Monday, May 12, 2014


Eugenics is an interest topic because it deals with how we think of other people and what we think we should do to those people according to our ideals and not necessarily the people being affected. It deals with the macro vs the micro. In eugenics, you sacrifice things in the micro scale in order to make changes in the macro scale, which is the overall population.
When Hitler and the Nazis experimented with eugenics it was in a time when all this was fairly new, and at the same time it was done with malicious intent behind it. They did it to help their cause but hurting others. This is usually an example that people that are against eugenics use. I like to think of the matter more positively, though. As a futurist I believe eugenics will become a major part of or society in terms of genetic engineering. I could see the movie Gattaca becoming a reality. With the way technology is improving within our lifetime we will see people that are "designed". This could lead to positive things, like the parents being able to choose which traits they want their children to have, or as proven by history, could lead to the next dictator abusing this power. I look forward to the former.

Billy Nunez

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"The 12 Cognitive Biases That Keep you From Being Rational"

Cognitive biases are patterns of judgement indued by the brain that allow human beings to process information quickly and more efficiently. However, cognitive biases are not necessarily positive and are considered to be limitations in our thinking. They cause us to make illogical inferences about people or situations via shallow inferences and prove that our memories are often faulty.

For example, cognitive dissonance is a form of cognitive bias that is a "preferential mode of behavior" that causes humans to only associate with things they are familiar with and agree with, thus limiting exposure to new ideas and situations; humans tend to avoid opinions that "threaten their world view". Ingroup bias is similar to cognitive dissonance in the sense that it references our "tribalistic tendancies" and causes us to be suspicious of those we encounter who are different. This references primitive times and was likely developed psychologically as a means of survival.

Other examples of cognitive biases include the positive expectation bias, which fuels gambling additions. The article explains this via the example of flipping a coin--if a coin toss lands on heads a number of times in a row, one is more likely to bet on head's in the consecutive toss-rounds, despite the odds consistently being 50/50. Post-purchase rationalization also misleads us, in the sense that our minds desire "to stay consistent and avoid a state of cognitive dissonance," which forces us to rationalize and personally justify purchases or actions that we knew were wrong, after the act was committed.

The article also discusses cognitive biases create human tendencies to live in the moment, hop on the bandwagon, assume that others think like us, and why we pick the "middle option".

-- Kaitlyn McKay

Controversial Memorials - Tear of Grief

Erected in Bayonne, New Jersey, this memorial was originally slated to appear in Jersey City, New Jersey, but the city refused to accept it. It was given to the U.S. by Russia in 2006 in respect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A shape resembling a tear drop made from forty-feet of stainless steel dangles from a tower clad in bronze, which many think far too closely resembles the female anatomy. This is only one controversial aspect of this monument.

Other controversial aspects concerning this monument, which is also called "To the Struggle Against World Terrorism," include the questionable nature of the Russian artist that designed it as well as an outdated list of victims. There is also an image of Putin's head on this monument and many complain that it blocks a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline.

The sculptor who created it, Zurab Tsereteli, said that he formulated the imagery of this memorial directly after witnessing the 9/11 attacks on the news. Tsereteli has created other memorials, such as as a statue of Alexander the Great in Moscow and the statue of St. George at the Moscow War Memorial. He is also a painter and an architect.

-- Kaitlyn McKay

Controversial Memorial - Valley of the Fallen

The "Valley of the Fallen" in the Cuelgamuros Valley, Spain is both a monumental memorial and Catholic basilica. However, it is extremely controversial because it was built via the hands of political prisoners in 1940 under the orders of General Francisco Franco; it also houses the tomb of Franco, which has created anger among many Spanish citizens.

Although a policy that was instituted by the Spanish government in 2004 forced the removal of all Franco-oriented icons and symbols from public spaces in Span, this monument remains in tact due to Spain's National Heritage authority. In fact, movements have been underway to begin restoration on this monument, which has furthered its controversy. It is likely that Franco's body will be removed and the whole monument will be redesigned as a "Monument to Democracy," so that all parties will be pleased.

This monument includes the tallest statue of Jesus in the world.

-- Kaitlyn McKay

Leaving the Friedman's Alone

This article criticizes the documentary "Capturing the Friedman's" as a film that takes advantage of notable obsessions in American pop culture (family drama, sexual trauma and legal debate) and also takes advantage of America's fascination with voyeurism. It then moves on to discuss how the family itself is plagued with the incessant need to be watched (ie. the constant home movies and self-filming), and then suggests that the documentary itself is a pornography "not because of the lurid details or the occasional shots of child rape" but because the Friedman family is "emotionally naked" in front of the viewer, who has no right to such personal details.

I think its really interesting, in lieu of this film, to think of things as pornography that would not typically be classified as pornography. For example, when people crane their necks from cars to see a car accident on the side of the road or when gossip spreads about some horrific murder that's been seen on the news... These types of instances, similarly to the film Capturing the Friedman's, could be considered pornographic. I also find it interesting that these types of situations are also situations that are often associated with Flashbulb Memory... Is there some kind of correlation?

