Category Archives: Geeky Stuff

Alzheimer’s and the Brain

Not conspiratorial, but still fascinating stuff from VSauce (Michael Stevens):)

How Earth Moves

VSauce (Michael Stevens) blows our minds . . . again.

Is Earth Actually Flat?

By Vsauce via YouTube

Flat Earth Debunk Visualization – YouTube

Is Aspartame Safe?

The origin of countless conspiracy theories


transparent

Why can we find geometric shapes in the night sky? How can we know that at least two people in London have exactly the same number of hairs on their head? And why can patterns be found in just about any text — even Vanilla Ice lyrics? PatrickJMT describes the Ramsey theory, which states that given enough elements in a set or structure, some interesting pattern among them is guaranteed to emerge.

Why Does Natural News Think You Should Stay Away From Sucralose?

By Myles Power

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that goes by many brand names, but the one most will be familiar with is Splenda. The sweetener is synthesised by the selective protection, chlorination, and then deportation of table sugar, resulting in a compound which is approximately 650 times sweeter. It is found in many lower-calorie foods including chewing gum, cereals, and diet pop, and is considered to be safe for human consumption. However, there are some online who disagree and believe that the artificial sweetener poses a real health risk. Why do these people believe this? and is there any validity to their claims? As I did with aspartame, I believe the best way to answer these questions is to give Natural News a visit.

Continue reading @ YouTube

How To Count Past Infinity

Hold onto your brain, VSauce does it again!

What Really Happened When Apollo 10 Heard Music in Space?

From the video description:

One hundred and two hours and 12 minutes after leaving the Earth, the crew of Apollo 10 was on the far side of the Moon. The two spacecraft — the command-service module and the lunar module — were traveling separately, and as they plowed ahead with their flight plan and had a bit of a snack, all three men heard some “spacey music” coming in over their headsets.

Continue reading – – –

Also see: The Full Audio of the Apollo 10 Space Music (YouTube)

25 Mind Bending Scientific Truths To Challenge Your Brain

By list25 via YouTube

From the video description:

It doesn’t take much to realize that science is awesome! For example, you probably already know that everything is made up of atoms. Those atoms have a few protons and neutrons in the nucleus and then they are surrounded by electrons that orbit the nucleus like little moons (simplified explanation). At any rate, the most interesting thing about atoms is that they are about 99.99% empty space. That’s right. This screen consists of atoms. And those atoms consists of almost nothing. So why is it that you don’t see right through the screen. In fact, how is it that we can see/feel/stand on anything at all? It’s because of forces. Those atoms in the table (in spite of just being mostly empty space) actually repel the atoms (aka empty space) in your hand. So what you are touching isn’t actually a “thing”. When you touch something you are actually experiencing a repulsive force, kind of like gravity. And since those empty atoms reflect photons, you cannot see through them. You only see the photons being reflected off of what is essentially empty space. Crazy right?!

See we told you science was awesome! Just wait til you read about all the other scientific truths found in this list! So if you’re ready to give your brain a challenge, read on! These are 25 mind bending scientific truths to challenge your brain.

Math Magic

Another video from Vsauce and you know what that means … strap in your brain, it’s about to go for a wild ride.

How We Know NASA Didn’t Fake Neil Armstrong’s First Steps

By Amy Shira Teitel via YouTube

The X-Files is back tonight

I’m a huge X-Files fan!

The truth is out there illuminutti 35_03_flat

The X-Files returns tonight (Sunday) on the Fox channel. Check your local listings and don’t forget: in some areas the X-Files start time might be delayed by the NFL post-game show – so pad your DVR stop time for the X-Files (i added an additional hour to the end of my X-Files recording).

Then the second episode is Monday evening on the Fox channel. Check your local listings.

