All in the Mind on epilepsy and altered states

small_epilepsy_image.jpgABC Radio’s All in the Mind has a special on epilepsy, examining the provision for epilepsy care in South Africa, and the link between altered states of consciousness and epileptic seizures.

The programme interviews Professor Bryan Kies from Groote Schuur Hospital in South Africa, and discusses the difficulties with dealing with epilepsy without access to newer, but more expensive medications, and the influence on traditional beliefs and how people with epilepsy are viewed.

Professor Michael Trimble, from the Insititue of Neurology in London discusses unusual experiences and altered states linked to epilepsy. Trimble has written extensively on the neuropsychiatry of epilepsy, particularly psychosis linked to epilepsy.

mp3 of realaudio of programme audio.
Link to transcript.
Learn to deal with an epileptic seizure.

Stingy Materialism

Geoffrey Miller, in an essay on the future of neuroscience, has this to say about the relationship of mind to brain:

Too many of us have become Stingy Materialists. A Stingy Materialist takes the view that subjective experiences may not be real if they have not yet been associated with particular brain areas, neurotransmitters, or genes. They suppose that if we have found the brain area for pain, then pain is a real emotion; but if we haven’t yet found the brain area for sexual jealousy or existential dread, they are probably not real emotions. Likewise, if we have found neurotransmitter deficits in schizophrenia, then it is a real disorder; but if we have not found such deficits in irritability, then perhaps it is not a real disorder.

Stingy Materialists lack confidence in their doctrine and in their consciousness, with the result that they fetishize neuroscience, and seek its approval for all things subjective. Since neuroscience is still in its infancy, this results in an infantile view of human nature, in which people are portrayed with crude outlines and primary colors, like stereotypes from a Jerry Bruckheimer action film.

Read the rest:
Miller, G. F. (2002). The science of subtlety. In J. Brockman (Ed.), The next fifty years, pp. 85-92. New York: Vintage. Link (MS Word doc, sorry)

Susan Clancy on significance of ‘alien abduction’

clancy_abducted_cover.jpgSusan Clancy’s recently published book Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens (ISBN 0674018796) details her five year research project into the psychology of self-confessed abductees, in an attempt to better understand unusual beliefs and experiences.

This quote is from the closing pages (p154-155):

The primary lesson I learned from my research with abductees is that many of us long for contact with the divine, and aliens are a way of coming to terms with the conflict between science and religion. I agree with Jung: extraterrestrials are technological angels…. We yearn for spiritualism and comfort, magic and meaning. As Bertolt Brecht said in his play Galileo, we need something “to reassure us that the pageant of the world has been written around us,…that a part for us has been created beyond this wretched one in a useless star.” Being abducted by aliens may be a baptism into the new religion of our technological age.

Link to article on Clancy’s work at Harvard.
Link to interview with Clancy on NPR radio.
Link to book information with 1st chapter online.
Link to article on ‘The Psychology and Neuroscience of Alien Abduction’.

SciAmMind on fear, eTherapy and Brian Wilson

SciAmMindNov.jpgA new issue of Scientific American Mind has hit the shelves, and with it comes two freely available articles on their website. One asking “Can We Cure Fear?” and the other on The Promise of eTherapy.

Other articles, only available in the print edition to non-subscribers, include one on the use of drugs to prevent long-term memories from forming, and another on regulating anger.

One other print-only article that particualarly caught my eye is supposedly on Brian Wilson, musical genius behind the Beach Boys.

I’ve only read the intro on the website so far, which states “Perhaps no story better exemplifies how mental illness can free up creativity, then crush it, than that of Brian Wilson”.

I’m hoping the article gets better than that, as Brian Wilson is perhaps one of the best examples of how someone can maintain their creative genius after severe mental illness, as the recent critically acclaimed ‘Smile‘ album and tour have proved.

Link to SciAmMind website.
Link to article ‘Can we cure fear?’.
Link to article ‘The promise of eTherapy’.

Meet the chatbots

Mind Hacks already told you about Jabberwacky, the winner of this year’s Loebner prize for the chatbot that comes closest to passing the Turing Test (to pass, a judge must be unable to tell whether she’s talking to the chatbot or another human).

Now you can meet the chatbots and their creators at an informal one-day meeting at Surrey University’s Digital World Research Centre on November 25.

Dr. Richard Wallace, creator of three-times Loebner prize-winning chatbot ALICE, will be there. So too will Rollo Carpenter, creator of Jabberwacky, and Dr. Hugh Loebner himself, sponsor of the annual Loebner prize.

Personal story of lobotomy

howard_dully.jpgPublic radio station NPR has an interview with Howard Dully, who received a lobotomy when he was only 12 years old from controversial psychosurgery champion Walter Freeman.

Dully is shown on the left, holding one of Freeman’s operating tools that was used to punch through the bone just behind the eyes and sever the connections to the frontal lobes.

freeman.jpgFreeman (pictured right) was a complex character, as previously reported on Mind Hacks, who performed hundreds of lobotomies during his career.

Although psychosurgery is still performed to treat seemingly untreatable mental disorder, its use is now rare, unlike when it was championed for almost all forms of mental distress. It is still as controversial now as it was when it was in its heyday, however.

The inventor of the procedure, Egas Moniz, won a Nobel Prize for his work, now much to the embarrassment of many in the scientific community. This was only a few years before he was shot and paralysed by one of his ex-patients who resented Moniz’s work.

The website has a wealth of information about the procedure and its originators, including an excellent history entitled “Adventures with an Ice Pick“.

Link to webpage on NPR programme “My Lobotomy” (via BoingBoing).
mp3 of programme audio.
Link to

2005-11-18 Spike activity

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


Twin study from the University of Amsterdam suggests a genetic contribution to loneliness.

What are we doing when we look away during a conversation? asks Cognitive Daily.

Brain differences found in relatives of people with autism.

Body image, not menopause, causes lack of desire in older women, argues Petra Boyton.

Interview with Leslie Savan on the influence of advertising and media speak on the style and structure of popular language.

Review of neuroscience studies suggests that adolescents are neurologically more vulnerable to addictions.

Nature reviews Nancy Andreasen’s new book “The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius”.