Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Odyssey Through the Brain

11/30/10. This is your brain in pictures.

Abigail Zuger, M.D. writes:

"Who has seen the mind? Neither you nor I — nor any of the legions of neuroscientists bent on opening the secrets of that invisible force, as powerful and erratic as the wind." ...


Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Quotations


"A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."

--- George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

"Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship."

--- Harry S. Truman (1884 - 1972)

"This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."

--- T.S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

NYT Book Recommendations

11/27/10. Three NYTs book reviewers make some recommendations.


Fragile Urban Families

11/27/10. Many children left behind.

Kay S. Hymowitz:

"New findings show just how bad things are for the kids.

Poverty is on the rise, according to census data, and now affects 14.3 percent of the population, up from 13.2 percent in 2008. A stumbling economy obviously explains the recent uptick. But those who think that poor urban families’ problems have an economic fix would do well to pick up the fall issue of The Future of Children, a journal jointly published by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Brookings Institution . . ."


Friday, November 26, 2010

Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty

11/26/10. Dennis Dutton is a philosophy professor and the editor of Arts and Letters Daily:


In his book "The Art Instinct," he suggests that humans are hard-wired to seek beauty.

Here, Professor Dutton gives a video presentation (15:33) of his theory of beauty.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Edge: Richard Thaler's Question



"The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?"

65 scientists answer:


Sample answers:


Psychologist, University of Virginia; Author, "The Happiness Hypothesis."

The closest thing to a persistent flat earth belief in psychology is probably the view that experiences in the first five years of life largely shape the personality of the adult. (The child is father to the man, as Freud said). It's now clear that experiences that affect brain development, such as some viral diseases or some head injuries, can indeed change adult personality. Also, extreme conditions that endure for years or that interfere with the formation of early attachments (e.g., an abusive parent) can also have lasting effects. But the idea that relatively short-lived experiences in the first few years — even traumatic ones, and even short-lived sexual abuse — will have powerful effects on adult personality... this just doesn't seem to be true. (Although such events can leave lasting traces on older children). Personality is shaped by the interaction of genes with experience; psychologists and lay people alike long underestimated the power of genes, and they spent too much time looking at the wrong phase of childhood (early childhood), instead of at the developmental phases that matter more (i.e., the prenatal period, and adolescence).

Why is early childhood such a draw when people try to explain adult personalities? I think it's because we think in terms of stories, and it's almost impossible for us NOT to look back from Act III (adulthood) to early childhood (act I) when we try to explain someone turned out to be a hero or serial killer. In stories, there's usually some foreshadowing in act I of events to come in act III. But in real life there is almost never a connection.


Psychologist. Author, "No Two Alike."

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. In other words, people tend to resemble their parents. They resemble their parents not only in physical appearance but also, to some degree, in psychological characteristics.

The question is: Why? Two competing answers have been offered: nature (the genes that people inherit from their parents) and nurture (the way their parents brought them up). Neither of these extreme positions stood up to scrutiny and they eventually gave way to a compromise solution: nature + nurture. Half nature, half nurture. This compromise is now an accepted belief, widely held by scientists and nonscientists alike.

But the compromise solution is wrong, too. Genes do indeed make people turn out something like their parents, but the way their parents brought them up does not. So nature + nurture is wrong: it's nature + something else.

The evidence has been piling up since the 1970s; by now it's overwhelming. And yet few people outside of psychology know about this evidence, and even within psychology only a minority have come to terms with it.

You asked for "examples of wrong scientific beliefs that we've already learned were wrong." But who is "we"? A few thousand people have learned that the belief in nature + nurture is wrong, but most people haven't.

Monday Quotations


"The heart of man is made to reconcile the most glaring contradictions."

--- David Hume (1711-1776)

"It should be noted that children at play are not playing about; their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity."

--- Montaigne (1533 - 1592)

"There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people."

--- Adam Smith (1723 - 1790)

"It's All Your Fault"

111/22/10. Psychiatrist Theodore Dalrmple enlightens us about the many sides of resentment.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Doing Battle with the ADHD Industrial Complex"


 Katherine Ellison writes:

"As the mother of a teenager who got a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in 2004, I wasn't surprised to read the new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said the number of ADHD cases in children jumped by 22 percent between 2003 and 2007 - an increase of 1 million kids."...


Saturday, November 20, 2010

World Clock

11/20/10. http://www.poodwaddle.com/worldclock.swf

Psychopathy - Socially Challenging


"WHAT makes people psychopaths is not an idle question. Prisons are packed with them. So, according to some, are boardrooms. The combination of a propensity for impulsive risk-taking with a lack of guilt and shame (the two main characteristics of psychopathy) may lead, according to circumstances, to a criminal career or a business one. That has provoked a debate about whether the phenomenon is an aberration, or whether natural selection favours it, at least when it is rare in a population. The boardroom, after all, is a desirable place to be—and before the invention of prisons, even crime might often have paid."