:)

The Vanishing

By Quirkology via YouTube

DEBUNKED: UFO Over India

By CaptainDisillusion via YouTube

Supertasks

Vsauce twists your brain in a knot … again:) Enjoy:)

Via Wikipedia:

In philosophy, a supertask is a countably infinite sequence of operations that occur sequentially within a finite interval of time.[1] Supertasks are called “hypertasks” when the number of operations becomes uncountably infinite. Supertasks are called “equisupertasks” when each individual task must be completed in the same amount of time. The term supertask was coined by the philosopher James F. Thomson, who devised Thomson’s lamp. The term hypertask derives from Clark and Read in their paper of that name.[2] The term equisupertask derives from a paper by Jeremy Gwiazda.[3]

DEBUNKED: Floating China City

Will This Hypnotize You?

I love anything having to do with brain functions. Enjoy:)

Is WiFi Safe?

Source: BrainStuff – HowStuffWorks (YouTube)

Messages For The Future

If you’re a follower of my blog, you know by now that i’m a big fan of Vsauce (YouTube) because he makes some awesome, brain-twisting videos. Well, he’s back to melt your brain with another great video. Enjoy:)

Source: Michael Stevens (Vsauce) on YouTube

blew my mind joker

The Zipf Mystery

Michael Stevens (Vsauce) does it again. I won’t even try to explain, this is what wikipedia says:

Zipf’s law states that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc. (More . . .)

Got it? After watching this video you will either feel brilliant or totally confused.:)

blew my mind joker

From the video description:

RELATED LINKS AND SOURCES BELOW!

WordCount.org http://www.wordcount.org/

How many days have you been alive? http://www.beatcanvas.com/daysalive.asp

random letter generator: http://www.dave-reed.com/Nifty/randSe…

Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows: https://www.youtube.com/user/obscures…

Word frequency resources:

More here . . .

This Much Will Kill You

As the saying goes, “the dosage makes the poison.” Maybe people like the anti-vaxxers or the anti-fluoridationists can learn a thing or two from this video.:)

By AsapSCIENCE via YouTube

A lot of things can kill you – but here are some surprising ones!

Crazy ideas that could become future truths

New Scientist usually puts out great stuff, but this video? Eh. I was tossed up over whether to post it or not. Check it out for yourself, maybe i’m missing something.:)

By New Scientist via YouTube


Full story: http://bit.ly/1IXg7Yu

Every now and then an idea comes along that upends how we see ourselves and our place in the cosmos. The rumblings of the next revolutions in our thinking may already have started. Here are four potential “what ifs” with the potential to change us forever.

What Is Synesthesia?

I love anything having to do with how the brain works. Enjoy!:) – MIB

By BrainStuff – HowStuffWorks via YouTube

It’s true – some people hear colors, or taste words. But what produces synesthesia?

Critical Thinking

Fun stuff.

Critical Thinking – YouTube.

The burden of proof

Makers of supernatural claims have an inescapable burden of proof.


Via The burden of proof – YouTube.

The Moon Terminator Illusion

Yup, i’m geeking out over here. Check out this video:)

by Vsauce via YouTube

For more information, go to the video description.

Are Stupid People More Confident?

This might explains why some conspiracists believe what they believe.:)

By BrainStuff via YouTube

We’ve all heard about the supposed relationship between confidence and knowledge – but is it true? Two researchers think they’ve found the answer.

Also See:

The new ŠKODA Fabia Attention Test

A great example of change blindness.

By ŠKODA UK via YouTube

More examples of change blindness:

Would Headlights Work at Light Speed?

By Vsauce via YouTube

If you were driving at the speed of light and turned on your headlights, what would happen?

What Colour Is This Dress? (SOLVED with SCIENCE)

By AsapSCIENCE via YouTube


By BuzzFeedBlue via YouTube

10 Mind Bending Theories About Time Travel

By Alltime10s via YouTube

Bill and Ted, Marty McFly, those guys in the hot tub; time travel seems to belong in the world of fiction, but here are some ideas that might make it a reality in 10 mind-bending theories about time travel.

Correlation does not imply causation

Great demonstration of why correlation does not imply causation.

By BuzzFeedBlue via YouTube

Did The Past Really Happen?

By Vsauce via YouTube

Greece is full of wonderful new things and wonderful old things. But when WE become old things, will our ruins also be tourist attractions?

**Sources and extra info!!**

Planes clouds and vortices

While this video will freak out chemtrail conspiracists, aviation buffs like myself think this is some awesome stuff!

