Through a lab darkly

Cognitive scientists should be explorers of the mind, forging a path through the chaotic world of everyday life before even thinking of retreating to the lab, according to a critical article in the latest edition of the British Journal of Psychology.

Cognitive science often works like this: researchers notice something interesting in the world, they create a lab-based experiment in an attempt to control everything except what they think is the core mental process, they then test the data to see if it predicts real-world performance.

A new approach, proposed by psychologist Alan Kingstone and colleagues, suggests this is fundamentally wrong-headed and we need to completely rethink how we study the human mind to make it relevant to the real world.

The authors suggest that the standard approach relies on a flawed assumption – that mental processes are like off-the-shelf tools that do the same job, but are just assembled by the mind in different ways depending on the situation.

But imagine if this isn’t the case and mental processes are, in fact, much more fluid and adapt to fit the environment and situation. Not only would we have to change our psychological theories, we would have to change how we study the mind itself because the assumption that we can isolate and test the same mental process in different environments justifies the whole tradition of lab-based research.

The authors suggest an alternative they call ‘cognitive ethology’ and it focuses the efforts of cognitive scientists on a different part of the research process.

Let’s just revisit our potted example of what most cognitive scientists do: they notice something in the world, they create a lab-based experiment, they test to see if it predicts real-world performance.

The first part of this process (noticing -> lab-experiment) is often based on subjective judgements and rough descriptions and isn’t validated until the lab-based experiment is tested.

Kingston and his colleagues argue that scientists should be applying the techniques of science to the first stage – measuring and describing behaviour as it happens in the real world – and only then taking to the lab to see what happens when conditions change.

They give an example of this approach in an interesting driving study:

A Nature publication by Land and Lee (1994) provides a good illustration of a research approach that is grounded in the principle of first examining performance as it naturally occurs. These investigators were interested in understanding where people look when they are steering a car around a corner. This simple issue had obvious implications for human attention and action, as well as for matters as diverse as human performance modelling, vehicle engineering, and road design.

To study this issue, Land and Lee monitored eye, head, steering wheel position, and car speed, as drivers navigated a particularly tortuous section of road. Their study revealed the new and important finding that drivers rely on a ‘tangent point’ on the inside of each curve, seeking out this point 1–2 seconds before each bend and returning to it reliably.

Later, other researchers used a lab-based driving simulator study to systematically alter how much of this ‘tangent point’ was available to see what caused abnormal driving.

The authors also make the point that this approach is much better at helping us understand why something happens the way it does, because it ties it to the real world and helps us integrate it with the our knowledge of personal meaning.

It’s an interesting approach and meshes nicely with a recent article on cultural cognitive neuroscience in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. It looked at a number of fascinating studies on cultural influences on mind and brain function and discusses how we can go about understanding the interaction between culture and the brain.

If you want to skip the theoretical parts, Box 1 is worth looking at just for a brief summary of some intriguing cultural differences in the way we think.

The piece was also rather expertly covered by Neuroanthropology who cover the main punchlines and discuss some of the claims.

Link to ‘cognitive ethology’ article.
Link to PubMed entry for ‘cognitive ethology’ article.
Link to ‘cultural neuroscience’ article.
Link to PubMed entry for ‘cultural neuroscience’ article.

Computers cause abnormal brain growth – proof!

I have discovered shocking evidence that computers are affecting the brain. After extensive research, I have discovered the problem is remarkably specific and I have isolated it to an individual brain area affected by one particular application. Microsoft Word is causing abnormal growth in the frontal lobes.

The cingulate cortex is a part of the frontal lobe that is known to be involved with conflict monitoring, pain and emotion, while Microsoft Word is a clumsy but ubiquitous word processing package that has an annoying habit of auto-correcting things you don’t want to be auto-corrected.

For example, try typing the words ‘cingulate cortex’ into Word and see what happens. It changes it to ‘cingulated cortex’, adding an annoying ‘d’ onto the end of the first word.

