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Archive for the ‘brain’ Category

Check out this TED talk from Jim Fallon.

My take: pretty dicey stuff to kinda just throw out there. Definitely needs a longer talk!

Probably not likely that you can “spot bad news” reliably in the family tree using these methods.  Also, by the mere suggestion of “bad news” you alter the course of things.

and is this something we actually want to do?  This is a question not only in murder and violence, but for all of genetic profiling.

Jim Fallon weighs in on the TED page in a comment:

I’m with my family right now on vacation in Cabo and they are asking me the same question; if I thought one of them had the requisite genetic, developmental, brain trauma, exposure to 3D violence and it began to show prodromally, that is before the pathological behavior would be expressed (especially in their teens), would I tell them? We have the same potential problem with Alzheimer’s disease. And they all say they want to know, but when I say everything is OK, they say “but how do we know you’re just not protecting us from the truth?” How do you get around THAT problem?


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Boston.com has a feature about baby minds and development. It’s really unfortunate that we continue to try and refute or confirm this whole mind/consciousness (duality) thing is a concept we made up.   I’m not doubting that we are consciousness and that is something worthy to understand.  No, it’s the idea that we’re still trying to justify some 300 year old conception of mind.  I’m frustrated that we are “surprised” by finding out the baby brain has more neurons or higher “brain activity” and that the adult brain is more concentrated.. blah blah blah.  Here’s a particularly frustrating passage:

One of the most surprising implications of this new research concerns baby consciousness, or what babies actually experience as they interact with the outside world. While scientists and doctors have traditionally assumed that babies are much less conscious than adults – this is why, until the 1970s, many infants underwent surgery without anesthesia – that view is being overturned. Gopnik argues that, in many respects, babies are more conscious than adults. She compares the experience of being a baby with that of watching a riveting movie, or being a tourist in a foreign city, where even the most mundane activities seem new and exciting. “For a baby, every day is like going to Paris for the first time,” Gopnik says. “Just go for a walk with a 2-year-old. You’ll quickly realize that they’re seeing things you don’t even notice.”

There’s something slightly paradoxical about trying to study the inner life of babies. For starters, you can’t ask them questions. Young children can’t describe their sensations or justify their emotions; they can’t articulate the pleasure of a pacifier or explain the comfort of a stuffed animal. And, of course, none of us have any memories of infancy. For a scientist, the baby mind can seem like an impenetrable black box.

In recent years, however, scientists have developed new methods for entering the head of a baby. They’ve looked at the density of brain tissue, analyzed the development of neural connections, and tracked the eye movements of infants. By comparing the anatomy of the baby brain with the adult brain, scientists can make inferences about infant experience.

a) Yes babies have less history, less shaping by the environment (in their brains, muscles, cells, etc. etc.).  Yes, this means they will be more sensitive to things adults have long habituated to or learned to ignore

b) even if babies could tell us their “emotions” it wouldn’t help because they’d have no context for those emotions or sensations.  Those kinds of concepts only come from experience.  AND… having adults describe their “inner life” isn’t exactly precise…

c) The Infant Experience… oh boy.  I sense a reality show on TLC coming on…

Read the whole article.  It’s really a self help article for being creative.  Here’s the punchline: Think Like a Baby.

My wife thinks I do that enough.  At least now I can scientifically justify my behavior.

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In the 6th edition of “On the Origin of Species” Charles Darwin lamented over the power of “steady misrepresentation” of the facts and observations of his work 150 years ago. Those were days when God’s grace meant you could be hanged for opposing what everyone knows was the “WORD”.

While there has been a steady diet of multidisciplinary science that continues to support, extend and find nuances of his findings on natural selection, genetic drift, mutation and speciation, there is, and will always be groups that obfuscate the information in favor of their own approach to origins of life and man in particular.

