Accidental Blog

As of October 27, 2010, I will no longer be updating this website.  Blogging and updated events continue at the site for my new book, The Compass of Pleasure.


"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness." - The Dalai Lama

"Free your mind and your ass will follow" - George Clinton

Using Your Noodle

This drawing, from a brain dissection performed in Japan in 1772, confirms my deepest fears:  I've spent my entire adult life and millions of taxpayer dollars studying pasta...

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via pinktentacle.com

Zero History (Pork Products)

From the latest by William Gibson:

"That's where you come in," he said

"I do not."

He smiled.  He had, as ever, a great many very white teeth.

"You have bacon in your teeth," she said, although he didn't.

Covering his mouth with the white linen napkin, he tried to find the nonexistent bacon shard.  Lowering it, he grimaced widely.

She pretended to peer.  "I think you got it," she said doubtfully.  "And I'm not interested in your proposition."

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Shameless Nixonian Nepotism

My brilliant and hilarious cousin, Mark Feldstein, has written an engaging account of the long-running feud between Richard Nixon and the syndicated columnist Jack Anderson.  It's entitled "Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture" and it reads like a political thriller.

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Don't trust my (admittedly biased) opinion?  Michael Schaub at NPR says:

"Nixon and Anderson were both extremely controversial figures, but Feldstein proves remarkably calm and even-handed throughout the book, even while discussing some of the men's lowest moments (Nixon's…

Hastroll's Feeling

"And it was Hastroll's feeling that, if you were lucky enough to keep love, to talk about it would always seem like bragging, no matter how generous the listener's spirit."

--Adam Ross, Mr. Peanut

After the NIH is dismantled... 

...it's good to know that we'll be able to fund neuroscience research with a bake sale or two.

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Amazing sleep and dream trivia

Do animals dream?

While we can’t ask them, the answer is almost certainly yes for mammals and birds.  They have REM sleep and they will “act out” complex scenarios that are presumed to be dreams following neurosurgery to disrupt the neural pathway that blocks the commands to muscles during this stage.  Whether lower vertebrates like reptiles and amphibians dream is a more difficult question.  If they do, it is more likely that they have the short, fragmentary dreams found during early-stage non-REM sleep in humans.

Can sleeping people still use their senses? Is it possible to communicate with…

Rock On

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Can't Find The Accidental Mind At Your Local Shop?

You must be at the..

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Mono Lake, California, August  2010

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Death Honk

I love clowns.  I love bears.  I love the very short story "Death Honk" by John P. McCann which features clowns and bears fighting.  Read it at the Journal of Microliterature.

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Everyone wants a free lunch.  The desire to improve cognitive function by simply taking a pill is so strong that in 2005 over $1 billion worth of “smart herbal” supplements were sold in the USA despite little proof of their effectiveness.  Mostly, these supplements peddled in vitamin stores and on the internet, are a scam.  However, this suggests the more important question: Is it possible to make real “smart pills”?

In order to have successful learning of facts and events several things have to happen.  First, one must pay attention, stay focused on the relevant information and use working…

Mourning Sedition

If you're not already sick of my droning on about brain evolution, you're welcome to tune in to National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" on Monday, August 9 to hear me interviewed by Jon Hamilton for the series How Evolution Gave Us The Human Edge.  An article based upon the interview may be read here and the interview audio may be streamed here.

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Cylburn Arboretum, Baltimore

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On a lovely summer day, August 1, 2010.

I'll Have the Sugar Magnolia Martini

From Sam Sifton's review of the Carroll Gardens restaurant, Prime Meats, in the New York Times.

"And a meal in the restaurant proceeds with all the jollity and good manners of something scripted by Laura Ingalls Wilder and scored by the Grateful Dead.  It is an extremely pleasant place."  

The genetics of women's orgasms: the good word from Down Under

In 2005, Khytam Dawood and co-workers reported in the journal Twin Research and Human Genetics an anonymous survey of 3080 women, many drawn from the Australian Twin Registry, which included both monozygotic (so-called indentical) twins and dizygotic (fraternal) twins. These women were asked to report their frequency of orgasm from 3 types of sexual activity: intercourse with a partner, sex with a partner not involving intercourse and masturbation.  23% of women reported that they "always or almost always" achieved orgasm during sexual intercourse, 27% with partner sex other than intercourse…

For a good time in Baltimore...

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This made me howl with happiness

"If his arguments were once brakeless vehicles he could ride for a mile or two before veering into a ditch--  a listener climbing aboard if they dared-- now they seemed compacted on arrival in one of those junkyard car-crushing machines. recognizable for their purpose but undrivable."

Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City

Perkus Tooth

Just now digging into Jonathan Lethem's newest novel Chronic City.  What a delight.  This could turn out to be his best book yet.  And it's rich in neuropharmacological metaphor to boot.

"He had the waitress refill his gallon-sized Coke, too, then, as our afternoon turned to evening, washed it ll down with black coffee.  In our talk marijuana confusion now gave way to caffeinated jags, like a cloud bank penetrated by buzzing Fokker airplanes.  Did I read The New Yorker?  The question had a dangerous urgency.  It wasn't any one writer or article he was worried about, but the font."

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Midbrain News Flash!

The folks at winningstate.com, who would like to sell you a series of books designed to help you achieve success in competitive sports, have made a huge neuroscientific discovery:  'doubt," that old devil, is located in the mesencephalon.  And it will fuck you up, Jack.

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10 Rules for writing fiction

I may not know much but I know enough not to write fiction.  That doesn't keep me from enjoying these lists from some of my author-heroes.

From Margaret Atwood:

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with…

Amy Bishop

"She was just a normal professor," he told The Associated Press during an interview at his home Monday.

Separate Rooms

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles is one of the funniest books I've read in years.  It also has (pathos and) bonus neuro-nuggets, like this about the narrator's father, a Polish survivor of Dachau:

"One of my father's ironies was his adopted racial attitudes-- he tossed the word NEE-gar around like doubloons from a parade float and was a party-line seg voter.  History, even scalding personal history, doesn't always transmit the expected lessons.  Memory and meaning, I've found, often book separate rooms in the brain."

Beautiful East Baltimore, Briefly Obstructed

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I looked up from my desk on Monday to find I had some company here on the 9th floor of the Hunterian Building.

If you're gonna get inked...

it's hard to beat a Golgi-stained neuron as your art of choice.

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Via the Science Tattoo Emporium at Carl Zimmer's Loom Blog

The Rare Fuzzy-nosed Skreecher

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aka juvenile Nazca Booby.  Genovesa Island, Galapagos, December 2009.

Manhood for Amateurs

Of the four books I read while traveling recently, the most enjoyable by far was Michael Chabon's new collection of autobiographical essays entitled  Manhood For Amateurs.  Dig this splendid nugget.

"My father, born in the gray-and-silver Movietone year of 1938, was part of a generation of Americans who, in their 20s and 30s, approached the concept of intimacy, of authenticity, and open emotion, with a certain tentative abruptness, like people used to automatic transmission learning how to drive a stick shift. They wanted intimacy, but were not sure how far they could trust it to take them. My…

Homage to Wyeth


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Boy with Sea Lion.  Espanola Island, Galapagos, December 2009


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Sign of the  Coming Apocalypse 

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"When the Epiphytes begin to grow on the Power Lines then the End of Days is nigh and a Shadow shall soon fall across the land."

Otavalo, Ecuador, December 19, 2009

Mushy Stuff

What happens in our brains when we fall in love?  For that matter, what happens to scientists that study the act of falling in love?  There’s something about this topic that makes otherwise hard-nosed biologists and anthropologists get all mushy and literary and start quoting the impassioned lines of Shakespeare, Ovid and Dante in their scientific papers.  In this spirit. I would like to offer my all-time-favorite love poem.  In my view, it gets to the heart of the matter.


I don’t want a physical relationship.

I just want someone to fuck with my mind.

 

                -Personal ad in the “L.A.…

That's Gross

I'm enjoying a new book on the history of neuroscience by Prof. Charlie Gross entitled A Hole in The Head(MIT Press, 2009).  It leads off, of course, with a splendid discussion of trepanation through the ages.  My favorite line: "These findings finally established that Neolithic man could carry out survival trepanation but left unresolved the motivation for this operation."

Wonderful, disturbing images abound, like this one from Diderot's Encyclopedia of 1761.  Is that a neck there or is this figure supposed to depict a free-range head?

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Weaver

"Though, as my reader will learn in the pages to follow, I am, when circumstances dictate, able to adopt the most plastic of morals, the strangulation of children rests firmly in the category of things I will not tolerate."

               -David Liss, The Devil's Company

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So, a Parasite Walks Into a Bar...

A parasite walks into a bar and orders a beer.  

The bartender says, "We don't serve parasites here."  

The parasite, deeply offended, replies, "You're a terrible host."


