A very modern reality

A poem by John Hegley from his 1993 collection Five Sugars Please (ISBN 0413773000).

Outsider art
As a bit of a break for Albert
from the hospital of the mind
I accompanied him to the park for a picnic
and a bit of crayoning enjoyment;
using just the one crayon
he liked to attend to a piece of paper
and meticulously obliterate the surface area.
Some time into the process
a couple who shared Albert’s middle age
came sneaking a fascinated peek
over the shoulder of what they took to be
an amateur landscape artist
but found his interpretation of reality
just a little too modern.

Football medication

Cipramil_packet.jpgI’ve just found an anomalous appearance of Norwich City Football Club in a commonly used prescribing manual for psychiatrists.

From the entry on p45 for the SSRI anti-depressant citalopram (trade name ‘Cipramil’) in The Psychotropic Drug Directory 2001/02 by Stephen Bazire (ISBN 1856421988):

In patients who had responded to citalopram 40mg/d for four months, halving the dose to 20mg/d for a maintenance phase (2-yrs) resulted in a 50% relapse rate, re-inforcing the view that full-dose maintenance therapy is required (n=50, Franchini et al, J Clin Psych 1999, 60, 861-65). It has a very low incidence of interactions.

The green and yellow 20mg pack in the UK has led to increased use among football supporters in the author’s home city of Norwich.

Cosmic ordering

Setting yourself achievable goals is a sensible step on the way to getting what you want in life.

So why, in the twenty-first century, do people have to dress up such a simple idea with kookie language and daft explanations?

TV presenter Noel Edmunds said his successful return to primetime TV was thanks to ‘cosmic ordering’. He apparently wrote on a piece of paper what he wanted, before putting it under his pillow. He thinks he told the cosmos what he wanted and the cosmos duly granted it. There’s even a book on it at the top of the Amazon best-seller list.

Thankfully, on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, psychologist Prof. Richard Wiseman debunked the idea that the cosmos really does listen out for everyone’s private requests before granting them. It has far more to do with the fact that ‘lucky’ people “know what they want in life and recognise opportunities when they come along”.

Unfortunately, the editors of the programme gave equal weight to the opinions of astrologer Jonathan Cainer – “you decide what you want…you announce to the universe that it’s your intention to get it…and it works, without a shadow of a doubt it works…And in my column I tell you when the best time is to put your order in”, he said. Later he added “you can wish for harm to others and there’s a strong chance it will happen”. None of which was challenged by the interviewer.

OK, I’ll have a go: “Dear Cosmos, please shut down the BBC Today programme for broadcasting absolute piffle”.

Link to audio of the interview with Wiseman and Cainer.

Art and consciousness

Amarylis.jpgLike a neuropsychological tag-team, the other half of the Brain Ethics blog duo has followed up his partner’s recent Science and Consciousness Review article, with his own on Art and the Conscious Brain.

Martin Skov specialises in neuroaesthetics, the science of understanding how art and beauty is understood by the mind and brain.

Critics sometimes ask if the illumination of neurobiological mechanisms adds anything important to old-fashioned ‚Äì i.e., philosophical ‚Äì aesthetic inquiry. I think that already Plato and Aristotle already answered that. As they pointed out, works of art are created with the express purpose of provoking a mental representation in the brains that experience them. Thus, to understand the nature of art you also have to understand the cognitive processes responsible for turning the perceptual properties of any art object into a mental representation. How colour, lines, etc. are magically transformed into Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is very much a question of how the brain works.

Neuroaesthetics is becoming an increasingly popular field in contemporary neuroscience, with an increasing number of books and even regular conferences now devoted to the field.

Update: It looks like Science and Consciousness Review are having some minor connection issues at the moment. Hopefully, normal service should be resumed shortly.

Link to Art and the Conscious Brain by Martin Skov.

Old spike activities republished


In the old days, our regular Friday spike activity features would be published with the titles such as ‘Spike activity yyyy-mm-dd’.

Unfortunately, the blogging software squashed a month’s worth of these posts down to the same URL, meaning they don’t properly turn up in searches and can’t be linked individually.

We worked this out eventually, and so we started publishing them entitled with the date first, so each have an individual URL.

This didn’t fix the old Spike activities, but I’ve now gone through and re-titled all the old format posts, so they should turn up properly in searches.

The fixed posts are all individually linked in the rest of the post, so have a browse through if you want more links than you can shake an electrode at.

Continue reading “Old spike activities republished”

2006-04-07 Spike activity

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


American Scientist reviews the toxicology of legal and illegal recreational drugs.

Sex and relationship psychologist Petra Boyton analyses the science behind recent reports that ‘media exposure encourages teenage sex’.

Cognitive Daily considers some intriguing experimental evidence suggesting that those seeking fame should should avoid the company of those more famous than themselves.

