: a social cognitive neuroscience approach”.