Ramblings & ephemera

Umberto Eco on books

From Umberto Eco’s “Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books” (Al-Ahram Weekly: 20—26 November 2003): Libraries, over the centuries, have been the most important way of keeping our collective wisdom. They were and still are a sort of universal brain where we can retrieve what we have forgotten and what we still do not […]

William Burroughs on why we take drugs

From Conrad Knickerbocker’s interview of William S. Burroughs in “The Art of Fiction No. 36” (The Paris Review: Fall 1965, No. 35): I think drugs are interesting principally as chemical means of altering metabolism and thereby altering what we call reality, which I would define as a more or less constant scanning pattern.

Dan Ariely on irrational decision making

From Dan Ariely’s “Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our own decisions?” (TED: 24 June 2009): I’ll give you a couple of more examples on irrational decision making. Imagine I give you a choice. Do you want to go for a weekend to Rome? All expenses paid, hotel, transportation, food, breakfast, a continental […]

There, on the Darkened Deathbed by John Masefield

This is pretty much what I think happens when we die, and unfortunately, what happens eventually after we die. There, on the darkened deathbed, dies the brain That flared three several times in seventy years; It cannot lift the silly hand again, Nor speak, nor sing, it neither sees nor hears. And muffled mourners put […]

Why we get disoriented in malls

From Wikipedia’s “Gruen transfer” (28 September 2009): In shopping mall design, the Gruen transfer refers to the moment when consumers respond to “scripted disorientation” cues in the environment. It is named for Austrian architect Victor Gruen (who disavowed such manipulative techniques) … The Gruen transfer refers to the moment when a consumer enters a shopping […]

Girls & boys & brain chemicals

photo credit: Oude School From John Cloud’s “Why Girls Have BFFs and Boys Hang Out in Packs” (TIME: 17 July 2009): For the better part of the past half-century, feminists, their opponents and armies of academics have debated the differences between men and women. Only in the past few years have scientists been able to […]

All about freezing to death

photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection From Peter Stark’s “As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow–First Chill–Then Stupor–Then the Letting Go” (Outside: January 1997): There is no precise core temperature at which the human body perishes from cold. At Dachau’s cold-water immersion baths, Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees […]

A better alternative to text CAPTCHAs

From Rich Gossweiler, Maryam Kamvar, & Shumeet Baluja’s “What’s Up CAPTCHA?: A CAPTCHA Based On Image Orientation” (Google: 20-24 April 2009): There are several classes of images which can be successfully oriented by computers. Some objects, such as faces, cars, pedestrians, sky, grass etc. … Many images, however, are difficult for computers to orient. For […]

Extreme male brains

From Joe Clark’s “The extreme Google brain” (Fawny: 26 April 2009): … Susan Pinker’s The Sexual Paradox, which explains, using scientific findings, why large majorities of girls and women behave almost identically at different stages of their lives – while large minorities of boys and men show vast variability compared to each other and to […]

The hard truths science reveals

From Steven Weinberg’s “Without God” (The New York Review of Books: 25 September 2008): Worse, the worldview of science is rather chilling. Not only do we not find any point to life laid out for us in nature, no objective basis for our moral principles, no correspondence between what we think is the moral law […]

Why we can easily remember jingles but not jokes

From Natalie Angier’s “In One Ear and Out the Other” (The New York Times: 16 March 2009): In understanding human memory and its tics, Scott A. Small, a neurologist and memory researcher at Columbia, suggests the familiar analogy with computer memory. We have our version of a buffer, he said, a short-term working memory of […]

How the fundamentalist thinks

From ScienceDaily’s “Brain Differences Found Between Believers In God And Non-believers” (5 March 2009): In two studies led by Assistant Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, participants performed a Stroop task – a well-known test of cognitive control – while hooked up to electrodes that measured their brain activity. Compared to non-believers, the religious participants showed significantly […]

The color of the TV you watch determines the color of your dreams

From Richard Alleyne’s “Black and white TV generation have monochrome dreams” (The Telegraph: 17 October 2008): New research suggests that the type of television you watched as a child has a profound effect on the colour of your dreams. While almost all under 25s dream in colour, thousands of over 55s, all of whom were […]

Chemically remove bad memories

From Nicholas Carr’s “Remembering to forget” (Rough Type: 22 October 2008): Slowly but surely, scientists are getting closer to developing a drug that will allow people to eliminate unpleasant memories. The new issue of Neuron features a report from a group of Chinese scientists who were able to use a chemical – the protein alpha-CaM […]

Gottman on relationships

From THE MATHEMATICS OF LOVE: A Talk with John Gottman (Edge: 14 April 2004): So far, his surmise is that “respect and affection are essential to all relationships working and contempt destroys them. It may differ from culture to culture how to communicate respect, and how to communicate affection, and how not to do it, […]

How it feels to drown, get decapitated, get electrocuted, and more

From Anna Gosline’s “Death special: How does it feel to die?” (New Scientist: 13 October 2007): Death comes in many guises, but one way or another it is usually a lack of oxygen to the brain that delivers the coup de grâce. Whether as a result of a heart attack, drowning or suffocation, for example, […]

Hallucinating the presence of the dead

From Vaughan Bell’s “Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased” (Scientific American: 2 December 2008): The dead stay with us, that much is clear. They remain in our hearts and minds, of course, but for many people they also linger in our senses—as sights, sounds, smells, touches or presences. Grief hallucinations are a normal reaction to […]

A Russian man with perfect memory

From Jonah Lehrer’s “Hell is a Perfect Memory” (The Frontal Cortex: 2 December 2008): This isn’t the first case report of a person with perfect memory. In the masterful The Mind of A Mnemonist, the Soviet neurologist A.R. Luria documented the story of a Russian newspaper reporter, D.C. Shereshevskii, who was incapable of forgetting. For […]

A woman who never forgets anything

From Samiha Shafy’s “An Infinite Loop in the Brain” (Der Spiegel: 21 November 2008): Price can rattle off, without hesitation, what she saw and heard on almost any given date. She remembers many early childhood experiences and most of the days between the ages of 9 and 15. After that, there are virtually no gaps […]

How con artists use psychology to work

From Paul J. Zak’s “How to Run a Con” (Psychology Today: 13 November 2008): When I was in high school, I took a job at an ARCO gas station on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, California. At the time, I drove a 1967 Mustang hotrod and thought I might pick up some tips and cheap […]