Sara Lazar on the neuroscience of meditation

sara_lazar.jpgScience and Consciousness Review have an interview with neuroscientist Sara Lazar, who conducted the first fMRI study of meditation in 2000, and recently hit the news for reporting that meditation may increase the thickness of the grey matter in the cortex.

The interview explores Sara’s motivation for studying meditation, and discusses the science and implications of her work.

When we first posted about the meditation study, one of the criticisms was that the study simply compared meditators to non-meditators without following them up to actually see if the cortex did change over time.

It could be argued that people with more grey matter are simply more likely to meditate, rather than the act of meditation having any direct effect on grey matter.

Like the London cab driver study (which reported that cab drivers have larger hippocampi) Lazar’s meditation study reported a correlation between number of years spent meditating and the amount of grey matter, making it much less likely that the effect was incidental.

Lazar discusses such results in detail and, particularly, focuses on the brain areas found to show the most change, and relates them to the possible effects meditation may be having on the brain’s function.

Link to interview with Dr. Sara W. Lazar.

Reasons why you don’t exist

miss_frizz.jpgThe band of reality skeptics over at The Huge Entity have finished their series of Reasons Why You Don’t Exist.

As we mentioned previously, there’s a contribution from our very own Christian Jarret, and a number of other authors pushing their own brand of mind altering concepts.

Gerry Canavan questions the concept of ‘you’ as a unitary conscious experience and Thomas Herold takes aim at free will.

Jaime Morrison argues with himself on the reliability of information provided by perception and comes to the conclusion that neither of him exists, and Daniel Rourke questions whether the world as we experience it is just another reality-bending trick the brain has evolved to use.

…and there’s more where those came from.

Link to ‘Reasons Why You Don’t Exist’.

Fuzzy face recognition

shadow_shutter_face.jpgABC Radio’s All in the Mind discusses the curious condition of prosopagnosia, sometimes called ‘face-blindness’, where affected individuals can’t recognise faces despite having intact vision and being able to recognise objects.

The programme discusses how face recognition can be affected after brain injury, and talks to both a person with the condition, and neuropsychologists trying to better understand how it occurs.

On a related note, last year we interviewed Thomas Grüter, a prosopagnosia researcher and someone who has an inherited version of the disorder.

mp3 or realaudio of programme.
Link to transcript.

Sad Aunt Marge

As the cold winter evenings drew near
Aunt Marge used to put extra blankets
over the furniture, to keep it warm and cosy
Mussolini was her lover, and life
was an outoffocus rosy-tinted spectacle

but neurological experts
with kind blueeyes
and gentle voices
small white hands
and large Rolls Royces
said that electric shock treatment
should do the trick
it did…

today after 15 years of therapeutic tears
and an awful lot of ratepayers’ shillings
down the hospital meter
sad Aunt Marge
no longer tucks up the furniture
before kissing it goodnight
and admits
that her affair with Mussolini
clearly was not right
particularly in the light
of her recently announced engagement
to the late pope.

‘Sad Aunt Marge’ by poet Roger McGough, from his book Blazing Fruit: Selected Poems 1967-1987 (ISBN 0140586520).

Century of the Self available online

Edward_Bernays.jpgI notice that the award winning BBC documentary series Century of the Self is available on certain bittorrent trackers (for example, here).

The series, made by producer Adam Curtis, follows the development of the concept of the self from the ideas of Freud, to the massively influential but largely unknown role of his nephew Edward Bernays.

Bernays is considered the ‘father of public relations’ as he virtually invented the practice in its current form by applying his uncle’s theories.

Crucially, instead of selling products on the basis that they were better products, he revolutionised advertising by marketing them to appeal to the sense of self – i.e. the product would make you a better person (more attractive, more independent or whatever).

He was later involved in applying the same techniques to excert political influence on behalf of the US government and later wrote Propaganda, one of the most influential books on the subject.

The documentary tracks how the psychology of the ‘self’ evolved and was used by marketeers and politicians throughout the 20th century.

It gets a little political towards the end, but otherwise strikes me as a groundbreaking analysis of a neglected topic. Highly recommended.

Link to torrent for ‘Century of the Self’.
Link to Wikipedia entry on Edward Bernays.
Link to Wikipedia entry on ‘Century of the Self’.
Link to BBC information on ‘Century of the Self’.

Fear of ghosts in Science

ghost_hand.jpgAn interesting update on Peter Lawrence’s PLoS Biology article that discussed the role of social and biological differences between males and females, and the under-representation of women in science (see previously on Mind Hacks)…

According to an article in The Telegraph, Lawrence’s article was accepted for publication in the journal Science but they bottled it and pulled out at the eleventh hour, presumably fearing the controversy that has surrounded the debate so far.

Link to Telegraph article ‘Scientists are split on the different ways men and women think’.

The I of the beholder

science_news_20060211.jpgThis week’s Science News has a cover article on the neural basis of the sense of self, which they’ve kindly published online in full.

The article also discusses how the concept of self can breakdown after brain injury or during mental illness. For example, some people diagnosed with schizophrenia have the experience that they are being controlled by outside forces.

In addition to the article, there was a recent edition WNYC’s Radio Lab that covered similar ground, as noted in a previous post on Mind Hacks.

Link to article ‘Self-Serve Brains’ from Science News.