Ramblings & ephemera

50% of people infected with personality-changing brain parasites from cats

From Carl Zimmer’s “The Return of the Puppet Masters” (Corante: 17 January 2006): I was investigating the remarkable ability parasites have to manipulate the behavior of their hosts. The lancet fluke Dicrocoelium dendriticum, for example, forces its ant host to clamp itself to the tip of grass blades, where a grazing mammal might eat it. […]

10,000 hours to reach expertise

From Malcolm Gladwell’s “A gift or hard graft?” (The Guardian: 15 November 2008): This idea – that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice – surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 […]

Correcting wrong info reinforces false beliefs

From Jonathan M. Gitlin’s “Does ideology trump facts? Studies say it often does” (Ars Technica: 24 September 2008): We like to think that people will be well informed before making important decisions, such as who to vote for, but the truth is that’s not always the case. Being uninformed is one thing, but having a […]

Interesting psychological disorders

From Lauren Davis’ “Delusion or Alien Invasion? Disorders That Make Life Seem Like Scifi” (io9: 27 September 2008): Capgras Delusion: You believe a loved one has been replaced with an exact duplicate. … Reduplicative Paramnesia: You believe that a place or location has been moved to another site, or has been duplicated and exists in […]

Lost her ability to play piano after she regained sight

From Oliver Sacks’ “The Case of Anna H.” (The New Yorker: 7 October 2002: 64): I was reminded of a blind woman, a contemporary of Mozart and a most remarkable pianist, who, it is said, could no longer play after she regained some sight.

After a stroke, he can write, but can’t read

From Oliver Sacks’ “The Case of Anna H.” (The New Yorker: 7 October 2002: 64): I recently received a letter from Howard Engel, a Canadian novelist, who told me that he had a somewhat similar problem following a stroke: “The area affected,” he relates, “was my ability to read. I can write, but I can’t […]

Language shapes thought

From Celeste Biever’s “Language may shape human thought” (New Scientist: 19 August 2004): Language may shape human thought – suggests a counting study in a Brazilian tribe whose language does not define numbers above two. Hunter-gatherers from the Pirahã tribe, whose language only contains words for the numbers one and two, were unable to reliably tell […]

What in our brains invest memories with emotion?

From Steven Pinker’s “What the F***?” (The New Republic: 9 Octobert 2007): The mammalian brain contains, among other things, the limbic system, an ancient network that regulates motivation and emotion, and the neocortex, the crinkled surface of the brain that ballooned in human evolution and which is the seat of perception, knowledge, reason, and planning. […]

How to exercise your brain

From Robyn Williams’s “How to Keep Your Brain Young” (The Science Show: 24 September 2005): Ian Robertson: Seven steps for keeping your brain functioning optimally when you’re older, but not just when you’re older but throughout life are: One, Aerobic fitness – amazing effects on the brain. Mental stimulation, both general mental stimulation and there […]

5 reasons people exaggerate risks

From Bruce Schneier’s “Movie Plot Threat Contest: Status Report” (Crypto-Gram Newsletter: 15 May 2006): In my book, Beyond Fear, I discussed five different tendencies people have to exaggerate risks: to believe that something is more risky than it actually is. 1. People exaggerate spectacular but rare risks and downplay common risks. 2. People have trouble […]

Why airport security fails constantly

From Bruce Schneier’s “Airport Passenger Screening” (Crypto-Gram Newsletter: 15 April 2006): It seems like every time someone tests airport security, airport security fails. In tests between November 2001 and February 2002, screeners missed 70 percent of knives, 30 percent of guns, and 60 percent of (fake) bombs. And recently, testers were able to smuggle bomb-making […]

The history of solitary confinement

From Daniel Brook’s “A History of Hard Time” (Legal Affairs: January/February 2003): Dickens wasn’t the first European intellectual who had crossed the Atlantic to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. A decade earlier, Alexis de Tocqueville had been sent by the French government to study the Philadelphia prison. … What drew the attention of Americans and Europeans […]

Kaspar Hauser

From Damn Interesting’s “Feral Children“: One of the more mysterious cases is that of Kaspar Hauser, who was discovered in Nuremberg, Germany in 1828. He was unsteady on his feet, held a letter for a man he had never met, and only spoke the phrase “I want to be a horseman like my father is.” […]

Flow defined

From Mihaly Csiksczentmihalyi’s “Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience“: Pleasure by itself does not bring happiness. We can experience pleasure (e.g. eating, sleeping, sex) without an investment of psychic energy. Enjoyment on the other hand, happens only as a result of an unusual amount of attention. Pleasure is fleeting and, unlike enjoyment, does not bring […]

Why are some people really good at some things?

From Stephen J. Dubner & Steven D. Levitt’s “A Star Is Made” (The New York Times): Anders Ericsson, a 58-year-old psychology professor at Florida State University, … is the ringleader of what might be called the Expert Performance Movement, a loose coalition of scholars trying to answer an important and seemingly primordial question: When someone […]

Word of the day: pareidolia

Pareidolia (from Greek para– amiss, faulty, wrong + eidolon, diminutive of eidos appearance, form) is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (usually an image) being mistakenly perceived as recognizable. Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, seeing the man in the moon, and hearing messages on records played in […]

Funes the Memorious, for real

From “New form of superior memory syndrome found“: Scientists at the University of California-Irvine have identified the first known case of a new, superior memory syndrome. Researchers Elizabeth Parker, Larry Cahill and James McGaugh spent more than five years studying the case of “AJ,” a 40-year-old woman with incredibly strong memories of her personal past. […]

How to really practice to get better

From “How to be an expert“: Maybe the “naaturally talented artist” was simply the one who practiced a hell of a lot more. Or rather, a hell of a lot more deliberately. Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, professor of psychology at Florida State University, has spent most of his 20+ year career on the study of […]

3500 forgotten cans

From “Mental Health Association of Portland“: Over 3,500 copper canisters like these hold the cremated remains of patients of the Oregon State Hospital that went unclaimed by their families and friends. They sit on shelves in an abandoned building on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital. They symbolize the loneliness, isolation, shame and despair […]

Pi to unfathomable places

From “Man recites pi from memory to 83,431 places“: A Japanese psychiatric counselor has recited pi to 83,431 decimal places from memory, breaking his own personal best of 54,000 digits and setting an unofficial world record, a media report said Saturday. Akira Haraguchi, 59, had begun his attempt to recall the value of pi – […]