Category: Brain

Promoting neurodiversity

As a mildly dyslexic, right-brained kind of guy, I appreciate the perspective offered by this video. It calls for neurodiversity recognizing that we have various cognitive orientations and those that are not statistically “normal” shouldn’t be marginalized. This is one of my biggest gripes when it comes to education standards: there are many in the population who do not fit the profile that tests are designed for. For example, in my own personal experience I have consistently bombed standardized tests, yet I could still earn a PhD and have a successful academic life. Brains, like life, are diverse. Let’s keep them that way.

Divided (mind) we fall

Click here if you can’t see the video

In a new RSAnimation, psychiatrist Iain McGilchristc revises the great divided brain debate, something I discuss in my book, Mediacology. To recap, in the ’70s the idea that the left and right brain hemispheres serve different cognitive functions entered into popular culture (represented by books such as Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain). In The Global Village, Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers run with this concept, arguing how different kinds of media favor or bias the cognitive processing of our brains. Reading and writing are distinctly left brained, whereas nonlinear media like TV and music are favored by the right hemisphere.

Leonard Shlain presents his main thesis

Many authors posit that writing has turned us into an overly rational and patriarchal culture. In the Alphabet Versus the Goddess, neurosurgeon Leonard Shlain argues that writing mimics the same mental processes of hunting: the pen replaces the spear.

McGilchrist doesn’t contradict these arguments. Rather he points out that it’s not an either or situation. Sight and sound are processed by both sides of the brain, but what happens is that the left hemisphere handles detailed and focused thinking, whereas the right hemisphere deals with field-like vision or hearing. Consider how we differentiate between seeing and watching, and listening and hearing.

What I find intriguing about the animation (a mix of both right and left brain media), is the possibility that sustainable behavior comes from cultivating right brain thinking. This is what I argued for in my book, but this video does a much better job of articulating how that’s possible. My main point was that traditional media literacy was mainly left-brained, because it focuses on reductionist deconstruction techniques, whereas new media involve right brain skills, and therefor should be incorporated into the concept of media literacy.

He points out that the right brain’s job is to inhibit immediate responses to situations so that we can use our wit and empathy to work out solutions. It also helps map and simplify the world so that we can make better sense of it. Metaphor, implicit meaning, body language, embodied experience, and a disposition for living rather than mechanical reality characterize the right brain approach to the world.

The machine model is self consistent because it made itself so. It’s what he calls the “Berlusconi of the brain” because it controls all the “media”– the right hemisphere doesn’t have a voice. The left brain model of the world is like a hall of mirrors, a reality bubble. And this is exactly the kind of problem I see in media theory which rarely challenges the mechanical model of cognition and communication. This is also why I believe media theory has not significantly tackled ecology (not in the “systems” sense, but in the sustainability sense).

Finally, McGilchrist argues knowledge within the left hemisphere is a closed system that demands perfection. By contrast, the right hemisphere’s understanding of the world is an open system.

In the end, it’s not reason versus imagination, he says, but both working together. You can’t have one without the other. The problem with our current world system is that it’s based on a closed, machine-like model of the world built by an unbalanced, and ultimately, insane mind. To restore sanity, we need to re-balance how we perceive the world and ourselves.

From aura to magnetic resonance

Though focus groups and test marketing of films is old news, a hybrid version with brainwave scans is truly bizarre. I think something that distinguishes a film as a kind of art versus a mere cultural commodity is the sensibility and aesthetics of the filmmaker. Granted, block busters require dollars and investments to recouped, but if we begin to monitor brainwave responses to films to test whether or not they are emotionally viable, what’s next?

This adds a new twist to Benjamin’s proclamation that aesthetics can lead to fascism.

Neurocinema Aims to Change the Way Movies are Made | GeekDad |

GeekDad: How do you see the fMRI technology changing how films are made?

Peter Katz: Movies could easily become more effective at fulfilling the expectations of their particular genre. Theatrical directors can go far beyond the current limitations of market research to gain access into their audience’s subconscious mind. The filmmakers will be able to track precisely which sequences/scenes excite, emotionally engage or lose the viewer’s interest based on what regions of the brain are activated. From that info a director can edit, re-shoot an actor’s bad performance, adjust a score, pump up visual effects and apply any other changes to improve or replace the least compelling scenes. Studios will create trailers that will [be] more effective at winning over their intended demographic. Marketing executives will know in a TV spot whether or not to push the romance- or action-genre angle because, for example, a scene featuring the leads kissing at a coffee shop could subconsciously engage the focus group more than a scene featuring a helicopter exploding.