--Kaitlyn McKay

Postures That Boost Performance
Research inclines that body language affects the way that human beings perform, specifically in social situations... Instead of simply expressing our internal thoughts to the outside world, body language also internally affects how our mind is operating. For example...

1. Sitting with your legs or arms open increases testosterone levels and thus allows your mind to adopt a more powerful mentality. The more space your body consumes, the more powerful your mind feels.
2. If you want to increase your willpower (ie. withstand more pain or withstand food temptations), you should tense up your muscles.
3. Crossing your arms boosts your ability to problem solve. Lying down also assists.
4. Gesturing with your hands not only convinces those around you that you are confident in what you are talking about, but it also makes you yourself more convinced of what you are talking about.
5. Strack et al. (1988) conducted a study which had participants holding pens in their mouths so that their muscles responsible for smiling would be activated during the study. They were then shown cartoons. When the pen was held in their mouths, they rated the cartoons as funnier than when the pen was not held in their mouths. This inclines that smiling makes you happier, even when you are not happier.
6. Copying others will boost your ability to empathize. The same holds true with information--if you imitate you are more likely to comprehend.

"Embodied cognition" supports all of these findings and is a theory that we do not just think with our minds but also with our bodies. This is a growing concern in a more stable, less-mobile digital world; there is a fear that our minds will become detached from our bodies.

--Kaitlyn McKay

Controversial War Memorials

Douglas Coupland, Canadian author and pop artist, created this monument as Toronto's tribute to the War of 1812. It depicts two toy soldiers--a British soldier standing upright while a Yankee soldier lays on his side. Coupland said in a novel he had written that the monument was build to remind those living in Toronto that, had the war gone differently, Canada might have been part of the U.S. He sad that "I [he] wanted to come up with an elegant and simple way of saying: 'No, the British won.'" People responded to it with mixed reviews, and many thought that it was "hideous public art."

This arch in Dublin is nicknamed the "Traitor's Gate" because it is seen as a symbol of British Imperialism. Although most colonial-era monuments were destroyed and defaced during the Easter uprising, this arch remains standing. It is right in front of St. Stephen's Green, a large park in the city.

Erected in London's Tavistock Square in 1994 commemorates all those who have opposed past wars, "According to the British newspaper The Independent, there were 16,000 conscientious objectors in the U.K. in World War One; that number rose to 61,000 in the Second World War."

-- Kaitlyn McKay

Can the Brain Explain Your Mind?

Book Review Article - "The Tell-Tale Brain"

Ramachandran proves that "colors enter the mind as genuine sensations" during his exploration of the phenomenon "synesthesia," which is the blending of sense stimulation. For example, if you were to hear a sound it would simultaneously produce the visualization of a color. It is brought into question whether or not this sensation is more or less a metaphor, and Ramachandran speculates that this phenomenon might be the "basis of creativity".

In his book "The Tell-Tale Brain", Ramachandran also covers a variety of other topics, including autism and the possibility that it might be caused by a deficiency in the mirror neuron system. He "postulates that the emotional peculiarities of autistics may be caused by disturbances to the link between the sensory cortices and the amygdala and limbic system, both centers involved in emotion."

Other subjects include how the brain affects language, our capacity as humans for violence nd conformity, phantom limb syndrome and Capgras syndrome. 

--Kaitlyn McKay

Forbes - How to Give a Great Presentation

1. Research the audience that you will be presenting to and adjust your presentation to suit their needs.
2. Provide written notes to the person that will be introducing you, if there will be someone introducing you.
3. Don't waste too much time on introductions--ie. good mornings and thank you's
4. Powerful but brief anecdotes should be considered as introductions
5. Create an outline of your presentation so that its structure remains in tact
6. Don't rely on powerpoint and use it sparingly

--Kaitlyn McKay

Mirror Neurons

Dr. Ramachandran discovered through his work with mirror neurons that human beings are constantly empathizing--most often subconsciously. However, because our ability to constantly empathize as humans, our brains must operate in a way that keeps us from "dissolving into other humans". In other words, our skin and frontal lobes operate together to retain our identity as an individual "self" while empathizing takes place.

Ramachandran has also found through his studies on mirror neurons that the brain hates inconsistencies and will thus seek out consistencies. For example, there is a condition through which people will reject their own limbs; they are convinced that a limb does not belong to them and instead belongs to someone else because the mapping in their brain has gone awry. Many people with this syndrome must get the limb amputated in order to feel happy.

He is currently undergoing further research to see whether or not this has some kind of relation to what transgendered people feel in regards to missing body parts.