Via YouTube

209 Seconds That Will Make You Question Your Entire Existence

By BuzzFeedBlue via YouTube

Every time you get upset about something small, just remember this.


calvin sky 02

Is Earth Actually Flat?

By Vsauce via YouTube

The earth is not flat, it is round, otherwise travelers would be falling off the edge. Right?

Wrong!

Coincidences: Remarkable or Random?

Most improbable coincidences likely result from play of random events. The very nature of randomness assures that combing random data will yield some pattern.

By Bruce Martin via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

“You don’t believe in telepathy?” My friend, a sober professional, looked askance. “Do you?” I replied. “Of course. So many times I’ve been out for the evening and suddenly became worried about the kids. Upon calling home, I’ve learned one is sick, hurt himself, or having nightmares. How else can you explain it?”

CoincidenceSuch episodes have happened to us all and it’s common to hear the words, “It couldn’t be just coincidence.” Today the explanation many people reach for involves mental telepathy or psychic stirrings. But should we leap so readily into the arms of a mystic realm? Could such events result from coincidence after all?

There are two features of coincidences not well known among the public. First, we tend to overlook the powerful reinforcement of coincidences, both waking and in dreams, in our memories. Non-coincidental events do not register in our memories with nearly the same intensity. Second, we fail to realize the extent to which highly improbable events occur daily to everyone. It is not possible to estimate all the probabilities of many paired events that occur in our daily lives. We often tend to assign coincidences a lesser probability than they deserve.

However, it is possible to calculate the probabilities of some seemingly improbable events with precision. These examples provide clues as to how our expectations fail to agree with reality.

Coincident Birthdates

Happy Birthday_150pxIn a random selection of twenty-three persons there is a 50 percent chance that at least two of them celebrate the same birthdate. Who has not been surprised at learning this for the first time? The calculation is straightforward. First find the probability that everyone in a group of people have different birthdates (X) and then subtract this fraction from one to obtain the probability of at least one common birthdate in the group (P), P = 1 – X. Probabilities range from 0 to 1, or may be expressed as 0 to 100%. For no coincident birthdates a second person has a choice of 364 days, a third person 363 days, and the nth person 366 – n days. So the probability for all different birthdates becomes:

equation

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Why science is NOT ‘Just a Theory’

By The Royal Institution via YouTube

Have you ever heard ‘evolution’ dismissed as ‘just a theory’? Is a scientific theory no different to the theory that Elvis is still alive? Jim Al-Khalili puts the record straight.

Subscribe for regular science videos: http://bit.ly/RiSubscRibe

There’s an important difference between a scientific theory and the fanciful theories of an imaginative raconteur, and this quirk of semantics can lead to an all-too-common misconception. In general conversation, a ‘theory’ might simply mean a guess. But a scientific theory respects a somewhat stricter set of requirements. When scientists discuss theories, they are designed as comprehensive explanations for things we observe in nature. They’re founded on strong evidence and provide ways to make real-world predictions that can be tested.

While scientific theories aren’t necessarily all accurate or true, they shouldn’t be belittled by their name alone. The theory of natural selection, quantum theory, the theory of general relativity and the germ theory of disease aren’t ‘just theories’. They’re structured explanations of the world around us, and the very foundation of science itself.

Read the blog post to find out more: http://www.rigb.org/blog/2014/novembe…

Spooky Coincidences?

I love anything having to do with the brain and how our brains perceive and interpret the world. If you’re like me, I think you’ll love this one.

Enjoy :)

MIB


By Vsauce via YouTube

From the YouTube video description:

Brain Game: Motion-induced blindness

If you know me you know i like a good illusion. Exposing flaws in the brain is fun!

Here is a good one from Mighty Optical Illusions

Keep staring at the flashing green dot, and the yellow dots will fade or disappear due to motion-induced blindness.

motion-induced blindness

Related:

10 Ways The Quest For Alien Life Is Getting Real

By Heather Ramsey via Listverse

NASA predicts that we’ll find life outside our planet, and possibly outside our solar system, within a generation. But where exactly, and what type of life? Is it even wise to make contact with extraterrestrials? The search hasn’t been easy, but these questions may not be theoretical much longer. Here are 10 ways the quest for alien life is getting real.