GeekDad: Explain how the subconscious mind can better determine how we actually feel about what our conscious mind is interacting with and how that applies to film.

David Hubbard: If an audience already knows what they feel, fMRI is an expensive way to confirm the obvious. The magic of fMRI is that it shows what the brain is doing even if the viewer isn’t aware of it or can’t articulate it. We are comparing R-rated trailers to PG-13 trailers and discover that gore and sex and cursing sometimes activate the fear-anger-disgust area and sometimes it doesn’t. Let’s see what these scenes do to the brains of the MPAA when they’re deciding what’s socially acceptable; if they’re not excited, why should we [be]? FMRI makes it easy to see what’s boring.

Amputated dreams

Angel Tech

Antero Alli, a fellow traveler in the realm of the DIY spiritual underground, has an interesting commentary about the impact of immersive media, something I had not thought about. He says, below, that the loss of dream memeory is an amputation of the imagination caused by allowing devices to imagine for us. This is similar to McLuhan’s claim that whenever we transport our senses into mediation we end up cutting off our own bodily senses.

Reality Sandwich | Information Bombs and the Canary in the Coal Mine: A Talk with Antero Alli:

In this hypermedia saturated culture, especially with people born in the early ‘80s on, I think there is a certain imagination lobotomy that has occurred where the external media technologies and sources have gradually usurped the poetic genius or our innate ability to image their own realities. So we succumb to images more gorgeous, interesting, fascinating, or compelling than we can create out of our own imaginations. So the imagination dies, it withers — imagination death or soul loss is involved. I think part of also what gets lost is dream recall.

Personally I don’t really think that it’s that people don’t dream, but that they’ve lost dream recall. There’s an association in my mind between the loss of dream recall and power loss in people’s lives. People losing power, losing the ability to influence the world in ways that are meaningful to them. So power loss, loss of dream recall, loss of imagination are all tied into a larger cultural epidemic resulting from this acceleration of media technology and its interface with human consciousness. Especially any kind of immersion software like video gaming, VR technology, and sometimes even films and television and other kinds of media too, where it just overwhelms and sabotages or takes over the individual imagination.

… Imagination is the new canary in the cultural coal mine; imagination death precedes loss of the soul.

Geek alert: Kafka does make us smarter

We all knew reading Kafka made us cool, but smarter? The study quoted below says yes! If you read the whole article what it points out is that if one is exposed to nonsensical information, the brain seeks to find patterns in the environment to bring order to the confusion. This might explain the power behind juxtaposition in montage, in particular the kind that Eisenstein wrote about. Through the collision of images, new meaning comes into existence, but the added twist is the importance of the context in which this mind explosion occurs.

Reading Kafka Improves Learning, Suggests Psychology Study:

According to research by psychologists at UC Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia, exposure to the surrealism in, say, Kafka’s “The Country Doctor” or Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” enhances the cognitive mechanisms that oversee implicit learning functions. The researchers’ findings appear in an article published in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science.

* * *

“What is critical here is that our participants were not expecting to encounter this bizarre story,” he continued. “If you expect that you’ll encounter something strange or out of the ordinary, you won’t experience the same sense of alienation. You may be disturbed by it, but you won’t show the same learning ability. The key to our study is that our participants were surprised by the series of unexpected events, and they had no way to make sense of them. Hence, they strived to make sense of something else.”

Tools as temporary body parts

What follows is scientific verification of McLuhan’s concept of media as extensions of the body. I highly recommend reading the whole article.

Brain Represents Tools As Temporary Body Parts, Study Confirms:

Researchers have what they say is the first direct proof of a very old idea: that when we use a tool—even for just a few minutes—it changes the way our brain represents the size of our body. In other words, the tool becomes a part of what is known in psychology as our body schema, according to a report published in the June 23rd issue of Current Biology.

In praise of pancake people!

Don’t get me wrong, I think Nicholas Carr is doing us a great service by raising the alarm of how the Internet is ruining our minds. I don’t agree with him 100%, though, and the quote below from a recent interview explains why. The lament is that we cannot contain civilization in our heads anymore. This is a complaint of a book culture that privileges information over relationships. In a book world, ideas are self-contained objects, and we are isolated individuals, which correlates directly with our disconnection with nature.