Whenever I’m writing a neuropsychology article, I now have the habit of doing a search and replace before I finish to sweep up any of these auto-errors. So I was wondering whether anyone else had suffered the same problem and searched the scientific literature.

Now, it could be that people have just been making standard typos throughout history, as adding a rogue ‘d’ is not uncommon, even when we’re writing with a pen, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

While the use of the term ‘cingulate cortex’ stretches back to at least the beginning of the 20th century, the term ‘cingulated cortex’ barely appears, until Microsoft Word’s autocorrection tool arrives on the scene.

There are 15 uses of the phrase “cingulated cortex” from 1900 to 2000. There are 1,740 uses from 2000 to now.

Microsoft Word, it seems, is slowly changing the brain.

Without further ado, I have named the disorder Bell’s Frontal Nomenclature Hypertrophy Syndrome and demand that it be included in the diagnostic manuals.

Thousands of disturbed people will not get the help they need without this essential recognition, although in the mean time I will be offering private treatment at special rates.

Of course, I strongly encourage further research and welcome offers of interviews from the press, radio or television.

I am also available for weddings, funerals and Bar Mitzvahs.

Minds and myths

The September issue of The Psychologist has two excellent and freely available articles that smash the popular myths of scientific psychology.

The first examines the widely mythologised story of hole-in-the head celebrity Phineas Gage, and the other tackles commonly repeated stories of famous studies that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Gage, whose skull is pictured on the front cover, is legendary, but, as the article makes clear, there’s actually a great deal we don’t know about his life and the information that typically accompanies his story is based on only a very few sources.

The article on other myths in psychology focuses on some of the most widely incidents and studies in the field: the murder of Kitty Genovese, Asch’s conformity experiments, Little Albert and the Hawthorne Effect.

Particularly interesting is a discussion of the role of myths in science and what benefit they bring to the study of the human mind:

Other sciences certainly do have their own myths – just think of the story of Newton and the falling apple or Archimedes leaping out of the bath following his Eureka insight. Perhaps myths just seem more prominent in psychology because we tend to talk and write about our science in terms of studies rather than facts. Certainly the work of Mary Smyth at Lancaster University would appear to be consistent with this view – she has compared psychology and biology textbooks and found that psychology appears to have comparatively few taken-for-granted facts. Instead, numerous experiments are described in detail, lending scientific credence to any factual claims being made.

Related to this, there’s no doubt that the actual subject matter of psychology plays a part too – there’s that ever-present pressure to demonstrate that psychological findings are more than mere common sense. Benjamin Harris says that historians have described psychology as putting a scientific gloss on the accepted social wisdom of the day. ‘Psychology is always going to have a strong social component,’ he explains. ‘With psychological theories speaking to the human condition, there’s always going to be an appeal to myths that resonate more with experience than something coming out of the lab that’s sterile and ultra scientific.’

Another role that myths play is to reinforce the empirical legitimacy of psychology and to create a sense of a shared knowledge base. ‘In this way, tales such as of Kitty Genovese or Little Albert are rather like origin myths, pushing the creation of psychology, or a particular approach within psychology back in time, thus giving an air of greater authority,’ says Harris. Hobbs agrees: ‘It’s nice to have something that you can take for granted,’ he says. ‘In the case of the Hawthorne effect and other myths, you shouldn’t take it for granted, but it’s comforting to be able to say “Oh, this could be the Hawthorne effect” and for others to nod and say “Ah yes, that’s right”.’

Link to article ‘Phineas Gage ‚Äì Unravelling the myth’.
Link to article ‘Foundations of sand?’.

Full disclosure: I’m an unpaid associate editor for The Psychologist.

2008-08-29 Spike activity

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

Choreography and Cognition is a project examining the cognitive science of dance. Try this for some experimental data. Get down.

The myth of undecided voters is tackled head on by Frontal Cortex.

