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Archive for September, 2009

Wednesday Round Up #83

Posted by dlende on September 30, 2009

Mind, anthro, and video games, after the ones that most caught my attention this week.

Top of the List

Pierre Jacob, What Do Mirror Neurons Contribute To Human Social Cognition?
Pdf of a 2008 article that proposes an alternative theory of mirror neurons. Rather than mind-reading and cognitive representations, it’s about engaging with the other person’s intentions and activities.

Coturnix, What Is Investigative Science Journalism?
Cortunix tweets “What is Investigative Science Journalism?” to the world and people respond with their thoughts.

Vaughan Bell, Side Effects from Placebos Can Be Drug Specific
No more arguments about this – beliefs matter. Now the side effects from inert pills are related to what the person thinks they are getting, for example, anti-convulsants producing fatigue, sleepiness, and tingling sensations., Six Bullshit Facts About Psychology That Everyone Believes
How everyone likes to believe they know something about psychology when they really don’t. For example, “If you let your anger out, you’ll feel better” and “Just believe in yourself, and you’ll succeed.” Bullshit!

Skeptic Wonder, Scientists: Glorified Bureaucrats?
A good take on the sobering PloS Biology article, “Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research.”

Cognition and Culture Institute, How To Think, Say, Or Do Precisely The Worst Thing For Any Occasion
Good coverage on the new Daniel Wegner article, complete with link to the pdf from Science. Under stress we often do just the opposite of what we want or intend to do, and why this happens.

Carl Dyke, Bells And Whistles
Want to improve your teaching? Here’s a consideration of all those bells and whistles we now have available, with plenty of good discussion that follows


The Veterans Health Research Institute, The Brain At War
Large report on research that deals with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other neurocognitive consequences of war.

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Encephalon #76

Posted by dlende on September 28, 2009

Neuroskeptic is hosting the 76th edition of the mind/brain carnival Encephalon. From blindness and vision science all the way to the chaos of the brain, it’s a rich edition. In between you can sample violin prodigies, a critique of the “neurolaw” movement, drastic addiction treatments, and more.

Link to the 76th edition of Encephalon.

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In the media

Posted by Paul Mason on September 25, 2009

I was recently interviewed for a Special Report on Postgraduate study that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on September 20th. The journalist did a wonderful job of pulling out meaningful quotes and constructing a generously positive article. I thought that I would post the full interview here…

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Posted in general | 6 Comments »

Afarensis Hearth

Posted by dlende on September 24, 2009

Four Stone Hearth
Afarensis is hosting the 76th edition of Four Stone Hearth, rounding up the best anthropology blogging of the past fortnight.

This is an excellent edition – neuroarchaeology, Catalhoyuk, an anthropologist in District 9, gene regulation, gender and athletics, and more. Great stuff.

Link to the 76th edition of Four Stone Hearth.

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Wednesday Round Up #82

Posted by dlende on September 23, 2009

So favs, anthro and mind this week. Thanks to my new assistant Casey with help putting together the list!

Top of the List

John Sutton, Batting, Habit and Memory: The Embodied Mind and the Nature of Skill
Pdf of this 2007 paper: “This essay focuses on the distinction between explicit autobiographical remembering and the kind of habitual or ‘procedural’ memory involved in complex embodied skills like batting.”

Stanley J. Ulijaszek et al., Multidisciplinary Obesity Research: A Local Strategy for Breaking New Ground
The authors of this article talk about the different causes of obesity and how new research on this topic must be produced to get to the root of this problem and help fight it.

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, How Humans Became Such Other-Regarding Apes
Humans feel, question, critique, problem-solve, and form communities. Apes ape. The evolution of our humanity.

The Neuroskeptic, fMRI Gets Slap in the Face with a Dead Fish
Do a lot of statistical tests, get some remarkable results! Like fish brains lighting up when the results smell as bad as dead fish! For more, see Mind Hacks’ Scientists Find Area Responsible for Emotion in Dead Fish

William Lu, Observation of Tool Use Activates Specific Brain Area Only in Humans
Explores the tool-use of species other than humans.

