Category: Pop Culture
On January 17th, the talented Lazaro Arbos, a 21-year-old from Florida, went viral on Youtube for his amazing performance during his American Idol audition. The most impressive part of his beautiful voice? The fact that it was stutter-free.
During normal speech, Arbos involuntarily makes long pauses and extended vowels, using his hands to trace the words he is trying to convey. However, as soon as he starts to sing, the difficulty disappears. His new Twitter fans are calling it a divine miracle, but the phenomenon is well-known to many stutter sufferers – industry legend has it that B.B.King and Carly Simon were among them!
What’s going on here? The disorder is highly varied in its presentation and severity, so science is far from a consensus about the etiology, though there have been some compelling findings. One 2003 study by Van Borsel et al. at the Ghent University Hospital in Belgium showed a marked increase in activation of the right hemisphere during speech in fMRI studies of patients with the speech disorder; more so than in normal speakers, leading to the idea that perhaps this over-activation is interfering with the fluent production of speech on the left. Specifically, a study of stutterers in Frankfurt, Germany found that activity in the right frontal operculum was negatively correlated with the severity of stuttering symptoms in patients, suggesting a compensational role. This area has been associated with timing tasks in speech in healthy controls, adding further possible significance to the specific dysfunction in verbal timing seen in stutterers.
Recently, 23 year old Kim Suozzi who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer was seeking financial help for cryonic suspension. Diagnosed with an aggressive form of Glioblastoma multiforme, Kim died on January 17th and spent the final two weeks of her life at a hospice in Scottsdale, Arizona, close by to the cryopreservation center that she chose.
Suozzi was seeking financial help for her suspensial, which proved controversial but is now settled since the Alcor board agreed to fund her cryopreservation as a charity case, stating “The board accepted the CEO’s recommendation to accept Kim Suozzi as a charity case, based on arrangements that will reduce Alcor’s costs. The full allocation of $25,000 to the patient care trust fund will be made. Alcor members have contributed to the fundraising effort to enable Kim to be cryopreserved.” More controversial, however, is the possiblilty that many terminally ill patients might seek preservation as charity cases, potentially impacting the viability of the entire operation. Furthermore, cryopreservation is not a cure in itself, terminally ill patients could possibly not be the best test subjects for a successful preservation and revival simply due to the chance of succeeding.
This is in reference to a 2011 lecture entitled “Plato’s Philosophy of Art”, given by Dr. James Grant of the University of London, Birkbeck. An audio recording of the lecture can be found at the bottom.
Today, Plato is probably known best for his work Republic, an outline of a highly idealistic and just city-state. Many remember bits and pieces from their Intro to Philosophy classes, but a criticism that is generally brushed over in discussion of the Republic is Plato’s flat-out renunciation of art. A prerequisite in understanding Plato’s position is realizing the role that art, and specifically poetry, played in Greek culture.
Poetry in the time of Plato played a similar role to the Bible in early American culture. Sections were recited at schools, in homes, and children were expected to memorize various passages for later recitation. Much like the Bible, these poems formed early moral backbones in young Greeks and were very much responsible for the development of certain cultural norms. It wasn’t so much a problem for Plato that art had such a grip on the cultural norms and moral fibers of a society, but rather that the artists themselves had no understanding of what they were representing, and thus inspired corrupt and destructive morals. In the eyes of Plato, the artist or poet was typically not the ideal moral character in any society, and thus should not have been in charge of dictating moral grounds or developing cultural norms. A second complaint Plato had about the role of the artist was that even if they were generally a moral and civilized human being, they were falsely representing reality through their art, something which Plato very much opposed to and which undermined a central theory in Platonism. More
It’s Halloween, folks, and you know what that means: Jell-O molds of brains and punn-y costumes (Freudian Slip, anyone?), right? Amirite? Okay, maybe that’s just me, whatever, guys. But I can name at least one cherished Halloween pastime that tends to be pretty popular across the board, and that’s the horror movie marathon.
As we learned earlier this month, the mechanisms by which our brains process fear are intricate yet animalistic—after all, we’re by far not the only species that experiences the sensation of fear. Though what may be a uniquely human instinct is the propensity to actually seek out fear (and the sensation of arousal that inherently comes with it)—a concept illustrated nicely in this piece from The Dana Foundation. This purposeful seeking-out of fear-inducing stimuli is undoubtedly present in the act of partaking in the aforementioned horror movie marathon, and a particular subset of said scary flicks (and the characters therein) will serve as the main focus of this post.
There are lots of types of scary movies out there, from the psychological thriller to the slasher film and everything in between, but today, for the purposes of this entry, our interests lie in the psychopathic killers. Whether your allegiances fall with Freddy Kruger or Jason Voorhees, the psychopath is a popular character in cinema and in popular culture in general. But what makes this character profile so enjoyable and even attractive at times? And furthermore, what can we learn from the psychopaths among us?
WHEW! Nothing like drawing inspiration from some late-night Youtube videos! Especially when my editor has to: 1) Make sure that this post is indeed relative to neuroscience 2) Verify that I’ve used proper grammar 3) Make media changes such as share links etc. 4) And have all of this done within a few hours during which I’ve procrastinated until the midnight hours of the new work week. Apologies to my editor…but man, am I pumped for what I’ve got in store with this post! Let’s get started shall we?