Gin, Television and Cognitive Surplus. No, not a traditional English weekend, an Edge article by Clay Shirky on the internet and mental aggregators.

PsychCentral’s Sandra lists her Top 10 online psychology experiments.

ABC Radio National’s Life Matters explores out relationship to colour.

Corpus Callosum has an interesting role reversal art project where a psychiatrist has painted his emotional impression of patients.

Epigenetics or the ‘Ghost in Your Genes’ is a new TV programme and is linked to and discussed by Neuroanthropology.

The Smart Set review a book on loneliness.

The Guardian’s examination of the supposedly mandatory but widely ignored drug company gift registers for UK doctors, shows (can we guess) widespread soul selling.

Be sure to check ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind blog for extended comments and extra audio from the recent programme on the mind, markets and morality.

Wired Sciece on why early stone tools suggest Neanderthals were equally as intelligent as early humans, contrary to popular belief. Researchers now exploring lack of style, poor personal hygiene as reason for extinction.

The rubber hand illusion is accompanied by a drop in temperature of the ‘displaced’ hand. Another from Wired Science.

The BPS Research Digest reports a interesting study that finds we tend to overestimate the size of our own heads, but not those of others.

The three critical techniques for stage magic discussed in the recent paper on the cognitive science of magic are summarised by PsyBlog.

Harvard Magazine has an article on ‘A Work in Progress: The Teen Brain‘. Due to be completed shortly after Duke Nukem Forever.

July’s Neuropod appeared and we didn’t even notice. Still, the programme has been eerily quiet since then.

The Times reports that more sex by braver soldiers suggests an evolutionary explanation for rhubarb, hat stands, pink elephants, blah blah blah…

Why Are ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ a Baby’s First Words? Sounds obvious but it’s actually an interesting study into developmental phonetics.

BBC News reports that the drug rasagiline may may actually slow down Parkinson’s disease according to an early study.

Cool photo on Flickr appropriately called ‘applied radiology‘.

Cannabis use went down in the UK after it was reclassified as a ‘softer’ drug, reports of The Guardian. Buckets of urine at the ready to be flung into the wind when government shortly re-reclassifies it as a ‘harder’ drug.

Interesting experimental philosophy paper makes it into the top 10 philosophy papers of the year.

Furious Seasons catches two interesting antipsychotic news nuggets: Nature Neuroscience editorial says credibility lacking in child psychiatry after recent payments scandal / BMJ reports antipsychotics really, really bad in older folks.

Count ’em

Wikipedia has a short but fascinating page listing animals by the number of neurons they have. There’s only about a dozen entries on there, but most interesting is that there is an animal with no nerve cells at all.

It’s called Trichoplax and apparently is a “a simple balloon-like marine animal with a body cavity filled with pressurized fluid”.

Apparently humans don’t come top of the pile, as both elephants and whales have more neurons.

However, it’s not the best referenced article in the world, to say the least, so I’m taking this last claim with a pinch of salt for the time being.

If you know better, do update the article with some more reliable sources.

Link to ‘List of animals by number of neurons’.

Wilder Penfield – charting the brain’s unknown territory

Neurophilosophy has a stimulating article on Wilder Penfield, the legendary Canadian neurosurgeon who pionered neuropsychological studies on the awake patient during brain surgery.

Penfield is most famous for his experiments where he electrically stimulated the brain of patients who had part of their skull removed during surgery to record what thoughts, behaviours and sensations arose from the excitation of specific parts of the cortex.

This research is still being done in modern times. My favourite is a 1991 study on electrical stimulation of the supplementary motor area SMA) by (no laughing now) Fried and colleagues.

What is most fascinating is that they found electrical stimulation could trigger the urge to movement or the expactation that a movement might occur, without triggering any movement itself. This stretched from quite vague feelings such as the “need to do something with right
hand” to very specific movement intentions such as the “urge to move right thumb and index finger”.

