The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson March 8, 2013Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brain, Brilliant words.
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One of the many wonderful things about The Psychopath Test (aside from the careful narration on the audiobook by the author) is the fascinating assumption made by the author of this test. “An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues.”—from the Amazon site. Ronson starts globe-hopping, looking at people with the jaundice-colored glasses. He visits a Haitian death-squad leader jailed for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York (he had manipulated his way out of extradition for multiple murders and rapes by promising to finger CIA as his backer); a chainsaw CEO with delusions of grandeur famously callous about destroying lives (including his sister’s and his son’s; and a Grievous Bodily Harm criminal who feigned madness to get into a softer lockup and a prison—and regretted it instantly. Locked up in an asylum for the criminally insane, he swears he’s sane and certainly not a psychopath—but he scores very highly on the Psychopath Test.
The best part about the book is Ronson speculating about the motives of ordinary people, including himself. I snickered every time he caught himself examining his motives a little too closely, although I’m not sure it was intended as humor.
Possibly just insight.
Tinfoil Hat Calibration November 3, 2012Posted by stuffilikenet in Brain, Brilliant words, Uncategorizable.
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From The List Which Cannot Be Named:
I would be interested in knowing specifically what shape the aluminum foil should be fashioned in for maximum deflection of radio frequencies; this recommendation, along with the objective research, could be passed on to the paranoid schizophrenic community.
When I worked at Radio Shack (first real job out of high school, if you can call retail "Sales Making!" a real job) we had a shortbus-load of "special" folks visit the mall we were in about once a month. One of these ladies came in one day, crying and complaining that her tinfoil hat was very uncomfortable during the summer. (Sacramento summer heat can get as high as 120F in bad years.)
My coworker Tina sold her a studfinder ($8?), which she claimed to have modified special in the back room, to detect the CIA and other guvmint bands – we also sold crystals for scanners, of course. The studfinder would beep randomly sometimes at power-on; she told this poor CIA victim that if that happened, to go ahead and wear her hat.
That woman was ever so grateful. She always knew when to put on her hat after that. We didn’t tell her that the CIA changes its frequencies every year or so, so she’d need to bring it in for updated crystals. I’m sure the CIA and NSA are very happy they’ve been able to monitor and modify her thoughts lo these many years.
I also wonder sometimes how many years of therapy we set her back.
Blindsight by Peter Watts July 30, 2012Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brain, Brilliant words.
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Blindsight is a scary good hard science fiction thriller regarding solar system invasion by intelligent non-sentient beings, countered by four extraordinarily specialized humans, and a Pleistocene-epoch vampire resurrected just for jobs like that. This tale is as complex as my synopsis is brief, but ever so much better told and, in the audiobook form, convincingly acted.
There is much discussion of the nature and evolution of consciousness and of its pal sentience in conversational style that forms a great deal of the narrative, and compels the logical conclusion. This is meaty literary stuff, and I urge you to take a big bite.
Blindsight was nominated for the Hugo, as well as the Campbell and Locus awards, so I’m not the only one who thought it an interesting read.
I Have Seen the Light—it’s an LED July 4, 2012Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Star Trek Technology.
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A journal article1 (in one of the less-reputable but still non-phrenology or homeopathy- level journal) from 2010 describes two patients with severe head trauma who were treated to some modest success with just red LEDs strapped to their heads. Patient One reported she could keep focused on her computer tasks (she was some kind of geek, apparently) for twenty minutes without, but three hours with.
Patient Two had a history of closed-head trauma (sports/military, and recent fall), and magnetic resonance imaging showed frontoparietal atrophy. Pre-LED, she was on medical disability for 5 months. After 4 months of nightly LED treatments at home, medical disability discontinued; she returned to working full-time as an executive consultant with an international technology consulting firm.
Experimentalists at home might want to try this. It seems harmless enough to play around with. Of course, Star Trek had it first:
I cannot tell you how long it has taken me to find this photo on Google images; suffice it to say my time for this blog is pretty limited (you happy few readers must be so gratified).
1 Improved Cognitive Function After Transcranial, Light-Emitting Diode Treatments in Chronic, Traumatic Brain Injury: Two Case Reports Margaret A. Naeser, Ph.D., L.Ac., Anita Saltmarche, R.N., M.H.Sc., Maxine H. Krengel, Ph.D., Michael R. Hamblin, Ph.D., and Jeffrey A. Knight, Ph.D., Photomedicine and Laser Surgery Volume 00, Number 00, 2010 [never heard of it]
Finally, Imaging Alzheimer’s Plaques May 23, 2012Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Science.
