Dangerous ideas

Online boffin brigade Edge have asked a wide range of contemporary thinkers to outline their own ‘dangerous ideas‘.

The list includes a number of cognitive scientists, and an even wider selection of authors commenting on mind, brain and culture. Most of them, although fascinating, don’t strike me as very dangerous. A few did make me particularly prick up my ears though:

Cognitive neuroscientist Stephen Kosslyn offers a set of hypotheses concerning a scientific theory of God, anthropologist Helen Fisher suggests SSRIs affect love and predicts of dire consequences for society as a result and philosopher Barry Smith argues cognitive science may have limited relevancy for everyday life.

…and once you’ve read all the commentaries, dig those photos!

Link to The Edge Annual Question 2006: What is your dangerous idea?

UPDATE: The newly returned Mixing Memory has some interesting comments on some of the cognitive science ideas.

Tantalizing science


Neuroscience, the investigation of brains, is a child of the Enlightenment, born of the belief that nothing is out of bounds to science. Like her sister, genetics, she grew up in the twentieth century, overshadowed by their older sibling physics, who has changed all our lives and has blood on her alter to prove it. Genetics promises even greater accomplishments, boasting of how she will one-day conquer the world. Compared to these shadowy teenagers, neuroscience is a quiet Cinderella. But some say that she will outstrip her sisters, changing not only the world we live in, not only the bodies we are born with, but the thoughts and selves and cultures we create.

Stirring words from physiologist Kathleen Taylor in her fascinating book on the history and science of ‘Brainwashing‘ (p105, ISBN 0192804960).

Link to previous post on Brainwashing.

Explaining religion

religion.jpgLast Saturday’s Guardian featured an essay by Andrew Brown on science’s attempt to explain why so many people the world over are religious.

Brown says that many religions have existed without a belief in eternal life, thus undermining the argument that by promising an afterlife, religion evolved as a way for humans to cope with their mortality.

A more plausible explanation, he says, is that religion is a by-product of an aspect of our minds and behaviour that evolved for some other purpose. According to biologist David Sloan Wilson, one such purpose could be coherent and successful group behaviour. Consider how lust inspires us to mate, which has the evolutionarily advantageous knock-on effect of producing babies. Similarly, the pursuit of the sacred inspires us to religion, which has the evolutionary advantageous knock-on effects of causing us to form coherent groups and to follow rules.

Link to Guardian essay.

All in the Mind on autism and autistic pride

Coombs_Danny1B.jpgThe lastest edition of BBC All in the Mind is a special on autism, discussing the experience, science and politics of the condition.

The programme talks to scientists and people affected by autism, including Wendy Lawson, a member of the growing Autistic Pride movement – which is trying to reframe autism as a part of normal neurodiversity rather than as a pathology in itself.

It also discusses the latest findings and theories of autistic abilities, disabilities and experience from the cognitive and neurosciences with psychiatrist Anthony Bailey and neuroscientist Helen Tager-Flusberg.

Link to All in the Mind autism special webpage.
Realaudio archive of progamme.
Link to previous post on Autistic Pride.