The Secret Life of the Brain on PBS

pbs_brain.jpgAmerican TV channel PBS have a lush website to accompany their series ‘The Secret Life of the Brain‘, with many of the video segments online.

They have an episode by episode guide, that examines the development of the brain from birth, through the process of growing up, and into adult years and old age.

Plenty of supplementary material has also been made exclusively for the web, including a Flash driven 3D brain atlas, a guide to current brain scanning technologies and an illustrated history of brain science.

Link to PBS website to accompany ‘The Secret Life of the Brain’.

Afternoon play on Richard Dadd

BBC Radio 4’s Afternoon Play from last Tuesday was on artist Richard Dadd, who spent most of his life in the wing for the criminally insane in Bethlem Hospital.

It is 1854. In the Criminal Wing of Bethlem Hospital for the Insane, painter Richard Dadd and poet Emily Clayton are caught in the middle, as two rival doctors seek to reform the treatment of the mentally ill.

The audio of the play is online until next Monday.

Realaudio of play ‘Talk’ by Mark Wilson.

Wired feature article on sexual neuroscience

couple_kiss.jpgWired has a feature article online about research into the neuropsychology of female orgasm and the approach of current lab based studies.

This sort of research is important, because so little is known about the neural basis of sexual function. In particular, the article describes some intriguing findings, that not all nerves involved in genital arousal route through the spinal cord, some may go more directly to the brain.

Unfortunately, the article frames much of the research in terms of drug development for sexual dysfunction, which is so often the case in these sort of pieces. This is perhaps because much of the research may be funded by drug companies.

This shouldn’t mean however, that journalists should uncritically reproduce the assumptions that these sources promote – mainly that sexual dysfunction is defined in terms of someone else’s arbitrary criteria, and is best treated by (usually expensive) pharmaceuticals.

Link to Wired article ‘The Coming Boom’.
Link to an alternative take on sexual neuroscience by sex psychologist Petra Boyton.

Cafe Bar Scientifique in Cardiff, 9 July

Myself and Alex will be helping out at a Cafe Scientifique-type event in Cardiff tomorrow evening (Saturday the 9th), as part of the Cardiff Festival of Science.

The gig is at The Social, upstairs, from 6pm. There’ll be a discussion of material from the BBC’s ‘The Human Mind’ show (which overlaps quite a lot with some of the contents of Mind Hacks) and then a free-form Q & A session. It sounds like it’s going to be lots of fun, so if you have any questions or answers about the mind, brain or Mind Hacks, and can make it, it would be great to see you there.

2005-07-08 Spike activity

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


Children who snore are more likely to have attention and hyperactivity problems.

Man links his Parkinson’s Disease with a sudden emergence of musical talent.

The Salt Lake Tribune discusses the crossover between cases of ‘possession’ and psychosis, and the role of psychiatry in treating the condition.

The effects of hypnosis on the brain are being teased apart with brain scanning studies.

“Guess I should have studied instead of watching Wrath of Khan” – Watching TV linked to poor academic performance in children.

The first melatonin based anti-depressant is released, suggesting a further link between the sleep cycle and depression.

Lab study suggests bisexual men do not show equal attraction to men and women. Is this a good analogy for sexual attraction in a complex social setting though?

Psychiatric Times has an article on “Are Genius and Madness Related? Contemporary Answers to an Ancient Question“.

Sleepwalking girl wakes up after climbing 130ft up a crane.

PsyBlog has a timely piece on the psychology of terrorist bombings.

Time compression

This could be a long shot, but if you’re really enjoying yourself and you don’t want time to go too fast, try keeping your eyes as still as possible. Concetta Morrone, John Ross and David Burr have just reported in Nature Neuroscience that subjective time is compressed around the onset of a saccadic eye movement. Saccades are the rapid, jerky eye movements that we perform thousands of times every day (see Hack #17) to align targets of interest with the high-acuity fovea at the centre of our eyes.


Morrone’s team asked participants to compare the time interval between two horizontal bars that were flashed up around the onset of a saccade, with the interval between a second pair of horizontal bars flashed up after the saccade. Participants said the intervals felt the same when the gap between the first two bars was 100ms and the gap between the second pair was 50ms – that is, subjective time was speeded up by a factor of two near the saccade onset.

Continue reading “Time compression”

Evolutionary psychology takes a knock

look_up.jpgScientic American has an interview online with philosopher David J. Buller who attacks current research in evolutionary psychology.

Buller has recently written a critical book on the subject, Adapting Minds, that analyses much of the evidence on which evolutionary theories of the mind are based, and finds many of them lacking.

His interview tackles many of his concerns in this area, and outlines his main objections to the core theories in evolutionary psychology.

