Wednesday Round Up #41

Ta-Nehisi Coates on words that don’t belong to everyone

Interview between Ian Tyndell and Kevin Mitchell

Fascinating and wide-ranging interview on psychology, behavioural genetics, & neuroscience with geneticist and neuroscientist Kevin Mitchell @WiringTheBrain and author of Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are

What Professors Can Learn from YouTubers

A short video summarizing some tricks for engaging educational videos and lectures that are inspired by YouTubers.

Sounding the Alarm for White America — and Maybe the Rest of Us

Conceptually, a distinction of these additional analyses is their focus on all Americans, which Case and Deaton intentionally do not pursue. This narrower framing seems mismatched with their recommendations for action. A key solution recommended in the book— universal health care—has encountered persistent resistance, in part because, as Case and Deaton note, many White people find these approaches unacceptable because they benefit Black people. This racial disjuncture would seem to put us in a corner. Fixing health care so that it is available, accessible, affordable, and of high quality would benefit more White people than Black people. As Nikole Hannah-Jones points out in her Pulitzer Prize–winning essay for the 1619 Project, the fight for Black rights resulted in universal benefits—for everyone.

Teaching Sensory Anthropology
From 2014 – and it still works well in getting students and teachers to think about how to teach about the sensorial as part of anthropology, particularly ethnography.

Small-scale sensory ethnography project

Total time: 40 minutes aprox, including activity guidelines, data gathering, and group discussion.

1. Split into small groups. Take a walk around the University campus. Record your surroundings and what you encounter. Each group should focus on a different sense where possible (smell, touch, sight…) and record the stimuli provided to this particular sense.

Note: Experiment with your recording methods! You can use photography, notes, audio recordings, material collection, video, drawing, collage, etc.). Feel free to use unconventional modes of representation for recording a specific type of sensory experience. You can use equipment from the media lab or improvise with whatever tools you have at hand (e.g. your phone or color pens) (15 minutes).

2. Each group should present findings and explain (15 minutes):

‘Useful Delusions’ Examines How Beliefs Can Be Powerful In Positive And Negative Ways

On the collective benefits of self-deception:

When we think about very large things in our lives, things like the nation state, for example, it’s difficult to conceive of these things as delusions. But of course, the nation really is a human invention. Nations exist because large numbers of people believe they exist, the people who live within the nation and people who live outside the nation. A nation really is a shared belief that we have agreed upon collectively. So this raises the question when we think about visiting a place like Arlington National Cemetery where the Americans who have lost their lives in combat are memorialized and remembered, the question that arises is why would people give their lives for something that is at its heart a human construction, a human invention?

Why would you be willing to sacrifice your life for something that has been invented by other human beings? And the answer, of course, is it lies in the brain’s very powerful need for connection with others, for feeling like we’re part of a larger group. And so our brains are designed in some ways to form tribes with others, to form connections with others, to stand by one another. And the willingness that we have to go into battle to die for one another is perhaps the highest example of ways in which our shared beliefs can produce things that, in fact are both wonderful and powerful.

A Scientist’s Pink Cast Leads To Discovery About How The Brain Responds To Disability

Daily scans of Dr. Nico Dosenbach’s brain showed that circuits controlling his immobilized arm disconnected from the body’s motor system within 48 hours.

But during the same period, his brain began to produce new signals seemingly meant to keep those circuits intact and ready to reconnect quickly with the unused limb.

Dosenbach, an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, repeated the experiment on two colleagues (their casts were purple and blue) and got the same result. In all three people, the disconnected brain circuits quickly reconnected after the cast was removed.

The study, published online in the journal Neuron, shows that “within a few days, we can rearrange some of the most fundamental, most basic functional relationships of the brain,” Dosenbach says. It suggests it is possible to reverse brain changes caused by disuse of a limb after a stroke or brain injury.

The results of the study appear to support the use of something called constraint-induced movement therapy, or CIMT, which helps people – usually children — regain the use of a disabled arm or hand by constraining the other, healthy limb with a sling, splint or cast.

How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation

I began video-calling Quiñonero regularly. I also spoke to Facebook executives, current and former employees, industry peers, and external experts. Many spoke on condition of anonymity because they’d signed nondisclosure agreements or feared retaliation. I wanted to know: What was Quiñonero’s team doing to rein in the hate and lies on its platform?

