Art and cognition

venus_de_milo.jpgInterdisciplines is an organisation that aims to link the humanities with the cognitive sciences and their latest online conference focuses on art and cognition.

New and original papers are regularly published on their website and are opened for commentary. The latest in the Art and Cognition workshop and is by philosopher John Hyman who examines the ongoing work on art and neuroscience.

This is a topic which has become increasingly popular in the last decade owing to a number of high profile scientists pondering the issue (with mixed success, it has to be said).

Hyman’s paper is notable as it criticises the current trend of suggesting that adequate theories of aesthetics must, in essence, be neurologically based.

Link to ‘ Art and Neuroscience’ by John Hyman.
Link to Interdisciplines Art and Cognition Workshop.

Wired report on LSD conference

blue_colour_swirl.jpgA conference on the science and culture of LSD was recently held to honour the 100th birthday of discoverer Albert Hoffman (as reported previously on Mind Hacks). Wired magazine sent one of their reporters to the gathering and have published a story discussing the event and its impact.

The article particularly focuses on the number of technologists who have claimed that the drug is beneficial to their creative thought, and the increasing research focus on the use of psychedelics in therapy for psychological trauma.

Link to article ‘LSD: The Geek’s Wonder Drug?’

Japanese-language Mind Hacks

mindhacks_jp.gif Mind Hacks has been available in Japanese since December 2005, and according to the reviews on Google’s translation of the page, the book’s been exceptionally well translated. (Also, very well received which is gratifying!) I believe this is the translator’s blog and, if so, thanks very much and well done.

Looking at a few more translated pages, including that blog again and the O’Reilly Japan news page, it seems that Mind Hacks sold out at the end of 2005 and has now been reprinted. That’s testament to what must be a great job in translating and re-working the book–and, since I now have the finished object in my hand, some beautiful book design. The binding and production is really good. Congratulations folks! It really is exciting to see Mind Hacks do this well… and very odd to see photos of Tom and me and all other others in the book floating off around the world.

Any Japanese readers out there who’d like to buy the book: Please see the links here and the O’Reilly Japan book page for some sample hacks. Also please do report back!

I’ve tucked a couple of photos below the fold…

Continue reading “Japanese-language Mind Hacks”


heart.gifFebruary the 14th is fast approaching, St. Valentines day. What can the considerate neuroscientist get his or her loved one?

I think I’ve just had a brilliant idea, and it shouldn’t be too hard to sort out. All you need is a few well-connected neuroimaging buddies and probably four or five hundred pounds to afford the scanning time. Sit yourself in the scanner looking at picures of your beloved, or maybe listening to the song that was playing when you first met. Some quick image analysis later, and a trip to the printers, and – viola! – you have a customised Valentines Day card showing your brain and the activity of your brain as you contemplate the love of your life. The inscription? “Thinking of you” should do it!

2006-01-20 Spike activity

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


Scientific American ask ‘What’s all that gray matter good for, anyway?

Exercise may significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia, especially in those who are frail.

‘Jonathan Edwards looks into… Memory’ in a rather luke warm radio documentary from the BBC (despite some interesting sections on sports psychology).

The Mental Health Foundation launches a campaign to highlight the link between diet and mental health. Their campaign seems a a bit obsessed with fish oil, however. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in certain vegetable oils.

Researchers discover that mood is inversely related to the number of meetings you attend.

Men show less activation in the areas related to understanding others emotions when “maintaining justice and issuing punishment” or “witnessing retribution” (take your pick!) according to a new study.

I’m not feeling myself today

brain_maze.jpgMore radio goodness abounds as WNYC’s Radio Lab discusses how the self is represented in the brain and how it can be radically and idiosyncratically altered after brain injury.

The programme is beautifully produced and was really a pleasure to listen to. The first ten minutes even has an audio representation of a firing neuron, skittering through the background.

It includes contributions from the a number of scientists including V.S. Ramachandran, Paul Broks, Julian Keenan and Robert Sapolsky.

The ‘self’ has been a nebulous concept for thousands of years and neuroscience is discovering that it is more curious than was ever imagined.

A free excerpt from the book The Self in Neuroscience and Psychiatry also covers some of the recent developments in this emerging field of research.

Link to Radio Lab ‘Who am I?’ with audio archive.
Link to info and excerpt from The Self in Neuroscience and Psychiatry.

New York Times on ‘hikikomori’

A few days after our post on ‘hikikomori’ – the extreme social withdrawal increasingly seen in Japanese adolescents – the New York Times published an in-depth article on the controversy surrounding the phenomenon.

Coincidence? Well… yes. But an interesting and well-timed one nonetheless.

For all the attention, though, hikikomori remains confounding. The Japanese public has blamed everything from smothering mothers to absent, overworked fathers, from school bullying to the lackluster economy, from academic pressure to video games. “I sometimes wonder whether or not I understand this issue,” confessed Shinako Tsuchiya, a member of Parliament, one afternoon in her Tokyo office.

Link to article ‘Shutting Themselves In’.

I want my NTV

film_cell.jpgTo follow on from a recent post on videos of neuroscience talks available online, the National Institutes of Health have an additional 129 neuroscience lectures available as streaming video.

The topics cover everything from Dopamine and Motivated Behaviors to A Different View of the Primary Visual Cortex.

Some of the talks are on topics completely new to me, like one on ‘ghrelin‘ – which sounds like something you’d find in a health food shop – but I’m sure all will become clear.

Link to NIH Neuroscience Videocasting.