There are three foundational claims that it makes. One is that the nature of [evolutionary] adaptation is going to create massive modularity in the mind–separate mental organs functionally specialized for separate tasks. Second, that those modules continue to be adapted to a hunter-gatherer way of life. And third, that these modules are universal and define a universal human nature. I think that all three of those claims are deeply problematic.

If anything the evidence indicates that the great cognitive achievement in human evolution was cortical plasticity, which allows for rapidly adaptive changes to the environment, both across evolutionary time and [across] individual lifetimes. Because of that, we’re not quite the Pleistocene relics that Evolutionary Psychology claims.

Link to David J. Buller interview in Scientific American.
Link to information and reviews of the book Adapting Minds.

Reactive Colours and the autistic community

reactivecolours3.pngReactive Colours is an innovative project that is developing software to promote enjoyment and social interaction in severely autistic children.

In contrast to existing packages, it is using a non-commercial open source development model, and is aiming to include the autistic and Asperger’s community as developers and contributors to the project.

I caught up with project leader Wendy Keay-Bright at London’s Autistic Pride Day to ask her about the project.

Continue reading “Reactive Colours and the autistic community”

Knickers in a twist over ‘brainstorming’

According to an article in The Observer, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in Belfast have been told to avoid using the word ‘brainstorming’ as it may be offensive to people with epilepsy. Instead they’ve been asked to use the term ‘thought-showers’.

Apart from verging on self-parody, it seems based on a false idea that epilepsy involves chaotic or random brain activity, when in fact it is usually the result of brain cells inappropriately synchronising.

Unsurprisingly, the charity Epilepsy Action seem to have a more sensible take on the matter:

We are often asked about the word ‘brainstorming’ and whether its use is acceptable. Our view is that it depends upon the context: if the word is being used to describe a meeting where participants are suggesting ideas, then its use is not offensive to people with epilepsy. However, it should not be used to describe a seizure or the electrical activity within the brain during a seizure.

Link to Observer article ‘Brainstorms turn to showers’.
Link to Epilepsy Action.

Oliver Sacks discusses his work on Book Club

oliversacks.jpgThis month’s BBC Radio discussion programme Book Club is on The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, neurologist Oliver Sacks‘ popular and influential book of unusual cases.

The Man Who Mistook… describes a number of patients Sacks has worked with, and describes the strange experiences that can sometimes arise from injury to the brain.

The title refers to a man with visual agnosia, a condition where the ability to perceive or understand objects is lost, despite otherwise normal vision.

Sacks’ writes in the style of influential neuropsychologist Alexander Luria, who described his writing as ‘romantic science’ – aiming to capture both the scientific importance and the human impact of the disorders he studied.

Sacks himself is a guest on the programme, and members of the audience include doctors, neuroscientists, students and people who have experienced brain injury.

Link to Book Club webpage.
Realaudio of Book Club on The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

The BIG questions

question_mark_2.jpgTo celebrate its 125th anniversary, Science magazine in America has published a series of free articles counting down the 125 biggest questions facing science in the next quarter century.

In second place is: “What is the biological basis of consciousness?”. Other top-25 entries of particular interest to Mind Hackers are: “How are memories stored and retrieved?”, and “How did cooperative behaviour evolve?”.

Brain Connection columnists

brain-2.jpgBrain Connection is a quality website discussing developments in neuroscience and psychology, and one of its highlights is the monthly column section.

The columnist, currently Robert Sylwester, tackles a different topic each month, and aims to relate current findings in neuroscience to everyday life.

Although Sylwester’s column has a slight slant towards the educational applications of recent research, the topics are diverse enough to interest the most eclectic of readers.

Brain Connection as a whole is a hugely useful site, as it not only explains many principles of cognitive science in an accessible manner, but has lots of free-to-use resources online for anyone wanting to add graphics, animations or useful links to their own presentations.

Link to
Link to BrainConnection columists.

2005-07-01 Spike activity

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


Cornell researchers propose a move to a more ‘organic’ model of the mind.

Psychologists, writing in Current Directions in Psychological Science, give three reasons not to believe in an autism epidemic.

PsyBlog has a satirical take on Tom Cruise’s comments on psychology and psychiatry.

A team has developed a way of using fMRI to do pre-surgery assessment of people with life-threatening epilepsy, instead of having to implant electrodes into the brain.

Hypnosis can help overcome our automatic responses and seems to alter the function of the regulation and control areas in the brain.

BrainBlog points to some fantastic online resources for understanding and analysing fMRI data.

Piece from the Guardian on the neuropsychology of belief.

WTF ? : Erotic telepathy.