“Brain porn” is a term given to the simplistic (and reductionist) thinking that leads to attempts to use neuroscience (especially brain-scanning technologies) to explain the way the human brain works. This recent suite of articles discusses neuroscience, neuroscientists and the complexity involved in describing the human brain.
1. Let’s kick things off with a swift kick to the idea that neuroscience can explain nearly everything, including voting for the Republicans (Quart’s example in this first article) and even playing poker (as Blum mentions in article 5 below).
2. This piece runs through some of the issues around drawing too many conclusions from brain imaging. I will paste a quotation from this article below because it is relevant to article number three in this selection:
“Scientists are also still struggling to construct theories about how arrays of individual neurons relate complex behaviors, even in principle. Neuroscience has yet find its Newton, let alone its Einstein.”
1. We’ve all heard of “white noise” but scientists have uncovered a smell they are calling “olfactory white”. The “white” or bland smell is based on a combination of odours and would probably not be found in nature. But it will help scientists to learn about the human olfactory system and brain.
2. A jumping spider called Nefertiti recently returned from a 100-day stay at the International Space Station. The experiment, devised by 18-year-old Egyptian Amr Mohamed, tested whether Nefertiti would be able to adjust her hunting methods in a low-gravity environment and then readjust back on Earth. The video shows how Nefertiti got the hang of hunting in low gravity.
5. Severe stress and chronic stress have opposite effects on the behavioural response of animals. This discussion of a study in mice shows scientists edging closer to understanding the physiology of severe stress.
1. A NASA supercomputer has modelled how winds move aerosols around the Earth. You can see dust (red) from the Sahara, the movement of carbon (green) from fires in Africa and Australia, sea salt (blue) in tornadoes and hurricanes over the Pacific and sulphates (white) from a volcanic eruption. For snapshots of these features or for more information go to this NASA webpage:
2. Physics moves forward when new findings conflict with existing theories. But at this early stage, it looks like the Higgs-like particle fits exactly with the existing theory (the Standard Model). But don’t worry, there is still hope that future data will throw up something unexpected.
3. I have never felt comfortable with the idea that some people use the “medical model” to fully account for psychological conditions. The medical model would direct a doctor to treat a psychological problem as if it is a physical affliction, like a broken leg. In other words, it all comes down to biology or the physical condition of the brain or body. Read this article for the argument against the medical model of addiction.
4. Rappers had their brains scanned in two situations: while they were freestyling and while they were reciting memorised lyrics. Comparing the two sets of brain scans helped researchers to understand the creative process.
My mother and I once had an argument. Actually, we had many arguments but the one I’m talking about involved a hypothetical situation. I argued that if you took a whole lot of people from 2000 years ago and plonked them in our time, they would be able to pick up all the technology we use and have the same intelligence as we do. Even though she couldn’t use the video recorder, she argued that they wouldn’t be able to cope and would have lower intelligence.
I always thought our discussion was pretty obscure but I have just read that, in the absence of my mother, others have carried on the argument.