Thursday, November 18, 2010

"The Anti-Semite's Pointed Finger"

11/18/10. Ruth R. Wisse, professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard University delivered that talk in August at the Conference of the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism.

"How Jews have been tricked into believing they can cure the hatred of them when the hatred has always existed because it is politically useful for the haters."


Monday, November 15, 2010

"When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays"

11/15/10. The ability to concentrate, focus, and lose yourself in the challenge of an activity are key components of the pursuit of happiness.


Monday Quotations


"Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one's mind."

--- W. Somerset Maugham (1974 - 1965)

"In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves:  the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy."

--- Ivan Illich (1926 - 2002)

"Falsehood has a perennial spring."

--- Edmund Burke (1729 - 1797)

Robert Sapolsky: "This is Your Brain on Metaphors"

11/15/10.  Robert Sapolsky is John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biology, Neurology and Neurosurgery at Stanford University, and a research associate at the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya.

Professor Sapolsky is the author of "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers."


Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Desire in the Twilight of Life"

11/13/10. Mark Lachs, a Professor of Clinical Medicine and a Director of Geriatrics writes:

"Despite the stereotypes and bad jokes, intimacy is alive and well in our aging population."


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nearly 1 in 10 U.S. Kids Have ADHD, Study Finds

11/11/10. These results about ADHD are based on a survey of parents of children age 4 through 17, completed at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey covered 73,000 children, in kids of all races and family income levels, and across all regions of the country except the West. Of note, about half of the sample who had ADHD, had a mild form of the disorder.



11/11/10. A core question in understanding people is:

How Does the Brain Create the Mind?

The short answer is:  We don't know.

In his new book "Self Comes to Mind," Antonio Damasio begins to outline the answer to this core question. Dr. Damasio is the David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Neurology, and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Best Books of 2010

11/8/10. Do you have any favorite books to recommend?


Why Philosophy?


Steve Pyke has been photographing philosophers for more than two decades. In compiling his work for an upcoming book, Mr. Pyke asked his subjects why they had spent their lives in philosophy. Click on each portrait to read their statements.


Monday Quotations


“Hypocrisy is a tribute which vice pays to virtue.”

--- Francois, Sixth Duc de la Rochefoucauld (1615 – 1680)

“The man who believes he can live without others is mistaken; and the man who thinks others can’t live without him is more mistaken.”

--- Hasidic saying

“Beware of charisma…’Representative Men’ was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1850 phrase for the great men in a democracy….Is there some common quality among these Representative Men who have been most successful as our leaders? I call it the need to be authentic---or, as our dictionaries tell us, ‘conforming to fact and therefore worthy of trust, reliance or belief.’ While the charismatic has an uncanny outside source of strength, the authentic is strong because he is what he seems to be.”

---Daniel J. Boorstin (1914 – 2004)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Did Physics Kill God?"

11/5/10. More on the never-ending struggles between science and religion. I wonder what would happen if we discovered that G-d is a scientist.


"T.S. Eliot and the Demise of the Literary Culture"

11/4/10. Joseph Epstein writes:

"No one writing in the English language is likely to establish a reigning authority over poetry and criticism and literature in general as T.S. Eliot did between the early 1930s and his death in 1965 at the age of 77...

...Eliot was the equivalent in literature of Albert Einstein in science in that everyone seemed to know that these men were immensely significant without quite knowing for what." ...


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"A Delta Drifter Keeps His Southern Accent"

11/3/10. Mose Allison is an original in a time one can ask, "How many originals do you want?"

He is a jazz pianist, a blues singer, a country-music storyteller, and an author of more than 150 songs, including, "My Wife Says She's Out Jogging, But I think She's Running Around."


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Alice: Dancing Under the Gallows

11/2/10. Alice is 107 years old this month --- and is the oldest living Holocaust survivor. "Every day is beautiful," she says. The unexplainable miracle of resilience, hope and optimism --- this is.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday Quotations


“Everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet.”
--- John Guare (1938 - )

“Some people are far more sensitive to resemblances, and far more ready to point out wherein they consist, than others are. They are the wits, the poets, the inventors, the scientific men the practical geniuses. “

--- William James (1842 – 1910)

“There was a young belle of old Natchez
Whose garments were always in patchez.
When comments arose
On the state of her clothes,
She drawled, When Ah itches, Ah scratches!"

--- Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971)