Glacial Pace

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Finding one's own path

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That Blows: New Frontiers in Bat Porn

Min Tan and co-workers provide a seminal contributiuon to the scientific literature, with their new report "Fellatio by Fruit Bats Prolongs Copulation Time" which recently appeared in the journal PLoS One.  The key detail here is that, for the short-nosed fruit-bat Cynopterus sphinx, the fellatio is not foreplay.  It actually happens during intercourse as shown below:

The money quote: "Female bats often lick their mate's penis during dorsoventral copulation. The female lowers her head to lick the shaft or the base of the male's penis but does not lick the glans penis which has already…

Cotoctin Mountain Park, November 1, 2009

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Just Can't Get No

My old pal Jan Steckel has written a wonderful story called "Protection" that hits all of the great literary themes: infectious disease, wise old Jewish grandmas and dog-fucking.  Read it here at the "Zygote in My Coffee" online magazine.

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Everything, All The Time

I'm proud to be included in the new volume Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Children's Book, edited by Anita Silvey, in which "more than 100 leaders from the arts, sciences, politics, business and other fields recall a children's book they loved, and its impact on their lives."  I'm particularly humbled to be in the company of so many of my heroes-- folks like Alison Gopnik, Pete Seeger, Steve Wozniak, Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne Tyler, Maurice Sendak and Andrew Wyeth.  Proceeds from this book benefit children's literacy programs in the USA.

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What was your favorite book as a kid?

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Free No More, La Salle St., Chicago, 2009

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Yom Kippur Orangutan, 2009

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At the National Zoo, Washington D.C.

Farewell Jim Carroll, 1949-2009

When I was in high school in the 1970s I couldn't get enough of his poetry-- I thought Living At The Movies was just about the best book ever.  


your fingers like another's darkness. it's true,

you are always too near and I am everything

that comes moaning free and wet

through the lips of our lovely grind


excerpted from "Blue Poles"


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His punk band had a certain appeal as well.  And he never let the fact that he couldn't quite sing get in the way...

Obituary: New York Times.

Lost in Translation

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Give 'Til It Floats Yer Boat

When I was in the first grade, I went to an after-school program at the Jewish Community Center in my home town of Santa Monica, California.  In the lobby, they had a large banner soliciting donations to the United Jewish Appeal that read “Give ‘Til It Hurts.”  I didn’t know what it was about, and found the whole thing vaguely disturbing.  Whenever possible, I would navigate around the lobby to avoid looking at it. Several months later it was replaced with a similar banner-- same font, same logo--  that read “Give ‘Til It Feels Good.”  “Freakin’ adults,” I thought.  “Why does everything have…

Father

Paul slumped back in his chair.  "You should see him eat a banana," he said.  "It cures you of any love you might still have for the human race."

     --  Marjorie Kernan, The Ballad of West Tenth Street


iTunes, Crack

I love buying songs from the iTunes store even through I know they’re messing with my medial forebrain pleasure circuits.  Quite simply, the folks at Apple have taken the lesson of cocaine and applied it to music.  Pleasure with a fast onset, like smoked cocaine, is more addictive that pleasure with a slow onset, like chewed coca leaf.  When I purchase a song on iTunes, it starts playing on my computer’s speakers within a minute or so.  Sweet, rapid reward.  But do they send the billing statement right away?  Nope.  It’s all done electronically, so the billing statement could arrive by email…

Diamond Lake, Colorado, July 4, 2009

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Montréal, May 2009

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Feline Revulsion

What is your cat thinking while she watches you have sex?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Even if you are as sexually conventional as they come in this culture-- let’s say you’re in a committed heterosexual relationship and you’re not into all that kinky stuff: you’re not dressed up in a Dick Cheney mask with clamps on your nipples and Wagner’s Ring Cycle playing in the background.  You haven’t inserted a Bluetooth-enabled electrical shock probe in your anus that’s connected to the internet to be triggered by changes in the HangSeng stock index.  Rather, you’re with your partner, in private, in your…

Poor Jane

Jane has been feeling totally stressed out.  She is 18 years old and lives with three other girls in a small apartment.  She and her roommates bicker a lot and Jane is clearly at the bottom of the social order.  The others push her around and she tends to avoid them.  Lately, she can’t help but grimace when one of the dominant, bossy girls approaches.  When she lived by herself, Jane was slim and ate a balanced diet, but since she has been in this pressure-cooker of an apartment, she’s taken to snacking all day and all night and choosing high-fat foods over more healthy fare.  Her weight and…

Leah Siegel Covers "In My Life"

And with all respect to the Fab Four, her version kicks Beatle ass.  With a uke, no less.

Listen here.

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via Beatles Complete on Ukulele

Whole Lotta Merda Goin' On: Pisa, Italy

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News Flash:  Barga, Italy May 18, 2009

Extraterrestrial sighted in 12th century hilltop church!

