Spike activity 09-05-2014

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

Slate has an in-depth piece on the ‘real story’ of Phineas Gage. Perhaps not such a revelation to some but beautifully told nonetheless.

There’s an extensive piece on the latest developments with neuromorphic chips in MIT Tech Review.

Foreign Policy magazine has ‘The Case Against Killer Robots‘. Wasn’t this made way back in the early 80s?

Things You Cannot Unsee (and What That Says About Your Brain). Nice piece on visual perception and scence interpretation in the brain from The Atlantic.

Wired takes us Inside the Strange New World of DIY Brain Stimulation.

Fascinating piece on BPS Research Digest: The enigma of dyslexic musicians.

New Scientist has a piece on RDoC ‘psychiatry’s scientific reboot’ but don’t miss BishopBlog with a more critical take.

A short history of game panics. Reason magazine takes us on a trip through history.

Neuroskeptic discusses a new study on how fMRI studies could be confounded by the pattern of the participants’ breathing.

The poly themes of psychosis

The latest London Review of Books has an amazing first-person account of psychosis that illustrates the complex interlocking webs of ideas and perceptions that can occur in the more intense versions of the experience.

As a description of the lived-experience of psychosis, it is actually quite rare, because most are written about relatively (and I mean relatively) circumscribed or contained experiences which clearly do not reflect reality but have their own internal logic.

These are perhaps the most common forms that psychosis takes but some are bizarre, intense and complex, involving delusions that seem to encompass a huge number of themes (known as polythematic delusions).

I met a woman called Margaret in Fairmile hospital. I assumed she was my link to the politician with the same first name. She explained periods to me. I wondered if the PM was angry with me for writing a story saying she deserved to hang for sinking the Belgrano. I tried to manoeuvre Margaret around to the front of the hospital so that a Rolls could pull in off the main road and take me to Mrs Thatcher. She didn’t seem very willing to comply. The shrink had been watching me and asked why I looked up at the sky when helicopters flew over. They were sent by Francis Pym to rescue me. Despite the massive grounds around the Victorian building the choppers never seemed to land. I soon realised I would do six months unless I staged a recovery. I stopped looking at helicopters and after only three months I was free.

One of the difficulties with a lot of discussion about mental health and mental health treatment is that ‘psychosis’ is assumed to be a single thing or variations of a single thing, when in fact it can vary massively both in terms of how the person experiences it and how it impacts them.

I have met people who have delusions and hallucinations but continue high powered jobs (probably, so have you, without realising it) whereas other people are massively disabled and / or distressed by their experiences.

As with most difficulties in life, those who are most affected are the least able to advocate for themselves, so this article stands out as a sharply written piece that captures some of the ever-woven web of intense psychosis.
 

Link to first-person account of psychosis in The LRB.

Using rational argument to change minds

I have a longer piece in the latest issue of Contributoria: What’s the evidence on using rational argument to change people’s minds? Here’s a few snips from the opening:

Are we, the human species, unreasonable? Do rational arguments have any power to sway us, or is it all intuition, hidden motivations, and various other forms of prejudice?

…the picture of human rationality painted by our profession can seem pretty bleak. Every week I hear about a new piece of research which shows up some quirk of our minds, like the one about people given a heavy clip board judge public issues as more important than people given a light clip board. Or that more attractive people are judged as more trustworthy, or they arguments they give as more intelligent.

…I set out to get to the bottom of the evidence on how we respond to rational arguments. Does rationality lose out every time to irrational motivations? Or is there any hope to those of us who want to persuade because we have good arguments, not because we are handsome, or popular, or offer heavy clipboards.

You can read the full thing here, and while you’re over there check out the rest of the the Contributoria site – all of the articles on which are published under a CC license and commissioned by members. On which note, a massive thanks to everyone who backed my proposal and offered comments (see previous announcements). Special thanks to Josie and Dan for giving close readings to the piece before it was finished.

Edit: Contributoria didn’t last long, but I republished this essay and some others in an ebook “For argument’s sake: evidence that reason can change minds” (amazon, smashwords)

 

Spike activity 02-05-2014

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

All the amazing Dwayne Goodwin and Jorge Cham brain comics are collated in this one fantastic tumblr.

Not Exactly Rocket Science covers a fascinating study on how randomly distributed initial benefits can lead to long-term gains.

You Neanderthal! Why thank you madam. New Scientist on how there’s no good evidence that Neanderthals were any less intelligent than us.

The Lancet Psychiatry journal launches today. Which you probably mostly missed because it is locked behind a paywall picket fence. It does, however, have a freely available podcast that looks great.

The mythconception of the mad genius. Good article in Frontiers in Psychology challenging the idea that creativity and madness are linked.

Scientific American Mind on surprising connections between words and the sense of motion through space. Which is why I always sound like a drunk salsa dancer when I talk.

The trouble with sex. ABC Radio National’s Philosopher’s Zone asks why philosophy has a hot and cold relationship to sex.

Forbes cover the FDA crackdown on autism quackery.

Berlin Hallucinations Talk, Thursday 8th May

I’m going to be doing a public talk on the science of hallucinations in Berlin next week. This thoroughly awesome poster has been made for the event.

A big tip of the hat to illustrator Eoin Ryan for that one.

The talk will take place in the Villa Neukölln bar, is part of the Big Data Week programme and there are more details on the Facebook page.

I got invited to do the talk thanks to Candice Gordon, who I first met in a pub in Dublin while doing a neuroscience talk. She now does professional rock n’ roll, plays with ferrofluids and organises neuroscience talks in Berlin pubs when she’s not on tour.

That makes me cool by association so have some of that high school doubters.