Sorry about the lateness of this post, I have been without Internet since Saturday - the horror! It was a little disturbing how disconnected I felt from the world when I wasn’t able to check Facebook and my emails pointlessly often. Although the my world didn’t implode without it, I am very glad it’s back now. Oh, and it did actually have a load of new emails for once when I checked (they still count in my mind even if they were mostly junk =P)!
Anyways, quite a lot has happened this past fortnight. I’ve made more ground in getting ready for Kilimanjaro (which is now only 4 weeks away =O) - I now have a visa so I can enter the country! I still need to sort out my kit but I have managed to sign up for some free snacks courtesy of Graze.com and have now got a shiny new head torch (a necessity for summit night).
The point, I take it, is to understand how nature works. Part of that is knowing how to do calculations, but another part is asking deep questions about what it all means. That’s what got me interested in science, anyway. And part of that task is understanding the foundational aspects of our physical picture of the world, digging deeply into issues that go well beyond merely being able to calculate things. It’s a shame that so many physicists don’t see how good philosophy of science can contribute to this quest. The universe is much bigger than we are and stranger than we tend to imagine, and I for one welcome all the help we can get in trying to figure it out.–
Carroll, a Cal Tech physicist, defends the value of philosophy in science in a recent article. Recently, scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson have publicly slammed philosophy as “futile” and claiming that it has no place in answering the Big Questions about the nature of the universe.
What do you think? Does philosophy have a place in science today? Why or why not?
(via jtotheizzoe)Via It's Okay To Be Smart
Please welcome our first guest picker, Virginia Hughes! Here’s her first pick:
A few weeks ago I saw UCSF neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley give a talk about his group’s Glass Brain project, which produces three-dimensional visualizations of a live human brain based on data from a suite of brain-imaging technologies. This clip takes you on a short, flashy ride through our most mysterious organ.
Virginia Hughes is a journalist based in Brooklyn, New York, who writes for a wide variety of magazines. She focuses on the brain, behavior, and genetics for her blog, Only Human, which is hosted by National Geographic.
A mind-blowing look inside the blown-up mind (brain? mind? both?) from Science Studio, a new project that aims to feature the best science multimedia from across the web.
Via It's Okay To Be Smart
The National Institutes of Health has turned to neuroscientists at the nation’s most “Stone Cold Sober” university for help finding ways to treat drug and alcohol addiction.
Brigham Young University professor Scott Steffensen and his collaborators have published three new scientific papers that detail the brain mechanisms involved with addictive substances. And the NIH thinks Steffensen’s on the right track, as evidenced by a $2-million grant that will help fund projects in his BYU lab for the next five years.
“Addiction is a brain disease that could be treated like any other disease,” Steffensen said. “I wouldn’t be as motivated to do this research, or as passionate about the work, if I didn’t think a cure was possible.”
Steffensen’s research suggests that the process of a brain becoming addicted is similar to a driver overcorrecting a vehicle. When drugs and alcohol release unnaturally high levels of dopamine in the brain’s pleasure system, oxidative stress occurs in the brain.
Steffensen and his collaborators have found that the brain responds by generating a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). This correction suppresses the brain’s normal production of dopamine long after someone comes down from a high. Not having enough dopamine is what causes the pains, distress and anxiety of withdrawal.
“The body attempts to compensate for unnatural levels of dopamine, but a pathological process occurs,” Steffensen said. “We think it all centers around a subset of neurons that ordinarily put the brakes on dopamine release.”
A group of undergraduate students work in Steffensen’s lab along with post-doctoral fellows and graduate students. Jennifer Blanchard Mabey, a graduate student in neuroscience, co-authored a paper about withdrawal that is in the current issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
“It’s rewarding to see that your research efforts place another small piece in the enormous addiction puzzle,” said Mabey.
A separate study, co-authored by Steffensen and Ph.D. candidates Nathan Schilaty and David Hedges, explains how nicotine and alcohol interact in the brain.
“Addiction is a huge concern in our society and is very misunderstood,” Schilaty said. “Our research is helping us to formulate ideas on how we can better help these individuals through non-invasive and non-pharmacological means.”
Eun Young Jang, a post-doctoral fellow in Steffensen’s lab, authored a third paper for Addiction Biology describing the effects of cocaine addiction on the brain’s reward circuitry.
In these three research papers, dopamine is the common thread.
“I am optimistic that in the near future medical science will be able to reverse the brain changes in dopamine transmission that occur with drug dependence and return an ‘addict’ to a relatively normal state,” Steffensen said. “Then the addict will be in a better position to make rational decisions regarding their behavior and will be empowered to remain drug free.”
The Hot-Hands bias comes from basketball, where a player who has scored several successive shots in a row is believed to have “hot hands” or is on a streak. Members of their team will pass to them more, and members of the opposing team will increase attacks on that player. When you look at the wider picture, it becomes apparent that their hands were not hot at all, just their perception of success.
Like a fresh banana of psychological weirdness, here’s another cognitive fallacy for you to chew on! Follow Maki’s comic with Carl Zimmer’s wonderful New York Times article on how we aren’t the only monkeys to fall victim to the peculiarities of pattern recognition.
Zimmer, discussing recent research by psychologist Andreas Wilke, notes that our tendency to see streaks of good fortune, whether it’s 3-pointers or poker hands, might hold its origin in foraging for food:
Our ancestors were constantly searching for food, either gathering plants or hunting animals. As they searched, they had to continually decide where to look next. The wrong choice could mean starvation.
Dr. Wilke argues that this threat led our ancestors to evolve some rules of thumb based on the fact that animals and plants aren’t scattered randomly across a landscape. Instead, they can be found in clumps.
That meant that if our ancestors picked up a fruit from the ground, they were likely to find more by looking nearby, rather than going somewhere else. As a result, they became very sensitive to these streaks. They were an indication that good fortune would keep coming.
Whether you’re looking for food or a flush, the first step towards a life where you are not being tricked by your brain on a regular basis is to learn exactly how your brain is tricking you on a regular basis.
Related: Have you seen this week’s episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart? It’s all about cognitive biases, logical fallacies, and blowing on Nintendo games. Watch below:
Via It's Okay To Be Smart
How I Plan to Spend My Day Off
How I Wish I Could Spend My Day Off
How I Actually Spend My Day Off