--Kaitlyn McKay

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Stolen Generations ppt

This presentation is based on facts found on the sources provided below in the sources list, information gathered for the research paper on memory reconstruction/flashbulb memory--and also the movie/pseudo-documentary "Rabbit Proof Fence

Some text may be small, so please zoom in and out as you please to read better (if necessary). Sorry about that! I had a lot of information that I wanted to write/include.
  • Governmental removal of the children officially start 1909-1969
  • But this still took place before/after these dates via church/welfare bodies.
  • The removal was manage by the Aborigines Protection Board (APB)
  • Removal could occur without parental consent or even court orders 
  • Children were placed into institutions, missionary dorms, fostercare or even adopted
  • Most of the time they were servants.
  • Since they were not "full blood" they were encouraged to "assimilate" into the broader society. This was to eliminate the indigenous people.

  •  Memorial at Mt. Annan
  • Used to be a meeting place for once a generation law-making 
  • Called "Yandel'oro" -> "place of peace between peoples"
  • The memorial is representative of the commitment that New South Wales and the Botanic Garden have for the reconciliation of the indigenous people of Australia. 
  • "Bring them Home" report (680 pgs/May 26th 1997)
  • The report consisted of stories collected via hearings in every city from December 4 1995 - October 3, 1996

  •  The report was first pushed as an national investigation via 1992 at the Secretariat of National Aboriginal/Island Child Care
  • Later n 1994, statements from Aboriginal peoples were gathered - both from parents of the stolen children, or the children themselves.
  • National Sorry Day (May 26th)
  • Pushed via the "Bringing them Home" report -> Prime Minister Howard was prompted to "apologize"
  • John Howard refused, saying that he "did not subscribe to the black armband view of history"
  • On August 29th 1999, Howard moved the Motion of Reconciliation with "Deep sincere regret that indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices"
  • However, the first Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (in the above slide) became the first to apoligze and informally gave a huge speech of apology in 2008. He also was the first to put the movement in Parliament.

  •  "Reconstructive Memory" defined as "remembering is influenced by various cognitive processes like perception, emotional connections, imagination, their surroundings/beliefs or "strong experiences" that have flashbulb memories as proof.
  • Flashbulb Memory are considered memories for circumstances of a very surprising/consequential (or emotionally arousing) event that everyone can remember with perceptual clarity (where/when/how, etc). They are particularly stronger than normal autobiographical memories.
  • There are six core items that categorize Flashbulb Memories: 1) how they first heard (informant), 2) where they were (place), 3) what they were doing (activity), 4) how they felt about it at the time (own affect), 5) how others felt (other affect) and 6) aftermath/immediate following events
  • Effects of time/location/emotional basis:
  • Bower 2005 -> Despite WWII being 60 years ago, Danes who lived through the Nazi occupation (1940) to the liberation (1945) remembered with accuracy
  • Since most of the information was verifiable, the answers to the factual questions proved to be important basis for reason to believe that location and emotion played a great part in flashbulb memories. The Danes also reported what they were doing when they heard the news of the occupation/liberation and their most positive/negative personal memories from WWII. 

My presentation and explication of slides that may not have been heard during the actual presentation!
Have a great summer!

J'aime Merkel

Leubecker, Amye Warren, and Michael R. Springfield. Flashbulb Memory Revisited: Children Recall the Space Shuttle Accident.
Law, Bridget M. "Seared in Our Memories." Monitor on Psychology 42.8 (2011) 
Weaver, Charles A., III. "Do You Need a "Flash" to Form a Flashbulb Memory?" Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 122 (1993 
McCloskey, Michael, Cynthia G. Wible, and Neal J. Cohen. "Is There a Special Flashbulb-Memory Mechanism?" Journal of Experimental Psvchology: General 117 (1988)

Mysteries of the "Phantom Limb"

"Amputees often suffer from a phenomenon known as phantom limb syndrome, but researchers now say that non-amputees can also be made to feel phantom limbs, and even pain, when knives are jabbed into nonexistent hands." Charles Choi, Livescience Article writer "Non Amputees feel Phantom Limb"

Proof and findings on phantom limbs provides further realization on how "malleable" the body image is to the human mind. People can be fooled that missing limbs are there, and that limbs that aren't theirs or are an entirely object entirely are in fact a part of their body (aka, rubber hand illusion). The experiment that was used originally to test the rubber hand illusion is as such: "a table with a screen running up its middle, and sit in front of the table so the right arm is hidden from view. A fake right arm is visible on the table. If both the right hand and the rubber hand are simultaneously stroked with a brush for a few minutes, a 1998 study found eight of 10 volunteers experienced the disarming illusion that the dummy hand was their hand."

Scientists have studying this phenomenon have also come to conclude that a rubber hand might not even be necessary. In a recent experiment with 234 healthy adult volunteers, they tested out imitating brushing movements in midair in full view of the participants - instead of a rubber hand. "We discovered that most participants, within less than a minute, transfer the sensation of touch to the region of empty space where they see the paintbrush move, and experience an invisible hand in that position," said researcher Arvid Guterstam, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

However, they tested the same thing with a block of wood - which the brain did not accept as a part of its body. Even if it had already accepted an invisible hand as one.

