What Percentage of Your Brain do You Use?

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Cause and Effect in Wine Drinkers’ Health

It isn’t the wine, but what’s in the rest of the shopping cart.

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Just how scientifically illiterate is the American public? Woefully so, it turns out. A common error is that people mistake correlation with causation. If you do “A” and then “B” happens, then A “must have” caused B, right?

Afraid not. Correlation and causation are entirely different creatures. When the rooster crows, the sun rises. But are you going to conclude that the rooster causes the sun to rise? Of course not. There is a hidden third force at work, the rotation of the earth that is the actual cause of sunrise. Continue reading

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Bethesda Talk on Synesthesia and Book Signing May 27

May 27, 10 a.m. at the Wednesday Morning Group, Cedar Lane Unitarian Church, 9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda MD, 20814.Wed_Blue

Richard E. Cytowic, MD, MFA speaks about the crossed–senses of synesthesia, how it relates to creativity, and the challenge it poses to brain-inspired “neuromorphic” computing such as IBM’s Watson. A book signing follows his talk.

The Wednesday Morning Group (wmgroup.org) is a weekly meeting of curious individuals who engage guest speakers and one another.Founded 50 years ago, the organization is open to all (a guest fee of $5 is requested). Typical lectures cover current events, literature, art, education, and social issues.

Dr. Cytowic’ s talk is followed by a book signing of Wednesday is Indigo Blue, winner of the Montaigne Medal (cash or check only, please).  For further queries contact Julie Goodman juliegoldberggoodman@gmail.com.

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All Fall Down: A Novel

Here is my review of Jennifer Weiner’s “All Fall Down: A Novel” at the New York Journal of Books:

All Fall Down: A Novel

“How glibly addicts deceive themselves.”

“I’d escape from rehab. Then maybe take myself to a spa for a few days. Fresh air, long hikes, nothing stronger than aspirin and iced tea. That was the ticket.” How glibly addicts deceive themselves.

In All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner’s 11th novel now in its paperback release, we meet Allison W., a successful, over-educated suburbanite who seemingly has it all—husband, career, treasured daughter, big house—everything she thought she wanted. Continue reading

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The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction

Here is my review of Michael Crawford’s “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction” at the New York Journal of Books:

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction

“The lack of direct immersion and the increasing rarity of actual face-to-face interactions are the true cause of our anomie . . . and our isolation in a supposedly ever- connected world.”

Here is another commentary on declining attention spans and our increasingly fragmented lives. Except in The World Beyond Your Head Matthew B. Crawford argues that we complain about the wrong thing: technology is more a symptom than a cause. Attention entails more than individual minds because it has become a cultural problem.

Crawford is senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. His book goes past pop psychology to weave a sophisticated philosophical argument about the challenges of mastering one’s own mind. His earlier book, Shop Class As Soul Craft, was hailed by the Financial Times as “a next–Generation Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

“Ours is now a highly mediated existence in which . . . we increasingly encounter the world through representations.” This disembodiment of perception, the lack of direct immersion, and the increasing rarity of actual face-to-face interactions are the true causes of our anomie, our isolation in a supposedly ever-connected world, and our sense of being overwhelmed. Continue reading

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Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

Here is my review of Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives” at the New York Journal of Books:

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

“will her recipe that combines research, personal anecdotes, and social media feedback prove superior to existing advice, or will it fall like a failed soufflé?”

Most of the time we behave unthinkingly, which is to say by habit. Habits define our existence and our future, says Gretchen Rubin in Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. If you accept that we repeat 40% of our behaviors every day, that they are the “invisible architecture of our everyday lives,” then what she says should give us pause.
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The Doomsday Equation

Here is my review of Matt Richtel’s “The Doomsday Equation: A Novel” at the New York Journal of Books:

The Doomsday Equation: A Novel

“The algorithm was the equivalent of giving the world a blood test, taking its temperature, assessing its mood.”

The domains of big data collection, mathematical algorithms, machine intelligence, and human ambition collide magnificently in The Doomsday Equation by Matt Richtel.

At its simplest, the multilayered plot gives wunderkind Jeremy Stillwater three days to prevent the outbreak of World War III. Unfortunately, no one believes him given that his sandpaper personality has alienated all his former supporters and fueled his many enemies. That his algorithm can accurately predict global conflicts counts for naught in the eyes of the countervailing operatives in this thriller.
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Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains

Here is my review of Susan Greenfield’s “Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains” at the New York Journal of Books:

Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains

“Anything we practice repeatedly changes the brain; fixate on iPhones and similar screens, and we become better at staying helplessly glued to them.”

For eons humans have adapted splendidly to every niche on the planet. In the digital era our brains have likewise been adapting to the increasing bombardment of data, and the results are decidedly mixed. So says Baroness Susan Greenfield, a much–decorated neuroscientist and former director of Britain’s Royal Institution.
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5 Reasons Alcohol Makes You Fat

It’s not the carbs or sugar that go to your waistline, it’s the booze.

