I have a feature article on hallucinations in BBC Focus, a print science magazine based in the UK. Here’s the intro:
The line between perceiving and hallucinating isn’t crisp. What we call real perception might be your brain picking one hallucination that best aligns with reality. For all you know, you might hallucinate a picture of a brain on this page right now and never realize it. Spotting a hallucination is easy only when it’s peculiar; you might be hoodwinked the rest of the time.
Welcome to the strange science of hallucinations, where cognitive scientists are using the latest brain scanning technology to pinpoint the causes and characteristics of these psychedelic occurrences. It’s not easy. Hallucinations occur under so many circumstances – sleep deprivation, migraines, and neurological disorders to name a few – that a one-sized-fits-all explanation is impossible.
A digital version of my feature is only available for ipads and it requites a subscription. Here is a link to that. You can also subscribe to BBC Focus’s print magazine. Click here for that. Of course, if you live in the UK you can buy it off of magazine stands. (Also, I’m late on all of this. They might have their November edition out already)
The first time I listened to Pinkerton, Weezer’s second studio album, I hated it. And so did almost everyone else. Rolling Stone readers ranked it as the third worst album in 1996. Writing for Entertainment Weekly Jeff Gordiniercompared it to “a collection of get-down party anthems for agoraphobics.” Reacting to a wave of negative reviews the lead singer of Weezer, Rivers Cuomo, confessed that Pinkerton is a “hideous record.” A few years later something changed. In 2002, Rolling Stone readers – the same readers that said Pinkerton was the third worst album in 1996 – voted it the 16th greatest album of all time. In 2004 Rolling Stone re-reviewed the album and gave it five stars. A 2010 “Deluxe Edition” reissue of Pinkerton claimed a perfect score of 100 on MetaCritic.com. Pitchfork likewise gave it a perfect 10.0. Today, Pinkerton is one of my favorites. What, exactly, changed?
What Exactly Is Critical Thinking? A thoughtful a well written piece from Paul Gary Wyckoff, a professor at my alma mater, Hamilton College.
Why do we see faces in the clouds but not clouds in faces? Christian Jarret explains new research that explores why the brain is so apt at seeing faces in random patterns. Apparently, this is especially true for some people and not others. Paranormal believers and religious people are more prone to seeing faces that aren’t really there.
Nate Silver’s Braying Idiot Detractors Show That Being Ignorant About Politics Is Like Being Ignorant About Sports. Nate Silver is a hot topic these days. An excellent review of what he does and why it argues Republicans over at Deadspin. There are quite a few psychological insights about how the brain deals with probabilities in this article.
One of the most popular NYTimes articles of the week. How Do You Raise a Prodigy?
The brain can’t engage in social and mechanical reasoning at the same time. New research from Anthony Jack brought to life by Scott Barry Kaufman at the Creativity Post. Social and Mechanical Reasoning Inhibit Each Other
“Whatever profession or skill is involved, when it comes to practice, simpler is often better. The brain likes to learn—but it prefers to do so, as cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham notes, in manageable leaps.” Practice Makes Perfect—And Not Just for Jocks and Musicians
New studies: 1) Empathy represses analytic thought, and vice versa 2) How the brain measures time 3) high-intensity training boosts cognitive function (via the cognitive science maven Rebecca McMillan)
My favorite Ted Talker: Marco Tempest: A cyber-magic card trick like no other
Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer. Epic seven-page feature in New York Magazine that explores the ins and outs of Jonah Lehrer’s last few months as a plagiarizer, quote-theft and liar.
Image via Wikipedia Commons
Numbers easily fool the brain, especially when they are presented as a loss or as a gain. We buy 90 percent lean meat but walk past the section labeled 10 percent fat. Surgeries with a 15 percent death rate are scarier than ones with an 85 percent success rate. The Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and his late partner Amos Tversky discovered this cognitive shortcoming several decades ago. They termed it the “Framing Effect.” Widespread research since demonstrates that unless probabilities are 0 or 100 percent, the human brain will usually misinterpret the data.
One of the most potent sources of debate in political discourse is the belief that everyone will draw the same conclusion from the same information, as if human rationality works by objectively evaluating information before making conclusions. The brain is an imperfect and evolved organ, of course, complete with systematic biases and predictable irrationalities. It is not an impartial calculator.
Yet, Democrats and Republicans alike are dumbfounded when people across the aisle maintain different opinions on anything from taxes to abortion. One cogent example is a series of recent exchanges between the left and the right over political statistician Nate Silver, who is famed for converting state polling data into election odds. In 2008, for example, Silver’s model successfully predicted 49 of the 50 states. As of today, his calculations give Obama a 74.6 percent chance of winning this year’s election.