10 • NASA Predicts Alien Life Will Be Found Within 20 Years

kepler-scope_300pxIn the words of Matt Mountain, director at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, “Imagine the moment when the world wakes up, and the human race realizes that its long loneliness in time and space may be over . . . It’s within our grasp to pull off a discovery that will change the world forever.”

Using ground and space-based technology, NASA scientists predict that we’ll find alien life in the Milky Way galaxy within the next 20 years. Launched in 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope (pictured) has helped scientists find thousands of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system). Kepler discovers a planet when it crosses in front of a star, causing a small drop in the star’s brightness.

Based on data from Kepler, NASA scientists believe that in our galaxy alone, 100 million planets may be home to alien life. But it’s the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (scheduled for a 2018 launch) that will first give us the capability to indirectly detect life on other planets. The Webb telescope searches for gases in a planet’s atmosphere that are generated by life. The ultimate goal is to find Earth 2.0, a twin to our own planet.

9 • The Alien Life We Find May Not Be Intelligent

single-cell_300pxThe Webb Telescope and its successors will search for biosignatures in the atmospheres of exoplanets, such as molecular water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. But even if a biosignature is detected, it won’t tell us whether the life on that exoplanet is intelligent or not. Such alien life may be single-celled organisms like amoebas, rather than complex beings that can communicate with us.

We’re also limited in our search for life by our prejudices and lack of imagination. We assume there must be carbon-based life like us, and that we’re the standard by which intelligence is judged. Explaining this failure in creative thought, Carolyn Porco of the Space Science Institute says, “Scientists don’t go off and think completely wild and crazy things unless they have some evidence that leads them to do that.”

Other scientists such as Peter Ward, coauthor of Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, believe that intelligent alien life will be short-lived. Ward assumes that other species will have global warming, too many people, no food, and eventual chaos that destroys their civilizations. He foresees the same for us.

8 • Mars May Have Supported Life Before—And May Again

wet-mars_300px

Photo credit: Kevin Gill

Mars is currently too cold to house liquid water and support life. But NASA’s Opportunity Rover—an all-terrain vehicle that collects and analyzes rocks on Mars—has shown that about four billion years ago, the planet had fresh water and mud that could have supported life.

Another past source of water and possible life sits on the slopes of Mars’s third-tallest volcano, Arsia Mons. Around 210 million years ago, this volcano erupted beneath a vast glacier. The volcano’s heat caused the ice to melt, forming lakes in the glacier like liquid bubbles in a partially frozen ice cube. The lakes may have existed long enough for microbial life to have formed there.

It’s possible that some simple organisms on Earth may be able to survive on Mars today. Methanogens, for example, use hydrogen and carbon dioxide to produce methane, and don’t need oxygen, organic nutrients, or light. They’re able to survive temperature extremes such as those found during Martian freeze-thaw cycles. So when scientists found methane in Mars’ atmosphere in 2004, they questioned whether methanogens already inhabit the subsurface of Mars.

As we travel to Mars, though, scientists are concerned that we may contaminate the planet’s environment with microorganisms from Earth. That may make it difficult to determine whether life forms found on Mars originated there.

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Stop Using Quantum Mechanics as Evidence for Magic

Esther Inglis-Arkell_90pxBy Esther Inglis-Arkell via io9

Quantum mechanics is a beautiful and still-controversial idea. It is rightly popular. What’s not right is the way people use it to justify any reality-bending idea in their novels, their TV shows, or their personal philosophies. “Quantum” does not mean anything you want.

USS Enterprise_300px“Captain? I’m afraid we’re getting quantum disruptions in the quantum energy field. Should I ready the quantum torpedoes and relay a quantum message to the quantum base?”

I’m not a savvy dissector of movies. All the physics mistakes in Gravity flew right past me, but when you see something done a certain amount of times, it works even the most unresponsive of nerves. The word “quantum” is regularly dropped into science fiction in a way that basically amounts to the storyteller thinking, “I bet this is the way smart people in the future talk.” It might be the way smart people talk, but as we see in the next section, it’s also the way people talk when they’re being really stupid. What’s more, it won’t be the way the educated people of the future talk about anything.