As authors Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott have laid out in their review in the recent Scientific American, these various miscreants of misinformation; these groups or people that have no science, no peer review, no database of exceptions, no body of anecdotal evidence to support their views also have no conflicting data points they can point to in support of their views. In fact, their approach is not about science, evidence, methodology or technology. It is about “faith in dogma” and it is shared by millions of people around the globe.

The real pariah in the whole mess is the body of people that take a “live and let live” approach. You know who they are… “Hey, as long as they don’t make me kiss a ring, they can do what they want in Rome.” These are the people who traffic in ambivalence. They too will always be with us. They sit on a fence, not necessarily supporting dogma and yet the view that man is a kin of other primates, that our hiccup reflex is a remnant of our fish history, or that we have to deal with the almost two dozen versions of extinct humans (Viktor Deak) is just upsetting enough, if not unconventionally disturbing for them to ignore. (As if prayer for soldiers being shot at isn’t or holy wars where millions have died are somehow, in comparison, OK.)

Remember Galileo who was convicted of suspicion of heresy for following the position of Copernicus which went contrary to that laid down by the Roman Catholic Church authority of Holy Scripture.  All of this today is still about the dogma of faith vs. data of science. Same stuff, different year.

There have been crusades, ethnic cleansing and the other stuff that made up the Dark Ages. And here we are in the Spring of 2009 reviewing our civilization and thwarted by those who don’t want people to figure out what the heck is going on out there.

Enter Governor Bobby Jindal who is a potential presidential hopeful of those currently out of favor in US politics. In 2008 he literally signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law.

Marketed as supporting critical thinking in classrooms, the law threatens to open the door for the teaching of creationism and for scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution in public school science classes [in Louisiana].

(Branch and Scott, 2009)

Does it sometimes seem to you that, while we may have evolved, there are some that didn’t get the memo? Next FOX News will be telling me that Mike Huckabee, former Presidential hopeful (who believes in the literal and biblical interpretation of Genesis) will administer the plan.

Chezz!

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What? How could that be?… Here are some more dazzling examples of “putz-on-a-page” concerning fMRI and neuroscience:

First, here’s the good news…

Brain’s blood surge doesn’t match activity

  • Based on the 28 January 2009 article by the same name by David Robson
  • All [….. ] are comments and edits of jhb

CONTRARY to popular belief, a rush of blood to a certain brain region [as seen in an fMRI study] is not always linked to neural activity there, a finding that may guide future brain scan experiments.

Functional MRI scans measure blood flow in the brain. Neuroscientists interpret this as a sign that neurons are firing, usually as someone performs a task, [observes or senses the environment in some way] or experiences an emotion [implied due to reports and periphery recordings]. This enables them to link the emotion to the brain region where there was [a change in the area’s] blood flow.

Now, Aniruddha Das from Columbia University in New York and colleagues have shown that blood flow can occur without accompanying neural activity. Das used separate techniques to measure blood flow and neural activity in the visual cortex of two macaques trained to carry out a visual task.

Sitting in darkness except for a light that switched on at regular intervals, the monkeys were trained to look away if it was red, and fix their gaze on the light if it shone green.

When the timing [interval] of the pauses between the light flashes [were] changed, blood flow still increased when the macaque expected [would have normally received the timed] flash, but [without a colored light cue] there was no [‘escape’ or orientation movement] or subsequent increase in electrical activity from firing neurons [in those neural areas that were shown to be involved] (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature07664). Das suspects that the brain sent the rush of blood in anticipation of the neurons’ firing.