Interestingly, the point of such a study is that it points out the importance and role of multi-sensory experience within the human life. As Guterstam mentions in the article: "When we elicited the invisible hand illusion inside an MRI scanner, we found that experiencing the illusion lead to increased brain activity in so-called multisensory brain regions, which we know integrate signals from the different senses. It therefore seems as if these areas of the brain automatically associate the sight from the brush moving in empty space with the touch felt on the real hand, leading to the bizarre consequence that one feels touch in midair and perceive having an invisible hand in this location."

Further experimentation on the precise roles and veins that interconnect phantom limbs with the rest of the brain/human body's abilities will most likely allow for other doors to be explored, such as the interconnectedness of Synesthesia, ASMR or other multi-sensory phenomenons that haven't been able to be researched fully.


J'aime Merkel

The Case of Carrie Buck

Eugenics was coined by Sir Francis Galton in 1883. "The goal of eugenics was to improve the genetic composition of the population: to encourage healthy, smart individuals to reproduce (called positive eugenics) and to discourage the poor, who were considered unintelligent and unfit, from reproducing (negative eugenics)." (MARGARITA TARTAKOVSKY, M.S.) Among the methods of carrying out this goal was sterilization. This was, as according scientist Stephen Jay Gould in Natural History, "imposed upon those judged insane, idiotic, imbecilic, or moronic, and upon convicted rapists or criminals when recommended by a board of experts.” Most laws were confusing, and the creation of a Sterilization Model was thus created. By the 1930s, over 30 different states had sterilization laws. For some states, they also added blindness, deafness, drug addiction and alcoholism.

Then comes the case of Buck vs. Bell. Under the new laws of sterilization in placed, Carrie Buck was one of the first to become sterilized. This was under reasoning of anyone who was "feeble-minded, an imbecile or epileptic" should be kept from "continuing their kind." Her mother, Emma Buck, was considered a woman who was “feebleminded” and “sexually promiscuous,” and then promprty (and involuntarily) institutionalized at the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded in Lynchburg, Virginia. Carrie, at 17-years old, was also institutionalized when she gave birth to an illegitimate daughter named Vivian.

At 6 months old, Vivian was also deemed feeble minded--and that she was below average as well as, according to the social worker who examined her, in possession of "a look about it that is not quite normal.” The case went to the Supreme court where Judge Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Ultimately, though, the accusation of being "Feebleminded" was wrong when both Carrie as well as Vivian made the honor roll. The definition of "feebleminded" and "imbecile" were also subjective and not scientifically defined either. For the most part they were arbitrary, and untested. Also, in the case of Carrie--she had been raped by a family member, and most likely institutionalized to prevent bringing the family dishonor/shame.

The case is sad because later on it realized that her entire life that the entire thing was a conspiracy against her: "Recent scholarship has shown that Carrie Buck’s sterilization was based on a false “diagnosis” and her defense lawyer conspired with the lawyer for the Virginia Colony to guarantee that the sterilization law would be upheld in court." Her younger sister, it was shown, was sterilized without knowing when sent to undergo appendicitis surgery and did not know till her late 60s.

Most importantly about Buck vs. Bell is that the ridiculous-ness of these immoral and inhumane happenings occurred via scientific proceeding/backing. Similar to that of Brave New World, it is events like this that make science put in utopian perspective scary. In a way, this method of ridding the world of people who are a "waste of space" is no different than any other act of genocide.


J'aime Merkel

Monday, May 05, 2014

Presentation and Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was an astonishing presenter because he informed, inspired, and entertained. There are couple key points to his presentation that he keeps.
Express your passion. Steve Jobs was passionate about design, he absolutely loved his new product, and he wore his enthusiasm on his black-mock sleeve. “It looks pretty doggone gorgeous,” he said with a big smile after showing the iPhone for the first time. Jobs often used words such as “cool,” “amazing,” or “gorgeous” because he believed it. Your audience is giving you permission to show enthusiasm. If you’re not excited about your idea, nobody else will be.
Stick to the rule of three. Jobs instinctively understood that the number “3” is one of the most powerful numbers in communications. A list of 3 things is more intriguing than 2 and far easier to remember than 22. Jobs divided his iPhone presentation into three sections. He spoke about the iPod functions of the new iPhone, the phone itself, and connecting to the Internet. Jobs even had some fun with three. He stepped on stage and said, “Today we are introducing three revolutionary products. The first, a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second, is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.” As the audience applauded, Jobs repeated the three ‘products’ several times. Finally he said, “Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, they are one device and we are calling it iPhone!”