Science can move forward in sweeping generalities, or it can move forward by becoming more and more specific. Either way, you probably shouldn’t use “quantum” to describe future science. If you’ve got a universe where starships can move at above light speed, or people can teleport, or the brain can be uploaded into a computer, the term “quantum” may be as antiquated as the term “natural philosophy.”

weeping angels doctor who_250pxIf the term “quantum” is still around, it won’t be applicable in any specific situation. Let’s put it this way, there are five different major types of light scattering – Rayleigh Scattering, Mie Scattering, Tyndall Scattering, Brillouin Scattering, and Raman Scattering. If you’re an expert and working with scattered light in any meaningful way, saying, “light is being scattered,” isn’t specific enough to get anything done. You have to know what kind of scattering you’re dealing with. Having characters in a space craft worry about a “quantum energy field” near them makes about as much sense as having characters in a war say that the enemy is shooting “matter” at them. They’ll need to use specifics to make any progress.

A fun note: the types of light scattering are all named after scientists. Instead of saying “a quantum energy field,” have your characters run into “a Bass-Van-der-Woodsen field,” because in your universe the team of Bass and Van der Woodsen made the discovery, and an educated expert would name the field instead of just saying “it’s quantum.”

It Doesn’t Mean That We Are Psychic

Okay, here’s the big one. Quantum mechanics shows that the world works in unintuitive ways, and, yes, experiments done in quantum mechanics provide results that can be interpreted in ways that lead us to odd conclusions. What quantum mechanics doesn’t do is provide evidence for whatever whack-a-doodle theory any crackpot has at the moment. These theories come in several different flavors.

quantum-entanglement_600px
First there’s quantum entanglement. I have to admit, I have a soft spot for quantum entanglement. Entanglement involves two particles having opposite spins. As long as the spins aren’t measured, they’re undetermined. This doesn’t mean that we don’t know the spins. This means that they are literally  .  .  .

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This is why you should only drink water with impurities

I found this very interesting.

quick note_150pxThis is the purest water you can find – nothing but pure hydrogen and oxygen atoms – and if you drink it regularly it WILL KILL YOU. This is because pure water will suck the minerals and electrolytes out of your body.

I found this interesting because conspiracists like Alex Jones are always pushing their fellow mad hatters to purify their water. As it turns out, if the water is too pure, it will turn your body room temperature.

:)

MIB


via YouTube

Description from SPLOID:

It may sound like a good idea to drink the purest water you can find, but as this video explains, that is not actually the case. Ultra pure water has no impurities—so absolutely no taste and who wants that—but also in large quantities it will harm and even kill you because it will leach the minerals from your body.

High fructose corn syrup – myth versus science

Via Skeptical Raptor

HFCS-label-yum_300pxOne of the most frustrating things I’ve observed in nearly six years of writing (here and in other locations), is that those who want to create a negative myth about a new technology (especially in food or medicine), one of the best ways to do it is mention “chemicals.” And if the chemical sounds unnatural, the assumption is that it is unsafe.

People have demonized monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive that makes people run away in terror if a Chinese restaurant doesn’t have a huge flashing sign in neon that says “NO MSG.” Of course, in just about every randomized study about MSG, researchers find no difference in the effects of MSG and non-MSG foods on a random population.

Moreover, MSG has one of the evil chemical names. But MSG really is the salt of glutamic acid, a simple amino acid that is the basis of all proteins in the human body. ALL. When consumed, MSG disassociates into glutamate ions and sodium ions, both of which will be eagerly utilized by human physiology with no ill effects. Excess MSG could be problematic, not because of the glutamate, but because of excess sodium. MSG is found naturally through all foods, proteins, soy sauce, and on and on. It’s an absolutely ridiculous belief that people have, and the downside of removing MSG is that there’s less flavor. Because MSG enhances flavor–naturally!

Another current demon chemical of food is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has evolved into of the biggest pariahs of the food industry. Even the name sounds a bit chemical, unnatural, dangerous. But is it?

