Bookended by amnesia and neurofeedback

A new edition of RadioLab has just hit the wires which riffs on the concept of loops and is bookended by an initial piece on transient global amnesia and a closing piece on the use of neurofeedback to control pain.

The programme is a sublime, lucid trip into a series of cycles, from the effects of memory disruption to the unprovability of mathematics.

Our lives are filled with loops that hurt us, heal us, make us laugh, and, sometimes, leave us wanting more. This hour, Radiolab investigates the strange things that emerge when something happens, then happens again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and … well, again.

As always, enchanting stuff.
 

Link to RadioLab edition on loops.

Relax, it’s just a reversible drug-induced coma

The New York Times has a fantastic interview with Emery Neal Brown, a neuroscientist and doctor who is trying to understand how anaesthesia works to better understand the brain and to build better drugs.

It’s a great interview because he address several of the common beliefs and myths about anaesthesia as well as the challenge of doing neuroscience on comatose people.

Q. Is anesthesia like a coma?

A. It’s a reversible drug-induced coma, to simplify. As with a coma that’s the result of a brain injury, the patient is unconscious, insensitive to pain, cannot move or remember. However, with anesthesia, once the drugs wear off, the coma wears off.

Q. Some years ago when I had an operation, I remember the anesthesiologist trying to soothe me by saying that she was going to put me “to sleep.” Was this right?

A. No. And I wish we’d refrain from saying that to patients. It’s inaccurate. It would be better if we explained exactly what the state of general anesthesia is and why it’s needed. Patients appreciate this intellectual honesty. Moreover, anesthesiologists should never say “put you to sleep” because it is exactly the expression used when speaking about euthanizing an animal!

 

Link to interview in New York Times.

Quito bound

Image from Wikipedia. Click for sourceDue to the complexities of the Colombian visa system, I am off to the beautiful city of Quito, Ecuador, for a week to organise the paperwork. I’m not sure how internet access will work out, so apologies if updates are a little less frequent than usual.

If anyone knows any good mind and brain things to see while I’m there, do let me know.

Already on the list is Hospital San Lazaro, one of the oldest psychiatric hospitals in Latin America. It’s considered part of Ecuador’s national heritage but I can’t see to find anything written about it in English.

However, YouTube has a very good short film about its history if you’re a Spanish-speaker or just want to see some of the historical photos and architecture.

The Maudsley cat

The not very good photo is of Coco, the Maudsley Hospital cat and one in a long line of felines who reside in psychiatric hospitals. Not all psychiatric hospitals have cats, but they’re not uncommon and exist as a sort of informal tradition of live-in feline therapy.

They’re very popular with both staff and patients, but their presence tends to drive managers up the wall, which just makes them all the more endearing. I’ve worked in three hospitals that have cats and almost invariably they live in the older adults ward, keeping the older folks company (and vice versa, of course).

The older adults ward at the Maudsley is called the Felix Post unit, after the distinguished psychiatrist of the same name. Coco’s predecessor was naturally called Felix, leading to occasional confusion where people assumed the ward was named after the cat.

As I hadn’t seen Coco all summer I enquired and it turns out he’s “gone to Liverpool”, which I’m assured isn’t a euphemism to protect those of fragile mood, but a genuine change in his location as the ward manager moved with Coco in tow. So for the first time in decades, the Maudsley is without a hospital cat.

the forbidden experiment

Rebecca Saxe, a psychologist from MIT, reviews Encounters with Wild Children by Adriana S. Benzaqu√©n, a history of the fascination that scientists have had with children who grow-up isolated from human contact. To raise a child without the influence of culture is the ‘forbidden experiment’, the test theorised by philosophers of human nature to reveal our ‘true selves’ (is man a beast or an angel underneath?). Some have thought that wild-children offer a natural occurance of this forbidden experiment, but at route, Benzaqu√©n argues, this idea doesn’t even make sense (quoting Saxe):

But here’s the catch: the forbidden experiment may belong to a smaller group of experimental problems that persistently seem meaningful but are not. Intuitively, we expect that while human nature interacts with human society in a typical child’s development, the natural and the social are in principle independent and distinguishable. If this intuition is wrong, the forbidden experiment is incoherent.

More at the Boston Review: The Forbidden Experiment: What can we learn from the wild child? Rebecca Saxe reviews ‘Encounters with Wild Children’ by Adriana S. Benzaqu√©n

Brain-Computer Interfaces

braincomputer.JPGIn this week’s edition of the journal Nature my colleagues and I at Brown and Cyberkinetics present more results from the first human implanted with a multi-electrode array-based direct-brain-computer interface, and also my colleagues at Stanford present a report on experiments exploring the maximum bit rate possible with such direct interfaces. Nature has provided a series of interviews and animations on the topic free to the public here.