Programme on PKD’s altered reality

PKD_small.jpgScience fiction author Philip K. Dick experienced unpredictable altered states of consciousness and his work contains some of the best descriptions of psychosis you are likely to find anywhere.

BBC Radio 4 just broadcast a programme, archived online, that discusses PKD’s kaleidoscopic and life-changing “2-3-74” experience, where he believed he was being contacted by an interdimensional entity called VALIS and that 1970’s California was just an illusion disguising the fact that the 1st century Roman empire still existed.

Link to programme ‘Confessions of a Crap Artist’ (via BoingBoing).
Link to

Tourette syndrome


The term “involuntary” used to describe Tourette syndrome tics is a source of confusion since it is known that most people with TS do have some control over the symptoms. Before tic onset, individuals with TS experience what is called a “premonitory urge,” similar to the feeling that precedes yawning.

What is recognized is that the control which can be exerted from seconds to hours at a time may merely postpone and exacerbate outbursts of symptoms. Tics are experienced as irresistible as a yawn and must eventually be expressed. People with TS often seek a secluded spot to release their symptoms after delaying them in school or at work.

Typically, tics increase as a result of tension or stress (but are not solely caused by stress) and decrease with relaxation or concentration on an absorbing task. In fact, neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks has described a man with severe TS who is both a pilot and a surgeon.

Fascinating section from the Wikipedia article on Tourette syndrome.

Link to Tourette Syndrome Association (UK).

Susan Greenfield in conversation

susan_greenfield.jpgABC Radio’s Science Show hosts a wide-ranging and engaging conversation with neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, where she discusses the latest scientific and ethical implications of brain science.

Professor Greenfield is constantly involved in drawing out science from the sometimes stuffy world of academia into the public eye and is one of the liveliest figures in contemporary neuroscience (I still have fond memories of her presenting the Christmas Lectures in a red leather cat suit).

She also has an extensive knowledge of philosophy and history, meaning she often has a different perspective from other researchers in the field.

mp3 or realaudio of Susan Greenfield at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
Link to transcript of programme.

Autism Diva

autism_diva.jpgAutism Diva is the name of an author who comments on the science and politics of autism. On her blog she maintains a distinctly positive view of the condition, is unashamedly critical of many mainstream views and keeps tabs on the developments in the research world.

She presumably has an autistic spectrum diagnosis herself and certainly has a child with autism. The blog is far from a dispassionate analysis but is an engaging example of the thoughtful activism being promoted by a growing number of the autistic community.

One part of the blog, Autism Diva’s profile page, reminded me of the wonderfully straightforward way of communication that many people with autism prefer and made me laugh out loud:

About Me
Autism Diva loves the truth.

autism, the truth

Link to Autism Diva’s blog.
Link to Wikipedia article on autism.

The madness of James Tilly Matthews


A psychoanalyst once proposed that ‘madness is when you can’t find anyone who can stand you’. This is not such a flippant definition as it might first appear. In practice, the mad are created when those around them can no longer cope with them, and turn them over to specialists and professionals. They are people who have broken the ties that bind the rest of us in our social contract, who have reached a point where they can no longer connect.

But by this definition James Tilly Matthews, paranoid schizophrenic or not, was not mad. It is striking that throughout his story, even at the prodigious heights of his delusions, there are always those around who trust him, and he consistently inspires sympathy, affection and love.

From Mike Jay’s The Air Loom Gang: The Strange and True Story of James Tilly Matthews and his Visionary Madness (ISBN 0593049977, p58).

Matthews had previously been involved in peace negotions between France and England and returned believing himself controlled by a mysterious ‘air loom’. Also believing the government to be under its influence he shouted “treason!” in the House of Commons.

After his arrest and confinement at ‘Bedlam’ Hospital, he became the subject of the first ever book-length psychiatric case study in 1810. John Haslam, the hospital apothecary, wrote-up his case as part of an effort to embarass the medical establishment who he believed, contrary to their claims, did not understand either madness or Matthews’ case.

Link to article on James Tilly Matthews and the ‘air loom’ by Mike Jay.
Link to John Haslam’s 1810 ‘Illustrations of Madness’.

2006-01-13 Spike activity

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


Fantastic Time article on the recent burst of research on the psychology and neuroscience of meditation.

An article in Salon discusses the impact of traumatic brain injury on American soldiers serving in Iraq.

Study reports that babies that acquire certain infections during birth may be more likely to develop cerebral palsy.

The superior temporal cortex (part of the ‘auditory cortex’) kicks in during expectant listening, even during silence.

Nice pointer to some of the good work philosophers are now doing in the cognitive sciences: Jeffrey Foss writes an insightful article about consciousness in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

A third of people with schizophrenia who stop their medication do because of poor response suggests new study.

Stats monger The Economist investigates the increasing popularity of bayesian statistics in theories of brain function.

“My Brain Is a Walnut”. I know the feeling. Slate investigates the science of neuroimaging.

Why the brain has grey and white matter

Wen_Chklovskii_figure1.jpgA new paper in PLoS Computational Biology by Quan Wen and Dmitri Chklovskii reports on a computer model that would naturally separate into grey and white matter if asked to produce the optimum design for a brain that needs high interconnectivity and short conduction delays.

Computational models are often good ways of developing theories, and this research might help explain the purpose and role of the different cell types in the brain.

Unfortunately, my maths isn’t good enough to grasp the mechanics, but there’s some fascinating reading in there nonetheless. Published as an open access article. Share the computational biology love.

Link to ‘Segregation of the Brain into Gray and White Matter: A Design Minimizing Conduction Delays’.
Link to PLoS Computational Biology.