Christian Keysers from the BCN Neuroimaging Centre in Groningen, the Netherlands, does not believe the result is relevant to the design of previous fMRI experiments and so is unlikely to have an impact on their results. But Das says care needs to be taken in future to ensure that this misinterpretation does not lead to errors.

~~~~~~~~~~

The Journal of Neuroscience, December 31, 2008, 28(53)

BOLD (blood oxygenation level-dependent) Signals Do Not Always Reflect Neural Activity

Behavioral/Systems/Cognitive (see pages 14347–14357)

Anna Devor, Elizabeth M. C. Hillman, Peifang Tian, Christian Waeber, Ivan C. Teng, Lana Ruvinskaya, Mark H. Shalinsky, Haihao Zhu, Robert H. Haslinger, Suresh N. Narayanan, Istvan Ulbert, Andrew K. Dunn, Eng H. Lo, Bruce R. Rosen, Anders M. Dale, David Kleinfeld, and David A. Boas

Each year, thousands of publications present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data that suggest that a particular brain region is active during a particular cognitive task. Casual readers [casual readers and some less casual readers] of such papers might forget [presume or not attend to the fact] that this technique does not actually measure neural activity, but rather blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) contrasts.

Synaptic transmissions require large energy expenditures, and increased energy metabolism has been hypothesized to act directly on blood vessels to increase blood flow and alter BOLD signals.

This week (Feb-09), however, Devor et al. report that this hypothesis is not always the correct one. [One can only imagain that new neural pathways being laid down show somewhat different blood flow than neural activity from repetitive or redundant activities as measured by neural activity.]

As expected, stimulating the forepaw of rats increased blood oxygenation, vessel diameter, glucose uptake, spiking, and synaptic release in the contralateral primary somatosensory cortex [associated with sense reception on the forepaw]. In the ipsilateral cortex, however, neural activity and glucose uptake increased, but blood oxygenation and blood flow did not.

These results indicate that blood flow is not directly tied to metabolism, and BOLD signals do not always reflect neural activity as recorded by various fMRI devices.

~~~~~~

Conditioning works even if you don’t know about it…

The brain, as a physical organ, has shown classical conditioning without an agent, autonomous man or the need for an interpreted purpose.

Some other experiments have shown that monkeys fire “anticipation” neurons in different areas before they perform a movement itself. There must be some neural circuits that cause vasodilation in these areas of the brain in anticipation of the light. Reducing things down to cell membrane transport to find the ‘cause’ starts to get a little like trying to find the soul or the personality when those things are mere metaphors that allow us to communicate and, after use and misuse, come to be personified and be the thing we are trying to understand rather than the behavior of the organism.

All in all this type of reduction approach has led us to some strange interpretations for headlines in magazines and pop science-shizzle articles to attract readers but not many have the cohunes of NewScientist, a normally damn good resource who boldly stated on their recent cover: Darwin Was Wrong!

More examples of “putz-on-a-page” concerning fMRI and neuroscience:

http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/04/10/bad-brain-science-boobs-caused-subprime-crisis/

http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/06/11/wired-for-belief/

To Trust or Not to Trust: Ask Oxytocin

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan 49 participants who were given…
July 15, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Mauricio Delgado

Monkey Mating Requires Lots of Brainpower

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze the brains of male marmoset…
February 02, 2004 – News – By Sarah Graham

Is Your Brain Thinking on its Feet?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor their subjects’ brain…
November 09, 2000 – News – By Harald Franzen

Escape from the Insipid: Our Brains May Be Wired for Daydreaming

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). While the subjects were not performing…
January 18, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

Why the Brain Follows the Rules

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to see what parts of the brain…
June 10, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Caroline Zink

Scientists Identify Brain Region Responsible for Calculating Risk versus Reward

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how 14 healthy subjects…
June 15, 2006 – News – By David Biello

Right Brain May Be Wrong

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). As a first step, psychologist Markus…
March 24, 2005 – Scientific American Mind – By Steve J. Ayan

MRI Study Shows Lying Brains Look Different

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of volunteers…
November 14, 2001 – News – By Sarah Graham

Politically Correct: Why Great (and Not So Great) Minds Think Alike

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Researchers focused their examination…
March 19, 2008 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

The Dope on Dopamine’s Central Role in the Brain’s Motivation and Reward

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to examine the normal human brain…
September 15, 2008 – News – By Tabitha M. Powledge