Instead, we are networks and processes coming into being. Even one of the latest management books from Harvard Business School acknowledges that our minds are open loops. That is, we synchronize via emotional intelligence with other people in the same way that groups of women who live together start having their periods simultaneously. I don’t want to have the whole of civilization contained within me– if that’s the case I would probably nuke myself. The problem with me is that I have civilization as my reality filter, and it often makes me a sad, lonely person. To paraphrase Gandhi, when he was asked what he thought of Western civilization, he replied, “It would be a good idea!”

The Sun Magazine | Computing The Cost:

Cooper: You’ve quoted Richard Foreman, author of the play The Gods Are Pounding My Head, who says we are turning into “pancake people.”

Carr: We used to have an intellectual ideal that we could contain within ourselves the whole of civilization. It was very much an ideal — none of us actually fulfilled it — but there was this sense that, through wide reading and study, you could have a depth of knowledge and could make unique intellectual connections among the pieces of information stored within your memory. Foreman suggests that we might be replacing that model — for both intelligence and culture — with a much more superficial relationship to information in which the connections are made outside of our own minds through search engines and hyperlinks. We’ll become “pancake people,” with wide access to information but no intellectual depth, because there’s little need to contain information within our heads when it’s so easy to find with a mouse click or two.

Dream life


One of the most intense things I learned from a brain expert is that TVs dream your brain. In reality, it’s more like an induced meditation. That’s because it puts you into a alpha state, which is the same brain wave as when you are half-awake, half-asleep. No wonder we find TV so relaxing. I’ve tempered my fears somewhat through the realization that nature dreams our brain, too. Which one is stronger?


Image link from HowStuffWorks

A recent study shows that many people over 55 who grew up with black and white TVs dream in monochrome. Will the next generation dream in short bursts of text (as in SMS), or HD? I’ve had the fun experience of becoming a dream editor after endless hours of nonlinear video editing on my computer. I cut and paste reality tunnels like snippets of quicktime video. Dreams are closer to hypertext, so maybe it’s computers that are becoming more like human dreams. The jury is out.

Thanks Scud for the link!

Growing a brain garden

Brain Revenge 1

I Heart NY designer Milton Glaser has some heads-up advice about how to treat your brain. If you click the link below you can see the other nine things he’s learned about life.

Milton Glaser Inc.:


The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. And he believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have. I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of 4 or 5 after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed. Well what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street my brain could be affected and my life might changed. That is why your mother always said, ‘Don’t hang out with those bad kids.’ Mama was right. Thought changes our life and our behaviour. I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

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This is your brain on Super Bowl ads

This year’s most stimulating Super Bowl ads competed for mirror neurons. And the winners are (all the ads are viewable here):


If a good indicator of a successful ad is activity in brain areas concerned with reward and empathy, two winners seem to be the ‘I am going to Disney’ ad and the Bud ‘office’ ad. In contrast, two big floppers seem to be the Bud ‘secret fridge’ ad and the Aleve ad. What is quite surprising, is the strong disconnect that can be seen between what people say and what their brain activity seem to suggest. In some cases, people singled out ads that elicited very little brain responses in emotional, reward-related, and empathy-related areas.

Among the ads that seem relatively successful, I want to single out the Michelob ad. Above is a picture showing the brain activation associated with the ad. What is interesting is the strong response — indicated by the arrow — in ‘mirror neuron’ areas, premotor areas active when you make an action and when you see somebody else making the same action. The activity in these areas may represent some form of empathic response. Or, given that these areas are also premotor areas for mouth movements, it may represent the simulated action of drinking a beer elicited in viewers by the ad. Whatever it is, it seems a good brain response to the ad.

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Tools are extensions of the body

Tool Use Is Just a Trick of the Mind — Balter 2008 (128): 2 — ScienceNOW:

Don’t take that hammer for granted. Using tools may seem like second nature, but only a few animals can master the coordination and mental sophistication required. So how did primates learn to use tools in the first place? A new study in monkeys suggests that the brain’s trick is to treat tools as just another body part.

Today must be science day. Here is some evidence to suggest that in order for us to use a tool, our mind has to map it as an extension of our body, verifying McLuhan’s maxim that media are extensions of our nervous system.

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Praise be the right brain

Hemispheres Vesalius
More evidence that the right brain is the source of creativity and problem solving.