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Gender bias in the peer review process at Journal of Neurophysiology?

Well, probably not.  If you have an individual or institutional subscription to JN, you can read all about it here

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Not That Linden Lab

Yes, my family name is Linden and, yes, I have a lab.  Unfortunately, I don't have anything to do with "Linden Lab", the folks behind the enormously popular online role-playing environment Second Life.  Nonetheless, I couldn't help but laugh when a colleague sent me this image from the Linden Lab web site of a SL avatar called "Neuro Linden."

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Mathematics Education Reimagined

My old pal, Paul Lockhart, has written a brilliant critique of contemporary mathematics education entitled "A Mathematician's Lament: How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form."  

"Sadly, our present system of mathematics education is precisely this kind of nightmare. In 

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hydroponic fact, if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done— I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul crushing

ideas…

Laugh Like Hell

The funniest site on the internet is oldjewstellingjokes.com

So go already.

15 milliseconds of fame

In the future, every synapse will be famous for 15 milliseconds.  In this spirit it is worth noting that Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang briefly mentioned me in their New York Times blog post comparing computers and brains.  Gotta call Mom.

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Huge Forensic Molecular Biology Fuckup

Since 1993, a particular woman's DNA has been found at a series of seemingly unrelated crime scenes in Germany, France and Austria.  These have ranged from carjackings to burgularies and have included the scenes of six unsolved murders, the most notorious of which was the killing of a young police officer in Heilbronn Germany.  An enormous international police task force has been chasing this "Phantom of Heilbronn" for years and a 300,000 euro reward has been offered to no avail.  Analysis of markers in her DNA indicated that she was of eastern European origin and it was even speculated from…

Center for Inquiry Podcast

Those of you who are not already sick of the sound of my voice are welcome to check out  a podcast interview I did recently with D.J. Grothe on his show "Point of Inquiry."

You!  Outta the Gene Pool!

When I was in college, circa 1980, I lived down the hall from some guys who had devised a unique form of Friday night recreation.  After each had consumed about 10 beers, they would gather around a huge fishbowl that had been filled about half-full with many types of prescription pills, mostly psychoactive drugs.  The idea was to reach into the bowl and randomly grab two pills, make note of their color and shape and then swallow them immediately.  Then, while waiting for the pills to kick in, they would open the huge reference book next to the fishbowl (the Physician’s Desk Reference which…

Tweedy Academic

Jeff Tweedy, leader of the bands Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, struggled with an addiction to prescription painkillers and cigarettes.  After successful rehab and several years of clean living he had this to say about his life:

“I've never felt better. I've never been healthier. … I run four or five miles, four or five times a week, but I broke both my legs running too much last summer.  I had stress fractures in both my tibias from running too much. You know, once you're an addict, you're always an addict, so just because I found something good to do doesn't mean I'm not going to hurt myself doing…

The Futility of Intimacy Distilled & Explained So That Even I Can Understand It.  

From a pop song.


“and the talkin' leads to touchin'

then touchin' leads to sex

and then there is no mystery left”


-Rilo Kiley “Portions for Foxes”


Here's looking at you, kid

Over at Worth1000, the new Photoshopping contest theme is "Mad Scientists"  This happy guy just got his grant funded by the NIH.

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Man of The Forest

"Whenever I feel sad, the sad feeling tends to manifest in my seeing humans (myself included) as orangutans.  A human ordering coffee, a human offended when someone cuts in line, a human sprinting to refill a parking meter-- in my moods all those people are orangutans.  And this feeling doesn't make more real the secret emotional lives of orangutans-- that would be one option.  Instead it makes all the humans (with their loves, their hates, their haircuts, their beloved unconsciouses) seem sublimely ridiculous.  Normal life, absurd.  She loves you-- who cares?  She left you-- so what? …

I thought I liked the cerebellum...

...but this guy really, really likes the cerebellum.  In sagittal section, no less.

mmillard_cerebellum_tattoo2

via streetanatomy.com

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"Poisonous fish testicles send 7 Japanese diners to hospital"

That's the headline from a recent story reported by Fox News.  They also said that it was all Obama's fault.  Apparently , a chef who was unlicensed to prepare pufferfish, messed up and served diners portions of the flesh which have a high concentration of a particular neurotoxin...

The voltage-sensitive sodium channel which initiates neuronal spikes is a key target. Interfere with it and you block essentially all signaling in the brain (and the rest of the nervous system too). Sodium channel toxins have evolved independently in widely different species, but the most famous one is the toxin…

Secret Agent Man

I'm reading Rivka Galchen's first novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, and it's so intelligent and funny and sad that it's giving me a woody.  Tell me that you don't want to read it after this snippet.  I dare you.