The Political Brain

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study shows where in the brain the…
June 26, 2006 – Scientific American Magazine – By Michael Shermer

Can You Believe Your Shifty Eyes?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), if the behavior she had observed was…
April 19, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

Your iBrain: How Technology Changes the Way We Think

…placed. To make sure that the fMRI scanner was measuring the neural…
October 08, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Gary Small, Gigi Vorgan

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Thinking about Morality

…a hypothesis stemming from previous fMRI investigations into the neural…
July 29, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Adina Roskies, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Searching for God in the Brain

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Beauregard seeks to pinpoint the brain…
October 03, 2007 – Scientific American Mind – By David Biello

Neuroscientists Take Important Step toward Mind Reading

…on functional MRI data. By analyzing fMRI scans of viewers as they looked…
May 29, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Christopher Intagliata

Saying no to yourself: The neural mechanisms of self-control

…button press). On each trial of the fMRI study, subjects were given three…
September 11, 2007 – 60-Second Science Blog

Five Ways Brain Scans Mislead Us

…at the capabilities and operation of fMRI, perhaps the most commonly…
November 05, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Michael Shermer

Brain-Scan Cell Mystery Solved

…until now the mechanism underlying fMRI’s robust success has been a…
October 06, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Nikhil Swaminathan

BRAIN TERRAIN

…resonance imaging (fMRI). Unlike other imaging methods, fMRI allows…
March 21, 2000 – Scientific American Magazine – By Carol Ezzell

Fact or Phrenology?

…magnetic resonance imaging–or fMRI–has made quite a splash since its…
March 24, 2005 – Scientific American Mind – By David Dobbs

Freeing a Locked-In Mind

…with the advent of functional MRI (fMRI) scans, it became possible to…
April 04, 2007 – Scientific American Mind – By Karen Schrock

Are You a Liar? Ask Your Brain

…Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technology to determine whether someone…
November 15, 2007 – News – By Larry Greenemeier

Hypnosis, Memory and the Brain

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They carefully selected 25 people to…
October 07, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Amanda J. Barnier, Rochelle E. Cox, Greg Savage

Can brain scans read our minds?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze changes in the flow of blood…
December 12, 2008 – 60-Second Science Blog

Does fMRI See the Future?

…magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to chronicle the brain in action….
January 22, 2009 – 60-Second Science

Can fMRI Really Tell If You’re Lying?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) purports to detect mendacity by seeing…
August 13, 2008 – Scientific American Magazine – By Gary Stix

The Brain Is Not Modular: What fMRI Really Tells Us

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We have all seen scans with…
May 13, 2008 – Scientific American Magazine – By Michael Shermer

The Sound Track of Our Minds

…headphones while lying in an fMRI machine; each of the musical tapestries…
August 03, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

Brain Images Make Inaccurate Science News Trustworthy

…magnetic resonance imaging (or fMRI)—the tool that creates a…
April 07, 2008 – 60-Second Psych

Partial Recall: Why Memory Fades with Age

…imaging magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine whether those…
December 05, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

When Craving Is Better Than Getting

In a recent article about brain cells, Joshua Freedman a U.C.L.A. neuroscientist, noted that a monkey feels maximal reward not when he eats a grape but rather when he gets it in his possession, anticipating he can eat it. Reward anticipation is very strong and can have a negative impact, (think: addiction), according to researchers from Rutgers and New York universities. They studied the effect of cognitive therapy on the physiological reactions to anticipating positive reward, and the results are published in Nature Neuroscience this week. To get a handle on these cravings, researchers presented human subjects with cues for a monetary gift. For each presentation, they were asked to either think of the reward or think of something calming  that was the same color as the cue (which was blue).   The calming strategy cut the physiological arousal (measured by skin conductance response) nearly in half. Additionally, they found marked reductions in the activity of the left and …
June 30, 2008 – 60-Second Psych

Magnetic Revelations

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has become the leading research tool…
October 16, 2001 – Scientific American Magazine

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A study attacking use of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) in social neuroscience as flawed and an overselling their results by scientists printed in Nature under the above name and authored by Alison Abbott has touched a nerve in science. [Yes, it is a double entendre…] Social neuroscience is the study of the neuro­biological mechanisms underlying social behavior.

