who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for
   impossible criminals with golden heads and the
   charm of reality in their hearts who sang sweet
   blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky
   Mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys
   or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or
   Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the
   daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hyp
   notism & were left with their insanity & their
   hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism
   and subsequently presented themselves on the
   granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads
   and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding in-
   stantaneous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin
   Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psycho-
   therapy occupational therapy pingpong &
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic
   pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia,
   returning years later truly bald except for a wig of
   blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible mad
   man doom of the wards of the madtowns of the
Pilgrim State’s Rockland’s and Greystone’s foetid
   halls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rock-
   ing and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench
   dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a night-
   mare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the

Excerpt from ‘Howl‘ by poet Allen Ginsberg. The poem was dedicated to Ginsberg’s friend, Carl Solomon, whom he met while they were both patients at Rockland Psychiatric Hospital in New York.

Link to full text of ‘Howl’.

Chris McKinstry has left the building

ChirsMcKinstryJune2001.jpgControversial artificial intelligence researcher and maverick cognitive science visionary Chris McKinstry took his own life last month.

Chris founded Mindpixel, a collaborative AI project which aimed to collate a mass of machine-usable human knowledge online. He also ran the now offline Mindpixel blog, where he posted AI news and opinions.

His ideas were often highly speculative, but always demonstrated a keen passion for understanding the mind and brain. A recent story for was an example of this, where he discussed his entry for the AI chatbot competition the Loebner Prize in terms of a seven dimensional hyper-surface.

Chris posted his intentions to end his life online, and, cognitive scientist to the end, finished it thus:

Oh and BTW, the mind is a maximum hypersurface and thought a trajectory on it and the amygdala and hippocampus are Hopf maps of it. No one knew this before me, and it seems no one cares. So be it. My time will come in a hundred or a thousand years when the idea again returns.

Link to Wikipedia entry for Chris McKinstry.
Link to obituary from KBand.

Secret LSD tests now being compensated

lsd_soldier.jpgBritish secret intelligence service MI6 has agreed to compensate soldiers who were dosed with LSD without their consent during the 1950s, according to an article in The Guardian.

Similar experiments were carried out by a number of governments during the 1950s and 60s, in an attempt to create ‘mind control programmes’ and ‘truth drugs’.

One of the most notorius projects was a CIA run project known as MKULTRA that unethically tested a number of dangerous techniques on unwitting members of the public in an attempt to understand ‘mind control’.

In one particularly bizarre project, known as Operation Midnight Climax, the CIA created a brothel, spiked the drinks of punters with LSD, and secretly filmed the effects.

These experiments were largely initiated in reaction to concerns over ‘brain washing’, which American prisoners of war had been subjected to after being captured in Korea.

One LSD test on British Troops was recorded and is the subject of a well-known video, now widely circulated on the internet.

The compensation recently paid to ex-British troops echoes a similar payout to ex-patients of the Canadian psychiatric care who had similar unethical experiments conducted upon them, largely under the direction of the one-time head of the World Psychiatric Association Dr Ewan Cameron.

Link to ‘MI6 pays out over secret LSD mind control tests’ from The Guardian.
Link to ‘MI6 payouts over secret LSD tests’ from BBC News.
Link to Wikipedia page on MKULTRA.
Link to video of LSD testing on British troops.

where do implicit associations come from?

The Implicit Association Test [1] is a sorting task which reveals something about our automatic, non-deliberate, associations [2].

The part of the test which betrays our automatic associations is a combination of two simpler sorting tasks. Both simple tasks involve sorting words and pictures into categories which are assigned to the left and right (by pressing the E and I keys, which are on the left and right of your keyboard). One task is to sort words (like ‘love’, or ‘failure’) into the categories ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The other task varies depending on what you want to detect automatic associations about. In the ‘race IAT’ the task is to sort pictures of the faces of white americans and the faces of black americans. The race IAT isn’t the only version, but it is the most (in)famous (you can also do the IAT on fat vs thin, arab-muslim vs non-arab-muslims, for different US presidents and in many other variations). The compound task involves sorting both words and pictures to the left and right where each side has two categories assigned to it – so ‘good’ and ‘black american’ on the left, and ‘bad’ and ‘white american’ on the right, for example.

