Sunday, September 26, 2010

We Really Aren't Smart

We're human. As such, our brains tend to look for patterns in everything we see. That is, after all, how we survived back when ancient leopards were hunting ancient men. We had to be able to (ahem) spot a small pattern of spots in the wilderness surrounding us.

Now, though, we have so much information constantly raining down on us that we can't help but make patterns from things that really are unrelated. We don't like coincidence because it's just not quite as satisfying as a conspiracy.

Have you ever experienced the feeling that you're psychic? As in, you're thinking about somebody and at that very moment, they call your phone? Or you're talking about someone and they pop up out of nowhere - speak of the devil, right?

Well, the two events really had no causal relationship. How often have you been in a situation where you were thinking about somebody when somebody totally different called? You probably don't remember, because your brain simply doesn't take note of such a mundane event. You only remember the times when there is a connection to be made.

A lot of the patterns we see in the world only exist because we assign meaning to them. It's not always 11:11 or 12:34 when you look at the clock. You tend to forget the times that seem less interesting. These two times are simply more noticeable because of the way our number system works. The chances of you looking up at 12:33 or 11:12 are probably just about the same as the "make a wish" times.

David McRaney over at You Are Not Smart has an excellent post on the way we find patterns where there are none, a behavior known as the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Go give it a read.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Circadian Rhythms I was going to write something about circadian rhythms in research, but I keep putting it off because my own circadian clock and homeostat have been doing battle. Once I get a little more sleep, I'll update this.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

the 3six5

The 3six5 is a chronicle of one year. 365 days, told by 365 people in less than 365 words each.

Today is my day.

Check it out here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Last Thursday, I had my first lab for my Mammalian Neuroanatomy class. We got some human brains to look at, touch and play with a little, and then sheep brains to begin the dissection. Well, it was mostly preparation because it was the first day. We cut off the dura mater (the outer meninge, or membrane, that covers the brain/spinal cord), and took a peek at the pineal gland (in olden days, the purported seat of the soul) before returning the brains.

The term dura mater literally means "tough mother", and it really is a tough mother of a membrane. The pia mater, the innermost of the three layers, is soft and sticks to the brain. The arachnoid mater is a spider-webby network of membrane in between the two, through which cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flows. But the dura (from what I could tell through my gloves) feels a bit like tightly woven cloth, and is not very stretchy.

See that stuff peeled off to the side and labeled "1"? That's the dura mater. That's really how thick it is.

The dura dives into the gap between the two hemispheres of the cerebrum with a clever little move called the falx cerebri ("4" in the above picture). In the human brain, the separation goes quite deep, but even the millimetric depth of falx cerebri in the sheep brain made it extremely difficult to cut (it was hard to get the scissors under it without poking into the brain tissue).

All in all, it was a pretty cool lab, except for the pungent odor of formaldehyde. We didn't realize just how thoroughly we had to wash our brains to get rid of it before we began, and fumes from the remaining formaldehyde stung our eyes whenever we leaned in for an extended period of time. That of course meant three out of every four minutes, because our tasks involved things like identifying tiny little cranial nerves and cutting off the dura mater while sparing as many of those tiny little cranial nerves as possible.

Don't worry though, my dearies. That was only because we didn't prepare well enough. Next time, the brainwashing will be complete! Muahahaha!

Phone Trouble

I have a bumblebee-colored Sony Ericsson w760a. It's great. But I think that ever since my India trip, it's been angry at me. Since my phone is locked, I couldn't just grab a new SIM there and drop it in my phone. I did get a SIM card, but I borrowed my uncle's new phone (since he didn't really want to switch from his old, simple-to-use phone).

This new phone was a Nokia. It had lots of games and held a charge for more than 1.5 days, and I was playing with it all the time. Diamond Rush, City Bloxx, and that game with the cute little bouncing red ball were all very addictive ways to pass the time.

Well, I think my w760 felt betrayed. No matter how much I explained that the situation was not what it seemed, and that it was purely a work relationship, it still thought I was cheating on it. After we came back, it acted normal for almost a week. And then it started throwing tantrums. The center button (you know, the one that you need to press to select basically any option) has conditionally stopped working.

What do I mean conditionally? Well it still works - but only when the slider is closed. It refuses to work when the slider is open. And now, its intransigence (see, I'm actually remembering some of those GRE words!) has spread to the "C" button as well.

At any rate, we're going to the therapist, I mean, the AT&T store, today to see if we can't work this out with a little help.