The gripping and typically well-researched Neurophilosophy article takes us right into the middle of one of these experiments performed by Penfield, and goes on to explain how his work became so influential in science and medicine.

Penfield was a pupil of Harvey Cushing, considered the founder of scientific neurosurgery, who was featured only last week on the same excellent blog.

Unlike Cushing though, who was reknowned for being a bit spiky, Penfield was widely considered to be a warm and friendly individual.

It’s probably the best article on Penfield you’re likely to find on the net, so well worth taking the opportunity of learning more about this key figure in our understanding of the brain.

Link to article ‘Wilder Penfield, Neural Cartographer’.
Link to previous Mind Hacks post on Wilder’s operation on his sister.

Unreality TV and the culture of delusions

Today’s New York Times has an interesting article on the tug-of-war over the cultural influence on paranoid delusions and whether contemporary-themed psychosis is a new form of mental illness or just a modern colouring of an old disorder.

The article focuses on the recent interest in the ‘Truman Show delusion’, splashed over the media by two Canadian psychiatrists.

It’s quite hard to judge what they’re aiming to do as they’ve not published a scientific paper, and the article suggests they’re writing a book (is that the sounds of alarm bells I hear?), so I’m solely going on secondary sources.

But if they’re saying that delusions specifically about being in the Truman Show are somehow new and interesting, then they’re right in a way. Popular culture often turns up in paranoid beliefs – I worked with a gentleman once who believed he was in The Matrix – but its not earth shattering. It happens all the time.

If they’re saying that the general experience of The Truman Show – feeling that the world is being controlled, is unexplainably altered, or is uncannily mysterious – is somehow new, then they’re wrong by a good 100 years.

This was described by the German psychiatrist Karl Jaspers in the early part of the 20th century who called it Wahnstimmung, which is translated in the modern English literature as delusional mood or delusional atmosphere.

This is the description from Andrew Sims’ book on descriptive psychopathology Symptoms in the Mind:

“For the patient experiencing delusional atmosphere, his world has been subtly altered ‘Something funny is going on’; ‘I have been offered a whole new world of meaning’. He experiences everything around him as sinister, portentous, uncanny, peculiar in an undefinable way. He knows that he is personally involved but cannot tell how. He has the feeling of anticipation, sometimes even of excitement, that soon all the separate parts of his experience will to reveal something immensely significant.”

Actually, the article has a quote from me, although miscasts my view a little. I’m quoted as saying:

“Cultural influences don’t tell us anything fundamental about delusion,” said Vaughan Bell, a psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London, who has studied Internet delusion.

“We can look at the influence of television, computer games, rock ’n’ roll, but these things don’t tell us about new forms of being mentally ill,” said Dr. Bell, who said he had also treated patients who believed they were part of a reality television show.

Actually, I do think that cultural influences are fundamental in understanding delusions, but not in themselves. [Squiggly sound of tape rewinding] It seems the crucial qualification “in themselves” was missed off the quote.

In fact, in the paper I wrote on delusions about the internet I concluded by saying “The extent of influence may not be equal for all aspects of society and culture, although the fact that there is an influence at all, suggests that psychosis is only fully understandable in light of the wider social context.”

To quote John Donne, “no man is an island” and we can only fully understand or thoughts and behaviour, either everyday or pathological, with reference to the cultures we live in. But this doesn’t mean that each aspect of cultural influences us equally on all levels.

Link to NYT article ‘Look Closely, Doctor: See the Camera?’.

The music’s too loud and you can’t hear the lyrics

Today’s Nature has a teeth-grittingly bitchy review of psychologist Daniel Levitin’s new music and psychology book The World In Six Songs that would be entertaining were it not so surprisingly vitriolic.

I’ve not read the book, but when someone is criticising the author’s musical taste as immature, not once, but twice, in the world’s leading science publication, you know the review has gone beyond the point of healthy knock-about into the zone of below-the-belt punches.

