Synapse #7 and BPS Research Digest

A beautiful-looking edition of The Synapse, the biweekly psychology and neuroscience writing carnival has hit the net, as has another compulsive release of the BPS Research Digest – edited by our very own Christian Jarrett.

Just so you know, Mind Hacks will be the hosting the next edition of The Synapse.

Although I’ve yet to find out how to get hold of the submissions, it looks like you can submit links to your psychology and neuroscience writing here.

Jabberwacky wins Loebner prize again

medal_rollo.jpgBBC News is reporting that AI researcher Rollo Carpenter has won the Loebner Prize for the second year in a row with Joan, a development of his Jabberwacky chatbot.

The Loebner Prize is an annual event where various computer programs are subjected to the Turing Test – a test where judges have to work out if they are in a online chatroom with a human or a computer program.

The Turing Test is supposedly a way of testing for artificial intelligence. No software has ever passed the test except in very limited circumstances, but every year the software that comes closest is awarded the Loebner Prize.

We reported on Carpenter’s success last year, and this year’s success is a tribute to the technology behind Jabberwacky, currently being developed by his company icogno.

You can see video of Carpenter’s previous prize-winning chatbot ‘George’ at another recent BBC News page.

Link to BBC News story ‘AI prize award for British firm’.
Link to BBC News page with video of ‘George’.
Link to Jabberwacky online.

Berkeley’s Cherry

I see this cherry, I feel it, I taste it: and I am sure nothing cannot be seen, or felt, or tasted: it is therefore real. Take away the sensations of softness, moisture, redness, tartness, and you take away the cherry, since it is not a being distinct from sensations. A cherry, I say, is nothing but a congeries of sensible impressions, or ideas perceived by various senses: which ideas are united into one thing (or have one name given them) by the mind, because they are observed to attend each other. Thus, when the palate is affected with such a particular taste, the sight is affected with a red colour, the touch with roundness, softness, &c. Hence, when I see, and feel, and taste, in such sundry certain manners, I am sure the cherry exists, or is real; its reality being in my opinion nothing abstracted from those sensations. But if by the word cherry you mean an unknown nature, distinct from all those sensible qualities, and by its existence something distinct from its being perceived; then, indeed, I own, neither you nor I, nor any one else, can be sure it exists.

George Berkeley Three Dialogues Between Hylas And Philonous

Classic Case Studies in Psychology

classic_case_studies_psychology.jpgI picked up a copy of Classic Case Studies in Psychology (ISBN 0340886927) yesterday and have been hooked ever since.

It looks at some of the most famous case studies in psychology, including those that have inspired important clinical methods as well as those that have just given us an insight into the more curious corners of human behaviour.

A good sign is that the coverage of the case of Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who had parts of his frontal lobes blown away in 1840, is up to date and avoids many of the myths that have recently been debunked by Macmillan’s brilliant biography An Odd Kind of Fame (ISBN 0262632594).

Also included are the well-known cases of murder victim Kitty Genovese and amnesic patient HM, among many others.

A few of the less well-known are also present, including a case reported by controversial psychologist Hans Eysenck of a man who was sexually aroused by handbags and prams, and the 19th century report on the ‘wild boy’ of Aveyron.

The book is written in a straightforward yet engaging way, so older teenagers will be able to pick it up and read it, but cynical professionals will find much of interest in its pages.

Link to information on Classic Case Studies in Psychology.

An ‘autism mum’


“You’re an autism mum. I see them all the time. I saw you that first day we met, how you agonised over your boy, mute in his pushchair while all the other pre-schoolers made their clever observations about the world; I see how you worry now over his odd way of walking, the animal noises he will sometimes make instead of words. And I see how no amount of pain in the experience of caring for your son will put to death the fire of love you have for him.”

Teacher Andy O’Connor speaking to the mother of an autistic boy in the novel Daniel Isn’t Talking, by Marti Leimbach. This book and four other fiction and non-fiction books on autism were intelligently reviewed by Adam Feinstein in the Guardian a few weeks ago.

Link to Daniel isn’t talking.
Link to Guardian review of five books on autism.

What is synesthesia?

colour_popout.jpgThere’s a useful article in this month’s Scientific American that poses the question ‘what is synesthesia?’ in the ‘ask the experts’ section.

The question is answered by neuroscientists and synaesthesia researchers Thomas Palmeri, Randolph Blake and René Marois, who give a concise description of what its like to have synaesthesia as well as explaining some of the science behind this intriguing condition.

Until 5 years ago, syneasthesia was largely ignored and thought to be a rare and relatively uninteresting oddity.

It is now being investigated after surveys found it far more common than previously thought.

It is thought that researching synaesthesia will also give an insight into the structure and function of perception in the brain, in both those with and those without the condition.

Link to SciAm article ‘What is synesthesia?’.

2006-09-15 Spike activity

Quick links from the past [few weeks] in mind and brain news:


Michael Crawford discusses The Schizophrenic Symptom of Flat Affect, including insights from his own experience.

Can Freudian ideas help us explain fundamentalism and extremist ideologies? asks the New York Times

Dopamine helps punters spot their ‘best bet’ according to a recent news story in New Scientist.

The NPR Day to Day radio programme discusses the psychology of why people make false confessions to the police.

Difficulties with engaging areas of the prefrontal cortex may explain why teenagers can be more ‘selfish’ suggests new research.

Academic doping: Are kids being given drugs like Ritalin by their parents purely to improve their academic performance?

The Neuroethics and Law Blog tackles the legal and ethical implication of the recent study that suggested a coma-like PVS patient had conscious thought.

Do we all mean the same thing when we talk about colors? asks Cognitive Daily.

A drug used for treating Alzheimer’s drug may also combat brain injury, reports New Scientist.