Post Of The Week – Sunday 21st December 2014

A day or so late, but it is the holidays.

1) Thomas Insel – Best Of 2014

Thomas Insel starts this article with some sobering figures. Worldwide, Ebola has killed about 6,000 people. Last year, about 800,000 people killed themselves. From this sobering start, Insel finds some good news to report.

He talks about important discoveries in the genetic basis of schizophrenia and autism, about the BRAIN Project, about conceptual changes in the way we do science and the way the gap between research and practice is being bridged. This reminds me of a point in a Ben Goldacre video where he points out that science moves in small but purposeful steps. That is what makes the optimism justified.

2) Forgetting

When we describe forgetting as part of the multistore model in AS Psychology, the assumption is that forgetting is a bad thing. However, we need to forget in order to remember. Forgetting frees up capacity to remember new things. This is the point which this study makes.

3) All In The Mind – Mirror Neurons

Last week, I posed a link to a lecture by James Kilner on biological explanations of social cognition. This highlighted the problem with mirror neurons. Putting too much emphasis on the idea of a mirror neuron does not do justice to the complexity of the systems which enable us to understand what other people are doing to thinking. Mirror neurons may exist: we may have cells which fire both when we do something and see someone else do the same thing. To understand our ability to develop an understanding of others and a theory of mind, we need much more. This theme is developed in this rather good interview on All In The Mind. You have to wind about 13 minutes into the programme.

4) E-cigarettes

Here’s a summary and video of the current state of play from the Naked Scientists.

E-cigarettes are controversial because they deliver a substance, nicotine, which is substantially harmful even though they prevent the ingestion of substances which are even worse. There are both principled and pragmatic ways of looking at this. The article explains possible routes through the dilemmas.

5) Free Will And Determinism

We spent some of last week in A2 looking at influences on relationships: gender and culture. This provoked some lively and interesting responses. Part of what we were doing was to try to understand how in the account of Bowlby and Ainsworth of the internal working model and the influence of types of attachment we could create room for an individual to make choices for him/herself. Another idea which we did not articulate but which certainly crossed my mind was what was so bad about the idea that our actions have their origins that is beyond what we might call conscious will.

This video encapsulates some of this debate and a whole load more interesting ideas.

6) The Future Of The Brain

Here is Gary Marcus from New York University talking about neuroscience and where it might be going. This is a timely reminder that what we know, how we know it, how we share what we know and what we do with our knowledge are all connected.


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