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Alcohol's empty calories quickly go towards fat.

Alcohol’s empty calories quickly go towards fat.

Alcoholic beverages don’t feature nutrition labels the way that other foods we eat do. The food police might rail against sugar, fats, and over-processing. But nutritionist Nicole Senior, allied with the University of Sydney that invented the glycemic index, points to alcohol as “the pink elephant in the room.”

At the very least, alcohol poses a five–fold challenge for those trying to watch their waistline. Continue reading

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Radiomen

Here is my review of Eleanor Lerman’s “Radiomen” at the New York Journal of Books:

Radiomen

“There was something really interesting going on somewhere just beyond the edges of what our eyes could see.”

This novel has an inspiring premise and an even better plot. It’s a hybrid between conventional novel and science fiction. At its best, as sci-fi fans know, the genre is about far more than aliens and gizmos. Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing once said that science fiction had its second-tier reputation only because so few good writers had attempted the form.

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How Facial Botox Changes Your Brain—Literally

Unintended consequences make the cosmetic procedure far from benign.

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Lesser wrinkling, but at what cost?

Lesser wrinkling, but at what cost?

The injection of Botox to reduce facial lines and wrinkles has long been assumed to be purely cosmetic in nature. Hollywood’s rush to it has normalized the procedure and even given it an air of frivolity.

New research, however, has revealed an unintentional and rather dramatic consequence: Botox injections in the forehead rearrange the brain’s sensory map of the hands. The scary part is that clients typically come back for regular injections, because the paralysis the toxin induces lasts only two to three months. The unanswered question is whether repeated treatments over a period of years results in permanent changes to one’s brain.

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Why We’re All Overwhelmed Today

It’s no wonder: We ask Stone Age brains to manage Digital Age data streams.

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Overextended, Overcommitted, and Overwhelmed

Overextended, Overcommitted, and Overwhelmed

We all face the paradox: We want to unplug and push back against modern life’s demands on our time and attention. We want a breather. Yet we continue to flit from task to task and endure countless interruptions while bemoaning time wasted and productivity that could be a lot better. We say we’re sick of Instagram and Twitter, or that we’re going on a Facebook diet to limit the time we spend staring at screens. Perhaps we’ve promised ourselves that we’re going to delete our accounts altogether.

And yet we don’t.

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The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners

Here is my review of Dr. Alan Barclay’s “The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners” at the New York Journal of Books:

The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners

“Just in time to address those extra holiday pounds comes a practical guide to natural sugars and artificial sweeteners that explodes some long-held myths along the way.”

From the nutrition scientists who invented the glycemic index—a “speedometer that measures how fast and high your blood glucose level” will spike after a meal heavy in starches and sugar—comes the very first compendium of the sweet substances we typically eat and what happens once they’re in our body.
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The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining

Here is my review of “The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining” at the New York Journal of Books:

The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining

“Taste happens in our head, not in our mouth, and the art of the table today is as robust as it was in the 18th century.”

This book is in a class by itself. If you thought taste was located on your tongue, then this unique book will disabuse you of that notion and reveal how both eating and cooking are extraordinarily rich multisensory experiences.

Charles Spence is Professor of Experimental Psychology and head of the Cross-Modal Research Laboratory at Oxford University. His coauthor is a sensory researcher in the same lab.
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The Future of the Brain

Here is my review of “The Future of the Brain” at the New York Journal of Books:

The Future of the Brain

“Fast computers coupled with biological knowledge can let us understand the workings of a wedge of actual brain tissue. The progress from measurement to meaning feels palpable.”

This book is hard going, but worth the effort for fans of the ever-expanding field of brain science. It is hard going only in the sense of being deep, cutting edge, and futuristic in its suppositions. It will leave readers both amazed and full of questions.

NYU professor Gary Marcus and neuroscientist Jeremy Freeman at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute deliver a remarkable set of essays by some of the world’s leading neuroscientists. Stellar names include Christof Koch, George Church, Ned Block (who weighs in as one of several skeptics), and two 2014 Nobel laureates, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser.
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New Slow City: Living Simply in the World’s Fastest City

Here is my review of William Powers’ “New Slow City: Living Simply in the World’s Fastest City” at the New York Journal of Books:

New Slow City: Living Simply in the World’s Fastest City

“If you wear clogs, recycle diapers, and think it is fun to live in a hovel then this book is for you. Otherwise, the going is iffy.”

William Powers made a name for himself in Twelve by Twelve, his account of living in a cabin in North Carolina without running water or electricity. Now he transplants that virtuous living to Manhattan with the aim to live “simply in the world’s fastest city.”
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