The Compass of Pleasure is a New York Times bestselling book by David J. Linden that explores the biology of vice and virtue in the brain's pleasure circuits. You may read an excerpt from it here. Some of the blog posts below are also excerpts from the book.
The poet Jim Carroll described his first experience mainlining heroin as feeling “like 50,000 orgasms all at once.” Another writer compared intravenous cocaine injection to “orgasm X 1,000.” Putting aside the fanciful arithmetic, there’s a strand of neurochemical truth here: Drugs like heroin and cocaine produce a sustained dopamine surge in key regions of the medial forebrain pleasure circuit, while orgasm produces a fairly brief dopamine surge (not unlike a single hit from a crack pipe). As such, drugs that boost dopamine signaling, like cocaine and amphetamines (and even the L-dopa used to treat Parkinson’s disease), can prolong and enhance orgasm, while drugs that block dopamine receptors or dopamine release, like some antipsychotic drugs, suppress it. …
Both animal and human studies have recently revealed a rather peculiar finding regarding pleasure and pain: Dopamine release from neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the central biochemical event of the pleasure circuit, is also engaged by painful stimuli. Jon-Kar Zubieta and his colleagues from the University of Michigan performed brain scanning to measure dopamine release in subjects who received a painful stimulus produced by continuously injecting a concentrated salt solution into the jaw muscle.[i] This treatment produced a protracted aching-type pain that lasted for about an hour. …
I'm pleased as punch to be giving a lecture on pleasure and neural function in conjunction with the latest exhibit at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore
Sunday March 4 at 2:00 p.m.
600 N. Charles Street, Baltimore MD
I'm looking forward to having a conversation on stage at the Rubin Museum with one of my heroes, novelist Rivka Galchen.
"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. …
Anne Trubek, writing in Sunday's New York Times, made me laugh with this anecdote:
As Margaret Atwood told me: “Every writer is two people (at least). There’s the one that does the writing, and the one that has an egg for breakfast. I’m the other one.”
Baltimore writer Marion Winik knows from experience what neurobiologists are now understanding at a cellular level: Memory is fluid and is subtly changed by each act of recollection. Dig this, from her splendid work, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead.
The Driving Instructor, d. 1985
"How many poems can you write about your father? Maybe one for every day of your life. Your father is the poem inside you when you wake up in the morning, the poem like a spine, shaping how you stand and sit, the poem with you on the toilet, the sink, the coffeepot, the poem that leans back into the driver's seat and spins the steering wheel with one practiced hand. …
Run, don't walk, over to Zeitgeist Press to pick up your copy of The Horizontal Poet, the new collection by Jan Steckel. It's moving. It's sexy. It's funny. It's everything you want. Here's her poem "The Rose Grew Round The Briar" which originally appeared at Full of Crow.
How do your red pubic hairs
end up on the window sill,
my black ones on the crown moldings?
Do you do even weirder things in the bathroom
than I thought? Do curly hairs waft on
hot-air currents from bathroom drain to ceiling?
Do they hitch a ride on a bath towel,
and flip free heavenward
when you snap it at my ass?
I found one in the pantry, curled lasciviously
Winning money from gambling activated the brain’s pleasure circuits. While money is not an intrinsic, evolutionarily salient reward in the same way that food, water, and sex are, one could argue that it has come to represent the possibility of intrinsic rewards, and so activation of the pleasure circuit by money is not strictly arbitrary. This begs the question: Can the human pleasure circuit be activated by stimuli that are entirely arbitrary? Video games could be a good test case for this question, as they may not provide an intrinsic reward.
Les Visions du chevalier Tondal is an illuminated manuscript ca. 1475 that tells the story of an Irish knight's journey through heaven, hell and Purgatory.
