SPORE May Finally Turn Me Into a Video Game Nerd

I've really never been high on video games, I've always had a hard time finding any value in them. But Spore has certainly caught my attention.

It allows a player to control the evolution of a species from its beginnings as a unicellular organism, through development as an intelligent and social creature, to interstellar exploration as a spacefaring culture.
This game ends up being a coincidentally perfect example of what creationism would look like if you were God. Hope no one gets confused ;).

Reminds me of that Halloween Simpsons episode where Lisa accidentally creates life - she watches the evolving humanoids create fire, civilization, and then futurama-like cities. Since their technology surpasses ours, they develop a shrinker ray and beam her down into their world believing she's God. Then they start asking her all the big life questions - my favorite, "Why do good things happen to bad people?"

Best Dancing Bird I've Ever Seen

This bird just smokes on the dance floor. This was initially just an internet phenomenon, but according to Aniruddh Patel of The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, this bird could shed some light on the neurology of dancing. More importantly it explores the possibility of using dance as a treatment for neurodegenerative movement disorders like Parkinson's Disease.

"Music with a beat can sometimes help people with Parkinson’s disease to initiate and coordinate walking," says Patel. "But we don’t know why. If non-human animals can synchronize to a beat, what we learn from their brains could be relevant for understanding the mechanisms behind the clinical power of rhythmic music in Parkinson’s."
I just hope my mom watches this...

(Via Neurophilosophy),

Benny Luva Was A Neuroscientist

I hope Jonah Lehrer doesn't get mad at me for stealing his clever title trick, but as my obsession with one of the most important neuroscience principles continues to grow, I had to post another (hilarious) example of top down processing.

An "interpretation" of the lyrics are subtitled during this electric (and I DO mean electric) Bollywood video, which actually changes the perception of what you think you're hearing.

Michael Shermer did a TED talk about this phenomenon, but he used Stairway to Heaven played backwards - I'm not sure it's as effective as Benny Luva here...

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


Good Critique on Recent Homosexuality Study

I found a great critical review of the amgydala/hemisphere symmetry study I posted about the other day (via The Neurocritic). After providing examples of numerous confounds to the study, the reviewer made this conclusion:

There are many more technical problems with the analytical techniques used in this study. I'm not going to bother going through all of them. Needless to say, this study proves absolutely nothing, and is just another example of bad science. As an MRI researcher, this article offends me personally, for it gives MRI and PET research a bad rap; I'm going to go throw up now.
I would still take this a step further. It's not just the analytical techniques, it's the starting point. We are mired in this search to correlate vague, highly complex variables from two disparate systems - sexuality and the size of a brain region. I know I keep saying this, but it's just phrenology with better tools.

Studies in neuroscience historically run into problems because they try to run before they can walk. While it's amazing to have the technology to measure these brain differences, our understanding of consciousness, personality, character, sexuality, addiction, habitual behavior, etc. is still too questionable and badly defined to make true correlations with neurological attributes. We're nowhere close to close on this one.

The nature of these "neuropsychological" studies is still in dire need of a paradigm shift.


The Fruitless Hunt for the Physical Substrate of Homosexuality

It seems these silly studies comparing brain regions of gay and straight people are surfacing again. Frankly, if I was gay (which I'm not), I'd be offended by these studies. There is still zero definition of actual character traits when studying these people. We're defining "gay" by an attraction to the same sex. So that's it? All "gay" men act like women? Why not just assume all gay men love the The Bird Cage too?

This idea that gay women have masculinized brains and vice versa is a total stereotype and grossly inaccurate. There are exceptions to the rule everywhere - for instance, how do we categorize macho, aggressive male rappers with homophobic lyrics that also...have sex with men! Like with any shoddy study, they just ignore the unwanted data. And don't let that stop the science writers from the absurd extrapolations like the headline from New Scientist - "Gay brains structured like those of the opposite sex."

This claim is based on a study with 45 gay and straight people - not exactly a huge sample size. Not to mention, there's no implication that maybe the difference in amygdala structure may be caused by experience.

This is just another example of dark ages phrenology...I mean, current neuroscience.

Aural Illusion

I'm guessing this is an example of top down processing (click that link to the left, it's a great explanation of TDP).

First, watch and listen to the video below.

Sounds sort of like "dada dada dada."