What is it about Nature book reviews? We covered one in 2007 where the reviewer got stuck in despite not seeming to have read the book.

Actually, no one does a good book barney like the philosophers, who at least have the good grace to wrap their barbs in dry wit and satire rather than just spitting venom at each other (although they do that too).

If you want to get an idea of Levitin’s basic premise, New Scientist has an online article on the book. It seems to be applying the ‘basic plots’ idea to music.

This is widely discussed in literature where many people have claimed to have identified the seven, eight, twenty, thirty six (you get the idea) basic plots in stories, literature and plays throughout history.

Link to hatchet job in Nature.
Link to NewSci on The World In Six Songs.

Who needs sleep? The evolutionary slumber party

PLoS Biology has a cozy essay entitled “Is Sleep Essential?” that addresses the mystery of the purpose of sleep.

The article looks at sleep across the whole of the animal kingdom to examine how different species sleep and whether there are any animals that don’t sleep at all.

There are no convincing cases of sleepless animals it seems, and the authors, neuroscientists Chiara Cirelli and Giulio Tononi, argue that sleep is therefore likely to be an essential function of living creatures.

The three corollaries of the null hypothesis [‘sleep is not required’] do not seem to square well with the available evidence: there is no convincing case of a species that does not sleep, no clear instance of an animal that forgoes sleep without some compensatory mechanism, and no indication that one can truly go without sleep without paying a high price. What many concluded long ago still seems to hold: the case is strong for sleep serving one or more essential functions. But which ones?

The article goes on to examine the hypotheses that sleep is important for regulating the body’s core functions, the brain, individual cells and that it is common to all species and must involve something that cannot be provided by quiet wakefulness.

More interesting is the question of whether all animals dream – and perhaps most intriguing, if so, how they might dream.

Indeed, it would be interesting to discover whether dreaming is a necessary function of sleep, or whether it is specifically linked to certain neurocognitive processes or even particular creatures.

Link to PLoS Biology article ‘Is Sleep Essential?’ (via Wired Science).

Extracting the stone of madness

Art-science blog Bioemphemera has an excellent piece on how Renaissance artists depicted madness as involving a stone in the head. Numerous paintings from the 16th and 17th century show operations to remove the stone and presumably cure the insane of their ‘folly’.

Despite the widespread depiction of this procedure, many examples of which are wonderfully illustrated in the Bioemphemera post, it’s not clear whether these paintings were documenting widespread practices of medical fakery, or whether they were entirely metaphorical.

Perhaps owing to this element of mystery, and to the striking artworks, the topic is often featured in science and medical journals.

A 1999 article in Trends in Neurosciences is probably the most comprehensive treatment, and makes an excellent complement to the Bioephemera piece.

Link to Bioephemera post ‘The Stone of Madness’.
Link to TINS article ‘Psychosurgery in Renaissance art’.
Link to PubMed entry for article.


Somatosphere is an excellent new blog on medical anthropology, the study of how culture influences our understanding of health, illness and medicine.

While we tend to think of illnesses as specific encapsualted ‘things’ that happen to the body, it turns out that our culture and psychology has a huge influence on not just what we think of illness, but how we actually become ill.

Culture also shapes what we think of as ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’, ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ and this is one of the main driving forces behind how we express physical or psychological distress and expect it to be treated.

Of course, in the West, drug companies are persistently trying to shape our cultural understanding of what constitutes illness to better promote their product.

The picture is taken from an interesting Somatosphere post on methylphenidate (Ritalin) and ADHD. It’s a 1960s advert for the drug showing it was marketed as an antidepressant before ADHD was ever talked about.

The blog is written by several professional medical anthropologists and let’s hope it continues as it’s started as I’m throughly enjoying reading it.

Link to Somatosphere (via Neuroanthropology).
Link to Somatosphere post on Ritalin.