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That’s right folks, Eli Lily has managed to produce a mildly-radioactive dye for PET imaging that will show amyloid plaques of the kind found in Alzheimer’s patients. This will allow doctors to test whether these amyloid plaques are a cause of or a result of Alzheimer’s disease, something that is still unclear. That knowledge may (if it is true) lead to treatments and prevention. If untrue, it may lead to better hypotheses. Either way, this is real progress.
Top: Normal. Bottom, lit up like Xmas: Alzheimer’s patient.
Promising Alzheimer’s Treatment Under Study February 10, 2012Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Science.
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In astounding good news for seniors (and soon-to-be seniors, like me), neuroscientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have published in the journal Science, a study that shows that use of a drug in mice appears to quickly reverse the pathological, cognitive and memory deficits caused by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The medication, bexarotene, could help the five million Americans suffering from the progressive brain disease and gods know how many others elsewhere. The best part is that bexarotene is already approved for oncology, with a good safety and side-effect profile.
Bexarotene clears amyloid plaques by removing soluble amyloid beta proteins, which are (currently) thought to produce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. And this little study (in mice) backs up the hypothesis nicely; major hunks of cognitive function returned to Alzheimer’s-model mice in 72 hours. Not just one, but three different mouse models. It appears that the bexarotene reprogrammed the brain’s immune cells to "eat" or phagocytose the amyloid deposits as well as the soluble forms. This observation demonstrated that the drug addresses the amount of both soluble and deposited forms of amyloid beta within the brain and reverses the pathological features of the disease in mice.
I’m impressed, and quite hopeful. Gary Landreth, PhD, of Case Western Reserve is the man to watch for future investigations, is the author of this study and the discoverer that apolipoprotein E is the mechanism by which the plaques are cleared (and bexarotene amps up production of this).
Serial Killer Did Obey One Law, At Least January 16, 2012Posted by stuffilikenet in Brain, Science, Uncategorizable.
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I know this is supposed to be a happy blog, but arxiv.org is hosting the pdf of “Stochastic modeling of a serial killer”, which is exactly what it sounds like. A serial killer (very successful serial killer:54 known victims) murder spree is plotted as a function of time and the units are number of neuronal firings between acts of murder. It produced a curve that can be nicely fitted to the data, indicating the compulsion to kill is based on number of firings and obeys the power law distributions:
“Simkin and Roychowdhury used their model to simulate the pattern of firing in a brain to see how often it surpasses a given threshold long enough for a murder to take place.
In the model, they used a 2 millisecond period as the fundamental time step, that’s about the time between firings in a real neuron. And they simulated some 100 billion time steps, equivalent to 12 years or so, that’s about the period that Chikatilo was active.
The results are remarkably similar to the distribution of Chikatilo’s real murders and Simkin and Roychowdhury speculate that it would be relatively straightforward to introduce a realistic correction factor that would make the fit closer.
They say: "One could enhance the model by introducing a murder success rate. That is with certain probability everything goes well for the killer and he is able to commit the murder as he planned. If not, he repeats his attempt the next day. And so on."
This model leads to an interesting insight into the nature of serial killing. It suggests that the likelihood of another killing is much higher soon after a murder than it is after a long period has passed.”
Neurology is a lot more of a science than either psychology or psychiatry. So there. And don’t get me started on sociology.
Brain Repair (in Mice; Not G.O.P.-ready) November 25, 2011Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Science, Uncategorizable.
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Harvard scientists have performed a neuron transplant into mice with malfunctioning hypothalamuses (hypothalami??). The mice formerly could not respond to leptin, the signal of fullness, and were consequently little porkers (“morbidly obese”, in geekspeak). The neuron transplants repaired defective brain circuits, enabling them to respond to leptin and thus experience substantially less weight gain. The treated mice grew to approximately 30 percent less than their untreated siblings or siblings treated in other ways. This resulted in a nice paper in Science1 and a slap on the forhead for most everyone who thinks neuronal repair in the brain is impossible—which was nearly everyone, I guess, including me, although I will confess that the nature of brain plasticity is an area which has always required more research.
"The next step for us is to ask parallel questions of other parts of the brain and spinal cord, those involved in ALS and with spinal cord injuries," Jeffrey Macklis, Harvard University professor of stem cell and regenerative biology and HMS professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and one of three corresponding authors on the paper said. "In these cases, can we rebuild circuitry in the mammalian brain? I suspect that we can."