Right Brain Smarts: Creative People’s Brains Function Differently | The Daily Galaxy: News from Planet Earth & Beyond:

One of the several differences discovered was that the creative solvers exhibited greater activity in several regions of the right hemisphere. Previous research has indicated that the right hemisphere of the brain plays a special role in solving problems with creative insight, likely due to right-hemisphere involvement in the processing of loose or “remote” associations between the elements of a problem, which is understood to be an important component of creative thought.

All I wanted was a Pepsi: pt. 2


Continuing the thought from my previous post on oppositional defiant disorder, I came across this excellent new series of pharma ad deconstructions from Consumer Reports, AdWatch (What no embed? Come on guys, get on with the Web 2.0! At least put the videos up on YouTube to spread your meme). Just more evidence that drug companies are trying to pathologize our lives.

For fun I’m posting my own re-edit of pharma ads here:

All I wanted was a Pepsi: oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

A blast from the past (what’ya think of the punk/cholo crossover fashion?)

AlterNet: Health and Wellness: How Teenage Rebellion Has Become a Mental Illness:

Disruptive young people who are medicated with Ritalin, Adderall and other amphetamines routinely report that these drugs make them “care less” about their boredom, resentments and other negative emotions, thus making them more compliant and manageable. And so-called atypical antipsychotics such as Risperdal and Zyprexa — powerful tranquilizing drugs — are increasingly prescribed to disruptive young Americans, even though in most cases they are not displaying any psychotic symptoms.

Back in the day (early ’80s) I remember that a lot of punks were treated by the society as if they were insane. Now, if the above article is correct, the problem of medicating rebellious youth for “oppositional defiant disorder” is epedimic. Damn, if punk were new today we’d be drugged and labeled as terrorists. Makes one nostalgic for the Reagan years.

The song by Suicidal Tendencies, “Institutionalized,” captures the problem perfectly:

Sometimes I try to do things and it just doesn’t turn out the way I wanted to. I get real frustrated and I try hard to do it and I take my time and it just doesn’t work out the way I wanted to. It seems like I concentrate on it real hard but it just never work out. Everything I do and everything I try never turns out. It’s like I need time to figure these things out. But there’s always someone there going. Hey Mike: You know we’ve been noticing you’ve been having a lot of problems lately. You know, maybe you should get away and like, maybe you should talk about it, maybe you’ll feel a lot better. And I go: No it’s okay, you know I’ll figure it out, just leave me alone I’ll figure it out. You know I’ll just work it all by myself. And they go: Well you know if you want to talk about it I’ll be here you know and you’ll probably feel a lot better if you talk about it. Why don’t you talk about it? And I go: No I don’t want to I’m okay, I’ll figure it out myself and they just keep bugging me and they just keep bugging me and it builds up inside and it builds up inside.
So you’re gonna be institutionalized. You’ll come out brainwashed with bloodshot eyes.
You won’t have any say. They’ll brainwash you until you see their way.

I’m not crazy – institutionalized
You’re the one who’s crazy – institutionalized
You’re driving me crazy – institutionalized
They stuck me in an institution, said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help to protect me from the enemy, myself

Click here to read the rest.
Suicidal Tendencies - Suicidal Tendencies - Institutionalized

Incidentally, if this is any measure of the cultural Zeitgeist, apparently “Institutinalized” is featured in the video game, Guitar Hero 2. Here’s a clip that some gamer posted. Man, life is weird!

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Mindfulness and the caveman brain


I’m fairly certain that the mindfulness technique that derives from Buddhist meditation practice is designed to deal with what our society cannot: the inability of our caveman brain to moderate itself in the midst of so much abundant materialism and prosperity. As cognitive anthropologists have noted, we have dispositions that are easily manipulatable. For example, our brains are wired for sweets, but not necessarily processed sugar. It’s easy for advertising to play on this hardwiring, so that’s why it’s so crucial to have a mindfulness immune system. The following article shores up my feelings on the subject:

How Advertising Manipulates Our “Caveman” Brains (& How to Resist) | The Daily Galaxy: News from Planet Earth & Beyond:

Fortunately, there are ways to go about PROOFING YOUR BRAIN.

1. Change your mindset to “postmore” by challenging culture’s ingrained assumption that “more” of everything is automatically better.

2. Grow your gratitude. Our poor, starved, frozen ancestors would cry tears of joy if they suddenly landed in our culture of abundance. Fostering our appreciation of this bounty can also block the consumerist “cool” pressure to deride so many of our fine, workable possessions as “so last year”.