That’s where we need to look at the science, because the answers to the questions are quite complicated and quite simple.

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Food Fears

steven_novellaby Steven Novella via Science-Based Medicine

Click for larger view

Click for larger view

A new Cornell University study examines the origins of food fears, and possible remedies. It’s a survey of 1,008 mothers asking about foods they avoid and why.

Food fears are a common topic on SBM (Science-Based Medicine), likely for several reasons. Humans have an inherent emotion of disgust, which is likely an adaptation to help avoid contaminated or spoiled food. In our modern society this reflex can be tricky, because we do not always have control over the chain of events that leads to food on our plates. Other people grow the food, transport it, process it, and perhaps even cook it

Modern food technology can also involve many scary sounding substances and unusual processes. As the saying goes, you may not want to know how the sausage is made, as long as the end result is wholesome.

This leads to a second reason for modern food fears – we are living in an age of increasing transparency, partly brought about by the dramatic increase in access to information on the internet. I think ultimately this is a good thing – people are seeing how the sausage is made, which makes it more difficult to hide shady practices. This introduces a new problem, however. If you’re going to inspect the process of making sausage, then you need to know something about sausage-making.

chemicals_185pxIn other words – people are obtaining a great deal of information about food, food ingredients, and manufacturing processes, which is a good thing. However, much of this information is coming from dubious sources – non-professional or academic sources that have not been peer reviewed in any meaningful way and may have ulterior agendas or ideological biases.

Further, it is not easy to understand any complex science, including chemistry and food science, which includes medical studies on ingredient safety. The Food Babe has essentially made a career out of provoking irrational fear of ingredients with unsavory sources and with scary-sounding, long chemical names. Neither of these factors have anything to do with actual food safety, but they make it easy to scare the non-expert.

Click for larger view

Click for larger view

Specifically this includes so-called “chemophobia” – which is the fear of chemicals. The problem with this “Food Babe”, chemophobic approach is that everything is chemicals. As the banana graphic above demonstrates, the formal chemical names even for everyday food molecules are long and unfamiliar to non-chemists.

The end result is that many people use shortcuts or heuristics to determine what food they trust and what food to avoid. One heuristic is the “natural” false dichotomy – if something seems natural it is healthful, and if it seems synthetic it should be avoided. This heuristic rapidly breaks down on two main counts. The first is that there is no good operational definition of “natural.” All food is altered by humans or processed in some way. Where do you draw the line? The second is that something occurring in nature is no guarantee of safety. Most things in nature will harm or even kill you. Many plants and animals have evolved toxins specifically to harm anything that tries to eat it.

Another food heuristic (one explicitly endorsed by the Food Babe) is the chemophobia heuristic – if it has a long chemical name that is difficult to pronounce, then it’s scary.

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Solar Roadways, a VERY expensive joke?

Intro by Mason. I. Bilderberg

TSolar Freakin’ Roadways_225pxhis is the third video in the Solar Roadways series. If you’re not familiar with this topic, you might want to two previous videos:

  1. Solar FREAKIN Roadways, are they real?, and
  2. Solar Roadways, IMPORTANT QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS!

If you want some background information, click one of the links above. Otherwise, enjoy:)

MIB


Via YouTube.

From the video description:

So the solar roadways has a page up to ‘answer’ its critics.
http://solarroadways.com/clearingthef…

Previously I had suspected that they have no technical expertise, now Im sure.

They claim that asphalt is softer than glass.
They claim LEDs will be fine for roads because of powerhungry LED billboards or LED traffic lights that work in the shade.

People gave them over 2 million dollars for this. You really have to laugh or cry at this.

This video was supported by donations of viewers through Patreon:
http://www.patreon.com/Thunderf00t

Left Brained, Right Brained, or Hare Brained?

