Author: skeptic

Trying to understand perception by understanding neurons

Trying to understand perception by understanding neurons

When he talks about where his fields of neuroscience and neuropsychology have taken a wrong turn, David Poeppel of New York University doesn’t mince words. “There’s an orgy of data but very little understanding,” he said to a packed room at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in February. He decried the “epistemological sterility” of experiments that do piecework measurements of the brain’s wiring in the laboratory but are divorced from any guiding theories about behaviors and psychological phenomena in the natural world. It’s delusional, he said, to think that simply adding up those pieces will eventually yield a meaningful picture of complex thought. He pointed to the example of Caenorhabditis elegans, the roundworm that is one of the most studied lab animals. “Here’s an organism that we literally know inside out,” he said, because science has worked out every one of its 302 neurons, all of their connections and the worm’s full genome. “But we have no satisfying model for the behavior of C. elegans,” he said. “We’re missing something.” …

Peru ends conversation of ‘roadless wilderness’ in its Amazon rainforests

Biodiversity reaches its zenith in south-east Peru. This vast wilderness of 2m square km of rainforests and savannahs is formed of the headwaters of three major river basins, the Juruá, Purús, and Madeira. Nowhere on Earth can you find more species of animals and plants than in this corner of the Amazon that rubs up against the feet of the towering Andean mountains. These forests are also home to a culturally diverse human population, many of whom still live in voluntary isolation from the rest of humanity. In 2012 I spent a hectic few days in the exhausting Madre de Dios region, literally Spanish for “Mother of God”. I was there at the invitation of the Peruvian tourist board, which wanted to raise awareness of the region’s potential. In the lush lowland rainforests our team of ornithologists recorded more than 240 bird species in a few hours. These included the Rufous-fronted Antthrush, a near-mythical sighting among birders and one of a number of vertebrate species discovered by scientists there in the second half of the …

Your body, when stressed

Your body, when stressed

Stress is great. It makes us faster, stronger, more agile and our brains have better recall and flexibility. That’s why people are willing to put themselves in stressful work situations or engage in extreme sports. The problem is that uncontrolled, stress can leave us frozen to the spot and unable to think – something all too familiar for people having to speak in public or students sitting in the exam hall. Stress developed because it gives an evolutionary advantage. For early man, and with predators everywhere, food could be scarce and diseases prevalent. By understanding what is happening inside our bodies and why, we can learn to control stress and use it our advantage. Your body, when stressed When you’re feeling stressed, it’s a sign that your body is going into emergency mode. The turbo button is pressed, the engine of your body has roared into overdrive and you become superhuman. This means becoming ultra vigilant, able to react quickly and increase memory recall, and to remember every aspect of what you are seeing, hearing …

Songs With Philosophical Themes

Most of the Beatles songs, like most pop songs, are about love.  But as the group’s music developed, so their subject matter moved beyond “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah,” and “I want to hold your hand.” Some of their finest songs express, illustrate, or connect up with more philosophical ideas 01 of 10Can’t Buy Me Love “Can’t Buy Me Love is a classic statement of the philosopher’s traditional indifference to material wealth compared to what is good for the soul. It is true that Socrates was more concerned with truth and virtue than “love” (which as conceived in the song is presumably not purely Platonic). And it’s only fair to note that Paul later said that they should have sung “money can buy me love” given his experience of fame and fortune. Still, the core sentiment, “I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love, would be endorsed by many philosophers from ancient times to the present day. 02 of 10A Hard Day’s Night Karl Marx would have liked “A Hard Day’s Night.”  Writing …