Neuro-Consciousness Focus Group Part 2: Girl Talk

In sort of an odd twist of fate, my good friend Alex got me a ticket to see Girl Talk last night at Terminal 5 and we went with his wife and a few friends. If you haven't heard of Girl Talk, it's a DJ who does a lot of mashing - take a hook from a Nine Inch Nails song and play it alongside Kelly Clarkson's "Since You Been Gone." Quite a sweet spot for drunken, 20-something hipsters. It's pure marketing genius really - it's going to be a while before those little lab rats stop hitting that lever.

A few posts ago I discussed frame shifting in the context of listening to over a thousand 15-second snippets of music for a focus group. Girl Talk effectively re-created that experience, except it was far more fun and clever. What's funny is that you spend half the time either dancing (Alex and Karen) or staring blankly into space wondering what song that beat playing under the Van Halen riff comes from (Kevin, Gabe, and Micah). Once you figure it out, you continually crave the mental act of dissecting the "songs."

We went for a drink after the show and my friend Oliver was frustrated with the song playing at the bar. Not realizing he was joking, I asked why he didn't like it. "It won't change! And it's not mashed up with anything!"

We are the generation of frame shifters. Somehow I think that doesn't apply to me, but as I write this post, I have four different instant message conversations going on, a few emails I'm responding to, some very heavy texting, and the occasional phone call. The characters, relationships, and plot are all totally different in each, yet I'm effortlessly and obsessively switching between them at lightning speed. In fact, when a few of the conversations begin to slow I get tense as if I'm not stimulated enough.

I guess this is what the future tastes like. Sometimes I worry that I've gotten too good at compartmentalizing my emotions. I'm having one conversation with a girl that just had a tough break up, and another with a friend recapping the prior evening's highlights. Is that disrespectful to my friend going through a tough time? On occasion I feel guilty when that happens. Is there a dark side to all this frame shifting?


Atheists Like to Make Fun of Religious People

Ouch, not exactly subtle, guys, but good for a giggle...

I do like "talking to the ceiling"


Music Neuro-Consciousness Focus Group?

In the effort to supplement my income, I sign up for the occasional focus group here in NYC. These are not usually very stimulating affairs. In fact, I usually leave wondering if the incredibly banal experience is worth the 100-200 clams. But this last one felt more like an experiment in psychology and neuroscience - I thought Daniel Leviten was hiding somewhere behind a one way mirror.

The focus group was for a new, rock radio station. Over the course of four hours (split over two days), me and about 50 other subjects listened to 15-second snippets of over a thousand songs and subsequently rated them. As a musician and an avid music fan, I figured this would be interesting. I recognized roughly 90% of the songs I heard, and liked about 50%. The music ranged from Radiohead, Kings of Leon, and Pearl Jam to Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, and The Doors.

I can't imagine what my brain scan images under un fMRI machine would have looked like. I thought my amygdala was going to catch fire by the end. After last night's second session, I left there with a massive headache. I assume it was brought on by the intense emotional responses of each song I listened to.

It was like an exercise in emotional frame shifting - a new scene once every 15 seconds. An inadvertent reminder that emotion does not happen in a vacuum. There was a whole scene associated with every song that elicited images and feelings from memory. Sights, sounds, smells, people, places, objects, sex, childhood, anger, frustration, elation, depression, regret, euphoria. My brain felt like a hurricane - bounding around in the storm of one's memory is the closest thing we have to time travel, I felt like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five coming unstuck in time. A brief excerpt of my internal play:

(first song starts)
Oh, I used to listen to that song in the car with my dad when I was five years old, felt safe and happy...
(change song)
My mother loved this song and she used to play it on the piano in the living room, it was a meloncholy song, but I loved how she played it, she was such a good music-
(change song)
Fast forward to 23 years od - breakup song, wish I wasn't hearing this right now, I'm sad and bitter and remembering her face, which I used to be attracted to, god, i hope i never have to see her again...
(change song)
Ha, my brother used to attempt playing this song during his brief stint on the saxophone, sounded like he was killing a goose in his bedroom, shit I need to call him...
(change song)
Sweet! - I used to listen to this on my yellow Sony Sports Walkman while I mowed the lawn when I was 15, screaming over the mower to sing along. I found out later my parents used to get a kick out of that image.
(change song)
Oh shit, this is the song my friends and I used to listen to while driving around in my friend's black, Nissan 300ZX that he got from his uncle, right after our good friend died in a car accident - an odd combination of nostalgia, euphoria, devastating regret and sadness. I wonder how his parents are-
(change song)
Back to 12 years old, this was playing during a 7th grade dance when I first french kissed Ornella Rullo, she had chinese food for dinner that night. I was wearing red pants for some reason. Man, that was a good first french kiss, we were only TWELVE-
(change song)
Maybe I do like Tom Petty? This is from that cheese-y, tripped out Alice in Wonderland video where Alice looks like a blond Karen Carpenter, and there's that scene where her body is a cake, and the Mad Hatter is cutting himself and everyone else a piece. Ha ha...
Okay, my headache is coming back...I think you get the point.

