Wednesday Round Up #40

Neural prosthetics: understanding reach planning

First understanding the task to then be able to help people with paralysis have functional prosthetics.

What Popular Culture Misunderstands About Addiction

With medications perpetually excluded or diminished, what audiences see instead is that, in order to recover from opioid addiction, one must endure days of withdrawal, and then it’s off to group counseling, tough love, and a life of 12-step meetings. (To be clear, 12-step groups don’t consider themselves treatment; they’re nonprofessional, free-of-charge self-help groups, and indeed, that support helps many.) Usually, all this takes place at a posh “rehab” center, which the show BoJack Horseman effectively satirizes as quackery for the rich.

The ideal marker of “success” in this framework is total abstinence from all psychoactive substances, which can even extend to prescription drugs that are medically indicated. Caffeine and cigarettes, the socially acceptable signifiers of recovery, are of course perfectly acceptable (tobacco kills over 10 times more people than heroin). In The Sopranos, when Tony’s protégé Christopher (Michael Imperioli) checks into treatment after accidentally suffocating his fiancé’s dog while nodding out on heroin, the staff confiscate all of his Milky Ways and Snickers bars. Temperance is taken to extreme levels of abstemiousness, recalling a parody of a Beverly Hills rehab center in Arrested Development named Austerity, whose motto is “A Full-Service Way to Live Without.”

AnthroTools: An R Package for Cross-Cultural Ethnographic Data Analysis

As large-scale collaborative, cross-cultural ethnographic research becomes easier and easier to realize, certain ethnographic methods and analyses should be correspondingly more available, inviting, and accommodating. We have therefore created AnthroTools, a package for the free, open-source language R, with a variety of tools and functions suitable for both multi-factor free-list analysis and Bayesian cultural consensus modeling.

Free-list data elicitation is a simple technique for ethnographic research. However, especially for cross-cultural free-list data, background preparation is considerable and often requires specific software. In addition, although current cultural consensus analysis tools offer very sophisticated analyses, they also either require specialized software or have computationally taxing methods. AnthroTools expedites these techniques, rapidly performs diagnostics, and prepares data for further analysis. In this article, we briefly discuss what this package offers cross-cultural researchers and provide basic examples of some of its functions.

Epidemiology and Race – Conference Videos

Boston University’s School of Public Health recently hosted a public conversation on race and epidemiology. You can access Part 1 and Part 2 – each with great content – through the above link.

The Four Basic Truths of Macroeconomics

A fourth thing to know is that non-monetary shocks, if they are large enough, can also create recessions or depressions. Consider the oil price shock of 1973, the current pandemic, or bad harvests in earlier agrarian societies. Central banks can partially stabilize such shocks, but they cannot erase them.

I believe an overwhelming majority of macroeconomists would largely agree with these propositions, even if they might place the emphasis differently. And these four propositions are enough to elevate macroeconomics into the realm of the essential.

The Value of Truth

Interest in how knowledge is acquired and distributed in social groups has long been a substantive field of inquiry in the social sciences. But with notable exceptions—such as W. E. B. DuBois, John Dewey, Thomas Kuhn, and Michel Foucault—twentieth-century philosophers mostly focused on the individual: their central concern was how I know, not how we know. But that began to change near the end of the century, as feminist theorists such as Linda Alcoff and Black philosophers such as Charles Mills called attention to not only the social dimensions of knowledge but also its opposite, ignorance. In addition, and working largely independent of these traditions, analytic philosophers, led by Alvin Goldman, launched inquiries into questions of testimony (when should we trust what others tell us), group cognition, and disagreement between peers and experts.

The overall result has been a shift in philosophical attention toward questions of how groups of people decide they know things. This attention, not surprisingly, is now increasingly focused on how the digital and the political intersect to alter how we produce and consume information. This interest is on display in Cailin O’Conner and James Weatherall’s recent book The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread (2019), as well as in C. Thi Nguyen’s work on the distinction between echo chambers (where members actively distrust “outside” sources) and epistemic bubbles (where members just lack relevant information). These examples highlight how philosophy can contribute to our most urgent cultural questions about how we come to believe what we think we know.