It boasts the following wonderful illustrations:
- Tondal Suffers a Seizure at Dinner
- Tondal Appears Dead
- The Valley of Murderers
- The Mountain of Unbelievers and Heretics
- The Valley of the Perversely Proud and Presumptuous
- The Beast Acheron, Devourer of the Avaricious
- The Nail-Studded Bridge for Thieves and Robbers
- The House of Phristinus; Punishment for Gluttons and Fornicators
- The Beast that Eats Unchaste Priests and Nuns
- The Forge of Vulcan; Punishment for Those who Commit Evil upon Evil
"...from the perspective of human evolution, our great capacity is not just that we learn about the world. The thing that really makes us distinctive is that we can imagine other ways that the world could be. That's really where our enormous evolutionary juice comes from."
When I was in the first grade, I attended an after-school program at the Jewish Community Center in my hometown of Santa Monica, Calif. In the lobby was a large banner soliciting donations to the United Jewish Appeal that read, “Give ‘Til It Hurts.”
I didn’t understand it and found the whole thing vaguely disturbing, to the point that, whenever possible, I would navigate around the lobby so as to avoid even looking at the banner.
Several months later it was replaced with a similar one—same font, same logo—that read, “Give ‘Til It Feels Good.”
Adults!, I thought. Why does everything have to be so confusing? …
Iquitos, Peru, 1932.
Emilo Andrade Gomez was born in the Peruvian Amazon, the son of a white father and an Amerindian mother. In 1932, at the age of fourteen, he was given the herbal hallucinogenic drink called ayahuasca by local shamans in order to recover his strength following a period of illness. He saw visions that the shamans explained were revelations that he was chosen by the plants in the ayahuasca brew to receive knowledge from them. He was to learn traditional medicine and become a shaman himself. This was an elaborate and extended process that required him to live in near isolation in the jungle for a period of three years. …
My new op-ed piece, "The Brain Science Behind Gambling with the Debt Ceiling" is now posted at Reuters.
“Would that captions went with people’s foreheads.’’
-J.D. Salinger (who was notoriously hard of hearing in his later years)
via New York Times
Gotta love NYC
Lord Byron, the British romantic and satiric poet of the early nineteenth century, wrote, “Man, being reasonable, must get drunk; the best of life is but intoxication.” While Byron was describing the effects of alcohol, the larger truth applies to psychoactive drugs generally. Because most are derived from plant extracts (cannabis, cocaine, caffeine, ibogaine, khat, heroin, nicotine) or from simple recipes applied to plants (alcohol, amphetamine) or fungi (mescaline), they are widely available and widely used.
In fact, intoxication with psychoactive drugs is not an exclusively human proclivity. …
In the summer of 1980, I had finished my first year of college and was excited to have been accepted as a volunteer in a laboratory studying the basis of pain sensation in the brain. This group, directed by a creative, wise and kind researcher at UCLA named John Liebeskind, was my first lab home. It represented a big step up from my previous summer’s employment: cooking for late-night drunks and stoners at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor, to the maddening accompaniment of a ragtime piano loop tape. I was feeling very nervous and was desperate to make a good impression on the “real scientists” in the lab.…
This wonderfully snarky collection of "the 30 harshest author-on-author insults in history" from flavorwire.com makes me feel grateful for my comparatively easy ride with reviewers.
New frontiers in dopamine signaling: Please check out my blog entry in The Huffington Post "Anthony Weiner, Straus-Kahn, Arnold Schwarzenegger: Are They Just Bad Boy Politicians Or Is It Their DNA?"
My Op-Ed piece on "Obesity and Compassion" was published in USA Today, yesterday.
My op-ed piece on this topic, inspired by the stories of Messrs. Schwarzneggar, Straus-Kahn, Berlusconi and Gingrich, appeared in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.
French women with false beards at a recent protest.