Now close your eyes and play it.

It switches to "baba baba baba." Not sure this works for everyone, but it did for me. My guess is seeing the hippie guy mouth the pronunciation of a "da" sound actually changes your perception of the sound. Close your eyes, and your hear the actual sound being made. The visual information is tricking your auditory perception. It's not an extraordinary example of top down processing, but it's pretty interesting.

(from Bad Astronomy)


How to Nap

Really informative little graphic in the Boston Globe on how to nap.


Look! No Hands!

Here's a video clip of a guy navigating his Second Life Avatar with his brain. It is speculated that this could help people with Locked-in Syndrome, a rare affliction that was the topic of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," written by Jean-Dominique Bauby. This would potentially allow these people to communicate more effectively - certainly more so than Bauby's pain-staking process:

"The entire book was written by Bauby blinking his left eyelid - in July and August of 1996. A transcriber repeatedly recited a French language frequency-ordered alphabet (E S A R I N T U L etc.), until Bauby blinked to choose the next letter. The book took about 200,000 blinks to write and each word took approximately two minutes"


Can't Get That Song Out of Your Head?

Listen to the whole thing, apparently...interesting, if not a bit counter-intuitive...

"Getting "Eye of the Tiger" stuck in your head is the result of a glitch in your auditory cortex. This part of your brain processes sounds and stores them for later recall. It powers up and can start crooning uncontrollably after hearing just a few notes of a familiar tune. Want it to stop? Listen to the whole song or do some math"
Why would you ever want Eye of the Tiger out of your head? I'd be more concerned if it was, "near... far...whereEVER you are..."

Is it in your head now? It's in mine. So I have to go listen to the whole damn song? Not sure I'm happy with this solution...

To digress, the way we describe brain processes still sounds screwy to me. The idea of "powering up" areas of the brain paints an over-simplified and inaccurate picture.


In Entertainment News...

Dr. Drew Calls Tom Cruise "mentally ill." I can't say I'm a HUGE Dr. Drew fan, but sometimes he comes out with gems like this:

"A lot of people in the public eye who behave strangely have mental illness we can learn from, and much of it is based on childhood trauma, without a doubt. Take a guy like Tom Cruise. Why would somebody be drawn into a cultish kind of environment like Scientology? To me, that's a function of a very deep emptiness and suggests serious neglect in childhood - maybe some abuse, but mostly neglect."
To a lot, this probably sounds like psychobabble, but from my experience, and based on what I've learned from the few the really good psychiatrists I've met (all one of them) - abuse and neglect are the main culprits for futurepathological behavior. It is NOT chemical imbalances and neurological disorders - that's a pharmaceutical fantasy...


Smoking Cessation Drug = Life Cessation

This one just blows me away. Have you tried the Chantix to quit smoking? Yet another SSRI on the market to treat any old condition (smoking, despression, obesity, social anxiety - what's the difference?)

Here's a new catch, the drug has been banned for truck drivers, pilots, and traffic controllers due to its side effects (another example of the odd movement disorders associated with SSRI's). According to the Wall Street Journal's Health blog:

"More than 100 traffic or personal accidents, like falling, have been linked to Chantix in a recent study by outside researchers; their figures came from in the FDA’s adverse events database. One hypothesis is that convulsions, blackouts, seizures or spasms could have contributed to such incidents."
I read one account about a guy driving his truck while on Chantix and crashed into a bayou:
"His girlfriend, Melinda Lofton, who was with him, later told him that his eyes had rolled back in his head and that it had seemed as if he was frozen at the wheel, accelerating."
That one really spooked me. God, I need a cigarette...

(This is linked from Furious Seasons)

"Brain Downloads" Are Not Going to Happen

Nice to see Neurophilosophy agrees with me on this one. Here's a totally stupid and uninformed article on why "brain downloads 'will make [school] lessons pointless.'"

Just recently, I wrote a post about why this is impossible (in the context of Dr. Daniel Carlat's Wired article on brain scans), it seems the progressive ideas of the Matrix are far too pervasive in our culture.

"I think people will be able to directly access, Matrix-style, all the vocabulary you need for a foreign language, leaving you just to clear up the grammar."
This amazingly asinine quote comes from the guy steering curriculum for 1300 private schools in the UK. Best of luck with that, stupid...

Not quite, Neo...