Friday, December 31, 2010

Status Quo Bias

When I first read about Status Quo Bias, it was fascinating. I cheered while listening to psychologist's talk about it. Albeit the lessons on humility, smirked fractiously when I saw others dwelling in it.
Now in the final weeks of 2010, I have been fighting to break not one but two status quo biases. Talk about indecisiveness - it feels like a Sisyphean task. I would make a decision, then thoughts would start to wander, rationalizing process would kick off and bingo!!, back to square one.This loop kept repeating itself for weeks. Frustration is an understatement. I had headaches, cried, took long walks, read books to distract myself, watched movies and put immense pressure (read "drove them nuts") on people who care. And Max doesn't talk (damn you FOXP2). Now that, I have made my decision (more or less)... its time to jot down some factors which helped me break that vicious cycle. 

  • Start talking to oneself - listen carefully to your heart with all the brains and speak from the heart with all your brains.
  • Speak your heart-out with someone close, who wishes you well and listen to them carefully.
  • Speak to some who doesn't know you - an acquaintance. They might not be imbibed with the biases/blind-spot's you and your friends have on you.
  • Meditate - helps opening up that most coveted open mind. 
  • Metacognition - it creates a loop in-itself, paradoxical but don't underestimate it's potential. (I think, it's next only to love on the hierarchy of human potentials) 
  • To state the obvious - there are risks involved either way but there is an illusion of less risk in status quo.
  • Picture your future self. Picture yourself traveling through those two different roads and pick the one you want to travel most. 
  • Don't make a decision with help of cognitive fluency. It's the foundation of future remorse, guilt and what not.  
  • There will be others inevitably affected by staying or breaking the status quo. Be polite to them either way.
  • Breaking the status-quo is not a zero-sum game like it seems to be. We can make it a win-win situation.
  • Remember all those perpetual cognitive looping is not waste of time. It inevitably hones our decision making skills (neural plasticity?).

The Most Under Reported Death of 2010 - Charlie Wilson

Charlie Wilson passed away on 02/10/2010. Probably his mirror neurons fired up during his visit to Afghanistan and laid one of the most important foundation for the demise of USSR.

"Character issues were the public’s foremost concern, for obvious reasons. Perhaps that was why he decided it was time to leave. (He became a lobbyist for Pakistan, the country that facilitated the delivery of munitions into Afghanistan.) But I always felt that Charlie passed the character test. You can judge a politician by his private life, or by his public life. For a politician, the character test is not just whether he lives a faultless life. It is whether he or she serves the public. Charlie passed that test with flying colors. He served his district and his state well, and he never tried to hide his shortcomings, and he was a good friend. A lot of people would settle for that as an epitaph."

The Education of 2010 - Possibilian

Are We An Amygdala Driven Society?

"Scientists have found that people with conservative views have brains with larger amygdalas, almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotions.
On the otherhand, they have a smaller anterior cingulate, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life.
The "exciting" correlation was found by scientists at University College London who scanned the brains of two members of parliament and a number of students.
They found that the size of the two areas of the brain directly related to the political views of the volunteers.
However as they were all adults it was hard to say whether their brains had been born that way or had developed through experience."


And that famous book by Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence which pioneered educating us on this. 

Most Popular Page of 2010

I never could have guessed the power of a movie star - Salman Khan and His Dogs!!

Wisdom - Barry Schwartz

Well, last day of the year and I am obsessed with wisdom...

“As these things get better and better, nobody has to encounter ideas they don't already agree with. We lose that sense of community we had when there were shared cultural experiences, even though we may not have liked them. Now we can create our own cocoon and keep all that unpleasant stuff out.”
- Barry Schwartz 

Best Book of 2010

Steven Hall in his book, Wisdom: From Philosophy To Neuroscience tried to capture the catalyst for human evolution and survival brilliantly in 300 pages (review here). Of-course, this book not only lead to more questions than answers but opened up new "avenues" to ponder. 

"Every moment instructs and every object: for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence, until after a long time." - Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Emerson put it beautifully but miserable life taught Confucius more pragmatism:
"When the Way prevails under the Heaven, then show yourself; when it does not prevail, then hide."