Introduce a villain. All great stories have a hero and a villain. A Steve Jobs presentation was no exception. In 2007, why did the world need another mobile phone, especially from Apple? Jobs set up the narrative by introducing a villain—a problem in need of a solution: “Regular cell phones are not so smart and they are not so easy to use. Smartphones are a little smarter, but are harder to use. They are really complicated…we want to make a leapfrog product, way smarter than any mobile device has ever been and super easy to use. This is what iPhone is.”
Build simple, visual slides. The average PowerPoint slide has forty words. In the first three minutes of Steve Jobs’ iPhone presentation, he uses a grand total of nineteen words (twenty-one if you include dates). Those words are also distributed across about twelve slides. For more tips on using ‘picture superiority’ in your slide design, please read my earlier article on Jeff Bezos and the end of PowerPoint as we know it.
Tell stories. Before Jobs revealed the new phone, he spent a moment to review the history of Apple, telling a story that built up to the big event. “In 1984, Apple introduced the first Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple. It changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod. It didn’t just change the way we all listen to music. It changed the entire music industry.” Stories can be brand stories, customer stories, or personal ones. In one very funny moment, Jobs’ clicker failed to advance the slides. After a few seconds of trying to fix it, he paused and told a short story of a how he and Steve Wozniak used to pull pranks on students at Wozniak’s college dorm. Woz had invented a device that jammed TV signals and they used it to tease students when they were watching Star Trek. It brought some levity to the keynote, the problem was fixed, and Jobs effortlessly moved along.
Prepare and practice excessively at lesson for all presenters. Jobs casually laughed off the glitch, told a story, and got back to his presentation when his team resolved the issue. He never missed a beat and certainly didn’t get flustered. Jobs was legendary for his preparation. He would rehearse on stage for many hours over many weeks prior to the launch of a major product. He knew every detail of every demo and every font on every slide. As a result the presentation was delivered flawlessly. People often tell me, “I’m not as smooth as Jobs was.” Well, neither was he! Hours and hours of practice made Jobs look polished, casual, and effortless.
Avoid reading from notes. The introduction of the iPhone lasted about 80 minutes. Not once did Jobs read from a teleprompter or notecards. He had internalized the content so well that he didn’t need notes. During the demos, however, he did have a very short list of bullet points hidden from the audience’s view. Those bullets served as reminders and they were the only notes he relied upon.
Have fun. When Jobs first told the audience that Apple was going to introduce a mobile phone he said, “Here it is.” Instead of showing the iPhone, the slide displayed a photo of an iPod with an old-fashioned rotary dial on it. The audience got a kick out of it, laughing and clapping. They had been played and Jobs was enjoying their reaction. There were many funny moments, including a crank call. Jobs was demonstrating the maps feature to show how easy it was to find a location and call the number. He found aStarbucks nearby and called it. A woman picked up the phone and said, “Good morning, Starbucks. How can I help you?” Jobs said, “I’d like to order 4,000 lattes to go, please. No, just kidding. Wrong number. Bye bye.” The audience loved it. I’ve never seen Jobs enjoy himself more in a keynote.
Inspire your audience. Jobs liked to end his keynotes with something uplifting and inspiring. At the end of the iPhone presentation he said, “I didn’t sleep a wink last night. I’ve been so excited about today…There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ We’ve always tried to do that at Apple since the very, very beginning. And we always will.”
Steve Jobs educated, entertained, informed, and inspired his audiences in every presentation. So can you. It takes work, planning, and creativity, but if someone is willing to listen to your ideas it’s worth the effort to make it great.

Joy Woojin Chung

Phony Baloney: How to Seem like an Expert When You're Not

One of the elements of delivering a presentation that people struggle with is stepping into the role of "expert." We are supposed to be authorities on the subject we are speaking about. Here's how to seem like an expert even if you're somewhat uncertain of what you're talking about, a skill that also has applications in party conversations and job interviews.

1) Project Confidence -- Talk calmly, slowly, and attempt to minimize the use of verbal fillers like "like" and "umm."

2) Know when to Speak -- This is more relevant to people who are in the midst of arguments rather than presentations. Knowing when to speak means that you are prepared to have your statements scrutinized. You are not just spouting random or incoherent information. A way that this might be applicable to our presentations is that you should mostly stick to the bullet points you have prepared on your slides and not just start babbling about semi-related information. 

3) Emphasize what you know -- Exaggerate what you know to make it seem important by adding emotion to something you've previously stated. Also use what others' say to fill in gaps in what you know. We can learn from others' presentations and use them to give stronger presentations ourselves. 

4) Don't worry about proving others wrong -- Remember to argue, not merely to disagree. You should present your contradictory information without getting hot-headed. Finding the most common ground possible will help avoid unnecessarily hurt feelings, but as long as you are being reasonable, you should share your knowledge.

5) Restate the best ideas at the end of your presentation. People will forget who came up with the idea and you will get the credit. 

However, the best way to seem confident is to know the material. But if you want to seem like the smartest person in the room while knowing absolutely nothing, remember to project confidence, speak with discretion, emphasize what you know, argue, and summarize the best ideas at the end. 

-- Hannah Holden

Ecstatic Seizures and the Brain

In the Ramachandran NOVA documentary, we were introduced to a young man whose temporal lobe epilepsy gave him religious experiences. Ramachandran ultimately explained that the man's experiences caused his brain to overflood with chemicals that help us interpret what is emotionally salient, so that, to the young man, everything from a grain of sand to the swell of the ocean seemed imbued with significance. 