"Functionally speaking, Harvey's main problem-- or some might say his "conflict with the consensus view of reality"--  stemmed from a fixed magical belief that he had special skills for controlling weather phenomena, and that he was, consequently, employed as a secret agent for the Royal Academy of Meteorology, an institute whose existence a consensus view of reality would (and this…

Cold Cruel World

Announcement on my flight out of Grand Forks, North Dakota this morning:

"Um, yeah, well, so we'd like to offer you coffee or tea on this flight, but someone left the pot full of water and it froze solid last night.  Likewise, the taps in the lavatory are frozen shut so please use the bottle of hand sanitizer instead.  Thanks for choosing Northwest."

Rose colored glasses

Steven Rose, reviews The Accidental Mind and some other recent titles in The Guardian (UK) and says:  

"There is no general "command centre"; rather, all regions are connected by multiple bidirectional pathways, making the brain the paradigm of a self-organising distributed system. Linden provides an accessible and up to date guide through this maze, if you can cope with an excessively cheerful transatlantic style."

Excessively cheerful?  Fuck that shit.  From now on, I'm gonna be a curmudgeon.

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Henry Molaison, Amnesiac, R.I.P.

Henry Molaison, known to the world during his lifetime by his initials, H.M., was a man who acquired a profound amnesia following brain surgery to correct his otherwise intrctable severe epilepsy in 1953.  He died in late 2008 at age 82.  When studied by neuroscientists Brenda Milner and Suzaane Corkin, it was revealed that Henry had an inability to store new memories for facts and events, an anterograde amnesia.  However, he could still store other forms of memory such as motor memory, procedural memory and subconscious associations (what we now call non-declarative memory).  This was the…

Rocky Mountain National Park, December 2008

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Drill, Baby, Drill

We're making a holiday visit to my sister-in-law and her family.  They live on top of a mountain so four wheel drive is necessary to get up the road to her place if it snows.  I went to Enterprise Car Rental in Boulder, Colorado to pick up the 4WD car I had reserved online.  After I filled out the paperwork they proudly showed my my rental: a brand-new Hummer H3.  

"Well, there goes my environmentalist credibility."

"Sorry-- it's the only 4WD we have left."

"That's OK-- it'll be in interesting change from the Volkswagen I drive at home"

So, I've been hauling my family around the lefty-green…

All that Heineken has to go somewhere

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Amsterdam, December 2008.

My favorite comment from a reader:  What's that on the ground?  A kidney stone?

Pleasure without color or depth

To date, the evidence for a general, neurobiological model of pleasure is compelling and is only growing stronger as more research is done.  How, then, should we think about the pleasures that animate our lives?  Is that wonderful meal, the night of great sex, that hilarious tipsy night at the bar with your friends all reducible to firing of the ventral tegmental area and dopamine surges?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, in the sense that there seems to be a neural rheostat of reward that's engaged by almost everything we find pleasurable.  No, in the sense that the activity of the pleasure circuit…

Brussels, December, 2008

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Hoop Dreams

If you're not listening to Jesca Hoop, then you're really missing out.

JescaHoop_review

Lurve

"The kind of love my mum talks about is full of worry and work and forgiving people and putting up with things and stuff like that.  It's not a lot of fun, that's for sure. If that really is love, the kind my mum talks about, then nobody can ever know if they love somebody, can they?"

--Nick Hornby, Slam

A general theory of pleasure and addiction?

Internet addicts, gambling addicts and sex addicts.   Chocaholics and shopaholics.  Our everyday speech promotes the idea that one can become addicted to any pleasurable activity.  Certainly, there’s a thread of truth— these are all compulsive behaviors that can impact people’s lives to varying degrees.  But how similar are they at a biological level?  Is video game addiction or gambling addiction or food addiction really like drug addiction in terms of life impact or brain function  or are these terms just an example of metaphoric language? 

Both gambling and video game addictions meet many…

(Your Brain on) Drugs and the Memory of Drugs

Not all psychoactive drugs are addictive and not all people exposed to addictive drugs will become addicts.  While some drugs have a very high potential for addiction, not even the most dangerous substances typically produce addiction in a single dose—repeated exposure is required.  Addiction can be defined as persistent, compulsive drug use, but addiction doesn’t develop all at once.  Rather, it proceeds in stages.  When a drug-user initially gets high on cocaine or heroin or amphetamines or PCP, the experience produces an intense euphoric pleasure and sense of well-being.  However, repeated…