Devastating Beauty - Henry Fair

Ten Most Disturbing Scientific Discoveries

The microbes are gaining on us.
Antibiotics and vaccines have saved millions of lives; without these wonders of modern medicine, many of us would have died in childhood of polio, mumps or smallpox. But some microbes are evolving faster than we can find ways to fight them.
The influenza virus mutates so quickly that last year’s vaccination is usually ineffective against this year’s bug. Hospitals are infested with antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus bacteria that can turn a small cut into a limb- or life-threatening infection. And new diseases keep jumping from animals to humans—ebola from apes, SARS from masked palm civets, hantavirus from rodents, bird flu from birds, swine flu from swine. Even tuberculosis, the disease that killed Frederic Chopin and Henry David Thoreau, is making a comeback, in part because some strains of the bacterium have developed multi-drug resistance. Even in the 21st century, it’s quite possible to die of consumption.

We’re all apes.
It’s kind of deflating, isn’t it? Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection can be inspiring: perhaps you’re awed by the vastness of geologic time or marvel at the variety of Earth’s creatures. The ability to appreciate and understand nature is just the sort of thing that is supposed to make us special, but instead it allowed us to realize that we’re merely a recent variation on the primate body plan. We may have a greater capacity for abstract thought than chimps do, but we’re weaker than gorillas, less agile in the treetops than orangutans and more ill-tempered than bonobos.Charles Darwin started life as a creationist and only gradually came to realize the significance of the variation he observed in his travels aboard the Beagle. For the past 151 years, since On the Origin of Species was published, people have been arguing over evolution. Our ape ancestry conflicts with every culture’s creation myth and isn’t particularly intuitive, but everything we’ve learned since then—in biology, geology, genetics, paleontology, even chemistry and physics—supports his great insight.


Quote of the Day

“It ain’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that just ain’t so.”
-Josh Billings

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dear Mr. Gandhi, We Regret We Cannot Fund Your Proposal…


Computer viruses that steal identities are nothing new. But 2010 introduced the world to something potentially far more dangerous: Stuxnet.
Stuxnet is the world's first publicly known cybersuperweapon – a computer program that is able to cross the digital divide and destroy a real-world target. In the case of Stuxnet, that target seems to have been Iranian nuclear facilities. But future variants could be used to hammer US critical infrastructure, too, the Congressional Research Service warned this month.
Discovered in June by a Belarus antivirus company and later revealed as a cyberweapon by a German researcher, Stuxnet was designed to control and destroy industrial control systems. It could be activated merely by plugging a thumb drive loaded with the malware into the target computer system.
Many experts worry that a "son of Stuxnet" clone could make an appearance in 2011. "My greatest fear is that we are running out of time to learn our lessons," Michael Assante, an industrial control systems security expert, told a congressional hearing on Stuxnet in November. "Stuxnet ... may very well serve as a blueprint for similar but new attacks on control system technology."

More overlooked stories of 2010 -

Best Movie of 2010

No question it's Inception (here, here and here).There are movies of vanity filled with spectacular special effects, there are movies with great actors with crappy storyline and there are movies with great screen play wasted by mundane performance. Inception worked on all three fronts. A good old power of story telling seamlessly amalgamated with top-notch special effects and great acting peppered with some "creative" neuroscience - a recipe for a master piece. My affair with the movie started with the trailer and now its permanently etched in my memory.

"What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient... highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed - fully understood - that sticks; right in there somewhere. "

"Don't you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone!"

Quote of the Day

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

-Robert F. Kennedy

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Connectomics - In Pursuit of a Mind Map

Dr. Lichtman and his team of researchers at Harvard have built some unusual contraptions that carve off slivers of mouse brains as part of a quest to understand how the mind works. Their goal is to run slice after minuscule slice under a powerful electron microscope, develop detailed pictures of the brain’s complex wiring and then stitch the images back together. In short, they want to build a full map of the mind.

The field, at a very nascent stage, is called connectomics, and the neuroscientists pursuing it compare their work to early efforts in genetics. What they are doing, these scientists say, is akin to trying to crack the human genome — only this time around, they want to find how memories, personality traits and skills are stored.

They want to find a connectome, or the mental makeup of a person.

The task at hand is somewhat similar to trying to untangle a bowl of spaghetti. Each individual spaghetti strand may touch tens of other strands as it weaves in a contorted fashion through the bowl. In this case, the researchers want to do the equivalent of seeing where all the strands connect at the atom level.

And because the brain’s wiring is so densely packed, building a connectome stands as one of the most formidable data collection efforts ever concocted. About one petabyte of computer memory will be needed to store the images needed to form a picture of a one-millimeter cube of mouse brain, the scientists say. By comparison, it takes Facebook about one petabyte of data storage space to hold 40 billion photos.

