Radar Roundup: Brains

Today’s topic is: our brains, understanding how they work, and living with the consequences of that knowledge.

  • Brain Enhancement: Right or Wrong? (NYT): amazing gray areas we’re getting into. Is it okay for a scientist to take brain-enhancing drugs? Compare with Wired News’s write-up of Quinn Norton‘s ETech talk on the subject of how new bio technology will make us confront difficult questions around what it means to be human.
  • How To Think (Ed Boyden’s blog): Ten rules that were originally to be the basis for a class that taught MIT students how to think. Sample: “1. Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read, even when you’re reading what you conceive to be introductory stuff. That way, you will always aim towards understanding things at a resolution fine enough for you to be creative.”
  • Notes on “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely (Toby Segaran’s blog): fascinating list of ways in which we are irrational. The book looks interesting for its exposure of just these various ways in which we don’t do the “right thing”.
  • Brain Rules: web site for the book by John Medina. Interesting book that tries to help people understand their brains and use them better. Ultimately it’s frustrating: too much anecdote, not enough science for me. I came away feeling it would be a good 50 pager. I see a lot of people doing the “use your brain better” thing, possibly inspired by the $110M brain training software market (Nintendo is $80M of it). See gbrainy for an open source version. Vaughn Bell over at the Mind Hacks blog points to research that says the software doesn’t work, and along the way coins the killer phrase “the four dopamen of the neurocalypse”.
  • Why we’re powerless to resist grazing on endless web data (WSJ): “coming across what Dr. Biederman calls new and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.” Push the lever, rat, and get your next damn blog post to read.
  • Pricing and the brain (Economist): high-priced goods are perceived as better than low-priced, even to the point where high-priced placebos are more effective than lower-priced. Nobody’s yet answered the question of what this means for open source/free software, other than to point out that it’s a good reason for “free” to mean “freedom” and not simply “price”.
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