The field frequently uses fMRI to reveal which brain areas are activated while a subject is exposed to specific social interactions or socially relevant content — e.g., situations that may evoke anger, jealousy, spirituality or guilt.

But a lengthy and no-holds-barred paper accepted for publication in Perspectives on Psychological Science and already circulating widely on the Internet, claims that many studies misused the statistics, measurement and methodology to make points and support positions what were not supported by the data assessed by a very large team of researchers that understand both the technology and the statistical logic used in almost all science fields.

Some of the papers authored responded with dismay, anger and guile. One is reported to have stated, “This is not the way that scientific discourse should take place.

This is indeed the way scientific discourse needs to take place. I am amazed that Ed Vul and his colleagues had the stones to delve into what others suspected but, for lack of a better term, were too lazy to make the analysis and then question individual authors for their imaging methods. In any event the methods need to be substantiated more now than in the past due to the proliferation of information. If left untested the number and aura created can generate a form of viral buzz that makes some research acceptable before it is validated, reproduced or reviewed by peers. Given the sensationalism with which some of the results are heralded and spring board people to be guests of Dr. Phil of Oprha’s show, the microscope needs to be every where if we as society continue to put science on the same dais as sports and financial logic. Clearly there is always the potential of a McCarthyisque tone now that the White House has turned its attention to other things than pillorying the efforts of science.

The amount of published research from imaging experiments has drastically increased over the last 10 years. Of course, some scientists are very knowledgeable and have a really strong grasp of their methodology, from both the data acquisition end and there are others who use a plug-and-play like approach. An area of the brain lights-up and both types of experimental teams have the opportunity to explain it for the reader what it all means. When this is done in retrospect enormous problems raise their shinny little heads.

The criticized authors complained about the immediate publicity of the criticisms. This may indeed not be the way that scientific discourse took place in the past but the Internet has changed the rules as all in politics and business have come to find out. Now science is seeing that ‘change’ is part of the lab and the lecture hall as well as the fMRI tube.

Questioning findings that were publicized is a requirement of science first and the populace second. There are thousands of journals and more coming every day. Some have yet to earn their chops. Their reviews are the same that get published there and have incestuous relationships like coaches in the NFL. Clearly, for science to not return to the dark ages it must regulate its content or someone else will do it for them and that elicits pictures of Alberto R. Gonzales or Rush Limbaugh or perhaps the former attorney general of New York State, Eliot Spitzer. It seems appropriate that the criticisms be addressed and answered by the same audience. Journals that accept manuscripts according to the chance that they make headlines in the popular press may want to consider a different strategy.

All experimenters better be sure they can explain their data, particularly those who don’t work in the field of brain imaging, and are at the mercy of the reviewers to assure them that those images weren’t made in Photoshop.

Short of that, use the Baloney Detection Kit published here. If the authors appear out to prove something rather than understand something you might want to apply the Kit. In either case, you are going to continue to hear about fMRI and interpreting results for many more years.

Now, you want to know what the real problem is?

There is a lack of empiricism in the questions being asked in the first place so this distraction is the same old pea soup in a kettle that psychologists, philosophers and non-scientists everywhere have wasted the eons away with. No matter how exact, exotic and sophisticated the instrument you use to measure, if what you measure is not observable, empirical and the concept is not falsifiable, it is equivalent to flying in an airplane at 35,000 feet at night and looking out the window for answers to even the big questions like, “What the heck is going on out there?’

Good luck with those subjective approaches… let me know how that pans out.

