Thursday, September 20, 2007

Silence on the posting front...

I have not managed to post much recently due to other commitments, but hope to resume posting on something a little more substantial than pointers to other people's blogging (as good as they are...) in the middle of next week.

For now: see a great post on "Neuroarchitecture", over at Mind Hacks

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What is an emotion?

"And yet it is even now certain that of two things concerning the emotions, one must be true. Either separate and special centres, affected to them alone, are their brain-seat, or else they correspond to processes occurring in the motor and sensory centres, already assigned, or in others like them, not yet mapped out. If the former be the case we must deny the current view, and hold the cortex to be something more than the surface of "projection" for every sensitive spot and every muscle in the body. If the latter be the case, we must ask whether the emotional "process" in the sensory or motor centre be an altogether peculiar one, or whether it resembles the ordinary perceptive processes of which those centres are already recognised to be the seat. The purpose of the following pages is to show that the last alternative comes nearest to the truth, and that the emotional brain-processes no only resemble the ordinary sensorial brain-processes, but in very truth are nothing but such processes variously combined."

Quote from William James in "What is an Emotion?", first published in Mind 9, pp 188-205

Encephalon #31

The thirty-first edition of Encephalon is up at Dr. Deb. It has been since Monday, but I've only just got round to reading it. A good one as usual, and this one even starts with a picture of Spock... :-) There are three contributions to this edition which I found particularly interesting:

- Vaughan at Mind Hacks brings us a look at the psychology of believing news reports. Case studies are reviewed in support of the view that if false information is presented first it is likely to be believed, even in the face of subsequent corrections - indeed, these corrections may even embed the incorrect initially provided information (perhaps through the effect by which repeated information is more likely to be believed). The implications of this effect is quite wide ranging as pointed out by Vaughan: "As I'm sure these principles are already widely known among government and commercial PR departments, bear them in mind when evaluating public information."

- From Neurobiotaxis comes a review of the "Triune brain" theory, espoused by Paul MacLean. This theory of brain evolution proposes the well known three "layers" (for want of a better word on my part) of brain organisation, from the evolutionary primitive structures of the spinal cord and brain stem, through the midbrain structures of the limbic system, to the cerebral cortex, which is proposed as the most advanced structure in evolutionary terms. The post deals with it in terms of affective neuroscience, and asks the question whether the "triune brain" view is appropriate and relevant as a major theory. The conclusion after very detailed discussion (it took me a while to take in all the information) is essentially no, but it is noted that in the area of emotional behaviour, it is still defended by some (though at times as a useful conceptualisation rather than a prediction-producing model). A good read.

- Finally, a post on Synaesthesia by Mo at Neurophilosophy, particularly the recently discovered mirror-touch synaesthesia. After a review of the neuropsychological basis of synaesthesia (possibly by excess cross-modal neural connectivity, or by impaired inhibition across regions), MTS is introduced as a condition whose 'carriers' experience tactile information when they see another person being touched. Synaesthesia has long been something I have been interested in, partly as an example of how (if one ascribes to the cross-modal connections view) an 'error' in the development of the brain doesn't lead to impaired performance of any sort, and in some cases quite the opposite - demonstrating the amazing flexibility of the system that is the brain.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Mind Games

A story on the BBC appeared yesterday discussing the rise of the "brain training" computer game. I'm sure that everyone by now has seen those Nintendo DS adverts for that brain training game with Nicole Kidman in it that seems to be absolutely everywhere. They have been around for a while - although it seems as though only recently has it turned into a "fad". I particularly like the following sentence in the BBC article, which I think sums up this sentiment nicely:

"As if the gym was not tyranny enough, now there's another fitness routine
that's playing on the insecurities of the masses - the brain workout."
You would expect games companies to take whichever angle they can in order to sell more games, by using emotional blackmail perhaps by saying its for your (and your childrens...) wellbeing. But now Baroness Susan Greenfield, an eminant member of the Royal Society (if my memory serves me correctly), is fronting the MindFit family of mental games/exercises. I can't comment on the cognitive benefits of such software because I don't know enough about it, but I would have thought that if it were that genuinely good for your mental health, it would be freeware. But it's not (allthough of course I can see many reasons why it isn't).

Anyways, SharpBrains might be an interesting place to look for further information on "brain exercises" in general.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The biochemistry of memory

From a post at Neurophilosophy:

Found a series of links over at Neurophilosophy to five articles written on the subject of memory (at Chemical and Engineering News), particularly the biochemistry aspects. Not read the articles fully myself yet (just a quick skim so far), but look very interesting at the very least:

- Hold that thought
- Molecules for memory
- The well-endowed mind
- Memory at its worst
- Sleep anchors memory

Defending oneself against misuse of statistics

A little while ago, I came across a review of the five questions that Darryl Huff ("How to lie with statistics") suggested one should use to defend oneself "against statistics", via Mind Hacks. In addition to reviewing the five points, Tom at idiolect provides a commentary which provides some interesting and relevant additional points. The five questions I quote below, you can find the commentary here:
1. Who says so? Can we suspect deliberate or unconscious bias in the originator of the statistic? Huff recommends looking for an “O.K Name” - e.g. a university - as some slim promise of reliability. Second to this he recommends being careful to distinguish the originator of the ‘data’ from the originator of the conclusion or intepretation.
2. How Does He Know? Is the sample biased? representative? large enough?
3. What’s Missing? Statistics given without a measure of realiability are ‘not to be taken very seriously’. What is the relevant base rates / appropriate comparison figure? Do averages disguide important variations?
4. Did somebody change the subject? E.g. More reported cases are not the same as more cases, what people say they do (or will do) is not the same as what they actually do (or will do), association (correlation) is not causation.
5. Does it make sense? Is the figure spuriously accuracy? Convert percentages to real numbers and convert real numbers to percentages, compare both with your intuitions.

For me, one of the most interesting observations (and ensuing comment) made is concerned with credibility of the author who uses statistics (point one above). But I'm not going to recreate the discussion here (especially given some of the posts in the current Encephalon), read the post at idiolect.