Pop psychology tells us we’re all either left brain dominant or right brain dominant. Really?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Perhaps the most pervasive popular belief that people associate with neuroscience is the idea that we all tend to be either left-brained or right-brained, based on traits like creativity or analytical ability. It’s well known that certain brain functions are localized in various parts of the brain, so it would seem to make sense that some of our individual strengths and weaknesses can be quantified based on brain hemisphere dominance. left_right_brain_250pxQuite a few companies even sell products intended to analyze your brain sidedness, promising a variety of personal development benefits. But is this belief — so widely held — good science, terrible science, or some mixture of the two?

Once in college, I took an Honors Colloquium class that was supposed to expose us to a wide variety of ideas and experiences. It was taught by three professors who were presented to us as being the smartest, most well-rounded guys on campus. One of our exercises was to take a test that was supposed to reveal our brain sidedness. The questions were similar to what you might get in a personality test, asking about whether you prefer math or art, privacy or crowds, planning ahead or working on the fly. Some days later we each received our results: a two-axis radar chart, showing a skewed diamond with its left and right corners representing the levels to which we depended on our left brain or right brain, and the top and bottom corners showing the degree to which we depended on our anterior or posterior parts of our brain. It was explained to us that these results could be used to help us self-assess our aptitudes at various skills. Would we be good at sales, leadership, or education? What areas of ourselves could we work on to improve ourselves? What kind of value could we add to an organization with our particular brain map?

Left brain or right brain?

Left brain or right brain?

Most students had crazily shaped radar charts that showed a strong dependence on one brain area or the other. The horizontal axis had a range of zero to 120 on both sides. We all thought that anyone who had a chart exceeding 100 on either side must be extraordinarily talented according to the popularly believed norms: if you were over 100 on the left you were a math or analytical genius; if you were over 100 on the right you were the next Mozart or Rembrandt. I was very proud that mine was the only one that was symmetrical, 94 on both sides; but after later reflection, I recalled that many of the questions had to do with the classes we were taking. At the time my idea was to double major in computer science and film directing, so I’d given a lot of answers that indicated I was both analytical and creative. I hadn’t had much experience in scientific skepticism at that point, but if I had, I might well have realized that the test was grossly unscientific and relied completely on self-reported answers that might have changed from one day to the next, depending on mood, terminology, context, and many other variables.

Looking at the same test now, I realize that was only the tip of the iceberg. Brain sidedness as a predictor of either preferences or aptitudes is unscientific for a very good reason: it’s virtually entirely wrong.

Let’s go back to that popular public assumption that the left brain is analytic and the right brain is creative, upon which so many of the questions in my Honors Colloquium test focused, and upon which the whole class based the entirety of their analyses of their test results. The natural inference is that people whose left brains are dominant must be good at analytical skills, and people whose right brains are dominant must be good at creative skills. The reverse would also be true: If you are a mathematician or engineer, we might deduce that you are left-brained; and if you’re an artist or poet, that you’re right-brained.

Where did this idea come from?

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The Brain Is Not a Receiver

circuitry-brain 05_600px
steven_novellaby via NeuroLogica Blog

Whenever the discussion of a dualist vs materialist model of the mind comes up, one common point made to support the dualist position (that the mind is something other than or more than just the functioning of the brain) is that the brain may not be the origin of the mind, but rather is just the receiver. Often an explicit comparison is made to radios or televisions.

The brain as receiver hypothesis, however, is wholly inadequate to explain the relationship between the brain and the mind, as I will explain below.

Brain Circuit1 844As an example of the brain-receiver argument, David Eagleman writes in his book Incognito:

As an example, I’ll mention what I’ll call the “radio theory” of brains. Imagine that you are a Kalahari Bushman and that you stumble upon a transistor radio in the sand. You might pick it up, twiddle the knobs, and suddenly, to your surprise, hear voices streaming out of this strange little box. If you’re curious and scientifically minded, you might try to understand what is going on. You might pry off the back cover to discover a little nest of wires. Now let’s say you begin a careful, scientific study of what causes the voices. You notice that each time you pull out the green wire, the voices stop. When you put the wire back on its contact, the voices begin again. The same goes for the red wire. Yanking out the black wire causes the voices to get garbled, and removing the yellow wire reduces the volume to a whisper. You step carefully through all the combinations, and you come to a clear conclusion: the voices depend entirely on the integrity of the circuitry. Change the circuitry and you damage the voices.