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They’re at it again. Yes they are… As part of the Rube Goldberg contingent from Mythinformation Central. From the people that brought you “you’re fat because of your friends” you are now presented with: “your genes influence who will become friends.”

They set up the straw man: that it is an error to suggest people are a function of a “simple model for the metabolic, neural and Internet networks, and the same model is applied to human beings — that all parts of the network are identical and interchangeable”.

They never knock it down but extrapolate beyond the data with innuendo of their own PR. One can only imagine that Christakis and cronies will be doing collaborative work with Steven Pinker soon on the topology of the mind, call it science and write another book on the mind’s influences in support of Pinker’s postulate that the reason the Chief justice misquoted the oath of President Obama was a “blowback from Chief Justice Roberts’s habit of grammatical niggling Or was it a Freudian slip? Hmmm… Science, huh... How very canny for the Language Don Dr. Pinker to point that out as he knows so much about both people’s histories, relevant factors and ‘mindful’ homunculi like those “inherent characteristics that govern where we [as individuals] gravitate to in the social network.”

“A second implication is that the [current] study suggests that if we really want to understand how things [?what ‘things’?] diffuse in social networks, we need to take into account people’s locations in the social networks, which are due in part to their genes,” Christakis pontificated while showing no data or peer reviewed research.

Please see the Baloney Detection Kit submitted for consideration for those reading content from any media channel, including Buzz Creation or Mythinformation efforts by mainstream print media to get more subscribers and kooks to buy their fading printed words.

I am looking forward to more “sharper predictions” from the Christakis Mythinformation crew.

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I am so disappointed.

Mysticism returns to prime time TV with this inane crime stopper series “LIE to ME*” heralding the star (Tim Roth) and his team’s ability to read people’s faces to tell when they are lying about what. Crimes are just the medium for the law enforcement to clean up with all that legal mumbo jumbo.

Forget the advance science of real life CSI groups who offer empirical data as evidence supporting suspicion of involvement or not that is shown or implied in other TV dramas. Too many big words and too much emphasis on logic over folklore. That was wayyyyyy to tough to understand.

So, I guess the Vietnam war injury from a concussion grenade will not get mentioned in the villain’s arraignment. We’ll be able to tell if President Obama really is going to address the issues of the day and, most importantly, whether or not he is embarrassed to have a middle name of “Hussain” after all.

Working with this fantasy, think of where it could all lead: you are successful based on not being able to terse your lips or raise an eyebrow due to Botox.  No more need for matters as suspect as a ‘Twinkie defense.’  It was a facial tick that sealed the doom that the Olympian was using banned substances… Or, your movie is given the green light because you looked the producers in the eye and your nose didn’t flare at the same time…

If only we knew what to look for before Columbine and West Virginia events… And all along those media mongrels were leading down the path of science, contingency management and stem cell hope. But no more…

Enter the latest version of phrenology** and voodoo*** for prime consumption.

I am so disappointed.

* Not the absolute blues-grunt-rock of Jonny Lang’s live version of “Lie to Me”

** Phrenology: a defunct and debunked field of study, once considered a science, in which a person’s personality was first implied and then determined by experts “reading” bumps and fissures in the subjects skull.

*** Voodoo: religion based on mix of Roman Catholic teachings and West African beliefs that there are numerous deities subordinate to a greater god spirit (who does not traffic in matters or events of mere humans). Prayers and incantations to lower gods who show their work by symbolism in everything from tea leafs to smoke – only coincidently related to the smoke from a sacred chimney announcing a new Pope.

Various Blog Coverage:

TV Addict

Chicago Trib

Televisionary


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I wonder if I can break from the flow in this blog to posit a response on the CNN article

When any argument used results in the personification of the brain as an entity that ‘does’ things, the value of your verbal behavior to others gets minimalized. Brains are cellular matter that behave according to cellular chemistry and physics without any agency toward purpose, function, or order.”