Discrimination Against the Mentally Ill by Medical Professionals

Before talking about the case that tops that, there is another tragic and preventable death in the same city but where the bias was towards mental illness and away from a medical problem. A young university student planning on going into medicine came out of a downtown Mosque one evening with his family. He spotted two young thugs harassing an old man and he went to the aid of the old man and chased the thugs. One of them turned around and shot the rescuer. When the paramedics arrived, they detected a small entry wound in his abdomen, little blood and decided he had been shot with a pellet or BB gun. It was a 22 and it severed two internal arteries.

The paramedics took there time and tried to convince the young man that he was alright even though he was demonstrating considerable distress. the distress they dismissed as his acting. He began flailing and they told him to stop and after wasting a half hour, they dragged him into the ambulance and restrained him. They decided to take him to the Emergency psychiatry unit rather than to the trauma centre which was much closer. He died by the time they got to the hospital, the paramedics were fired and are now being tried for neglecting to provide the necessities of life.

There’s a Better Way to Parent: Less Yelling, Less Praise

At one point in her new book, the NPR journalist Michaeleen Doucleff suggests that parents consider throwing out most of the toys they’ve bought for their kids. It’s an extreme piece of advice, but the way Doucleff frames it, it seems entirely sensible: “Kids spent two hundred thousand years without these items,” she writes.

Her deeply researched book, Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, contains many moments like this, in which an American child-rearing strategy comes away looking at best bizarre and at worst counterproductive. “Our culture often has things backward when it comes to kids,” she writes.

Doucleff arrives at this conclusion while traveling, with her then-3-year-old daughter, to meet and learn from parents in a Maya village on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; in an Inuit town in a northern Canadian territory; and in a community of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. During her outings, she witnesses well-adjusted, drama-free kids share generously with their siblings and do chores without being asked.

Clinical depression as the sports injury of academia

Academia is like an entire sports league, playing far below its potential

Imagine if a professional sports team invested time and money into recruiting the most talented players it could get, but didn’t hire a team doctor or physiotherapist. Imagine if getting injured was considered a sign of being unsuited for professional-level play, and that as a result players tried to hide their injuries and to avoid requesting treatment. Imagine if around 40% of the junior players, and an unknown but non-trivial proportion of the senior players, sustained injuries that impaired their performance. Players were sent links to websites containing tips about self-care for injury prevention, but to little effect.

The team would end up performing much worse than if the players had remained in good health. If all the other teams were like that too, then nobody would know what they were missing out on. The status quo of systemic and chronic injury would seem normal. That would be how things were, and how they always had been.

That Is Not How Your Brain Works

Myth number one is that specific parts of the human brain have specific psychological jobs. According to this myth, the brain is like a collection of puzzle pieces, each with a dedicated mental function. One puzzle piece is for vision, another is for memory, a third is for emotions, and so on. This view of the brain became popular in the 19th century, when it was called phrenology. Its practitioners believed they could discern your personality by measuring bumps on your skull. Phrenology was discredited by better data, but the general idea was never fully abandoned.2

Today, we know the brain isn’t divided into puzzle pieces with dedicated psychological functions. Instead, the human brain is a massive network of neurons.3 Most neurons have multiple jobs, not a single psychological purpose.4 For example, neurons in a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex are regularly involved in memory, emotion, decision-making, pain, moral judgments, imagination, attention, and empathy.

What Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’ got wrong on sex and race — and why it matters

The authors of a book marking the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “Descent of Man” discuss “a most interesting problem” — namely how the naturalist’s fundamental misconceptions on sex and race still shape society.

“Embodied cognitive science with Professor Tom Froese”

“What is the mind? Traditionally, cognitive science has approached this question in terms of the hypothesis of a physical symbol system: the mind/brain is a computer, and cognition is computation. More recent approaches to cognitive science have questioned the adequacy of this hypothesis and have begun to advance alternative frameworks that substantially broaden the basis of the mind, leading to the rise of embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive (4E) cognition. These approaches develop in different ways a shared core commitment to the claim that agent-environment interaction is a foundational part of cognition, rather than just a secondary product of cognition. Together these approaches are broadly known as embodied cognitive science.”

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