It has been speculated that Dostoevsky and Joan of Arc experienced ecstatic seizures. Dostoevsky wrote of a seizure he encountered that the feeling was of ”a happiness unthinkable in the normal state and unimaginable for anyone who hasn’t experienced it… I am then in perfect harmony with myself and the entire universe.”

But the temporal lobe (as in temporal lobe epilepsy) is not the only part of the brain responsible for religious experiences.

Frontal lobe: The part of the brain that deals with concentration was found to be activated in Tibetan Buddhist monks in meditation. 

Parietal lobe: The part of the brain that "orients a person in three-dimensional space," had a decrease in activity during meditation. This could help explain the "one with the universe" feeling meditation can provide. 

Interestingly, it was found that Pentecostal Christians experience a decrease in frontal lobe activity -- opposite of what the monks experienced -- when they spoke in tongues. The "language center" of the brain is not activated during this activity, either. 

Hannah Holden

How to Give a Killer Presentation

There are many reasons why someone should put in all the effort they can into a presentation. The first being that it is a chance to show off your hard work and tell a story in the way you want to. Presentations also helps to sort out what has been done, and to understand it better for yourself. There are different types of presentations; there's the quick one-minute talk, twenty-five minute conference paper presentation, the project presentation, the thesis defense, and the job talk. Even though these different types of presentations are all different, they all present the problem of not having enough time to talk about everything. Most importantly, they reflect on the speaker, need practice and polish, and communicate a clear goal and message.

This article then gives 10 good pointers for a good talk. They say to be neat, keep it simple and clear, be brief, avoid covering up slides, use a large font, use color and illustrations, make eye contact, practice, and be ready to skip slides if time is running out.

A typical project talk outline starts with the title/author, and introductory of yourself. The presentation then moves onto the problem being discussed and presented, followed by an outline. The next few slides should talk about motivation, problem solving, related work, and methods. Following, the next few slides should present results; Key results and key insights should be talked about here. A summary should follow, along with backup slides to prepare for any future questions.

The difference between oral and written communication should be considered during your presentation.  Presenting also requires a certain level of sensitivity to your audience, you may need to slow down or speed up at some points. Another important key factor is to make the audience interested, make them want to learn more.

-Christina Perla

The Capgras Syndrome

Ramachandran in his discussion of the Capgras Syndrome explained the condition as a rare occurrence, however recent studies show that the Capgras Syndrome is more prevalent in Parkinson patients and those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer disease, Tourette's Syndrome, head trauma, and drug intoxication and withdrawal. In a case that was studying three Parkinson's patients, the increase of the drug dopamine escalated the chance of the Capgras Syndrome because the symptoms of hallucinations, delusions, and anxiety increased. The distinction between hallucinations and delusions is key to understand Capgras Sundrome and other delusional misidentification syndromes (DMS). A hallucination is when one's senses are confused, those with hallucinations will often see or smell things that are not there. A delusion however is not of the senses, but rather of the mind and "believing" in things that are not true.  The three patients in the case study all showed signs of a DMS coupled with their other diseases.

The Capgras Syndrome is not alone when considering the wide range of DMS issues. The syndromes are considered monothematic, which means they center on one idea that then disrupts the entire environment for the sufferer. Conditions similar to the Capgras Syndrome include:

The Fregoli Syndrome -- This condition is when individuals believe that the people around them are in disguise. For example, a sufferer of the Fregoli Syndrome could be at a college class and believe that the teacher is actually his girlfriend, wearing a costume. For these types of patients they believe gender and other physical characteristics can change almost instantaneously.
The Cotard's delusion -- This is a syndrome when an individual believes they're missing organs, body parts, or they are emotionally "dead." This syndrome is most prevalent when coupled with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Those who suffer from it can believe that their brain is rotting away or that an essential function (i.e. their circulator system) has dissolved inside.
of them and no longer exists.
Intermetamorphosis -- This condition is an escalated version of the Fregoli syndrome because those who suffer from it confuse others not only physically but also psychologically. A sufferer could believe that their mother both physically appeared as and had the same psychological qualities as their sister.
Chronic Déjà vu -- Chronic déjà vu is when an individual believes that they are frequently living in a repeated cycle of living. To the patient it will feel as if they are experiencing nearly everything for the second or third time even if it is the first exposure they are having to a new experience. This type of déjà vu is another form of a DMS.  

Alexa Trembly

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Religion and Neuroscience

In an article published by the Goethe Institute, the effects of religion on the brain are studied. Neuroscientists have the ability to image the brain as one prays, meditates, and partakes in a religious activity. With increasing belief in atheism, this is particularly interesting. Is religion an important practice for the brain, despite the fact that God is a figment of our cultural beliefs? Scientists called neorotheolgians are studying the ways in which the belief in transcendental realities affects the way that we see reality. Ramachandran states that religion is perhaps the most mysterious human trait. He states that the area of the brain which registers a “God” is behind the left ear. He calls this the “God module.” He says that religious experiences are neurological. When one has visions, they suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy which causes them to convulse. Those who suffer from seizures are often very interested in spirituality, because these visions have a lasting effect on them. These religious experiences are ecstatic and have a great deal of deep-seated feelings when they even hear the world “God.” Ramachandran says that this excitement creates a greater amount of reactions within the brain which lead to ecstatic visions in the limbic system.