“Hopefully, we are returning with a burst of new energy to the question of how the brain is wired up,” said Gary S. Lynch, a well-known brain researcher at the University of California, Irvine. “Lacking a blueprint, we’re never going to get anywhere on the most profound and fun questions that drew everyone to neuroscience in the first place: what is thought, consciousness?”

Here and his TED talk from early this year

Best Quote of 2010

This was a real tough one... ironically I had to pick a quote which is over 2000 years old. Socrates's final speech is still relevant today since rumors, gossip and malice are parasitical which has not only conquered politics and corporations but also the media. This is the seminal force behind the decline of this great country (and not deficit, outsourcing, globalization etc). With a clear conscience, I could only think of this quote from Bettany Hughes's new book The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life (here):

When Socrates finally stood up to face his charges in front of his fellow citizens in a religious court in the Athenian agora, he articulated one of the great pities of human society. "It is not my crimes that will convict me," he said. "But instead, rumor, gossip; the fact that by whispering together you will persuade yourselves that I am guilty."

100 Resolutions for 2011 (From GoodGuide)

Excellent list from GoodGuide, my favorites:

What I've been Reading

The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurcharan Das. For starters this is not a religious book, its a philosophical journey through the pages of Mahabharatha. There is no Dalai Lama to create an epidemic of Mahabharatha and that tasks was mostly is left to millions on omnipresent guru's. God-men are at the best an irritation and at the worst well... little needs to be said about that. The curse that started thanks to the Beatles and hippie generation, lingers still in the western minds. For once, it's welcome change to read the epic through the eyes of economist. This happens to be one the best books I have ever read, period. (India needs more writers like him - we have read enough about GDP, slums, imperialism, future super power, blah, blah)
  • I was fortunate enough to hear bedtime stories from the Indian epics via my grandmother and to a certain extent from comic books. But I learned more in the past 2 days of reading this book than I did in my last 36 years.
  • Going beyond the relativist argument, being good is not only difficult but full of paradoxes. This gives immense space for us humans to rationalize (thanks to our biases) some of our shortcomings which are clearly focused on self-interest (if not narcissistic).
  • The current research on morality should spread some light on this front. It's no accident that Jonath Haidt, Sam Harris et al went to India before kicking of their quest on morality. 
  • This one line sums it all up - "Great king, you weep with all creatures". At the end, Yudhishthira's plea take the stray dog to heaven with him obviously speaks volumes about the importance of being good to all creatures and that circle of morality should be large enough by default. Looks like E.O.Wilson's Biophilia was covered 3000 years ago in Mahabharatha. 
  • The finale with the dog in the heaven made me wonder if that had an  influence on the final scene of Lost. 
  • I never envisaged the philosophical power behind Mahabaratha; leave alone it's influence on so many western thinkers. This is T.SEliot on Nishkama Karma - 
"This is the use of memory
For liberation - not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation 
From the future as well as the past"

Quote of the Day

"The ultimate measure of a man or woman is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

-Martin Luther King Jr. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best Essay of 2010

Out of tons of essay's I read this year, Do We Forget What We Read? from NYT stood out. Yeah, "the noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding" is all good but there are times when too much words becomes overwhelming especially when we don't remember a damn thing after few weeks (heck with the Kantian in me). But yet we keep reading one thing after the other, fueled by that dopamine driven addiction. What is the purpose of reading reams and reams if our innate memory threshold is "limited"? This question kept bothering me for years until I got this simple answer from this essay (yup, neural plasticity):

To help answer this question I called Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development at Tufts University and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.” I described my “Perjury” problem — I was interested in the subject and engrossed in the book for days, but now remember nothing about it — and asked her if reading it had ultimately had any effect on me.
“I totally believe that you are a different person for having read that book,” Wolf replied. “I say that as a neuroscientist and an old literature major.”
She went on to describe how reading creates pathways in the brain, strengthening different mental processes. Then she talked about content.
“There is a difference,” she said, “between immediate recall of facts and an ability to recall a gestalt of knowledge. We can’t retrieve the specifics, but to adapt a phrase of William James’s, there is a wraith of memory. The information you get from a book is stored in networks. We have an extraordinary capacity for storage, and much more is there than you realize. It is in some way working on you even though you aren’t thinking about it.”
Did this mean that it hadn’t been a waste of time to read all those books, even if I seemingly couldn’t remember what was in them?
“It’s there,” Wolf said. “You are the sum of it all.”

