2010-10-01 Spike activity

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

The science of choking under pressure is discussed in a brilliant piece on Neuron Culture.

New Scientist has a debate on whether psychoanalysis should have a place in London’s Science Museum. Although getting science in London’s Freud museum would be the real challenge.

The performance of young children on the ‘mirror self-recognition test’ varies hugely across cultures, according to an bull-in-the-china-shop study covered by the BPS Research Digest.

TED has a great talk from neuroscientist Sebastian Seung on the ‘connectome‘ – the project to understand the brain’s ‘wiring diagram’ and what it means. Quite speculative in places but good fun.

Macho financial stereotypes affect female financial behaviour making women more risk averse. An intriguing study looking at how ‘stereotype threat’ impacts on economic behaviour elegantly covered by Not Exactly Rocket Science.

The Wall Street Journal has an article on ambivalence. Not too bad.

The idea that the time in the womb is one of the most powerful shapers of your life hits Time. See the essential background from Neuroanthropology.

Wired Science covers the under-researched area of group intelligence, finding that emotional awareness, not individual intelligence, contributes most to group problem-solving power.

A fascinating study explaining why self-touch on the site of an injury reduces pain but a touch from someone else on the same spot can be excruciating is covered by Nature’s The Great Beyond blog.

The Independent has a good piece on ‘blindsight‘ patients who are consciously blind who can be avoid obstacles.

To the bunkers! Largest ever swarm of flying robots takes to the sky. Wired UK pre-warns us of the threat from above.

A cherry picking lesson from Big Pharma, via Neuroskeptic.

The New Yorker has a big Malcolm Gladwell article on online social networks and damp squib activism. Don’t take without two fantastic commentaries: one from The Atlantic and another from The Frontal Cortex.

A first translation of the 18th century French Royal Commission Report on ‘animal magnetism‘ (i.e. ‘mesmerism’) is covered by Advances in the History of Psychology.

Time asks why do heavy drinkers outlive non-drinkers?

Every time you reach for something, there’s a squabbling match in your brain, according to a study covered by Not Exactly Rocket Science. Often, my brain keeps squabbling afterwards.

Discover Magazine has a short piece by Oliver Sacks on his hopes on how neuroscience will develop in the next thirty years.

There’s a fascinating look at the life and ideas of prison reform theorist Kenneth Hartman over at In the News. Unlike most other thinkers in the area, he’s currently serving life.

The Lancet has a fantastic piece on the psychology of selecting medical students to be good professional doctors. Science grades, it turns out, count for shit.

Fulfilling your child’s desires may help them understand those of others. An intriguing study covered by Evidence Based Mummy.

Slate has a fascinating piece on the history of male-female friendships, noting that before the 20th century, friendship was single-sex.

A new World Health Organisation report on mental health and mental illness in the developing world is covered by Providentia. “…over 80 per cent of people in need have no access to psychological or psychiatric treatment”.

New Scientist has an excellent piece on how handbags are flying over the science of evolved altruism.

Our brain connections become more sparse and sharp with aging. Deric Bownds’ MindBlog covers a new scanning study on inevitable decline – has some lovely images.

BBC News reports that US executions are delayed because of a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental.

Visual science in the art of Chuck Close

I’ve just found this amazing article on the work of artist Chuck Close from a 2008 edition of the Archives of Ophthalmology.

It examines the visual science behind his pixelated style and how a stroke left the artist paralysed – after which he has produced some of his finest work.

Chuck Close (1940- ) is one of the most famous American artists working today. His distinctive paintings are huge canvases that depict faces, often his own. He works in a nontraditional manner by combining many small geometric forms, usually squares or rectangles, to create a portrait. The individual elements he uses in making an image may be termed pixels. The word pixel is a neologism used in computer technology to mean the smallest form in a digitized image and is a combination of the words picture and element.

Chuck Close is a compelling individual who has endured a great physical misfortune. In 1988 he experienced an occlusion of a spinal artery in the neck, which left him quadriplegic. The occlusion has affected the way he paints, but not his style of painting. Many experts have found it difficult to differentiate work done before the onset of his quadriplegia from that done afterward.

The paintings lead to important questions concerning visual perception and the possibility of artificial vision. What determines our ability to combine many small geometric units into a coherent image? How many different elements are needed to create an image? What are the effects of changing colors within the elements?

Close has had a long interest in science, and even painted a cover for the journal Science.

For someone who paints such remarkable portraits, you might be surprised to learn that he recently revealed he has prosopagnosia, a life-long difficulty in recognising faces.

The Archives of Ophthalmology article looks at how we perceive coherent images from patterns that seem chaotic when viewed at close quarters and how Close takes advantage of these processes in his work.

You can click on the images in the article to see them much larger and really get an idea of how they’re constructed.

Link to Archives of Ophthalmology on Chuck Close and visual science.