Book review: Sight Unseen


I cannot recommend strongly enough Goodale & Milner’s book on vision ‘Sight Unseen’. The title refers to the idea they pursue throughout the book that our everyday conception of vision is thoroughly misleading. Rather than vision just being ‘what we experience’, it is, in fact, a collection of specific eye-behaviour links (‘visuomotor functions’) of which our conscious perception of the world is only an evolutionary-recent addition. Goodale & Milner have spent their careers investigating this area and base their narrative around a selection of seminal experiments and case-studies of patients with selective brain injuries. Almost no background knowledge is assumed yet the book takes the reader into the intricacies of the psychology of vision. The triumph of the book is that it gives a flavour of how research proceeds while also managing to provide an intuition-shaking overview of the whole topic. I will never think about seeing in the same way again. This is a rare book which is accessible but will also be of interest to those working in the field. If you have any interest in how a research field develops or in the psychology of vision then you should read it.

Goodale, M. & Milner, D. (2004). Sight Unseen: An Exploration of Conscious and Unconscious Vision. Oxford: Oxford University Press

(Full disclosure: I did not get asked to do this review, nor did I receive payment or a free book. I did it because I liked the book. I am actively engaged in research in this area)

Reminiscence rising

I had the pleasure of seeing the initial run-through of the upcoming London play Reminiscence on Friday and was completely blown away.

Inspired by a case study by world-renowned neurologist, Oliver Sacks (from his book, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat), Reminiscence is the story of Mrs O’Connor who, in a bizarre neurological twist is transported, via evocative music, to the surreal world of her memories.

As her condition becomes increasingly difficult to fathom, Mrs O’Connor and her doctor go on a journey of discovery to the limits of science’s ability to fully account for what happens in our minds, and to the limits of our mind’s ability to fully recapture the past.

Reminiscence is a stunning piece of total theatre using live music (originally composed and inspired by the folk melodies of Eastern Europe) and spectacular visuals to take the audience on a fantastical, poignant and ultimately moving journey through the mind.

It’s going to be running from 9 ‚Äì 20th September in Jackson’s Lane Theatre in Highgate, and from what I’ve seen, it should be fantastic.

Effy, one of the composers, has managed to sort out some ‘2 for 1’ ticket offers, and says “you can contact the theatre and request two tickets for the price of one on 9 and 10th September (evening performances) and 17th September (matinee performance) but you must quote ‘epilepsy action’ when calling at the box office (020 8341 4421) to obtain this offer.”

I’ve been involved with the play for the last year or so, discussing the dilemmas of neuropsychology with the director, actors and composers.

After meeting the team I knew it was going to be good, but I was quite unprepared for how incredibly inventive and touching it is.

The piece literally plays with the fabric of reality and the original music is woven wonderfully throughout the piece.

By the way, I’m not financially involved in the play in any way, but can’t wait to see the final version as it should be emotionally, visually and musically stunning.

They’ll also be a free panel discussion after the show on the 14th and matinee on the 17th with some of the creative team, myself, and professionals from Headway and Epilepsy Action, all discussing the issues raised by the play – personal, ethical and scientific.

Link to Reminiscence website and details.

Kanizsa kiwi

A brilliant illustration of the Kanizsa triangle made out of kiwi fruit by Flickr user Yves Moreaux.

The Kanizsa triangle is often used to argue that a purely ‘bottom-up’ approach to understanding vision – that says we generate our perception solely from building up from the small details of what we see – is flawed.

In this case, it seems we fill in the outline of the triangle partly based on our prior expectations, because if we follow the contours in the image, there isn’t actually a triangle there.

The triangle illusion is named after the Italian psychologist Gaetano Kanizsa.

Kanizsa was also an accomplished artist who created numerous paintings that played with the concepts of perception.

Link to Yves Moreaux’s brilliant Kanizsa kiwi.
Link to online exchibition of Kanizsa’s paintings.