JACQUES BRINON/ Associated Press
During the 1830s Ireland was awash in alcohol, much of it produced locally in response to high alcohol import taxes imposed by the ruling British government. While many locals were assiduously distilling illegal poitín from potatoes or malted barley, a backlash against alcohol was also growing. The leading figure in this Irish temperance movement was a Catholic priest named Father Theobald Matthew, who in 1838 established the Total Abstinence Society. Its credo was simple: People who joined did not merely promise to consume in moderation, but took The Pledge, a commitment to complete abstinence from alcohol from that day forward. …
Jeff Tweedy, leader of the roots-inflected rock bands Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, struggled mightily with various drug addictions, most notably to prescription painkillers, alcohol, and cigarettes. These were coincident with, and in some cases triggered by, chronic migraines, major depression, and panic attacks that have plagued him for years. After a successful rehab and several years of drug-free 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. …
So let's talk about food, overeating and the brain's pleasure circuits. One front in the societal war for your body fat is located in the test kitchens and offices of restaurant chains, commercial bakeries, and other "food service" corporations. While food consumption is highly influenced by genetics-- body mass index is about 80 percent heritable-- it's clear that environment and gene/environment interactions also play a major role in determining an individual's weight.
One telling statistic is that the average weight of an adult in the United States has increased by about twenty-six pounds between 1960 and the present. …
Those of you who live in the New York City area are welcome to come to the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art (at 150 W. 17th Street) on Sunday, April 17th at 6:00p.m. for a conversation between a neuroscientist (me) and a master chocolatier (Jacques Torres). The topic, of course, will be Vice, Virtue and the Brain's Pleasure Circuits, with a particular emphasis on chocolate, free samples of which will be provided by Chef Torres. More information (and tickets) may be found at
These days most of us are willing to believe that drug addiction— including alcoholism— is a disease. Still, we harbor a sneaking suspicion that it’s really a disease of the weak-willed, the spiritually unfit, or people who are not quite like us. The comedian Mitch Hedberg understood this when he riffed:
Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only one you can get yelled at for having.
“Goddamn it, Otto, you’re an alcoholic!”
“Goddamn it, Otto, you have lupus!”
One of those two doesn’t sound right.
Whatever our prejudices, the truth is, given the right circumstances (which can include factors like high stress, early drug …
“It has been the custom in rural Austria for the girls to keep slices of apples in their armpits during dances, perhaps as a natural deodorant. At the end of the dance the girl would present the slice to her favorite partner and he would gallantly eat it.”
Brody, B. (1975) The sexual significance of the axillae. Psychiatry
Nazca Desert, Peru (top) and inside the brain of a young rat (bottom).
We humans thrive on information. We love news, gossip, rumors, and, most importantly, information about our own future. What’s more, a number of studies by economists and psychologists have confirmed what we already know from experience: We want that information now, not later.
Do monkeys also share this desire to know what the future holds? And if so, does this information activate the same dopamine-using neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain that are stimulated by intrinsically pleasurable stimuli like food and water? In other words, is information about the future pleasurable in and of itself?
Recently, hundreds of indigenous people staged a protest in front of the US embassy in La Paz Bolivia in which they chewed coca leaf and chanted “Coca es medicina!” The protest was peaceful and good-natured with protestors offering coca leaves to the Bolivian police, some of whom were more than happy to join in.
They were supporting a Bolivian government campaign to amend the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to remove language that bans the chewing of coca leaf. Bolivia wants to amend a UN drugs treaty that bans chewing coca, which is an ancient tradition in the Andes. Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is a former coca grower, has long advocated the recognition of coca as a plant of great medicinal, cultural and religious importance that is distinct from cocaine, which is a much more potent psychoactive drug that must be extracted froma large amount of coca leaves.
There's only one place to go...
Test each day and night for ripeness
like a melon at the market
You're crucified on the hands of a clock,
pull out those nails.
I'm throwing you a rope of words.
-- from "Why I Write Poetry", Julia Vinograd
From her latest book "When Even the Sky Hurts"
Sproul Plaza photo by Anita Levine Medal
is the new novel from Jennifer Egan.
"Hey. Lou goes. He leans down so our faces are together, and stares straight into my eyes. He looks tired, like someone walked on his skin and left footprints. He goes, "The world is full of shitheads, Rhea. Don't list to them-- listen to me.