I am leaving out the nifty science they did to monitor this pretty amazing and heretofore-considered-mad-science science, but it’s pretty damn good, too. it seems like there’s a whole lot going on in science right now that demands an open mind and a hell of a lot of work.
So get busy, you guys.
1 "Transplanted Hypothalamic Neurons Restore Leptin Signaling and Ameliorate Obesity in db/db Mice" by Czupryn et al. Science, Vol. 334 (6059), November 25, 2011.
Antonio Damasio – Self Comes to Mind October 10, 2011Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brain, Brilliant words.
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I have been listening to Dr. Antonio Damasio’s audiobook, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain during my commute and have to say that, though fascinating material, it’s very very hard to keep one’s mind upon the book while driving. Not because the book itself is even slightly boring (to me. anyway), but because one stops to think about what’s being discussed and the audiobook just keeps on running. I rewind several times each commute. Dr. Damasio’s careful descriptions of aspects of the self and how a self comes to form a mind are the stuff of which philosopher’s dreams are made, and not a few nightmares. After defining an aspect of self, Dr. Damasio then describes how it arises from the physical reality of a brain structure, and how interplay between this aspect of self and other aspects of self form another piece of the messy structure that is the mind of a human being (and sometimes of other animals…depends on the aspect).
Wonderful stuff, but not light reading/listening. Just assembling this careful picture of the functioning of the structures of the brain is more work than anyone can do in a lifetime, and then to carefully explain it to a thoughtful listener is probably more than anyone should ever have to attempt. The good doctor has a little series of videos on YouTube.com with better introductions to his book than I can write, and I do urge you to visit:
The Ware Tetrology, by Rudy Rucker August 23, 2011Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Brilliant words, Mutants, Uncategorizable.
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Sometimes I am aghast at how little I can express some things, like my appreciation of this set of novels by CSUSJ computer science professor Rudy Rucker. Funny, complex, mystic, psychedelic and yet down-to-earth are all descriptions that apply to this work equally. Surreal works pretty well here, too.
The first book, Software, deals with Cobb Anderson, a retired computer scientist dying of a cheap knock-off heart wearing out, who is offered immortality by robots living on the moon (they revere him as the programmer who gave them sentience and independence from the Three Laws). Since he did that, however, he’s considered a traitor to the human race and has police problems, which forms part of the (non-philosophical) plot. The other part is the method of immortality: chop up his brain and encode it digitally. The robots don’t mention this aspect of it, since they themselves get copied over to new bodies frequently and don’t see it as frightening in any way. Anderson recognizes that consciousness is software plus the body to put it in…the robots give him a robot body.
This novel has some really surreal bits in it, notably that Florida is a reservation for elderly baby boomers (much like today) and is pretty much a squalid hell-hole for anything more than subsistence.
The second book, Wetware, is largely about the efforts of robots on the moon to incarnate robot consciousness into meat bodies on Earth, a plan which goes badly awry and results in the extermination of the robots by a human-engineered chipmold which kills their silicon chips…but infests the plastics they use to communicate with and creates a different sentient race (“moldies”). Interesting action and all that, and subtle philosophical stuff (what is consciousness, what is evolution)—did I mention Rucker is the great-great-great-grandson of Hegel?
The third book, Freeware, concerns alien invasion by radio waves, which encode the information for personality and embodiment. Some of the aliens are benign…others not so much. I had the notion while reading this book that alien signals are being sent to Earth all the time, but we have trouble detecting and interpreting neutrino streams (I was very sunburned and had a little whiskey. This sort of thing doesn’t happen that often, I swear).
The fourth book, Realware, concerns the benign aliens’ gift to humanity—basically, anything anyone wants—and the effects on primitives of sufficiently advanced technology. This is sort of the end of all of this train of thought as well, since it introduces a four-dimensional god of sorts which takes Cobb Anderson (now a “moldie”) into this higher dimension in a mystical kind of way. I’m not sure I consider this lame or not; people sort of run out of ideas when confronting infinity as a concept (see also “God”, elsewhere—in fact, anywhere else). This is hardly an uncommon problem; in one of the dialogues of Plato Socrates, when asked to describe love stops being logical and clear and gets all mystic and shit. When the greatest mind of his time has trouble with this, why shouldn’t everyone else?