The alpha and omega of Crick and consciousness

I just found a touching tribute to Francis Crick published in PLoS Biology in 2004 that also describes some little know aspects of his life during his study of consciousness.

One fascinating part of the article discusses his meeting with David Marr, a brilliant young neuroscientist who was fated both to revolutionise our understanding of the brain and die of leukaemia at the age of 35.

The two scientists worked together for only a month, but their meeting obviously last a lasting impression on them both, as they feature in each other’s work and particularly influenced Crick’s thinking on the conscious mind.

David Marr was a young mathematician and physiologist whose doctoral thesis on a theory of mammalian brain function at Cambridge had brought him into some contact with Brenner and Francis. A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he began working with Tomasio Poggio of the Max Plank Institute in Tübingen on a computational theory of neuroscience. Following an invitation from Francis, Poggio and Marr spent the month of April, 1979 extending their intense examination of the core problems of visual perception.

They spent hours sitting at the most western end of the Salk Institute, at the cafeteria or in Francis’s office, gazing into the Pacific Ocean with all its daily changes, discussing not only architecture of visual cortex and visual perception, but the ramifications of a good theory of brain function. We know of these conversations, as the probing of Marr by Francis is captured in the final chapter of Marr’s now classic book ‚ÄúVision‚Äù (Marr 1982). (Although Marr speaks of a three-way conversation, judging from our own experiences as Francis’s younger colleagues, the interlocutor simply seems to be Francis.)

Marr had been diagnosed with acute leukemia in the winter of 1978 (Marr and Vaina 1991). The one-month visit to the Salk Institute was an intellectual gift, for eighteen months later, Marr died. Francis had simultaneously lost a young friend and colleague who had brought an “incisive mind and creative energy” (Crick 1994, p. 77) and his best new ideas of a theoretical neurology to the brain (Marr 1969, 1970). And he saw the tragedy of Marr being cut off from solving the big problems for which he was so clearly destined.

During those early years, Francis must have thought that consciousness was tractable‚Äîif only the right way of thinking was brought to bear on it. Francis’s brain was capable of collecting and filing away many disparate data, which he could then combine uniquely and imaginatively, leading to that ‚Äúdramatic moment of sudden enlightenment that floods the minds when the right idea clicks into place‚Äù (Crick 1990, p. 141). Whatever his initial thoughts about the nature of the problem, Francis soon came to realize that the problem of consciousness was even tougher than he imagined, that the ‚Äúclick‚Äù was not happening with consciousness. In 1988, he wrote, ‚ÄúI have yet to produce any theory that is both novel and also explains many disconnected facts in a convincing way‚Äù (Crick 1990, p. 162).

Ironically, for a man who wrote a book called Vision, there seems to be no pictures of David Marr on the internet.

Of course, there are many of Crick, and the PLoS Biology article is an excellent tribute to the multi-talented researcher.

Link to article ‘Francis Crick’s Legacy for Neuroscience’.

Great history of brain surgery programme online

The BBC has just begun broadcasting a fantastic series called Blood and Guts on the history of surgery with the first episode on neurosurgery. If you live in the UK you can watch it again on the BBC iPlayer for a few days more, or otherwise, it has appeared online as a torrent.

It’s not the most coherent trip through the history of neurosurgery, more a collection of highlights (or, in some cases, lowlights), but it’s very well made and has some fantastic historical footage and interviews with modern neurosurgeons.

It covers Harvey Cushing, Phineas Gage, Jos√© Delgado, Walter Freeman and the frontal lobotomy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, deep brain stimulation and the cutting edge of brain surgery today. There’s a particularly interesting bit where lobotomy survivor Howard Dully has a brain scan and you can see the effect of his operation.

If you’re still hungry for more, BBC News website has an article and video clip of neurosurgery while the patient is conscious, and you can even buy the book of the series.

Link to BBC iPlayer archive (for 7 days).
Link to torrent of Blood and Guts brain surgery episode.