3. Be enough. We’re constantly told that we aren’t rich enough, glam enough, cool enough, networked enough, etc. This has a powerful insidious effect on our primitive, socially competitive brain circuits. It’s like a toxic substance that turns rational brains into needy toddlers wanting “more, more, more!

Ghost ads


Hear Voices? It May Be an Ad – Advertising Age – News:

NEW YORK ( — New Yorker Alison Wilson was walking down Prince Street in SoHo last week when she heard a woman’s voice right in her ear asking, “Who’s there? Who’s there?” She looked around to find no one in her immediate surroundings. Then the voice said, “It’s not your imagination.”

Indeed it isn’t. It’s an ad for “Paranormal State,” a ghost-themed series premiering on A&E this week. The billboard uses technology manufactured by Holosonic that transmits an “audio spotlight” from a rooftop speaker so that the sound is contained within your cranium. The technology, ideal for museums and libraries or environments that require a quiet atmosphere for isolated audio slideshows, has rarely been used on such a scale before. For random passersby and residents who have to walk unwittingly through the area where the voice will penetrate their inner peace, it’s another story.

No Holosonics is not a company from Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, or plot device for a PK Dick novel. Nor is it a CIA front company (at least as far as we know). But we do know that they supply the latest and creepiest marketing technology that allows advertisers to blast audio into our innocent craniums. Is it not enough that ads are shoved in front of our eyeballs every minute? I know this technology has been justified as being great for museums, which may be true, but beaming from a billboard? This is downright unethical. As Gawker put it,:

So when they hit your head, it sounds like the call is coming from the inside the brain-house.

The billboard says 73% of Americans believe and I’m assuming that that means 73% of Americans believe in ghosts. So if that’s true, why try to convert the skeptical/not crazy 27% by beaming voices into their heads? That’s just greedy. Also it leads to a lingering sense of serious mental violation. How soon will it be until in addition to the Do Not Call list, we’ll have a Do Not Beam Commercial Messages Into My Head list?

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Is coercion mind-control?

The Simian Think Tank – STT Blogs » Psy-Ops and Coercion:

The secret of mind-control is simple–so simple that Rushkoff can sum it up in one sentence: “In whatever milieu coercion is practiced, the routine follows the same basic steps: Generate disorientation, induce regression, and then become the target’s transferred parent figure” (64). Hard-sell car salesmen, CIA interrogators and psychwar ops, and cult leaders have long used this technique. Under coercion, millions of otherwise rational people can be persuaded to act against their own interests–whether by shelling out big bucks for an overpriced lemon, betraying a comrade and a cause, or allowing a gang of criminals to destroy their nation’s Constitution and launch criminal wars of aggression.

I think the above statement (in bold) is generally valid. The paragraphs is from an article in response to why people so quickly believe the official version of 9-11. I’m still not convinced that it was an inside job– a) because focusing on the past doesn’t help us deal with the situation as it exists right now, and b) the government is run by bureaucrats (i.e. people) who make lots of mistakes. With that said, I still believe it was deployed quite effectively as a kind of mega-spectacle slight-of-hand trick. Regardless of who was behind it, they were successful at unleashing a massive wave of paranoia that is eating America alive. If you visit the WTC site and you’re sensitive enough, then you will understand that 9-11 was most certainly one of the most explosive acts of black magic in the history of humanity.

“Generate disorientation, induce regression, and then become the target’s transferred parent figure”:

In a typical Evangelical megachurch ritual you will see people blasted with multimedia in such a way that their nervous systems are over-stimulated (see my post on BattleCry) causing group hysteria and disorientation.* But I want to go back to my basic premise, which is that manipulation is more effective when people have low self-esteem or a lack of a strong center. These techniques don’t impact all people the same way. We need to move from generalizing the “pubic” as if they are a mass of playable clay. I think if you talk to any person one-to-one you will find their view of the world is generally nuanced and complex (with the exception of the Neocons, of course). From an ecological perspective, this means we need to reinforce the psychic immune system through education, proper nutrition, critical pedagogy, and strong doses of place, i.e. nature when available.

* Note: with my critiques of religious spectacles, some have accused me of being anti-Christian and intolerant. That is not the case. I am anti-manipulation. I fully support people having the choice to believe what they want as long as it doesn’t involve killing or controlling people who disagree with them.

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