But Entin and Quiñonero had a different agenda. Each time I tried to bring up these topics, my requests to speak about them were dropped or redirected. They only wanted to discuss the Responsible AI team’s plan to tackle one specific kind of problem: AI bias, in which algorithms discriminate against particular user groups. An example would be an ad-targeting algorithm that shows certain job or housing opportunities to white people but not to minorities.

By the time thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol in January, organized in part on Facebook and fueled by the lies about a stolen election that had fanned out across the platform, it was clear from my conversations that the Responsible AI team had failed to make headway against misinformation and hate speech because it had never made those problems its main focus. More important, I realized, if it tried to, it would be set up for failure.

The reason is simple. Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth. Quiñonero’s AI expertise supercharged that growth. His team got pigeonholed into targeting AI bias, as I learned in my reporting, because preventing such bias helps the company avoid proposed regulation that might, if passed, hamper that growth. Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine that growth.

Shaun Gallagher: Action and Interaction. Reviewed by Horacio Banega

Gallagher lays out his Interaction Theory in chapter 5. That theory holds that intersubjective understanding takes place through embodied practices. Since intersubjetive understanding involves social cognition, it is where the problems social psychology deals with arise, among them bias in the perception of members who do not belong to our group of reference. In this chapter, Gallagher clears up misunderstandings regarding his critique of mindreading and the nature of mental states. His target is the classic notion that mental states are private internal events that others have no access to, or that the only access possible is through inference or simulation on the basis of our own mental states. If that is the basis for the theory of mindreading, Gallagher affirms that it is rarely needed in our daily interactions. The notion of the mind Gallagher defends is the notion of an embodied mind geared to action and enactively contextualized. This conceptualization is “non-orthodox” (99) and difficult to reconcile with the notion of mental states as private events.

The science of terrible men

The pioneers of social genetics were racists and eugenicists: should we give up on the science they founded altogether? …

This entire line of research uses statistical tools and scientific insights from Fisher and other proponents of eugenics, such as the Victorian-era scientist Francis Galton (who redefined the study of heredity as the study of similarity between relatives) and the early 20th-century mathematician Karl Pearson (who is the namesake of the Pearson correlation coefficient). And, by connecting genetic differences between people to socially valued life outcomes, this line of research also risks entrenching their ideologies about human inferiority and superiority.

‘The ketamine blew my mind’: can psychedelics cure addiction and depression?

His parents were evangelists; Grant’s father was a teacher and lay preacher, and his mother ran a nursery from home. They were also fosterers who, over the span of their marriage, gave a home to more than 200 children. “Growing up, love was never in short supply,” Grant says. What was in short supply was his parents’ attention. “They had a lot of commitments, they were very busy people,” he says. “I suppose what I realised in that therapy session was that I’d felt overlooked as a child and that had caused me pain.” Over the years, that pain crystallised, and alcohol became a crutch. “I could see it was the root of the negative emotions that drove my drinking, and a lot of other bad habits and behaviours.” He says it’s a realisation he might have taken years to come to with standard talking therapy. “It wasn’t even on my radar, so it blew my mind. To understand myself and my drinking, and why I behaved the way I did… With the ketamine therapy I got there in a few weeks. I feel free.”

Eight of Literature’s Most Powerful Inventions—and the Neuroscience Behind How They Work

The Serenity Elevator

This element of storytelling is a turning around of satire’s tools (including insinuation, parody and irony) so that instead of laughing at someone else, you smile at yourself. It was developed by the Greek sage Socrates in the 5th-century B.C. as a means of promoting tranquility—even in the face of excruciating physical pain. And such was its power that Socrates’ student Plato would claim that it allowed Socrates to peacefully endure the terrible agony of swallowing hemlock.

Don’t try that at home. But modern research has held up Plato’s claim that the invention can have analgesic effects—and more importantly, that it can convey your brain into the serene state of feeling like it’s floating above mortal cares. If Plato’s dialogues are bit outdated for your reading style, you can find newer versions in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Tina Fey’s “30 Rock.”

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