The Sidney Awards 2010 - David Brooks (Part 2)

David Brooks had quoted Tyler Cowen, Johan Lehrer et al in one of his columns few years ago. Since then I had been hooked to their writings. Second installment of 2010 Sidney awards is awesome as well - here:

"For example, there’s been a lot of talk this year about trying to reduce corruption in Afghanistan, Iraq and across the Middle East. But in a piece in The American Interest called “Understanding Corruption,” Lawrence Rosen asks: What does corruption mean?

In earlier ages, people consulted oracles. We consult studies. We rely on scientific findings to guide health care decisions, policy making and much else. But in an essay called “The Truth Wears Off” in The New Yorker, Jonah Lehrer reports on something strange. He describes a class of antipsychotic drugs, whose effectiveness was demonstrated by several large clinical trials. But in a subsequent batch of studies, the therapeutic power of the drugs appeared to wane precipitously.

There’s been a lot written about Detroit, but Charlie LeDuff’s essayan essay in Foreign Affairs called “The Demographic Future,” Nicholas Eberstadt describes the coming global manpower decline. Over the next two decades, for example, there will be a 30 percent decline in the number of Chinese between the ages of 15 and 29 — 100 million fewer workers.

Tyler Cowen wrote a superb, counterintuitive piece on income inequality for The American Interest called “The Inequality That Matters.” It’s filled with interesting observations. For example, the inequality that really bites is local — the guy down the street who can spend three bucks more for a case of beer, not Bill Gates’s billions across the country.

Finally, two historical essays deserve mention. Adam Gopnick wrote a fresh piece on Winston Churchill for The New Yorker called “Finest Hours.” Anne Applebaum wrote a chilling essay on central Europe in the 20th century called “The Worst of the Madness” in The New York Review of Books." “Who Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones” in Mother Jones packs a special power. It starts with a killing of a little girl in a police raid, then pulls back to the idiotic murder of a teenage boy that precipitated the raid — that murder victim may have smirked at his killer for riding a moped.

Then LeDuff touches on the decay all around — a city in which 80 percent of the eighth graders are unable to do basic math, the crime lab was closed because of ineptitude, 500 fires are set every month and 50 percent of the drivers are operating without a license.

In an essay in Foreign Affairs called “The Demographic Future,” Nicholas Eberstadt describes the coming global manpower decline. Over the next two decades, for example, there will be a 30 percent decline in the number of Chinese between the ages of 15 and 29 — 100 million fewer workers.

Tyler Cowen wrote a superb, counterintuitive piece on income inequality for The American Interest called “The Inequality That Matters.” It’s filled with interesting observations. For example, the inequality that really bites is local — the guy down the street who can spend three bucks more for a case of beer, not Bill Gates’s billions across the country.

Finally, two historical essays deserve mention. Adam Gopnick wrote a fresh piece on Winston Churchill for The New Yorker called “Finest Hours.” Anne Applebaum wrote a chilling essay on central Europe in the 20th century called “The Worst of the Madness” in The New York Review of Books."

Good Bye Denis Dutton

He was the founder of Arts and Letters Daily, the intellectual epic center on the internet. The amount of education we all continue to reap from that one website alone can never be quantified. Thanks for everything and good bye Denis Dutton.

"Denis Dutton, the author, academic and philosopher who saw the Web as a place where intelligent ideas could flourish, has died in New Zealand at the age of 66, according to New Zealand news sources. Dutton was raised in Los Angeles and was the brother of booksellers Doug and Dave Dutton of the legendary Dutton's Bookstores in Los Angeles. Dutton was a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. His most recent book was 2009's "The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution.

Dutton's work, contrary or inspiring, encouraged a multiplicity of ideas. "It's a grave mistake in publishing, whether you're talking about Internet or print publication, to try to play to a limited repertoire of established reader interests," he said in a 2000
interview with "A few years ago, Bill Gates was boasting that we'll soon have sensors which will turn on the music that we like or show on the walls the paintings we like when we walk into a room. How boring! The hell with our preexisting likes; let's expand ourselves intellectually."
-More Here

Best Hindi Song of 2010 (runner up)

Quote of the Day

"I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses – that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things."