(On a side note, upon re-watching the video below, I'm impressed with my memory's ability to remember that it was the Mad Hatter cutting the cake - haven't seen that video in at least 7-8 years...)


If You're Considering Going on Anti-Depressants

Consider how hard it is to come off them. Pharma Industry watchdog, Philip Dawdy works his ass off chronicling the endless side effects while on and tapering off anti-depressants (as well as anti-psychotic meds) on his blog, Furious Seasons. He populates his blog with three to four, if not five posts a day with facts and stories on patient experiences, his own experiences, and the daily goings on in the psychotropic drug world.

Not to mention the brave guy has to suffer endless abuse from readers that he is either anti-psychiatry, or oddly pro-pharma - neither of which are true. I think what Mr. Dawdy is doing is incredibly vital, and an important reminder that we're still far from a truly functional paradigm that relates the brain, consciousness, and mood.

An excerpt from one of his posts today:

I was out on a walk yesterday afternoon and ran into a friend in the neighborhood, one who I don't run into so much these days. She's in her late-20s and told me she was feeling crappy. Why? I asked.

"Oh, I finished tapering off my anti-depressant and I feel all slowed down."

The anti-depressant in question was citalopram (Celexa in branded form) and she'd tapered down from 10 mgs. over four weeks, a bit too fast in my experience. But she wanted off the drug, which she'd been on for two years, because she felt it wasn't doing much for her, so she went for it. We talked and as it came out she'd experienced some of the buzzing in the back of the neck that many people experience coming off an SSRI. No brain flashes though.

I assured her the sluggishness she was feeling was fairly common following SSRI withdrawal and that hopefully it would clear up in a week or two. But it could take longer. She was worried about having to go back on citalopram. I told her about some I know in Seattle who's been hooked" (his term for it, not mine) on Prozac for 20 years, despite several lengthy attempts to taper off the drug.

I sensed she hadn't looked into any outside resources for managing her withdrawal--Peter Breggin would've argued for a much longer taper--and I told her that what she was experiencing was almost entirely unresearched by researchers.

It's just astounding, seems like an added bonus for drug makers that the withdrawal from these pills are so painful. I try not to be extreme on this blog, but the way these drugs are sold, marketed, and prescribed is just irresponsible and evil. The irony is that these anti-depressants are billed as "medicine" by your doctors who so often seem to oversell their benefits. Makes me so angry.

Anyway, thanks to your continued hard work and sacrifice, Philip. Keep fighting the good fight.


Global Warming - A Crisis of the Mind? RIP Michael Crichton

Well, I don't share my viewpoint on this topic with many people. Basically, my friend Kevin, and my Dad are the only other atheists to both God and Global Warming. It's not an easy viewpoint to have these days, especially living in Brooklyn, NY - a place where people danced in the streets on election night as if world peace was announced. Bill Maher in his silly, smug way proclaimed the other day that our "planet is melting." PZ Myers in his blowhard, asinine blog voice insulted a teenage girl who tried to determine the reality of global warming based on her own research into the literature. Of course she would have been applauded had she concluded it was anthropogenic.

It is an obvious and irritating irony to hear atheists painting doomsday scenarios if we don't change our ways. I'm always amused to hear left-leaning people so outraged at the Bush administration's use of 9/11 to propel their agenda. Meanwhile, we're repeatedly told by democrat policy makers that the planet will be ruined by the time our children are adults, and that the majority of natural disasters are our fault. The hypocrisy of calling fear tactics on one side, while blatantly using them on your own is astounding.

Watch below as Iam Pilmer manages to irritate everyone in the room as he describes how environmentalism is the new religion (thanks, Kevin). He makes some really beautifully illustrated points. Parts actually seem lifted from the late Michael Crichton's lecture on the topic.

"Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday---these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don't want to talk anybody out of them, as I don't want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.

"And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them."
RIP M. Crichton, it takes tremendous courage to fight the majority opinion when it's wrong. He took a lot of flak for his unique perspective, and I believe history will prove him right. It makes him a real hero of mine.


Bjork Dismantles Her TV

Once again, I'm not what this has to do with this blog, but I feel that it does, so here it is.

"You shouldn't let poets lie to you"

A Break in the Action

Look, I'm not apologizing okay? This is really more of a journal than a blog, and I am a busy man! And it's lame to be out for drinks only tell people that you have to run home and post to your neuroblog. Got some hopefully fun, random, and interesting stuff on the way...just hang in there, i know you've been feeling incomplete...