Mixing Memory has a careful and enlightening analysis of the potential role of movitated reasoning in romantic relationships.

A new study suggests that mobile phone use may be linked to malignant brain tumours.

The Anxiety, Depression and Addiction Treatments blog has a concise summary of some of Richard Wiseman’s work on the psychology of being lucky.

Neurochemistry hacker t-shirt

NeurochemistryHackerTShirt.jpgOnline t-shirt mongers Jinx Hackwear have a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase ‘Neurochemistry Hacker‘ – designed by hacker website Collusion.

I presume they’re thinking of what we might knowingly call ‘amateur brain chemists’ rather than professional neuroscientists or psychopharmacologists, although the idea is broadly the same.

It reminds me of the popular 80s rave t-shirt that had ‘drug testing in progress’ across the front. Perhaps we need something more specific for the neuroscience community.

Maybe selective serotonin re-uptake inhibition or dopamine transporter modulation in progress?

Link to Neurochemistry Hacker t-shirt.

Observation balloons, mental break down, and female hysteria


“As soon as he started work at the hospital he became…fascinated by the differences in severity of break down between the different branches of the RFC. Pilots, though they did indeed break down, did so less frequently and usually less severely than the men who manned observation balloons. They, floating helplessly above the battlefields, unable to either avoid attack or to defend themselves effectively against it, showed the highest incidence of breakdown of any service. Even including infantry officers. This reinforced Rivers’s view that it was prolonged strain, immobility and helplessness that did the damage, and not the sudden shocks or bizarre horrors that the patients themselves were inclined to point to as the explanation for their condition. That would help to account for the greater prevalence of anxiety neuroses and hysterical disorders in women in peacetime, since their relatively more confined lives gave them fewer opportunities of reacting to stress in active and constructive ways. Any explanation of war neurosis must account for the fact that this apparently intensely masculine life of war and danger and hardship produced in men the same disorders that women suffered from in peace”.

The thoughts of army psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers from the novel Regeneration by Pat Barker. In Regeneration, the first of a trilogy, Barker blends fact with fiction in her depiction of the relationship between Rivers and the celebrated poet Siegfried Sassoon, at Craiglockhart during the First World War.

Fragmented minds

MaureenOliverPsychosis.jpgThe other All in the Mind (broadcast by Australian station Radio National) has the first of a two-part special on schizophrenia and psychosis.

The presenter talks to Angela, a young woman who has experienced some intense psychotic episodes and has been diagnosed and treated for schizophrenia.

Angela’s experiences were so severe as to need several years recovery. Despite this, Angela is now back at work and enjoying a full life.

The programme also includes input from several researchers and clinicians who explain what is known about schizophrenia-related changes in the brain, as well as known risk factors for developing the condition.

Part two of the programme is due online next week.

The picture on the left is by artist Maureen Oliver and depicts the experience of psychosis (click for more information).

mp3 or realaudio of prgramme.
Link to transcript of programme.

All in the Mind LSD programme audio online

blue_colour_swirl.jpgA quick update on our previous post on the BBC All in the Mind LSD special. The realaudio archive of the show is now available online (now also linked from the original post).

Furthermore, BBC News has an additional article summarising the programme, and there’s an interesting snippet (i.e. gossip) about the new series from The Telegraph.

Apparently, Claudia Hammond is a “glamorous psychology writer”. Probably, just like us here at Mind Hacks (*cough*).

Link to BBC All in the Mind website.
Realaudio of programme audio.

More on psychedelic therapy

Christian just reminded me that New Scientist had an article last year on psychedelic therapy research which is freely available online.

The article describes a number of recent and ongoing studies into the safety and efficacy of psychedelics for a range of disorders. This is despite difficulties caused by legal restrictions and political resistance to substances typically associated with the ‘counter-culture’.

BBC All in the Mind on LSD

ErowidLSDBlotterArt.jpgBBC All in the Mind has just kicked off a new series with an excellent special edition on the latest developments in LSD research and therapy, and with a slew of new presenters.

The programme examines the science of how LSD acts on the mind and brain, as well as research on the use of psychedelics to treat cluster headaches and mental distress.

It‚Äôs nearly 40 years since LSD was made illegal, but now there’s growing scientific interest in studying hallucinogenic drugs. In the 50s LSD was believed to be a wonder drug and used widely in psychiatry to treat conditions from depression to addiction.

In this week’s programme Claudia finds out about the new research underway using psychedelics, and asks whether modern psychiatry is really the place for drugs like LSD, magic mushrooms and Ecstasy.

There are now three presenters to replace the previous All in the Mind frontman, Raj Persaud.

They include: Claudia Hammond, a psychology lecturer, author and past presenter of the excellent BBC series Emotional Rollercoaster (still archived online); Clinical psychologist and writer Tanya Byron, who was in a number of acclaimed child management programmes; and psychiatrist Kwame McKenzie, who is currently assistant editor at the British Journal of Psychiatry and a lecturer in psychiatry.

The diverse set of presenters should bring a fresh perspective on current mind and brain issues, and I’m hoping the programme is going to involve more in-depth whole programme discussions, as has been demonstrated this week.

The audio of the LSD programme will be archived online later today. I’ll update this page to link to it when it arrives online.

The audio of the programme is now online and linked below.

Link to BBC All in the Mind website.
Realaudio of programme audio.

Why are women’s brains smaller than men’s?

sMRI_small.jpgThe Times has a short piece on the question of why female brains are generally smaller than male brains. The author speculates that it may be because women are generally more pleasant (and smaller in body size).

Surprisingly, the conclusions are largely drawn from evolutionary studies of foxes. Probably not one to take particularly seriously, although an interesting hypothesis nonetheless.

Link to article in The Times (via anomalist).

Support cognitive science in Poland

A Polish reader posted the following on a previous post and I thought I would flag up for everyone here:

I’d like to invite you to participate in discussions on the new forum about neuroscience and cognitive science – http://kognitywistyka.fora.pl
It is generally in Polish but there is also an English section (the main page –> “In English”).

In Poland almost no-one is interested in cognitive science or neuroscience so we strongly need support. The forum is a part of http://www.kognitywistyka.net , the most popular vortal on cognitive and neural science in Central Europe.

Please help us to develop the forum and to propagate neuroscience and cognitive science in Poland.

If you have any questions, please contact the administrator at the address swacewicz(at)kognitywistyka(dot)net. In order to avoid abuse, you need to be a registered user to start new threads and write replies in the English section (but reading is always possible). In order to register, you have to click “Rejestracja” (at the main page – meaning: register) –> “Zgadzam siƒô na te warunki” (meaning: I agree) and fill the forms. Translation:
Użytkownik Рuser
Adres email – email address
Hasło Рpassword
Potwierdź Hasło Рconfirm password
Then change the value of “jƒôzyk forum”(language of the forum) into ‘english’. That’s all.

Every international guest will be welcomed warmly.

So if you’d like to talk cog sci and spread the word in Poland, you now know where to go!

How World War I brought out men’s maternal side


“One of the paradoxes of the war – one of the many – was that this most brutal of conflicts should set up a relationship between officers and men that was…domestic. Caring. As Layard [a traumatised soldier Rivers hadn’t been able to help] would undoubtedly have said, maternal. And that wasn’t the only trick the war had played. Mobilization. The Great Adventure. They’d been mobilized into holes in the ground so constricted they could hardly move. And the Great Adventure – the real life equivalent of all the adventure stories they’d devoured as boys – consisted of crouching in a dugout, waiting to be killed. The war that promised so much in the way of ‘manly’ activity had actually delivered ‘feminine’ passivity, and on a scale that their mothers and sisters had scarcely known. No wonder they broke down”.

The thoughts of army psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers from the novel Regeneration by Pat Barker. In Regeneration, the first of a trilogy, Barker blends fact with fiction in her depiction of the relationship between Rivers and the celebrated poet Siegfried Sassoon, at Craiglockhart during the First World War. One more excerpt to follow.

the man who took 40,000 ecstasy pills in nine years

The Guardian carries a story about a man who took 40,000 Ecstasy pills over nine years. The man sounds a wreck – paranoia, hallucinations, depression and extreme short-term memory loss, despite not having taken Ecstasy for seven years.

The story provides a good illustration of some of the methodological problems with proving that MDMA use is dangerous

  • This was an extreme case – does normal recreational use of ecstasy have the same effects, but less, or is the amount consumed by most people well within their ability to safely process the drug? Many animal studies which show harmful effects of MDMA use similarly extreme procedures – giving monkeys the equivalent of 50 pills over three days, for example. Although this demonstrates that MDMA can be harmful, the implications for ‘normal’ drug use among humans are not clear.
  • Other research, published today, but not mentioned in the Guardian article until towards the end, suggest that the side-effects of ecstasy use are temporary. The research mentioned failed to find a significant difference between users and non-users in either amount of depression or in neuroanatomical differences revealed by brain scans. But this can’t prove that there’s isn’t an effect (because absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence).
  • The man was also a heavy cannabis user (and probably other things too), although this also isn’t mentioned until the end of the article. It is hard to be sure which drug(s) caused his problems.
  • Finally, what kind of man would take 40,000 ecstasy pills?! His psychological and, potentially neurological, make-up was probably unusual before he went anywhere near the E

  • Link: ‘The strange case of the man who took 40,000 ecstasy pills in nine years’ (The Guardian)
    Link: Erowid.org pages on MDMA