Jillian Billard

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How to Give a Presentation

In an article published by the US Daily News, 15 tips for giving a presentation are given to clarify the dos and don’ts of presenting. Many people are fearful of this because they do not think that they know the full extent of what they are explaining, or have an innate fear of speaking in front of other people. The best thing to do in these situations is to have reference materials up on the board in a powerpoint presentation, but you must not read directly from it. This shows that you know the material, but both you and the viewers have something to refer to. The presentation should be bulleted. One should speak slowly, but not too slowly. They should practice before-hand so that it becomes like muscle-memory. It is not advised to use too many quotations, as this can draw attention away from the audience and make them bored. One must also make eye-contact with the audience as this keeps them engaged. If you appear relaxed the audience will reciprocate this and then you will in effect actually be relaxed. It is also important to know when to allow for interruptions and questions, but not to get caught up in them, and to know when to stop, because you don’t want to overkill the subject. Discussions following the presentation are just as important as the delivery and can futher the material through discourse.

Jillian Billard 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Power of Genetic Variation

In Rushton and Jensen's study, Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability, justified their findings on the genetic component in the mean-group differences in IQ and other traits between Whites, Blacks and Asians. "We do acknowledge that some siblings are more intelligent, more athletic, more physically attractive, or more socially charming than others… we should, therefore, by extension, be able to generalize to all the members of the human family" (Rushton and Jensen, 282).  Through studies of cranium size, regression, evolution, geography, twins, and adoptive situations were able to conclude that genetics, more so than environment, does play a larger part in IQ variation between races.

Even though Rushton and Jensen disclaimed that their findings on human evolutionary variation in genetics is not endorsed by most scientists, it still is a compelling theory in the differences between races.  The theory, where all humans originated in Africa, spread out across the globe over a time period of 50,000 years and during that time, genetic mutation accounted for the most variation between geographical human populations.  Because genes are passed down from parent to offspring (in the case of inbreeding, regression, and cranial size) any mutation with the gene sequence that allows the offspring to have an advantage over others in an environment, will most likely survive and be able to continue passing on the mutated gene to their offsprings.

In this case, Rushton and Jensen suggests that as humans traveled upwards out of Africa into colder, more inhospitable environments, caused those humans to adapt through gene mutation.  The ability to gather food, find shelter and raise children long winter seasons cause more an expansion in intelligence through increased cranial capacity. Rushton and Jensen stated that "the Inuit, who live above the Arctic Circle, have higher average IQ's than do either American or Jamaican Blacks" (Rusthon and Jensen, 267).  This could be a result from more neurons and synapses, which would make the brain more efficient.  On page 265, Rushton and Jensen found that Blacks cranial capacity is 1,267, White cranial capacity at 1,347, and East Asians at 1,364 which coincide with IQ.

Sara Mazdzer

Jensen and J. Philippe Rushton. "Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability." Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Vol. 11, No. 2. American Psychological Association, 2005. P 235-294.

Rushton and Jensen

I’m always thinking about civilization today in relation to where we came from as a species. Seems to me that the theory mentioned in section 11 is the most likely case of how the human species evolved into what we see today. Starting from Africa, humans then moved out into the middle east then split to Europe and east Asia. from there they enveloped in ways according to the environment and behavior, creating changes in skin color, brain size, testosterone, and other things.

The race comparisons made in the article are done by comparing the averages of each group. Making decisions on how to educate people should still be treated on an individual basis. Everyone should be treated the same and if most of the people considered the most intelligent come out of a particular group then so be it. The problem here may come in that people of the other groups may cry discrimination even in this fair system, but it’s up to that system to educate the people in these matters to fix this problem.

Billy Nunez

Ramachandran on the Mind

In his TED talk on the structures of the human brain, Ramachandran speaks extensively of self-awareness. He begins by speaking of the spectrum of abilities which emerge from consciousness. He states that you can map certain areas of the brain as correlative to function by looking at various syndromes which show that only certain abilities are hindered, yet other abilities are left in tact. For example, one may not be able to recognize faces when their fusiform gyrus is damaged.

One very interesting study was that of the phantom limb. He states that any part of the body can yield phantom limb. In studies, some patients will state that they can move their limbs. Yet other people state that their limb is paralyzed. It is found that the limb was paralyzed before the amputation—and the pain is carried over into the phantom limb. The brain does not process that the limb is no longer there—because it has already learned that there was paralysis. Patients have to learn to unlearn this phantom pain. This can be done through virtual reality, or through a “mirror box.” When they can see their hand can move in the mirror, they learn to believe that their paralysis is gone. After a few weeks of practice, the phantom limb disappears. This explains that the brain does in fact learn to reflect body image as real.