He argues that the Bushman might falsely conclude that the wires in the radio produce the voices by some unknown mechanism, because he has no knowledge of electromagnetic radiation and radio technology.

This point also came up several times in the 600+ comments following my post on the Afterlife Debate. Commenter Luoge, for example, wrote:

“But the brain-as-mediator model has bot yet been ruled out. We can tamper with a TV set and modify its behaviour just as a neurosurgeon can do with a brain. We can shut down some, or all, of its functioning, and we can stimulate to show specific responses. And yet no neurologist is known to have thought that the TV studio was inside the TV set.”

There are two reasons to reject the brain-as-mediator model – it does not explain the intimate relationship between brain and mind, and (even if it could) it is entirely unnecessary.

To deal with the latter point first, I have used the example of the light-fairy. When I flip the light switch on my wall, the materialist model holds that I am closing a circuit, allowing electricity to flow through the wires in my wall to a specific appliance (such as a light fixture). electric_fairyThat light fixture contains a light bulb which adds resistance to the circuit and uses the electrical energy to heat an element in order to produce light and heat.

One might hypothesize, however, that an invisible light fairy lives in my wall. When I flip the switch the fairy flies to the fixture where it draws energy from the electrical wires, and then creates light and heat that it causes to radiate from the bulb. The light bulb is not producing the light and heat, it is just a conduit for the light fairy’s light and heat.

There is no way you can prove that my light fairy does not exist. It is simply entirely unnecessary, and adds nothing to our understanding of reality. The physics of electrical circuits do a fine job of accounting for the behavior of the light switch and the light. There is no need to invoke light bulb dualism.

The same is true of the brain and the mind, the only difference being that both are a lot more complex.

More importantly, however, we have enough information to rule out the brain-as-receiver model unequivocally.

The examples often given of the radio or TV analogy are very telling. They refer to altering the quality of the reception, the volume, even changing the channel. But those are only the crudest analogies to the relationship between brain and mind.

A more accurate analogy would be this – can you alter the wiring of a TV in order to change the plot of a TV program? Can you change a sitcom into a drama? Can you change the dialogue of the characters? Can you stimulate one of the wires in the TV in order to make one of the on-screen characters twitch?

Well, that is what would be necessary in order for the analogy to hold.

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Solar Freakin’ Roadways

solar roadways_600px
steven_novellaby via NeuroLogica Blog

solar-roadway1-300x225A YouTube video and Indiegogo campaign promise a new solution to our energy woes – “solar freakin’ roadways.”

The concept is to build roads out of hexagonal plates of transparent hard material (tempered glass) with built in solar panels. You can also incorporate heating elements and LED lights. Buried alongside such roads could be a new energy grid, for transporting all that solar generated electricity.

Here is the vision as presented: With such solar freakin’ roadways we could generate much, if not all, of our needed electricity. We could replace telephone poles and hanging wires with buried lines, and upgrade our energy (and even information) grid while we’re at it.

The heating elements could melt ice and snow, removing the need for plowing or salting roads. Potholes or other damage could be easily repaired by simply replacing the hexagonal units, one at a time, as needed.

Inventors of Solar Roadways, Julie & Scott Brusaw.

Inventors of Solar Roadways, Julie & Scott Brusaw. (YouTube)

The LED lights could be programmable, so that all road lines and traffic notices could simply be programmed in, and changed as needed. Parking lots could adjust spaces as needed – making bigger spaces or adding or removing handicapped spaces based on demand. Recreational areas can also be programmed to be different kinds of courts as desired. 

Pressure sensitive plates can also be added, allowing for the road to light up, for example, when an animal is walking across the road, providing real-time warning for drivers.

This all certainly sounds great – just like the roadway of the future you always imagined, maybe even better.

OK – now here comes the skepticism. First let me say that I like the concept, and I’m glad some some research funding is being dedicated to this idea. I also have no problem with privately crowdfunding the idea. If people want to invest in this, go right ahead. I wish them well.

But this is also a good time to consider all the possible roadblocks (pun intended) and potential problems with such a technology. I am just going to list my questions:

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