-Pablo Neruda

Monday, December 27, 2010

Best Hindi Song of 2010

What I've been Reading

Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream by Arianna Huffington (thanks!!). I was apprehensive to read this book expecting the quintessential liberal bias. Glad, I was wrong!! Huffington pulled it of with a bipartisan work in-spite of her liberal leanings. Two third of the book is a litany of decline of US of A but the book is worth reading for the final chapter oozing with optimism. Two things that stood out (at-least for me)

  • I was astonished to learn that Garmeen Bank has opened branches in US of A ; it's depressing (my dad retired working for the same in India).
  • I had not only stopped watching cable TV but also quit reading Huffington post and Drudge Report. It helps keep my health (and biases) in check but comes with a little prize of being oblivious to few important grass root movements. Move your money - this is what this country needs. We never should underestimate the power of people and as a society we should harness it's potential to fight against powerful. Such movements are the last best hope for this country. 

1) Take away power from the “Too Big To Fail” Wall Street Banks
2) Get a better deal on savings or checking accounts and more personal service
3) Take pride in investing in your own local community and spurring job growth
1) Open your new account and order debit/ATM card and checks
2) Set up direct deposit and contact companies that direct-debit your account
3)Close your account and enjoy your new local bank! Don’t forget to write a letter to your old bank telling them why you are dissatisfied with them!

The good folks at HelloWallet have donated this tool to search for sound and local banks and credit unions. Just put your zip code in the box below, select if you’d like to search for banks, credit unions or both, and click Submit to get a list and map of institutions near you"

Cognitive Bias Song

Hope We Get An Answer To This Question "Someday"

"Why is it that people who argue against the government's role in the economy don't likewise advocate for the flip side: that corporations should not be allowed to influence government? Is there an industrialized democracy more in need of checking corporate power over government policy than the United States? I expect that in any society, in any era, the powerful will have more sway over the making of laws than the powerless. Here in the U.S., corporate influence does not just distort our laws: it distorts our land."


Snowball - Dancing Cockatoo

From Carl Zimmer:

I’ve long been interested in music and the brain for some time, along with the study of the evolution of music. Over the summer, at a meeting called SciFoo, I got to hear an excellent talk by Aniruddh Patel of the Neuroscience Institute, which finally spurred me to write something. If my column piques your interest, Patel’s web site has lots more to read.
And if you haven’t met one of his favorite subjects, Snowball…well, here he is:"

Quote of the Day

"The Ultimate measure of a man or woman is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy"

-Martin Luther King

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chaser, Border Collie Knows 1022 Words

"In the age-old war between cats and dogs, canines might just have struck the killer blow. A border collie called Chaser has been taught the names of 1022 items - more than any other animal. She can also categorise them according to function and shape, something children learn to do around the age of 3.

Dogs have been bred to have such a large variety of differences in behavior the various breeds that they will make great sources of DNA sequences to use to identify genetic variants that cause their cognitive characteristics. Given that the breeds differ considerably intelligence comparing breeds (or even different dogs in the same breed) could turn out to be useful in identifying genetic variants that cause intelligence and behavioral differences.

Where does this lead? Breeding for even smarter dogs which can understand even more complex forms of human language. Dog DNA sequencing to discover genes that influence intelligence might turn up some intelligence-boosting genetic variants than even Chaser has. Identification of all these variants would give breeders a goal to shoot for: get as many of the variants as possible into the same litter of dogs.

Identification of intelligence-boosting genetic variants in other species could lead to genetic engineering to put some of those variants into dogs. Is a 70+ IQ dog within reach in, say, 20 or 30 years? Seems like it."

Here (youtube video here and here)

The Power of Vulnerability

"It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful."

-Brother David Steindl-Rast

The History of Social Networking

Finally, got around to watching Social Network (movie) last night - It's awesome. I loved it and for the record, I don't have a facebook account.  

Can Meditation Cure Disease?

"Can the power of the mind help humans self-heal? That’s what a group of scientists are hoping to help determine by studying a Tibetan lama who believes he cured himself of gangrene through meditation. When Tibetan Lama Phakyab Rinpoche immigrated to the United States in 2003, he was a 37-year-old refugee with diabetes and Pott’s Disease. His afflictions had gotten so bad that his right foot and leg had developed gangrene. He was hospitalized and examined by three different doctors in New York City who all gave the same treatment recommendation: amputate.

Few people would go against such medical advice, but Rinpoche (pronounced Rin-Poh-Chey) is no average person. Born in 1966 in Kham, Tibet, he was ordained at the age of 13 and named the Eighth Incarnation of the Phakyab Rinpoche by the Dalai Lama himself when he was working toward the highest level of Tibetan Buddhist study, the Geshe degree, in 1993. A deeply spiritual man who has devoted his life to the teachings of Buddhism, it was only natural that he should reach out to his mentor, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, when deciding whether to allow his leg to be cut off.

