Commercial mind-machine interface by 2011?

There’s an interesting snippet on the Wired blog about Hitachi developing ‘home’ brain imaging technology which they hope will allow thought-based computer interaction by 2011.

Hitachi’s system doesn’t invasively co-opt the nervous sytem, instead using a topographic modelling system to measure blood flow in the brain, translating the images into signals that are sent to the controller. So far, this new technique only allows for simple switching decisions, but Hitachi aims to commercialize it within five years for use by paralyzed patients and those undergoing “cognitive rehabilitation.

Link to Wired Blog entry.

Toxic intimacy

The New York Times has a short but interesting article on people who find intimate relationships stressful and bad for their mental health.

A close relationship is considered almost universally beneficial, but some people seem to find relationships difficult to deal with, even when they’re going well.

Interestingly, the article describes this as a ‘schizoid’ trait, which is usually considered to be the lack of emotional attachment seen in some people with schizophrenia (although not in all by any means).

While it is a clich√© to say that people with autism or Asperger’s syndrome are loners, many do find intimate relationships difficult, and it’s curious that the article doesn’t mention this as a possible link.

Outsiders is a UK charity set-up by Dr Tuppy Owens to help people who are disabled or socially isolated with starting and maintaining relationships, and has been working in this field for many years.

Link to NYT article ‘Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle’ (thanks Paul and Candace!)
Link to Outsiders.

Mental processes in the human brain (taped)

Video of the Royal Society event on 16th-17th of October – ‘Mental processes in the human brain’, is now available online. I strongly recommend the first talk, by Dan Schacter, which is about the active, constructive, nature of human episodic memory and why it might be built like that (answer: because it is designed to subserve the flexible recombination of past experiences to predict the future)

Poets, artists and unusual experiences

From the BPS Research Digest:

The idea that creative geniuses might not be entirely sane isn’t exactly new. But just how much do creative types have in common with people suffering from psychosis? Well, according to Daniel Nettle at the University of Newcastle, serious poets and artists have just as many ‘unusual experiences’ as people diagnosed with schizophrenia. What saves them from the disabling effects of schizophrenia is that they don’t suffer from the lack of emotion and motivation ‚Äì known as ‘introvertive anhedonia’ ‚Äì also associated with the illness.

Nettle used a measure of schizotypy on the participants in his study. Schizotypy is based on the concept that schizophrenia-like experiences can occur in everyone to some degree, and those with schizophrenia simply experience more intense and distressing versions of the milder experiences that other people have.

Link to more from BPS-RD (and link to full-text paper).
Link to Wikipedia page on schizotypy.

The plastinated brain

The Plastinated Brain is a website with some amazing pictures of a dissected brain preserved with a process called plastination.

The website is from the Institute for Anatomy at the University of Vienna and intends to help people understand human brain anatomy.

Plastination preserves the body in a state where a remarkable amount of detail can be seen.

You can navigate through the brain slice by slice, or see particular parts taken out and examined in detail.

Each part is also labelled, so if you’re keen to polish up your neuroanatomy, there’s plenty of material to help you on your way.

Link to The Plastinated Brain.

Test yourself for synaesthesia is a website that has a series of online tests where you can test yourself for synaesthesia – the condition where senses are crossed so, for example, you might be able to taste shapes or see colours associated with specific numbers.

The site is run by the Eagleman Lab at the Baylor College of Medicine who study links between perception and action, as well as the curious world of synaesthesia.

If you’re a researcher, you can also use the site to test and collect results on your own participants, and the same tests are also available as downloadable software for the Matlab package.

It’s now known that synaesthesia is partly inherited, so if you find that you or one of your family members seems to have the condition, others in the family may also have similar abilities.

Link to

Guerilla neuroscience documentaries online

Obscured TV is a website that is streaming old TV documentaries. They don’t have permission to do it, but they believe the programmes are too educational to be left gathering dust in a TV company warehouse. As they have so many classic psychology and neuroscience documentaries in their archives, I can only agree.

Just a word of warning if you’re skeptical about these sorts of things – it requires that you install some ActiveX plugin, which is seems painless to install and works OK, but only works in Explorer.

If you’re happy with doing that, have a look at this page which has a list of ‘human interest’ documentaries – largely taken from UK TV.

7 Seconds is a stunning documentary on densely amnesic patients Clive Wearing who has been the subject of some ground-breaking research on the neuropsychology of memory, but also inspires some profound thoughts on identity and remembering.

The Real Rainman, My Family and Autism and Make me Normal profile a number of remarkable individuals with autism, and Teenage Tourettes Camp is a compelling documentary on some UK children with Tourette syndrome who go to a camp in the USA especially for children affected by the disorder (it is both touching and wickedly funny in places).

Another page with documentaries from the Horizon series, includes The Man Who Lost His Body, a documentary about a man who loses his sense of proprioception – the ability to sense where your limbs are, and God on the Brain which contains a memorable scene where Michael Persinger attempts to give Richard Dawkins a religious experience by stimulating his temporal lobes with magnetic fields.

Get them while they’re online, as the site probably won’t stay up for long!

Link to ‘people’ documentaries.
Link to Horizon documentaries.

Encephalon 11 hits the virtual shelves

Issue 11 of Encephalon psychology and neuroscience writing carnival has arrived, hosted by the ever-capable Mouse Trap blog.

If you want to know the cognitive benefits of turning down the car radio when you’re lost, how science is progressing on a possible immunization for Alzheimer’s disease, or any number of exciting updates on the fast moving world of cognitive science, head on over and see what catches your eye.

Link to Issue 11 of Encephalon.

Madness as social commentary

A list of delusions taken from the psychiatric literature that don’t seem that delusional when you think about them:

“The earth is doomed”
– Patient with Alzheimer’s reported by Sultzer et al. (2003)

“Bill Gates is destroying my files and spying on me”
– 32 year old patient reported by Podoll et al. (2000)

“A local gang is going to mug me”
– South London patient reported by Freeman et al. (2001)

“I drove two people mad when I was 11 to 14 years old”
– Patient from a study by Rhodes and Jakes (2000)

“My thoughts are being controlled by TV newscasters”
– Inpatient reported by Noffsinger and Saleh (2000)

To quote Salvidor Dali “The only difference between me and a madman is that I’m not mad”.

Hijacking intelligence

Many of the big websites use the ‘wisdom of crowds’ to make meaning out of chaotic data. Now, new software technology allows the automated use of human intelligence to perform tasks which computers are unable to do.

As complex data-processing becomes a commodity, biological intelligence is becoming assimilated into the network as just another software application. As this commodity increases in value, your mind will become a prime target for cognitive hijackers.

Continue reading “Hijacking intelligence”

81 words, mental illness and homosexuality

As an update to a previous post on John E. Fryer’s dramatic role in getting homosexuality de-listed as a mental illness in 1973, thanks to the reader who emailed to say that the radio programme This American Life has a special on the fascinating story of the people behind the wider campaign.

The programme also charts the personal family story of Alix Spiegel, the producer of the This American Life series, whose grandfather was John Spiegel, president of the American Psychiatric Association when homosexuality was finally removed from the diagnostic manual.

She tells how the issue had a significant impact on psychiatry and society, but also on her family (you’ll have to listen to find out why).

The story recounts one curious event when psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, then head of the diagnostic committee, visited a clandestine gay psychiatrists’ party to meet gay psychiatrists for himself, and was surprised to see many of the psychiatric establishment there.

Although it will cost you 99 cents to download the mp3 of the programme, and audio can be streamed for free from the webpage.

Link to page for ’81 words’ programme with streamed audio (speaker icon).

Neuroscience and philosophy of vegetative state

BBC Radio 4 science programme Frontiers just started a new series, and the first programme was an in-depth investigation of the science and tricky moral and clinical problems thrown up by patients in a persistent vegetative state or PVS.

The programme talks to the researchers behind the recent study that used brain scanning to infer that a patient thought to be in PVS was actually conscious.