Please don’t follow the crowd and use words as if they don’t matter. Furthermore, avoid the crowd’s focus on monocausality, absolutes and Newtonian cause and effect chain-link logic. You are involved with an organ that has roughly 100 billion neural cells with 10 million attachments to each one. Noodle that if you will! The number of permutations for what is going on in the brain as a billion fibers fire in and out of synchrony with other patterns is difficult to deal with. Using simplistic metaphors is what the crowd does. Metaphors may sound succinct but they reduce the reader’s ability to grasp the enormity of the problems involved in every aspect. Behavior::neural activity::genetics::the environment and their reciprocities are complex. The subject matter has a “wow” factor but it also has a history littered with charlatans, elixir salesman and worse. Don’t follow the crowd but instead, select the empirical path rather than the path of myth, magic and dualism.

No, these observations reported by CNN don’t abstract well.  They don’t do much but imply that a correlation is as good as a ‘cause.’ Pity. Correlations are the basis of fMRIs.

The brain doesn’t show that people fear being different. The brain shows patterns of firings that people with letters and research project numbers after their name interpret one way or another. You still have to listen and read and evaluate what they say, write and interpret.

  • How did the brain come to fire the way it did (in that area, at that amplitude, and pattern)?
  • What impact did neural plasticity have on the firings?
  • What do the fMRI readings represent?
  • Is the same firing pattern seen in Budapest or Pogo to that stimuli?
  • Is it true of Paraná tribe members and Malaysian sea nomads?

We are like others in groups or organizations because we are both reinforced and punished over time for our behavior in relation to their behavior. We recognize similarities (selectively) and as long as they don’t conflict with our other (selected) valued belief systems, we “relate” to that group. We diverge from social group convention for the same reasons. What is constant are the changes in the flow of what we value or what we relate to in those and other groups we attend to…which is also conditioned.

To show the degree that things are controlled by consequences, invite a Shiite to speak at your church mission group or invite a goyim to participate in the next Hasidic  law review. Watch the group behavior.  Of course these are extremes to show an effect.  But there are subtle abstractions as well… Bring your close friends, the ones who love you for who you are… to a Monster Truck Rally.   Social contingencies are powerful!  

That is one way to explain why some people are Green Bay Packer fans and some are Oakland Raider fans. Each sees things they value in their group and don’t value in the other’s group. Those ‘things’ are also conditioned by the contingencies the different fans were exposed to in the past.

How else does one explain being a Raider fan?

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I was going to title this “Not found @ 2009 Consumer Electronics Show…” but I’d get punished.

People invest in training for their education, work, entertainment and even lifestyles. The society as a whole invests billions in training and education for all its children and encourages more of it after high school. Collectively, corporations spend hundreds of billions of dollars on training of all levels; from simple tasks (MS Office) to the ultra complex (Billings fMRI certification). Training can be hands-on, case studies, role-play, webcasts, podcasts, virtual, instructor led, eLearning, Learning communities and even blog solutions groups. Then there is mentoring for individuals to complement sales training, technical training, service training, partner training and vendor training.

Professional athletic organizations spend billions of dollars globally each year to train not only the muscles of their athletes but the way they think about themselves, their competitors, and how to handle work-life balance issues that can be anything but normal. The ‘natural’ athletic ability of athletes like Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Paton Manning, Dana Torres, and Mario Williams comes at the price of eight+ hours of practice a day for years in order to be an over-night success. People watch super athletes perform a bevy of athletic feats and too frequently ascribe their behavior to a “natural ability” rather than to intense training in multiple areas that is required to do what they do. The US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, has classes for athletes on handling the media, food, injuries and anger. Organizations also spend millions more to learn new methods of training world class athletes for elite competition in every sport imaginable from both forms of football, baseball and basketball to lesser but intensely played X-games, tennis and ping pong.