Dr. X, Last Words
Last words from prisoners executed in Texas since 1982. Haunting.

The Neurocritic, Tortured Brains Tell Tall Tales
“Neuroscience shows why torture doesn’t work”


Lara Deeb, An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon
The first chapter to Lara’s book, “AL-DAHIYYA: SIGHT, SOUND, SEASON,” which brings to life this suburb of Beirut

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Sympathy for Creationists

Posted by gregdowney on September 23, 2009

Jesus! vs Darwin!

Jesus! vs Darwin!

Creationists suffer the kind of derision from the scientific community usually reserved for flat earth proponents, faith healers and those who do not appreciate Star Trek. Well, that’s not entirely true; detractors of Star Trek are probably more deeply reviled.

In the spirit of stirring the pot though, I recently gave a presentation ‘Sympathy for Creationists, and Other Thoughts from a Sceptical Anthropologist,’ and thought that I might do an online version. I want to suggest that many ‘believers’ in evolutionary theory share some of the intellectual errors evidenced by Creationists. You know the general principle: try to irritate everyone in your audience so that you at least know they have a pulse.

Many thanks to the Macquarie University Sceptics’ Society for their kind invitation. The Sceptics were a great audience, and I only regret that there was no way to audiotape the lecture — well, actually, I’m probably not half as funny as I like to remember myself being, so maybe it’s a good thing. In addition, I can’t post all the slides because they are, as usual in my lectures, filled with the flotsam and jetsam of the Interwebs, including unlicensed cartoons, pilfered photographs, swiped graphics and other materials. Although it’s one thing to use these sorts of images in a non-commercial presentation, I don’t feel comfortable pinning them up on

So although this post will not follow my lecture point-for-point, nor will it have the excellent questions that the audience presented (which my failing memory is already turning into my ‘own’ thoughts in an act of cerebral self-aggrandizement), this should be fun, and it will allow me to link to evolution-related stuff all over the place.

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Posted in Evolution | 24 Comments »

PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury: Trauma Inside Out

Posted by dlende on September 22, 2009

by Drew Matott and Drew Cameron

by Drew Matott and Drew Cameron

By Zoë H. Wool

Jake was fond of saying that even though he had become dumber, he wasn’t quite dumb enough. He knew that the improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq had mangled his body, brain and self.

Jake (a pseudonym) lost 30 IQ points due to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from that IED blast. According to the military, he was still smart enough to function and hold down a job, so they didn’t plan to include TBI in his disability rating.

He fought them on this, just as he fought them on the decision not to amputate his leg. After countless surgeries and rehabilitation techniques, his leg was almost useless, allowing him maybe 30 minutes of use before it started rebelling against its reconstructed form. The pain that caused was excruciating; he simply couldn’t use it more.

Eventually Jake won his battle to lose his leg. It was the best thing that happened to him during the year I got to know him while doing my dissertation fieldwork at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. (yes, that Walter Reed).

Dealing with, or writing about, TBI is rarely as clear as an amputation. The same is true of TBI’s nearly constant companion, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). TBI and PTSD are not injuries that you can see, unlike a lost leg. Despite the high numbers of TBI and PTSD cases from Iraq and Afghanistan, the relationship of these conditions to more obvious forms of combat trauma remains a fraught one: Witness the debate about PTSD and the Purple Heart.

Most people think that the Purple Heart, that most iconic of military honors, is awarded to American military members injured in combat. As with most issues military, it is not quite that simple.

In 2008, after months of consultation, the decision was made not to award the Purple Heart to those suffering from PTSD because, in part, the medal “recognizes those individuals wounded to a degree that requires treatment by a medical officer, in action with the enemy or as the result of enemy action where the intended effect of a specific enemy action is to kill or injure the service member.” PTSD doesn’t count.

