Psychology, the soul and the immaterial

SoulMadeFlesh.jpgCarl Zimmer considers the tension between biological and psychological explanations of the mind (and, perhaps, the soul) in the conclusion to his history of early brain science Soul Made Flesh (ISBN 0099441659, p296):

Our souls are material and yet immaterial: a product of chemistry but also a pulsating network of information – a network that reaches beyond the individual brain to other brains, linked by words, glances, gestures, and other equally immaterial signals, which can leave a mark as indelible on a scan as a stroke or a swig of barium, and yet never become merely physical themselves.

Link to excerpt from Soul Made Flesh.

Study probes coffee’s effect on the brain

coffee_cup.jpgNew Scientist reports on a recent study that examines the effect of coffee on the brain. The good news is that it seems to do the frontal lobes, and the executive system, the world of good.

“The group all showed activation of the working memory part of the brain,” Koppelst√§tter explains. “But those who received caffeine had significantly greater activation in parts of the prefrontal lobe, known as the anterior cingulate and the anterior cingulate gyrus. These areas are involved in ‘executive memory’, attention, concentration, planning and monitoring.”

Just don’t mention the withdrawal headaches…

Link to article ‘Coffee’s effects revealed in brain scans’.

2005-12-02 Spike activity

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


The New York Times disusses the trials discusses the psychology of child prodigies.

A study finds that the chemical high from new romantic love fades after a year.

Blog ‘The Huge Entity’ presents some choice Shakespearean quotes on psychological themes.

Computer scientists create a model of ‘surprise

The more creative / schizotypal a person is, the more sexual partners they are likely to have (or, perhaps, report?)

New theory links Alzheimer’s disease to diabetes.

Wired report on the Dalai Lama’s recent meetings with neuroscientsts studying meditation

The New York Times discusses the debates over internet addiction and newly offered treatments (via Slashdot).

A new blog highlights the latests in neuroimaging and brain scanning research. Enter Brainscan.

How to read a paper

Via Ben ‘Bad Science‘ Goldacre (here) comes this hot tip: Trisha Greenhalgh’s How to read a paper. Although it focusses on medical research, many of the principles apply to all scientific papers. Although it’s great when science can be expressed in everyday language, the ability to go direct to the original research, as reported by the researcher themselves, is an invaluable skill (and one hopefully this link, and the Mind Hacks book, can give you some handles on).

I can’t get no sleep…

bw_insomnia.jpgPoor sleep is the common result of stress or illness, but sleep researchers are increasingly coming to believe that insomnia itself is a separate disorder. Science News discusses the science of insomnia, and new developments in the neuroscience of ‘sleeping pills’.

One problem with previous types of sleeping pill (particularly the benzodiazepines) is that they become quickly addictive and so are indicated for short-term use only. The holy grail of sleep medication research is to find a compound which is non-addictive and not ‘fun’ enough to be abused.

Science News reviews various compounds that are new or currently in development, and their aim to safely mimic earlier medications, or hormones in the body that promote sleep.

For people who are having trouble sleeping, however, there are simple techniques which can significantly improve sleep time and quality.

The Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center has some online advice to help people manage their sleeping environment and habits to get the maximum benefit out of sleep.

Link to Science News article ‘Staring into the dark’.
Link to ‘Helpful Hints to Help You Sleep’.