What the IAT test does is compare your times for sorting good words when the ‘good’ side is also the ‘white’ side to when the ‘good’ side is also the ‘black’ side (and vice versa for sorting bad words, and for sorting white and black faces to the good and bad sides). By doing these comparisons the test can detect any evaluation of ‘white’ or ‘black’ as positive or negative that is affecting your time to classify the words or faces to the correct side. So, for example, if you take significantly longer to sort good words to the ‘black’ side than you do to the ‘white’ side then the result is an automatic preference for ‘white americans’ over ‘black americans’ [3]

What the Racial IAT indicates is that most Americans have an automatic preference for whites over blacks. Two things are important about this. First it isn’t really clear what mechanisms lie behind the effects found in the test (‘Voodoo’ is one suggestion!), nor is it clear what they mean [4]. Second, the automatic preference shows up for most people, even in those who consciously express no race preferences and even in many black americans.

Now where did this automatic preference come from? It certainly can’t be deliberate attitudes, since the bias shows up in people (including many black americans) who have explicitly anti-racist attitudes. Some suggestions have been made, like they are the residual of previously held explicit attitudes, or the result of a ‘cultural bias’ (whatever that means) [5], but I think a strong, and more likely causal [6], possibility is that that these preferences are the result of systematic exposure to particular associations (i.e that white = good and black = bad). Associations can become established in memory merely by the repeated co-presentation of two things (conditioning), there doesn’t need to be any logical connection between the two. So if on television the adverts for flash cars and happy domestic scenes always feature white folks and the the crime shows more often have black folks as the bad guys you’re going to absorb those associations.

The researchers running the project imply as much in an answer in their FAQ

…it is very possible to possess an automatic preference that you would rather not have (and the researchers who developed this test are convinced that they, too, fall into this category). One solution is to seek experiences that could undo or reverse the patterns of experience that could have created the unwanted preference. But this is not always easy to do. A more practical alternative may be to remain alert to the existence of the undesired preference, recognizing that it may intrude in unwanted fashion into your judgments and actions. Additionally, you may decide to embark on consciously planned actions that can compensate for known unconscious preferences and beliefs.”

(My emphasis).

The interesting thing for me about the hypothesis that these automatic preferences develop from repeated exposure to particular associations is that you do not need to believe the associations on any deliberate level, nor do you need particularly to pay attention to them, all you need to do is to have them as part of your environment. In that way our Implicit Associations reflect a part of our minds which belongs as much to the environment of our experience as to ourselves – and, additionally, is as much common to everyone who has shared our environment as it is unique to our individual minds.

And this relates to advertising. Adverts are ubiquitous. Advertising shapes the statistical content of the stimuli we are exposed too, however much we decide to give ourselves certain experiences. Does the IAT give us a glimpse of the consequences we reap from an unclean mental environment? [7]

References below the fold

Continue reading “where do implicit associations come from?”

More quirky neuroscience video

look_around_you.jpgWoah! While searching for more random brain clips, I’ve just found this video on the brain from BBC comedy programme ‘Look Around You‘.

The programme is designed to be a satire of BBC schools programming that any UK school child in the early 80s will recognise.

The style is impeccably reproduced, so if you never had the pleasure of being educated via the medium of 1980’s school TV, this clip captures the magic (if the magic was being captured by some slightly stoned neuroscientists with too much time on their hands).

Link to page with embedded video.

2006-02-24 Spike activity

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


A new study from Duke University Medical Center suggests that half of US Presidents were mentally ill at some stage.

Food from the sea shore fuelled human brain evolution, claims researcher.

New study reports that boys and girls show different rates of cognitive development after being placed in care from orphanages.

Teachers who wave their hands more, teach mathematics better (via BB).

Early humans were food for predators, and the need to avoid being lunch was a factor in human evolution, claims new research.

Neuroethicist Judy Iles answers five questions (with video) on crucial questions facing brain science.

Study of ‘crispy-crunchiness’ shows how our brains analyze the sound of food to determine crispness.

Men in their 50s have more satisfying sex lives than men in their 30s finds new survey.

Does mental exercise help keep the wits sharp? The Washington Post investigates.

Musicians use beta-blocker propanolol to prevent on-stage jitters, reports the New York Times.

Dr. William Hapworth on methamphetamine (and he gives a lecture too!).

Music from EEG

eeg_participant.jpgI’ve just found an article from defunct Canadian digital art and culture magazine HorizonZero that traces the history of electronic music generated from human EEG recordings.

In the late 1960s, Richard Teitelbaum was a member of the innovative Rome-based live electronic music group Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV). In performances of Spacecraft (1967) he used various biological signals including brain (EEG) and cardiac (EKG) signals as control sources for electronic synthesizers. Over the next few years, Teitelbaum continued to use EEG and other biological signals in his compositions and experiments as triggers for nascent Moog electronic synthesizers.

Link to ‘A Young Person’s Guide to Brainwave Music’.