He also explains synesthesia. He says that artists are more likely to have synethesia because they have metaphorical thinking. The brain makes metaphorical and abstract connections immediately. The photons in the eyes are connected to the sounds registered by the ears or other senses in the fusiform gyrus of the brain, which creates a metaphor. Thus creativity can be studied scientifically in addition to psychologically.

Jillian Billard

Modern Eugenics Gives "Choice" to Its Participants, But Still Promotes Dangerous Ethics

One of the controversies behind modern eugenics is based upon doctors adding unsolicited bias to promote eugenic abortions and embryo screenings for disease and "defects." Eugenic doctors do not deny the mass sterilizations and prejudices that came with the eugenics movement, but argue that the abuse of eugenics occurred because the governments didn't supply enough regulation on the issue. Their answer to avoid this type of abuse in the future is giving the choice to individuals of whether or not they'd prefer to abort a baby that has disease-prone DNA or a high risk for disabilities such as Down Syndrome. They argue that giving "choice" will stop any abuse from occurring.

The article then continues to argue against this position and uses the gendercide of female babies in Asia as an example. The preference for a son in Asia has long been a discussion that spans many topics such as one-child policies and need for a labor-hand. However, when technology advanced in the West promoted the discrimination against disabilities and disease, the East started using their "reproductive rights" to discriminate against girls. Approximately 163 million girls are unaccounted for in Asia, many of which were most likely aborted. The reality of this hugh prejudice however is that the government is not responsible for these preferences that many individuals are making in Asia. It's their own personal "choice." From this point of view, the eugenic doctors' argument about eliminating potential abuse by giving the individual a choice seems naive. Aside from the unethical prejudice, low female populations create problems such as increased violence both sexual and non-sexual towards women, social instability, and increased trafficking issues.

Modern eugenic doctors promote preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). This process is when parents can choose their "best" child by examining the DNA of embryos for defects and disease. This "choice" of the parent's however is often heavily influenced by doctors giving biased opinions. The argument of "choice" dissolves because group mentality is still playing a large factor in the eugenics movement regardless if individuals have a "choice" in the matter. Moreover, each individuas has a difference opinion of what constitutes the "best child." However, eugenic doctors and the cultural bias that's developed in Asia against females has begun to develop a standard for what the "best child" means. This, again, develops a group mentality that's dangerous, similar to the earlier problems in the eugenics movements. If discrimination against children with disabilities and disease continues, then organizations that care for and provide aid to them and their parents may shut down. The social implications would be of a messy domino effect.

Alexa Trembly

The Trait Book

I was interested to research what traits were singled out as "undesirable" by eugenicists during the height of the movement. Since knowledge of genetics was not as sophisticated then as it is today, I was curious to understand the scientists' thought processes and inferences.

The Trait Book by Charles Davenport was a compendium of all the inheritable traits, good and bad, that field agents of the Eugenics Record Office were to record. Davenport and his contemporary eugenicists were interested in tracing the pattern of inheritance for physical diseases such as hemophilia, albinism, and Huntington's chorea and mental disorders such as "feeble-mindedness," "manic depression," and "dementia praecox" (today known as intellectual disability, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, respectively). 

The inheritance pattern of those diseases in families was relatively easy to trace. However, Davenport began to make bizarre inferences based on the idea that ALL traits were genetically determined and could be traced through a family tree with ease. For example, he determined that two parents with the trait of "shiftlessness" would invariably produce a "shiftless" child -- one who would be lazy and doomed to a life of poverty.

Davenport also traced supposedly beneficial traits that reflected his own middle class values. A person's talent in golf, elocution, drawing, or musical composition was to be recorded, as well as personality traits like bluntness versus politeness or self-sacrifice versus selfishness. Ultimately, Davenport believed that desirable genetic qualities were tied to race -- or, as he put it, "good blood."

Exploring Rushton and Jensen

Rushton and Jensen concluded from their literature review that intelligence is partially hereditable. In one portion of their literature review, they conceded that culturally-specific testing biases do partially account for the average difference in IQ score between whites and blacks. With this in mind, I sought to find examples of culturally-biased testing questions to better understand the issue.

One of the more vivid examples was actually from the 1970's sitcom Good Times. A young white student, typically a high academic achiever, walks out of an IQ test because he thinks the questions are racist. He cites this example question:

Q: Which of the following words best goes with "cup"?
A. Wall
B. Saucer
C. Table
D. Window

Although the "correct" answer is B, saucer, the protagonist's friend Eddie chooses C, table, because there are no saucers to put under cups. The author of this article drew a contemporary comparison by pointing out that today, many intelligence tests are administered on computers, and test-takers who can afford to have a computer at home will perform better than students who cannot -- although this is not a true reflection of intelligence.

Here's another illustrative example I found.

As you can see, the test is biased toward farmers, even though the question has been phrased in such a way that the test authors could view it as a simple "infer from context" question. Other example questions like these are available in this powerpoint.

Hannah Holden