All this time, all this money and all these people invest daily in what they can learn today that will take them to the next level tomorrow. They are all committed to acquiring whatever will improve performance, profit, presentation or information that will serve them in the pursuit of what each of them is organized to value.

However when any of these individuals, groups or organizations are presented with the learning and conditioning rules that apply to their training there is push back and denunciation conditioning. While even a grade school track coach knows how the Krebs cycle affects a ‘kick’ at the end of a 440, they know next to nothing of the methods of reinforcement and avoidance, chaining and fading, discrimination training or schedules effect those they train. Even the arguments against the use of conditioning and learning techniques as being relevant are learned using the very contingency management they deny is involved.

So, am I missing something? Did we all learn to read blogs by reflex? Was divination involved in finding the right partner to marry? Was it always their ‘motivation’ or was it due to a ‘calling’ he turned that MBA from University of Colorado into a creative design position for www.getgreen.com?

The value for us is that learning and conditioning is everywhere. It is harder to find a behavior that didn’t come about due to past consequences than it is to keep up with pop logic that eating chocolate is good for me or that purging is a disease. Please! The effects of learning and conditioning are everywhere; drug cartels, congressman, Joel Osteen, Rev. Wright, moms, brothers sisters and you too.

Maybe we ought to take the rules of learning seriously in order to understand the big stuff about what the heck is going on in the world. Then we can start on the tough stuff.

Find me a behavior that was acquired without conditioning and I’ll pay you money.

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In a previous article I suggested that it becomes incumbent on the reader, listener, watcher or any engaged person to be able to tell when something in the media didn’t seem right or justifiable, etc. as in CNN and Evil – Snivil… I promised those that there are some rules of thumb for detecting faulty, deceptive or malicious content. The one selected is the Sagan Baloney Detection Kit. There are dozens of them out there on the web, in science methodology texts and even some in writing books. Like any set of rules of thumb, they are not absolute but provide an approximation that will save time and angst when sifting through the escalating volumes of content we have access to.

Like every source of ‘help,’ use what works for you and toss the rest. Know that those that want your eyeballs understand this list better than most of us and do what they can to keep you from recognizing these red flags in their materials.

Let us know what we missed and what we need to cull from our list.

Baloney Detection Kit: Based on selections are taken and similar to those in a book by Carl Sagan “The Demon Haunted World” Ballantine Books (February 25, 1997) ISBN-10: 0345409469

These collectively or individually are ‘red flags’ that suggest deception. The following are tools for detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments wherever they present themselves.

  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no “authorities”).
  4. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours, your parents, etc.
  5. Quantify, wherever possible.
  6. If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.
  7. “Occam’s razor” – if there are two hypotheses that explain the data equally well choose the simpler
  8. Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?
  9. Conduct control experiments – especially “double blind” experiments where the person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.
  10. Check for confounding factors – separate variables impacting the conclusions.

Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric

  1. Ad hominem – attacking the arguer rather than the argument.
  2. Argument from “authority”
  3. Monocausality: Cause and effect statements
  4. Argument from adverse consequences (focus on the dire consequences of an “unfavorable” decision; attack a sovereignty or you’ll be fighting them on the streets of New York).
  5. Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).
  6. Special pleading (typically referring to god’s will, Buddha’s mysteries or passions of Islam).
  7. Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).
  8. Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses as in fortune telling).
  9. Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).
  10. Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)
  11. Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers ignored because they are not “substantiated”).
  12. Non sequitur – “it does not follow” – the logic falls down.
  13. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc – “it happened after so it was caused by” – confusion of cause and effect.
  14. Meaningless question (“what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).
  15. Excluded middle – considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the “other side” look worse than it really is).
  16. Confusion of correlation and causation.
  17. Straw man – caricaturing (stereotyping, marginalizing) a position to make it easier to attack.
  18. Suppressed evidence or half-truths.
  19. Weasel words – for example, use of euphemisms for war such as “police action” to get around limitations on Presidential powers. “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”

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