Doctors on the programme discuss the difficulty in diagnosing the condition, and whether functional brain scans should be used as part of the standard diagnostic checks.

Also involved in the discussion is Martin Coleman from Cambridge University’s Impaired Consciousness Group who are researching whether brain-computer interfaces could help people incapacitated by brain-injury.

Link to Frontiers webpage on Vegetative State edition.
realaudio of programme audio.

Brain Hammer

I’ve been reading mind and brain blog Brain Hammer recently – written by philosopher and cognitive scientist Pete Mandik.

Philosophers are increasingly becoming indispensable, as training in the history and practice of philosophy makes people well-suited to tackling some of difficult problems thrown up by contemporary cognitive science.

If you’re not sure what philosophers do exactly, think of them as ‘conceptual engineers’ – pushing forward new theories and fixing existing ones to make sure they are coherent and fit the data as best as possible.

The majority of mind and brain blogs are written by clinicians, psychologists and neuroscientists and so it is refreshing to see regular writing from someone engaged at the pit-face of the philosophy of mind.

As well as being Mandik’s personal blog where he shares his thoughts, it’s also where summaries from the Philosophy of Mind and Science Work in Progress group are published.

The PMS-WIP group is an online forum for the discussion of developing ideas and theories in the philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and related areas.

UPDATE: Grabbed from the comments: I also recommend to everyone Gualtiero Piccinini’s blog – thanks Anibal!

Link to Brain Hammer.

Soldiers and invisible children

The British Psychological Society Research Digest blog, run by our own very own Christian Jarrett, seems to have undergone a bit of a change and is now posting in daily bite-sized chunks rather than in two week mega-servings.

A couple of things I picked up from it recently include video from the recently sold-out Royal Society conference ‘Mental Processes in the Human Brain’ and a piece on the seeming impossibility of successfully predicting which soldiers might have mental health problems once they get deployed.

There’s also a wonderful piece on the psychology of why young children think they’re invisible when they close their eyes!

There’s much more where that came from, and now it’s delivered daily.

Link to rejigged BPS Research Digest.

2006-11-17 Spike activity

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

The New York Times looks at the lives of students with autism and Aspergers in an article on ‘<a href="Students on the Spectrum”>Students on the Spectrum‘.

Two recent stories suggest that applying mild electric currents to the head can aid memory or help with migraine.

One I missed earlier… AlphaPsy has a fascinating post on mental illness viewed from the stance of economic rational choice theory.

Simon Baron-Cohen discusses his theories of systemizing and autism in Seed Magazine.

Cognitive Daily explores cutting-edge research on how children learn cultural values.

BBC News reports on a syndrome of current concern in Japan, nicknamed ‘Retired Husband Syndrome‘.

Virtual reality system used to ‘move’ phantom limbs and relieve the associated phantom pain, reports New Scientist.

More from PsyBlog’s ’emotional truth’ series: the emotional unconscious and doing without feeling.

Couple of fantastic posts from Mixing Memory: why people treat computers as if they had beliefs and intentions, and whether children attribute false beliefs to God.

Suicide comedy

The plot line of this upcoming movie sounds very odd (and it must be said, very original):

“Heartbroken by a break-up with his girlfriend Desiree, twentysomething Zia (Almost Famous’ Patrick Fugit) kills himself – only to wake up in the afterlife: a purgatory populated exclusively by other suicides, where the jukeboxes only play Joy Division and Nirvana, all the colours seem desaturated, and life is more or less the same as back in the real world – ‘just a little worse’. Learning that his beloved ex has also taken her life, he hooks up with a Russian misfit (whose final moments, seen in flashback, provide one of the film’s funniest scenes), and a moody Goth hitchhiker (Shannyn Sossamon), and sets off in a battered station wagon to find her; the resulting road-trip – including a scene-stealing cameo by Tom Waits – forms the basis of this ruefully funny road movie.”

It’s got excellent reviews so far, so I’ll be interested to see how it manages to deal with such a sensitive issue.

Link to official site.
Link to IMDB entry.