Though the decision was officially framed in rather bureaucratic terms, the debate which surrounded it raises much deeper issues about the nature of trauma. Thinking through these issues has led me to think about the Cartesian split between the (internal) mind and the (external) body and the nature of trauma inside and out.

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Posted in Brain Mechanisms, Embodiment, Mental Illness, Psychological anthropology, Violence | Tagged: | 7 Comments »

Natureculture conference (May 2010)

Posted by gregdowney on September 21, 2009

The Society for Cultural Anthropology recently circulated an announcement of their biannual meeting, 7 and 8 May, 2010, at the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Prof. Donna Haraway, Professor and Chair of the History of Consciousness Program of the University of California Santa Cruz, will be the keynote speaker and the theme will be ‘Natureculture: Entangled Relations of Multiplicity.’ As Brad Weiss recently wrote:

In recognition of the renewed and growing drive to interrogate the longstanding ontological divide between Nature and Culture, we invite discussions that explore ways of reconfiguring this complex relationship.

Haraway is probably best known in anthropology for her discussions of human-machine hybridization — the ‘cyborg’ — and their implications for feminist theories which tended to rely upon naturalizations of women’s sex and gender, but she has also been crucial for the critical reconsideration of primate studies. Haraway’s landmark essay, A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century, originally published in Socialist Review, is available online here.

More information is available at the conference website here. There’s no explicit mention of anything brain-related, but the conference announcement is a bit of a ‘what’s hot’ list in cultural anthropology. Check it out if you’re in to these sorts of things…

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Sidney Mintz and Reflections on Sweetness and Power

Posted by dlende on September 19, 2009

Sweetness and Power
The Racliffe Institute for Advanced Study hosts a conference series on Women, Men and Food. Video from the six conferences is available online, ranging from the introductory Food for Thought to Studying Gender, Studying Food.

The one I want to highlight is Sweetness, Gender and Power: Rethinking Sidney Mintz’s Classic Work. That classic work is Sweetness and Power: The Place fo Sugar in Modern History, which links the production of sugar in slave plantations in the Caribbean with the rise of sugar consumption in England – economic history explained through anthropology. Given my interests in consumption, here’s what he writes early in the book:

What turned an exotic, foreign and costly substance into the daily fare of even the poorest and humblest people? How could it have become so important so swiftly? … The answers may seem self-evident; sugar is sweet, and human beings like sweetness. But when unfamiliar substances are taken up by new users, they enter into pre-existing social and psychological contexts and acquire – or are given – contextual meanings by those who use them… Uses imply meanings; to learn the anthropology of sugar, we need to explore the meaning of its uses, to discover the early and more limited uses of sugar, and to learn where and for what purposes sugar was produced (6).

The Radcliffe conference features four prominent academics – Amy Bentley, Vincent Brown, Judith Carney, and Sucheta Mazumdar – who place their work in light of Mintz’s ground-breaking book. The topics cover the academic study of food, enslaved women, gender and capitalism, and China and sweet potatoes. Mintz himself wraps up the conference with his own retrospective on his work, including an early line from his friend Eric Wolf, “Well, Mintz is a peculiar anthropologist.”

Link to the Sweetness, Gender, and Power: Rethinking Sidney Mintz’s Classic Work conference videos.

Posted in Food & Eating, Video | 1 Comment »

Conference: Evolution of Brain, Mind and Culture

Posted by dlende on September 17, 2009

Emory University’s Center for Brain, Mind and Culture is hosting a free conference that is open to the public, The Evolution of Brain, Mind and Culture, on November 12th and 13th, 2009.

The keynote address “Darwin in Genes and Culture” will open the conference at 1:00 PM on Thursday and will be given by Matt Ridley, author of books such as The Origins of Virtue and Nature via Nurture. That keynote will be followed a session on brain evolution. On Friday sessions on the evolution of mind and the evolution of culture will fill the morning and afternoon. You can see the entire schedule here. Prominent Emory scholars like Jim Rilling, Melvin Konner, and Frans de Waal will be joined by some great outside people like Pascal Boyer, Sally McBrearty, and Joe Henrich.

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