Neuroethics and Law Blog

Adam Kolber, Professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, has started a Neuroethics and Law Blog. I’m a big fan of specialist blogs; i think they play an important part in the knowledge economy of the net. So, welcome, Adam! Anyone who thinks they may be interested in the legal and ethical issues related to the brain and cognition is invited to take a look, here:

Science of the psychic

Zener CardsA surprisingly level-headed article from the Sunday Herald discusses the history of Edinburgh University’s Koestler Parapsychology Unit, and its research into the unknown depths of the mind.

The article gives a concise overview of research into ‘psi phenomenon’, such as precognition, clarevoyance and thought transference and considers many of the controversies in the field, with opinions from both ‘believers’ and ‘skeptics’.

The Koestler Unit is unique, as it is the only parapsychology unit in a UK university, having been established by a large sum of money left after the death of the controversial novelist Arthur Koestler.

If you want to help out with their research, you can even take part in some psi experiments online. Just visit the the Koestler Unit’s website and click ‘Research’, then ‘Online’ for a list of experiments.

The site also has summaries of the various theories of psi abilities and the results of past scientific experiments.

Link to article Parapsychology: Fact of séance fiction? from the Sunday Herald.
Link to Koestler Parapsychology Unit website.

Since I’m here in the cafe at Foyles

I just have to send a big appreciative Thanks! to the folks at Foyles, not just for hosting our talk the other week (and suggesting it!), but for making Foyles the store in London to buy Mind Hacks, and being great fun with it too. There are three people in particular: Anna, Dominic and Michael in the computer books dept. So if you’re passing (it’s just outside the cafe), give them a fright and go say Hello from us 🙂


Historian Anne Harrington discusses the public fascination with the lives of people with injured brains, recounted in books such as Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

Alexander LuriaInterviewed on ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind, Harrington considers how these detailed case studies have influenced neuroscience, from early description by Russian neuropsychologist A. R. Luria, to the variety of similar books available today.

These literary accounts have been christened ‘neuroanthropology’ by some, highlighting their focus on the effects of brain injury on day-to-day reality and human existence.

One of my favourites is a recent book by Paul Broks entitled Into the Silent Land (first chapter) that combines case studies, neuropsychology, philosophy of mind and a sometimes hallucinatory style.

Realaudio or transcript for All in the Mind interview with Ann Harrington.

Link to interview with Paul Broks from
Link to A.R. Luria archive, with audio and video.

More mind hacks

While mistyping my Google search terms, I found the similarly named, a site also concerned with tweaking the human mind. (in contrast to this site, relies solely on user contributions – sort of like a for psychology.

Although it seems to have been a little quiet of late, it has plenty of fascinating material in its archives, and is undoubtedly an underused resource.

Link to

‘Dhat’ and semen loss

An article by psychiatrist Athula Sumathipala that discusses a curious syndrome involving pathological anxiety about semen loss, has just become available online from last year’s British Journal of Psychiatry.

The syndrome, known as dhat, involves feelings of fatigue, weakness, anxiety, loss of appetite, guilt and sexual dysfunction, all attributed to the loss of semen.

Dhat is typically associated with India and China, where it was discussed in ancient texts. Sumathipala’s review makes it clear however, that such concerns have been prevalent in the west as well.

In fact, they were discussed as far back as early medical texts by Galen, and formed the basis of relatively recent (although spurious) theories on madness and masturbation.

The article starts with a discussion on the shaky psychiatric concept of a culture-bound syndrome – a supposedly culturally specific mental illness – and describes the curious syndrome in detail in the Results section of the paper.

Link to full text of article from the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Link to an Introduction to Culture-Bound Syndromes from the Psychiatric Times

2005-04-01 Spike activity

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


A new edition of Scientific American Mind is available in the shops and two articles are freely available online. One on deja vu and the other a critical look at the Rorschach inkblot test.

An article on Kuro5hin discusses the psychology and construction of the ‘Big Five‘ personality model.

A paralysed man is able to control household appliances through an implanted brain chip (story from Guardian and BBC).

An article from the Pittsburg Post-Gazette discusses the work of psychologist Jennifer S. Lerner on the effect of emotion on decision-making and risk-taking.

A personality analysis of Adolf Hitler, commissioned by the forerunner to the CIA during the 1940s, is published online by Cornell University.

Teasing is “an indispensable social tool, vital to all healthy relationships”.