Week 4, book draw winners

Sunday night means entry to this week’s Mind Performance Hacks book draw is now closed. A drumroll, please, while I pick this week’s winners (as before, with an added sort to make the uniq command work properly)… and our two winners are John Doppke and Jose Antonio Ortega. Congratulations! I’ll be in touch to get your addresses soon. Everyone: That’s our last book draw–thanks for playing!

Last chance to win Mind Performance Hacks

If you’ve caught my posts the last few Mondays, you’ll know that I read and commented on Mind Performance Hacks, a new book from Ron Hale-Evans and O’Reilly (with some of the regulars of this blog contributing a hack or two) some weeks ago and we’ve been running free draws since. If you want to know more about that book, the sample hacks are worth a read, as is the support site if you want to dig deeper.

Now, at the time we managed to get hold of just a few copies to give away, and there have been 6 lucky winners so far. This week is our 4th and final book draw. You know the drill by now:

If you’d like a chance of winning one of 2 copies of Mind Performance Hacks, send an email to mphdraw4 at mindhacks dot com. If you don’t win this time, you’ll have to buy it. Good luck!

And here’s the usual blurb: Next Sunday evening, UK time, I’ll choose 2 emails randomly and, if you’re a winner, I’ll be in touch to get your address. Please include your name in the email; if my email to you bounces I’ll choose a different one; cheaters will be excluded; organiser’s decision is final; void where prohibited; etc. You don’t have to be in the UK, and emails are deleted if you’re not a winner (if you entered last week and didn’t win, you’re welcome to enter again). Please note that the email address is different from last time.

Week 3, book draw winners

Hello folks, it’s time to pick out the 2 winners for this week’s Mind Performance Hacks free book draw (I’ll do it the same way as a couple of weeks ago)… Congratulations to Mark Atwood and Monique Milgrom! Well done, and I’ll email you soon to get your postal addresses. Everyone else, bad luck but don’t worry–we’re kicking off the last of our draws tomorrow. Look out for it!

Week 3 book draw

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts on Mind Performance Hacks, a new book from Ron Hale-Evans and O’Reilly (there are sample hacks online and you can browse the support site for it).

When I made that post, we got hold of some copies from the publisher, and we’ve been having a weekly give-away since. There have been 4 winners so far, and we’re looking for another 2 this week.

If you’d like a chance of winning one of 2 copies of Mind Performance Hacks, send an email to mphdraw3 at mindhacks dot com. Good luck!

Next Sunday evening, UK time, I’ll choose 2 emails randomly and, if you’re a winner, I’ll be in touch to get your address. Please include your name in the email; if my email to you bounces I’ll choose a different one; cheaters will be excluded; organiser’s decision is final; void where prohibited; etc. You don’t have to be in the UK, and emails are deleted if you’re not a winner (if you entered last week and didn’t win, you’re welcome to enter again). Please note that the email address is different from last time. And next Monday… we’ll run the final draw.

Week 2 book draw

If you missed it last week, I posted some thoughts on Mind Performance Hacks, a new book from Ron Hale-Evans and O’Reilly (you can read sample hacks and browse the support site for it).

We managed to get some copies from the publisher, as they also published Mind Hacks, the book this blog spun out from, and last week we gave away 2 copies in a draw. We’re doing the same this week, and have another two draws after this.

If you’d like a chance of winning one of 2 copies of Mind Performance Hacks, please send an email to mphdraw at mindhacks dot com. Next Sunday evening, UK time, I’ll choose 2 emails randomly and, if you’re a winner, I’ll be in touch to get your address. Please include your name in the email; if my email to you bounces I’ll choose a different one; cheaters will be excluded; organiser’s decision is final; void where prohibited; etc. You don’t have to be in the UK, and emails are deleted if you’re not a winner (if you entered last week and didn’t win, you’re welcome to enter again).

Please note that the email address is different from last time.

Book draw winners, week 1

Hey folks, entry to the Mind Performance Hacks free book draw from last Monday is now closed. The email address has now been deactivated, and all that’s left to do is randomly select the 2 winners. Here we go (see how I did the selection after the jump)… And congratulations Adrian Neumann and Chris Elliott! I’ll be in touch to get your postal addresses. Well done!

Everyone else, thanks for entering, and look out for the next draw tomorrow.

Continue reading “Book draw winners, week 1”

Mind Performance Hacks

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While I’ve been away, I’ve been reading Mind Performance Hacks by Ron Hale-Evans. (Full disclosure: There are a couple of Mind Hacks pieces in the book, so O’Reilly sent me a free copy.) What follows are some brief thoughts, so if you already know about the book then skip to the end of the post for the interesting bit.