Who doesn’t love awkward situations? Well, actually, most people probably don’t like awkward situations. But why…I tend to find it hilarious when there is so much discomfort in a room that it can be cut with a knife. In my opinion, that’s what makes “awkward” so exciting. It’s a moment where everyone is out of their comfort zone, nobody is safe, nobody can run and hide, and often nobody knows what to do. For example, consider the harmonious situation when the distraught, balling girlfriend confronts her cheating boyfriend. More
With Halloween fast approaching, people are going to get scared. Zombies, ghosts, and werewolves will soon be stalking the streets of Boston, frightening innocent college students. Yet, when we are jumping back in fright from costumed pranksters, what is really happening inside of our brains? For years, it was considered fact that the amygdala, a part of the limbic system in our brain that processes components of emotion, was solely responsible for this reaction. Yet, this simplistic explanation doesn’t truly explain was happens inside our brains every time we feel fear. To investigate what really happens, we need to first talk about anxiety.
For many feminists, this effort to better understand female sexuality can be a means of empowerment, and it is not surprising that neuroscience research has branched into this area. Many people, rightfully so, believe that to understand our body and mind we must also understand the mechanisms of behavior in the brain. Yet due to its complexity, much of neuroscience research gets misinterpreted, reduced, or even generalized when written about for the public sphere.
Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, attempts to explain female sexuality by pulling from both subjective accounts and neuroscience to support her arguments. But what exactly does neuroscience research have to contribute to our knowledge of female sexuality? Although Wolf’s attempt at writing such a boldly stated book is admirable, it fell short, especially in terms of the science. Wolf misinterprets the roles of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin in the brain and how they could plausibly influence a female’s romantic relationships.
As Maia Szalavits so eloquently wrote:
“The kind of oversimplification seen in Wolf’s book and, sadly, in many other popular accounts of neuroscience, threatens to perpetuate a psychological myth. Rather than illuminating the complex interplay between mind and body, it portrays human beings — especially women — as automatons, enslaved by brain chemicals we cannot control.”
So what does neuroscience have to say about female sexuality? At last year’s Society for Neuroscience Conference in Washington D.C., a 3D movie was presented of the brain during a female orgasm. Barry Komisaruk, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to map brain activity in several women. The women were required to masturbate to an orgasm in the fMRI machine. (fMRI results are brain images reflecting activation in specific areas, and these areas are said to be lit up.) More
The field of neuroscience has undoubtedly expanded over the past two decades, and the explosion of all this cutting-edge discovery has inevitably lead to its proliferation in our culture. However, the spread of interest to the general population has begun to instigate the problematic phenomenon of what some scientists deem “neurobabble”. It refers to the overly simplified and misinterpreted information that many contemporary writers use to appeal to the public. Neurobabble in recent pop-science books and articles often engenders false conclusions and denies proper understanding about how the brain really works. More
The one day of the year dreaded by the many people in, out of, and between relationships has come and passed. Being a huge neuroscience nerd, I spent much of February 14th searching for articles and scholarly papers about the neuroscience of love, sex, attraction, friend zones, what have you. But nothing really blew me away. In my third year of studying neuroscience, I have a relatively extensive knowledge of the brain. I certainly have heard all about neurochemicals being released during sex, when you’re constantly thinking (to the point of obsessing) about that special someone, and even when you just look at a photograph of them. And sure, it’s cool the first five times you read about how fascinating oxytocin and serotonin are. But I’m over hearing it. More
Ever wonder why zombies are after brains? Perhaps because their own brains don’t function as they should. Based on the clear cognitive deficits exhibited by zombies, UC Berkley neuroscientist Bradley Voytek and colleague Timothy Verstynen have modeled what their brains might look like.
All of the zombies’ “symptoms” would likely be caused by loss of the association areas of the brain, essentially ridding zombies of higher cognitive functions, as demonstrated by their overly-aggressive behavior and aphasia. Along with deficits of the association areas, the hippocampi would be massively damaged, resulting in memory defects. Finally, a loss of the majority of the cerebellum could explain their lack of coordinated movements. What would remain unimpaired, however, are most of the primary cortices. From so-called “behavioral observations”, Voytek and Verstynen concluded that vision, hearing, olfaction and gustation would still work perfectly, and somatosensation would be preserved for the most part. Since zombies are alive (or at least, undead) most parts of their thalami and midbrains, hindbrains, and spinal cords would be either over-active or preserved.
Many of these damaged regions of the zombie brain are part of the Papez circuit. James Papez identified the circuit while trying to understand the strong link between memory and emotion. He tested his hypothesis by injecting cats with a rabies virus to watch how it would spread. Sure enough, the disease spread through the hippocampus (important for memory formation), the orbitofrontal cortex (social cognition and self-control), the hypothalamus (hunger regulation, etc.), the amygdala (emotional regulation), and so on. Voytek even suggest that a virus similar to rabies could create zombies…maybe.
The widespread nature of zombie brain damage accounts for almost all of a zombie’s behaviors. It explains their over-active aggression circuit, global aphasia (they can’t speak or understand language), impaired pain perception, long term memory loss…With all this knowledge, we should be able to avoid the zombie apocalypse…right?