The Dalai Lama’s response was shocking: Do not amputate. Instead, Lama Rinpoche says, the Tibetan spiritual leader advised his protégé to utilize his virtuoso skills at Tsa Lung meditation—heal himself, and then teach others the value of the ancient tradition. He sent a letter prescribing additional mantras, such as the Hayagriva, which, at the outset of new endeavors, is said to clear obstacles and provide protection in their tradition.

The progression of the degradation wasn’t simply halted—his leg was back from the dead. His diabetes and complicating Tuberculosis are gone today as well.
“It is not entirely clear from a Western science perspective what the winds are, but the scientific evidence suggests to me and others that the meditative process involving winds includes increased local blood flow, metabolic activity, and oxygenation,’’ Bushell explains. “The original scientific model I developed (which is largely in a theoretical state) was based on, among other things, the pioneering work of Thomas K Hunt, MD, on the antibiotic properties of oxygenation in the blood and surrounding tissues, and was sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, Calif. Research shows that mental imagery directed to sites of the body, both superficial as well as deeper tissues, can with practice eventually lead to increased local blood flow, metabolic activity, and oxygenation. Such increases could in principle combat even powerful bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, which not only can be the cause of gangrene, but is now often times resistant to antibiotics.”"


Quote of the Day

“With man song is generally admitted to be the basis or origin of instrumental music. As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least direct use to man in reference to his ordinary habits of life, they must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed."

Charles Darwin on Music

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Genome and Me - X'mas Gift

Was waiting for this for over 2 years... finally, today impulsive buying won - simply couldn't resist the $99 offer (original cost of $499) from 23andme. In 6 to 8 weeks, I will get a sneak peak of how I became me, where I came from (curiosity is expecting a pleasant surprise but ready for a bummer as well) and who am I (that simply rhymes good, right?). I am not expecting too much but hoping it's a good investment (for future insights) on possible options of how I will kick the bucket naturally - that is, if 23andme doesn't file for bankruptcy anytime soon. If nothing else, hoping to read nature mystery series for next few years. 

Worlds Oldest Musical Instrument - 35,000 Year Old Flute

"A 35,000-year-old flute made of vulture bone found in a cave in southwestern Germany is the world’s oldest known musical instrument. The artifact suggests music may have been one advantage our ancestors had over their cousins, the now-extinct Neanderthals, according to a report published in the journal Nature.
The five-holed flute, which is fully intact and made from a griffon vulture’s radius bone, was discovered with fragments of other flutes crafted out of mammoth ivory. The bird-bone instrument was found in a region in which similar instruments have popped up lately, says lead author Nicholas Conard, but this flute is “by far the most complete of the musical instruments so far recovered from the caves.” … Until now the artifacts appeared to be too rare and not as precisely dated to support wider interpretations of the early rise of music [The New York Times]. To make sure the newly discovered instruments were dated correctly, samples were tested independently and using different methods at facilities in England and Germany. Both found the bone to be at least 35,000 years old, during the Modern Paleolithic era."


10 Most Important Psychological Science Papers of 2010

Complete list here, my top 3 favorites:
The brain tells us a lot when you're doing nothing. Cognitiveneuroscience has been using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging for two decades to help us to understand what the brain is doing when you are thinking. A lot of early work focused on identifying particular brain areas that are involved in particular tasks. New research has looked at what the brain is doing when you are resting. The areas of the brain that are active together when you are not focusing on anything in particular provide important insights into the ways that areas of the brain are connected together. This technique of studying resting state activity became more prominent in 2010.

Money and happiness. We spend a lot of our lives working to make more money, because we believe that having money will bring us happiness. A paper by Travis Carter and Tom Gilovich suggests that money will make you happier if you buy things that give you experiences like vacations and enrichment classes rather than stuff like cars and jewelry. In addition, Chrisopher Boyce, Gordon Brown, and Simon Moore found that we tend to compare the amount of money we make to what the people around us make. We are happiest when we earn more than other people in our own social group.

Performance and Stress. Events like the pilot who landed a plane safely in 2009 as well as shooters on college and high school campuses make it clear that we need to know more about how ordinary people perform under stress. A lot of great research on this topic was summarized in Sian Beilock's book Choke.