MPH is O’Reilly’s second foray into the cognitive world, and focuses on strategies in high-level areas like memory, creativity and self-analysis. I especially enjoyed the the maths chapter, which includes topics like how to count to a million on your fingers (I’ve tried dactylonomy before) and how to estimate square roots in your head. The approach does mean that, for some of the hacks, there’s little room for the kind of explanation I usually look for, and I do admit to feeling sceptical when reading about a creativity technique from Edward de Bono or a mnemonic structure for figuring out your own emotional responses. Personally, I find some hacks like these are based on world-views that I find difficult to swallow whole–I don’t know whether independent assessments of the techniques exist, but if they do then I’d like to hear more about them. Happily, since the book is based on the Mentat Wiki (that’s the book’s support page), which is constantly growing, it’s quite likely that this kind of information will appear there in the future.

Our own Vaughan Bell and Tom Stafford have original hacks in MPH too, on sleep and nutrition. I’d forgotten they were making an appearance, for some reason, and it was a pleasant surprise to run across the familiar names and always-informative articles.

For me, the highlights were the ideas I’d run across but not chased down, and these had me reaching for my notebook. There’s discussion and much linking on artificial languages, constrained writing and board games, among much more. From this perspective, the entire book is a creativity machine. I can use it as a series of provocations, and that’s always good to have on the shelf. (And, as a last thought, I half-suspect that the fact the title abbreviates to MPH (for miles-per-hour) is not an accident. Hale-Evans comes across as an author with exactly this kind of intertwingled sense of humour.)

(Update: Ron points out, in the comments, that there are MPH sample hacks online (as PDFs). Do have a read.)

Free books!

As you’ll know, mindhacks.com isn’t an O’Reilly site. It was started to support the Mind Hacks book, that’s true, but since then it’s taken on a life of its own, thanks to our blog authors.

We do, however, have enough of a connection to wangle free copies of Mind Performance Hacks. More than that, we have enough free books to give away 2 copies a week for the next 4 weeks.

So: If you’d like a chance of a free copy of Mind Performance Hacks, send one email to freemph at mindhacks dot com. Next Sunday evening, UK time, I’ll choose 2 emails randomly and, if you’re a winner, I’ll be in touch to get your address. Please include your name in the email; if my email to you bounces I’ll choose a different one; cheaters will be excluded; organiser’s decision is final; void where prohibited; etc.

Next Monday, I’ll delete all the emails received so far and we’ll have another draw. Not bad eh?

Good luck!

(Update: I thought I’d better confirm that you don’t have to be in the UK to enter – anywhere in the world is fine – and I’m the only person who will see your email address (except if you win, obviously. All other emails will be deleted at the end of the draw).)

Zero wings

red_bull_can.jpgA recent news story has noted the consequences of drinking popular energy drink Red Bull in excess as a UK driver was booked for dangerous driving after drinking 20 cans (20 cans!) of the product.

Interestingly, the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry published a case report in 2001 suggesting that excessive intake triggered a manic episode in a gentleman with bipolar disorder.

Red Bull has had several papers published on it in scientific journals. It is often not referred to by brand, but often by the euphamism of ‘energy drink [with taurine and caffeine]’ or ‘functional energy drink’.

Despite the marketing hype, it has been genuinely shown to improve mental performance for a short duration, and particularly usefully, to counteract dangerous driver sleepiness during tests with a driving simulator.

…when taken in sensible doses, of course.

Possible explanation for premenstrual moodiness

mood_girl.jpgNew Scientist is reporting that the ‘moodiness’ experienced by some women during the premenstrual phase of the menstrual cycle may be linked to the function of the orbitofrontal cortex.

The oribitofrontal cortex (OFC), the part of the brain that lies just above the eyes, is known to be involved in emotional regulation.

The research, led by (the wonderfully named) Xenia Protopopescu from Cornell University, brain-scanned 12 women who did not experience mood changes during their menstrual cycle.

They found that an area in the OFC increased in activity when participants reacted to emotionally-laden words during an experimental task when in their premenstrual phase.

Crucially, there was less recorded activity for the same task when it was completed during the post-menstrual phase, suggesting emotional regulation was most needed during the earlier, premenstrual period, to maintain a steady mood.

The researchers have suggested that women who experience fluxations in mood during their cycle may not have such effective emotional regulation, although the exact mechanism of how the hormonal changes affect the function of the brain is still unclear.

The complexity of the issue is highlighted by the finding that other, more dispersed areas of the OFC, showed the opposite pattern of activity during the same experiment.

Link to New Scientist article.
Link to abstract of academic paper.