Obesity, Food Addiction & Blunted Pleasure

Are pleasure circuits really activated in natural behaviors?   When a recording electrode is implanted in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a key region in the pleasure circuit of a rat, this reveals a burst of neuronal activity when the rat begins to eat.  Furthermore, when biochemical probes that can measure dopamine levels are implanted into the target regions of VTA neurons, eating is found to trigger a surge of released dopamine.  Interestingly, VTA activity and dopamine release were most strongly stimulated by consumption of sweet and highly caloric foods.  When drugs that flood the…

The worms play pinochle on your snout

Clearly, the pleasure circuits of the brain have not evolved just to be activated by implanted electrodes.  Pleasure is central to survival.  We must experience basic behaviors such as feeding, drinking, mating and care of offspring as pleasurable (rewarding) in order to survive and pass along our genes to the next generation.  Of course, this consideration is not unique to humans.  Indeed, rudimentary pleasure pathways appear quite early in evolutionary history.  Even the roundworm C. elegans, which is a millimeter long and has only 302 neurons in its entire body has some basic pleasure…

Julia at the Med

I last lived in Berkeley in 1984, my senior year of college.  One day that Spring, I was sitting in the Cafe Mediterraneum on Telegraph Avenue, when the well-known street poet Julia Vinograd walked up hawking her books.  I was fresh out of cash at that point, having blown my last buck on a cup of oolong.  But I did have a stack of photos of various tissues taken with the electron microscope that very morning.  So we swapped-- one book of poetry for one electron micrograph of cardiac muscle.

Last week, I was back in Berkeley to give a seminar and I wandered into the Med, feeling nostalgic.  Who…

I'll have the Primordial Soup

"Cooks were not supposed to be political.  Cooks were the mitochondria of humanity; they had their own separate DNA, they floated in a cell and powered it but were not really of it."

--Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

Orgasmatron?

I know what you’re thinking: what does it feel like for a human to have his or her medial forebrain reward circuitry stimulated with an electrode?  Does it produce a crazy pleasure that’s better than food or sex or sleep or even “Seinfeld” reruns?  We know the answer.  However, the bad news is that it comes, in part, from some deeply unethical experiments.   Dr. Robert Galbraith Heath was the founder and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.  He served from 1949 to 1980 and during that time, one  major focus of his work involved…

A Perfectly Nice Monogamous Relationship With This Ravioli

I was in L.A. last week and was lucky to have dinner with my old hometown pal Attila Giri.  She writes a witty and spirited account of our meal and conversation that's way more interesting than anything I could scribble.

Ancient Synaptic History

Oslo, 1964.  A malaise had settled over the community of neurobiologists investigating the biological substrates of memory.  Obviously, memories can last for the lifetime of an animal.  Thus it was expected that experience should produce long-lasting changes in neuronal function to underlie the memory trace.  The best guess for the aspect of neuronal function changed by experience was synaptic transmission.  Synaptic transmission is the fundamental mode of rapid communication between neurons and so is central to information processing in the brain. The dominant hypothesis was that particular…

Every Dog Will Have His Day

ObamaMccainNature

Not Photoshopped!  This is the real current issue of the esteemed scientific journal Nature.  Layout artists have all the fun.

via Blog Around The Clock

Okavango Delta, August 2008

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Aw c'mon honey--  it's ragweed season!

From the journal Medical Hypotheses, comes the ground breaking new article: "Ejaculation as a potential treatment of nasal congestion in mature males" by Sina Zarrintan of Tabriz Medical University, Iran.

"As it is seen, ejaculation can be used as a potential treatment of nasal congestion because its emission phase provides a sympathetic stimulation and subsequent vasoconstriction and nasal decongestion. Also, the refractory period serves as a sympathetic reservoir and maintains the decongestive state for a considerable while. This method does not wish to have the adverse effects of…

The discovery of brain pleasure circuits

Montréal, 1954.  

Fortunately, Peter Milner and James Olds didn’t have perfect aim with their electrodes.  While postdoctoral fellows at McGill University under the direction of the renowned psychologist Donald Hebb, Olds and Milner were conducting experiments which involved implanting electrodes deep into the brains of rats.  The implanting surgery was done under anesthesia and the electrodes, two of them, half a millimeter apart, were then cemented to the skull.  After a few days to recover from the surgery, the rats were fine.  Long, flexible wires were attached to the electrodes at one end…

Thoughts on medial forebrain dopaminergic reward circuits 

"For the bow cannot stand always bent, nor can human nature or human frailty subsist without some lawful recreation."

- Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

images


"Pleasure never comes sincere to man; but lent by heaven upon hard usury."

- John Dryden (Edippus, Act  1, Scene 1)

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Bangkok, 1989

The afternoon rains have ended leaving the air briefly free of smog and allowing that distinctive Thai perfume, frangipani with a faint note of sewage, to waft over the shiny streets.  It’s the early evening.  I hail a tuk-tuk, a 3-wheel motorcycle taxi, and hop aboard.  My young driver has an entrepreneurial smile as his turns around.

“So….you want girl?”

“No.”

“I see.” 

Long pause, eyebrows slowly raised. “You want boy!”

“Uh, no.”

Longer pause.  Sound of engine sputtering at idle.

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  “You want ladyboy?”

“No.”

“I got cheap cigarettes…Johnnie Walker...”

“No thanks.”

Voice lowered.  “You want ganja?”

Boulders Penguin Colony, South Africa

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Okavango Delta, Botswana, August 2008

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Brash and Breezy

Noted psychiatrist Lawrence Hartmann, M.D., writes the following in his review of The Accidental Mind in the American Journal of Psychiatry.  

"This thoughtful neuroscientist’s book about brain evolution, structure, and function, which places refreshing emphasis on some relatively messy and ad hoc qualities of brain evolution and on the inefficiencies of brain design and function, seems to me significantly flawed by its frequently brash and breezy style.   For example, the last words of the introduction are “let’s roll.” The author is fond of words such as “downer” and “cool.”

So true, dude.

Yakkity-Yak

For those of you who just can't get enough of me running my mouth on the topic of brain evolution, here's a podcast from the American Physiological Society aka The Home Team.  It's episode 12 of the "Life Lines" series and it also features kewl nooz on athletic blood doping and fetal alcohol syndrome.

episode12

Perspicacity, Savannah Georgia, July 2008

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Ford Fiesta of the Mind

Phil Hogan, writing in The Observer (UK), says he's made it up to Chapter 5 in The Accidental Mind and offers this useful summary of the book so far...

"Now, where was I? Ah, the book, The Accidental Mind by David J Linden. It's brilliant, I'm sure, though the more I read the less I know. I gather from his general thesis that brains are not as brilliantly engineered as we like to think. We might have a hundred billion cells going at it round the clock but they're constantly misfiring or getting the wrong end of the stick. Brains are more Heath Robinson than Bill Gates, having evolved over the…

Monkey See

So, I wrote a "welcome editorial" to mark the beginning of my term as Editor in Chief for the Journal of Neurophysiology.  In it, I briefly laid out a few points-- what I liked about JN and what I thought could be productively changed.  I also preached a bit about author and referee behavior.  I didn't think that any of the ideas therein were particularly provocative-- they echo the sentiments that I hear from my colleagues every day at lunchtime.  Nonetheless, the editorial seems to have sparked some interesting and productive debate and commentary at the science blogs DrugMonkey and The…

Panacea, Florida, July 2008

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Some relative of mine pressed these flowers in a photo envelope in Frankfurt, sometime around 1905.  I wish I knew the story behind them.


Dang

Apparently, The Accidental Mind has won the Silver Medal in the "Science" category at the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards.  I didn't even know I was entered and only learned about the award through the dubious practice of self-googling (which is prohibited in many of the world's religious traditions).

medals5


"By the facial hair of my ancestors..."

It sounds like the beginning of an elaborate curse, doesn't it?  I recently uncovered a huge stash of old family photos, which I'm just starting to examine.  I dig the tonsorial splendor of these fine fellows, circa 1900.

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Decapitation Averted (For Now)

On Monday, I unlocked the door to my office and found the place totally trashed.  My scanner was smashed to bits, books were strewn everywhere, my desk and chair were crushed.  My first thought was, "Damn.  Those creationists who've been sending me all the death threats since The Accidental Mind was published managed to get in here."  Then, I realized that all the mayhem resulted from a single action- the huge wall-mounted cabinets full of books had broken loose and had come crashing down (one would have neatly bisected my cranium, had I been sitting at my desk.) Examination of the cabinets…

Neuroscientists Talk Shop

...is the name of a new podcast series from The University of Texas at San Antonio.  These are roundtable discussions with UTSA Neurobiology faculty and a different guest each week.  Recent guests include Linda Overstreet-Wadiche, Mario Capecchi, John Lisman and yours truly.  These podcasts are intended for an audience of neuroscientists and so they get into the nitty-gritty fairly quickly.

A Kludge By Any Other Name

From the promotional material for Gary Marcus' new book Kluge:

"Are we noble in reason? Perfect, in God's image? Far from it, says New York University psychologist Gary Marcus. In this lucid and revealing book, Marcus argues that the mind is not an elegantly designed organ but rather a "kluge," a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption. He unveils a fundamentally new way of looking at the human mind -- think duct tape, not supercomputer -- that sheds light on some of the most mysterious aspects of human nature."

Damn, that's clever.  I wish I had thought of that.   From Chapter 1 of The…

Neuropharmacology In The Real World

"Phil was probably passed out somewhere, enjoying his dead father's legacy. I found myself wishing I had a loved one who would die and leave me their barbiturates, but I couldn't think of anyone who'd ever loved me that much. My uncle had already promised his to the mail lady."

Donald Ray Pollock, "Bactine"

from his superb collection of stories, Knockemstiff

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I love cranky writers

"Closure is a greasy little word which, moreover, describes a nonexistent condition.  The truth, Venus, is that nobody ever gets over anything."

--Martin Amis, House of Meetings


Chuck Close Tells It Like It Is

"I don't deal with inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work."

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"Chuck Close: Process and Collaboration" Exhibit

DIY Brain Surgery

The Times of London reports that British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh has been visiting Kiev in the Ukraine, twice a year, in order to assist and train a Ukrainian colleague.  In London, Marsh would use an expensive  (30,000 pound) specialized medical drill to create holes on the skull.  But, due to lack of funds in Kiev, he and his colleague have made do with a handheld Bosch drill favored by home hobbyists.  Cost: 30 pounds.  If this cheapskate solution becomes known in the USA, I'm afraid that the insurance companies will reimburse for nothing else.

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A Good Yarn

Yesterday, I spoke at a conference entitled "Law of the Body: Implications of Medical Science on Legal Decision Making" at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Oregon.  One of the other speakers was Bill Harbaugh, an economist and neuroscientist from the University of Oregon.  In addition to doing cool experiments in which he and his colleagues image the brains of women in the process of paying taxes and making charitable donations, he is also the curator of the online "Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art" which features this lovely dissection by Karen Norberg.

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7 Train from Queens, February 24, 2008

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Intelligent Design Goes to the Movies

My old pal Attila Girl is a fan of the upcoming film from Ben Stein entitled "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" which was recently screend at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting in Washington D.C.  I haven't seen the film, but a longish preview is available online.  It purports to tell the story of how academics at American universities are suppressing discussion of Intelligent design creationism, which they claim to be a legitimate scientific theory.

Now, I don't rant that much, but every once in a while, one is called for.  So here it goes.

Hostility to evolutionary biology…

Cheeseburger In a Can

From Germany comes the latest in backpacker cuisine, the cheeseburger in a can.  A steal at 3.95 euros.

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To paraphrase Michael Pollan...

"Eat beef.  Processed in a factory.  With lots of packaging."


Update:  they also sell dehydrated wine.  I swear.  I couldn't make this up if I tried.

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Narrative creation in the brain

I say...  Our sensory world is anything but pure and truthful. Built and transformed by evolutionary history into a very peculiar edifice, it responds to only one particular slice of possible sensory space. Our brains then process this sensory stream to extract certain kinds of information, ignore other kinds of information, and bind the whole thing together into an ongoing story that is understandable and useful.  Furthermore, by the time we are aware of sensations, they have evoked emotional responses that are largely beyond our control and that have been used to plan actions and understand…

Akumal, Mexico, 2008

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In my family, when we get our teeth into a joke, we don't like to let go until it's good and dead.

Kangaroo farts and global warming

A research group in Australia has determined that, unlike those of sheep and cattle, kangaroo farts don't contain methane, a major contributor to global warming.  The kangaroo stomach is host to bacteria that aid digestion, and do so with great efficiency, but don't produce methane as a byproduct.  Now, efforts are underway to isolate the bug or bugs responsible and then use them to innoculate the digestive systems of cows and sheep in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Another group of Australian scientists have proposed a different solution: raise less beef and lamb and eat more…

Not Photoshopped

This amazing little dude looks like a Pokémon, but is really a long-eared jerboa, an endangered nocturnal hopping rodent from the Gobi Desert.

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via BBC News.

Versus

I've received a lot of interesting mail since The Accidental Mind was published, but nothing quite like this dollop of haute-geek poetry by            Dr. Hilton Stowell of Milledgeville, Georgia.


Kuntry Ham Kludge


In Harvard where the Mind is an Illusion

There's a Kludge of computational confusion

About neurons in the brain

Being mainly in the rain

Of Silly Con Soft plain

While the rest are just an NPG intrusion


Now an Accidental Mind

Was a radiative find

For peripatetic cooling

By Aristotelian ruling,

Where cognitive emotion

Was by cardiac promotion:

Neocortex was an airconditioning rind


Nobel Monod…