And I know that Lou is one of those shitheads. But I listen."
"Unusually for a twenty-year-old (The privilege followed from his peculiar situation), Keith was aware that he was going to die. More than that, he knew that when the process began, the only thing that would matter was how it had gone with women. As he lies dying, the man will search his past for love and life. And this is true, I think. Keith was good on the big picture. But the immediate situation, the immediate process-- this he often saw with unreliable eyes."
--Martin Amis "The Pregnant Widow"
This drawing shows a view of the human male in which the sizes of the body parts have been scaled to the size of their representation in the brain. In particular, the brain region that first processes touch sensation, called the primary somatosensory cortex. Most people who look at this image (which is called a sensory homunculus) long enough will eventually stammer out something like “Dude, given how sensitive the genitals are, shouldn’t they be, like, larger?” This is a good question and there is not an absolutely definitive answer. We know that the genitals are sensitive to touch and that there are particular nerves which carry sensory information from the genitals into the spinal cord and up to the brain.…
Come get in touch with your inner bonobo.
For almost every one of the key molecules involved in neuronal electrical signaling there is a naturally-occurring toxin which interferes with it. Both plants and animals have evolved these neurotoxins in response to their surroundings. Some, like those injected through the bites of poisonous snakes or spiders, function to make the animal a more effective hunter. Others work by sickening or killing animals which would prey upon them.While this might not do much good for the animal or plant which has just become lunch, it may function to protect its relatives and thereby get more of its own genes into the next generation. …
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.
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."
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.
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 resignation in 1973; Anderson's inexplicable decision to censor his own expose on the Iran-Contra scandal). …
"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
...it's good to know that we'll be able to fund neuroscience research with a bake sale or two.
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 people when they are asleep?
You must be at the..
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.
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 memory effectively during the task.…
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.
On a lovely summer day, August 1, 2010.
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."
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 and 38% during masturbation.
"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
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."
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.
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 a memory stick.
"She was just a normal professor," he told The Associated Press during an interview at his home Monday.
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."
I looked up from my desk on Monday to find I had some company here on the 9th floor of the Hunterian Building.
it's hard to beat a Golgi-stained neuron as your art of choice.
Via the Science Tattoo Emporium at Carl Zimmer's Loom Blog
aka juvenile Nazca Booby. Genovesa Island, Galapagos, December 2009.
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 father didn't hug me a lot or kiss me. …
Boy with Sea Lion. Espanola Island, Galapagos, December 2009
"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
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. Weekly” [circa 1979]
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?
"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
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."
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 penetrated th…
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.
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.
What was your favorite book as a kid?
Hands down: It was…
At the National Zoo, Washington D.C.
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"
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.
But not in Japan where the gourd endures....
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 to be so confusing?”
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
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 in a few minutes. …
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 bedroom, hugging, kissing, petting, licking, having vaginal intercourse: the usual. …
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 waistline have increased significantly. …
And with all respect to the Fab Four, her version kicks Beatle ass. With a uke, no less.
Extraterrestrial sighted in 12th century hilltop church!
Well, probably not. If you have an individual or institutional subscription to JN, you can read all about it here.
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."
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 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 that constitute contemporary mathematics education. …
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.
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 mitochondrial DNA analysis that she might have a masculine appearance.
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."
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 listed all the pills produced by drug companies in the USA and Europe) to learn about what they had just ingested.…
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 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”
Over at Worth1000, the new Photoshopping contest theme is "Mad Scientists" This happy guy just got his grant funded by the NIH.
"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? Scratch your armpiit with your long, long arm and continue on, or not."
...but this guy really, really likes the cerebellum. In sagittal section, no less.
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 of the fugu, otherwise known as the Japanese pufferfish.…
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 surprised me at the time) confirm. …
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."
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.
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 first clear evidence for multiple memory systems in the brain and has become one of the most famous case-histories in neurology.