Gaming Leads to Science?

Cool article in Wired about the community of young gamer boys who do extensive research on how to crack the patterns of video games (or whatever the kids are calling them these days). They're using the scientific method in their analysis - combing data in spreadsheets, introducing new data sets, and reviewing the predictive ability of their models. The irony is, these same boys are sluggish when it comes to science in school:

One of the reasons kids get bored by science is that too many teachers present it as a fusty collection of facts for memorization. This is precisely wrong. Science isn't about facts. It's about the quest for facts -- the scientific method, the process by which we hash through confusing thickets of ignorance. It's dynamic, argumentative, collaborative, competitive, filled with flashes of crazy excitement and hours of drudgework, and driven by ego: Our desire to be the one who figures it out, at least for now. It's dramatic and nutty and fun.
I really like this description, it reminded me of the process of writing music. It's often painful, but the moments of discovery are always worth it. The key as he says above, is about having the motivation (or even better, obsession) to power through the predominantly frustrating phases.

Man, my aggregate knowledge of all things gaming could fit onto a Commodore 64 floppy disk. Given the advances in the field, I'm starting to realize that may have to change soon...

(Thanks, Alex)

The Neuroscience of Politics

My favorite neurblogger, Jonah Lehrer over at Frontal Cortex had a really excellent post on the madness of identity politics. I was going too chime in with my opinion here, but I think this says it all:

If neuroscience and psychology can teach us anything about politics, it's that we should approach the sport with a sense of irony and an appreciation for contingency. Yes, crucial issues are at stake - let's not forget that - but the political process is rarely about these issues. Instead, it's about reaffirming an irrational identity and tickling those gut feelings that operate at a very subterranean level. After all, I can easily imagine an alternate childhood that would have tilted me towards conservative politics. (Fortunately, my parents were part of that coastal elite that sips lattes all day long and hates God. Or so Guiliani would have you believe.) As a result, I ended up with an identity that lets me relate to people like this (picture of enthusiastic Obama fans)


The Invasion

The retread of The Body Snatchers out last year with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig was not a great movie, but an interesting concept. A prescription happy psychiatrist is dosing her patients and her own son with muscle relaxers, anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medications. After a crash landing by a space shuttle, which carries an alien virus effecting the brain, we begin to see people walking around like emotionless automatons with their memories preserved. As the infection perpetuates itself across the globe, wars end, and people live in relative peace.

The movie itself is a typical thriller with relatively predictable chase scenes and startle moments. Like I Am Legend, it's basically a zombie movie with some different physical/psychological features of the infected. These zombies don't have much goo/blood on them (just a little that disappears after a while), and the only thing that sets them apart from regular people is that they are as composed as hindu cows - even while watching people throw themselves off buildings.

I have to say, the comparison of zombies to people on psychotropic pharmaceuticals is extreme, but seems pretty apt. It was creepy to see an infected kid staring down at his Halloween candy completely uninterested - seems reminiscent of what an over-medicated child on ritalin looks like. It's a creepy reminder that a lot of anti-depressants like paxil cause a major loss in libido, so much so that they actually prescribe it to sex offenders. It's like Welcome to the Monkey House predicted all of this...

Sometimes it feels like the goal of humanity (or at least the drug industry) is to wipe out emotion, or to have emotions cordoned off and unavailable as if they're a vestigial feature of humanity. As the number of people on prescription psychotropic drugs continues to rise, there is something inherently relevant and haunting about the concept of The Invasion. As technology increases and attention spans decrease, and as the varying streams of emotional information enter our consciousness on a second-by-second basis, our collective ability to frame shift continues to improve. While that can be seen as a good thing, it also makes me wonder if we're not on a trend towards a society of sociopaths...or maybe at best, vulcans.

An understanding of what causes specific emotions will empower an individual to cope with them, as opposed to drugs like SSRI's which have next to no underlying hypothesis as to how they work. The old body snatchers concept is an interesting reminder that we're still in the dark ages when it comes to our understanding of emotion.

By the way, here's a trailer where you basically get to see the whole movie: