jedusor: (neuron art)
(quietly cuddling with Mike, thinking about willpower drain and how it affects people whose hobbies involve heavy cognition)
Me: God damn, physiological algorithms are cool.
Mike: I love these little outbursts of yours.
Me: Outbursts?
Mike: Yeah, when we're just hanging out and you randomly decide that something is REALLY COOL.
Me: Do I do that often?
Mike: Probably once or twice a week.
jedusor: (neuron art)
"Time makes more converts than reason." --Thomas Paine

Let me start off by saying that I myself am not very good at changing minds. Theoretical understanding of a concept does not necessarily equal practical expertise. I even know exactly what parts of the process I'm bad at, and I'm working on getting better, because I believe this is a very important skill. This is not what I do when I want to persuade people. This is what my study of the decision science literature has led me to believe I (and anyone) should do.

Jonathan Haidt came up with this great analogy to explain how decision behavior works: the rational brain is not a scientist, it's a lawyer. It's not analyzing and fighting the impulses coming out of your emotional brain; it's constantly working to come up with workable justifications for those impulses. For example, there are many logical reasons to be vegan, and I list them when people ask why I chose that lifestyle, but in truth my own path to veganism did not involve much logic at all. I wanted to be vegan because of a visceral distaste for the idea of meat and animal exploitation. I did the research, and I found the evidence to back up my choice, but the choice itself was not rational. I don't eat meat because, in short: corpses, ewwwwww.

When someone's mind is functioning like this, arguments tend to be heated and pointless. (When both people's minds are functioning like this, the arguments are even worse. I'm giving the reader the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the position you're trying to promote is, if not the actual correct position, at least logically defensible.) These instructions are not about how to win an argument, and following them is not a way to make yourself look good to observers. This is about actually instilling doubt in the person with whom you're communicating.

1. Don't focus on getting them to agree with you right now. If they end up expressing agreement during just one conversation, either they were already on the fence or they're saying it to shut you up. Think of your goal as getting them to continue considering the topic on their own time.

2. Start by getting them to want to agree with you. Think of ways things would be better for them if they were on your side.

3. Present your facts in I-statements--this is why I believe this, it's my understanding that, etc. Don't make it about them. If you used to agree with them, tell them that, and try to establish commonalities. The more they can see you as a peer and not an obstacle, the more likely you are to get through to them.

4. Don't shove evidence in their face and demand a response. When you ask people to consider facts that counter their beliefs, their beliefs actually grow stronger. This probably has something to do with defensiveness. So try to avoid getting confrontational. Give them things to think about, not things to react to.

5. Wait. This can be hard, but really, these things need time to percolate. It took me years to be ready to challenge my own thoughts about abortion. Some people take decades to be ready to challenge their own thoughts about things like religion. In the meantime, be available to answer questions and provide information, but don't keep bugging them about it. That won't make them any more open to listening to you.

6. Don't get meta. I don't think this is a problem for most people, but it's where I fall hard. I see people expressing certain thoughts, or justifying themselves in certain ways, and I just can't help telling them all about why they believe the things they believe. This does not help. Ever.

This is not to say that heated argument doesn't have its place. Anger is a powerful tool. If you want to fire up people who already agree with you, change laws, start social movements, then torches and pitchforks might be your best bet. Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" is a fantastic book for atheists, and for religious people who are already massively disillusioned and looking for evidence to hand their lawyer brains. But it's a terrible book for the currently pious. It's way too confrontational and condescending.

Being confrontational and condescending can (doesn't always, but can) stomp people down. It can show everyone else present that you're right and they're wrong. But you're not going to honestly change anyone's mind by ripping them apart.

Organ Trail

Feb. 3rd, 2011 02:16 am
jedusor: (badass geek)
I've played Oregon Trail a total of one time, when I was maybe eight. I died because I refused to shoot any animals, and never touched the game again. Until just now, when I discovered Organ Trail, a fully playable zombie apocalypse version of the game. While I still wouldn't want to play a game that simulated hunting animals, I'm totally fine with squelching zombies, so I gave it a shot.

I spent a somewhat embarrassing amount of time playing, and I realized: this game is just like life. The inexorable plodding of time, balancing priorities, dwindling supplies, random surprise benefactions and equally random surprise emergencies, panic as a resource that was just fine a second ago is now completely gone, reluctant acceptance of unfair deals (that other survivor wants HOW many bullets for one muffler?)... it's a perfect little microcosm of adulthood, minus all the awesome.

Everyone else played this game endlessly during childhood and then had this revelation in the other direction, didn't they?
jedusor: (neuron art)
[livejournal.com profile] jillcook commented on that entry about yawning and mirror neurons, saying that her nephew is autistic and doesn't seem to yawn. So I did some googling and it turns out that hey, somebody else already thought of this. Severely autistic kids didn't yawn at all in response to other people yawning, while kids on the milder end of the autism spectrum yawned less than neurotypical kids.

The connection to mirror neurons is still just speculation, but then basically everything about mirror neurons is speculation at this point. I hope a bunch of breakthroughs happen in neuroanatomical research methods soon so we can start figuring this crap out, because it's really friggin' neat.
jedusor: (badass geek)
I like it when all my samples are the same size, because then I don't have to go in and recalculate mean/standard deviation/standard error if the value I'm calculating for happens to show up more than once in the results. *happy wiggle*

(There is nothing more awesome than using statistics on actual true-facts data, especially when I gathered the data myself. I am finding things out that no one has ever found out before. This is why I do this, you guys. *wiggle wiggle wiggle*)

ETA: seriously, when I run an analysis, there's a minute before I tell Dr. K the results when I am the only person in the universe who knows or has ever known this one little thing about how the world works. It's the most fucking amazing feeling I've ever had.
jedusor: (badass geek)
Okay, so mirror neurons (neurons that fire the same way when you engage in a behavior and when you observe others engaging in the same behavior) might be involved in empathy. There's not a ton of research supporting that yet, but I think it makes a lot of sense.

I also think it makes sense for mirror neurons to be integral to the phenomenon of contagious yawning. (Apologies in advance as everyone reading this starts feeling that urge.) Kids develop theory of mind around age 4, and start yawning in response to videos of yawning around age 5. Tons of potential third variables there, I know. Just a thought.

Now I really want to go find some sociopaths and yawn at them to see if they yawn too. Or autistic people, I suppose, but there are even more potential third variables in that population.
jedusor: (neuron art)
I was over at Dr. K's today analyzing some data and talking her into buying me Photoshop (successfully, yay), and we were talking about getting an abstract ready for our AChemS poster submission, and she just kind of casually mentioned "first author, which would be you..."

dude, what?

Apparently I'm going to be listed as first author on this. I guess it sort of makes sense, looking back over the work that's been done in the lab since last year's conference. And I'll be the one doing the writing and layout and graphs for the poster itself. Still, I wasn't expecting this, and it feels sort of amazing.
jedusor: (neuron art)
The list )

It's all about the brains for me. Has been since I was 13, when I decided I was destined for a career in experimental psychology.

Before then, my education was all over the place. I was homeschooled for most of it, then attended private school for almost a year--they kicked me out before I could finish fifth grade because I attempted to hold the teacher to the same standards of respect to which she held us. I did an independent study program for a while before diving headfirst into community college at eleven. The C I got in Nutrition class that first semester still haunts my transcript.

But then I found out I could learn how minds worked for a living, and I've never looked back. It wasn't immediately obvious what other people called the field I wanted to enter, but I've known for more than seven years now what I want to do. I started out saying I wanted to study "you know, stuff like stereotypes and prejudice and how people make assumptions." Then I discovered the term "heuristics" in my first semester at Clark, and latched onto that as a catch-all description. Then I started reading Kahneman and Tversky, and Gigerenzer, and Damasio, and "Blink," and Jonah Lehrer's blog, and it turns out that there isn't one single name for what I want to study. I call it "judgment and decision-making" or "decision science" now, because the more technically accurate "hedonics" tends to bring sex to mind. It's preference, liking, why we gravitate toward some things and away from others.

For a long time, that's what my schooling has been about. The work I'm doing with Dr. K on modulation of the sweet taste receptor is paying my bills right now, and it's interesting enough, but I'm doing it because it will look good on a resume when I apply to do the stuff I really want to do.
jedusor: (ventromedial prefrontal cortex)
My art history teacher assigned a "theme sheet" for this week; essentially, a piece of paper with doodles representing a person's main interests. He wanted it to focus mostly on academic interests. Here's what I came up with:

Brains, games, and puzzles )
jedusor: (ventromedial prefrontal cortex)
"One phrase that's very important to avoid in discussions of the field is the reductionist cliche that something is 'nothing but' [insert neural phenomenon here]. So a Mark Rothko painting might be nothing but perplexed neurons in the V4 area of the visual cortex, or abstract art might be nothing but the peak shift effect. That, I think, is reckless hyperbole. The beauty of art is that it needs to be explained at multiple levels, from the action potential of retinal photoreceptors to the cultural shifts of 19th century France." --Jonah Lehrer, here

"To discover that a particular feeling depends on activity in a number of specific brain systems interacting with a number of body organs does not diminish the status of that feeling as a human phenomenon. Neither anguish nor the elation that love or art can bring about are devalued by understanding some of the myriad biological processes that make them what they are. Precisely the opposite should be true: Our sense of wonder should increase before the intricate mechanisms that make such magic possible." --Antonio Damasio in Descartes' Error
jedusor: (ventromedial prefrontal cortex)
DUDE. An actual image of Phineas Gage has been unearthed. For thirty years, its owners thought it was a whaler posing with a harpoon.

Holy crap.
jedusor: (ventromedial prefrontal cortex)
This is a rap about neuroscience, and you should watch it because it's AWESOME.



Lyrics )
jedusor: (ventromedial prefrontal cortex)
HOLY POPSICLES I WANNA GOOOOO

Yo-Yo Ma performing music based on an "exploration of human consciousness" written by Antonio Damasio, one of my current top choices for grad school advisor. And then a discussion moderated by Jonah Lehrer. And tickets, before they got completely snapped up, were only $25. If it wasn't sold out, I swear I would make the trip to New York on Sunday just for this, screw my final exam the next morning. And yes, I checked eBay already.

God, I hope there'll be video.
jedusor: (ventromedial prefrontal cortex)
Can't take cell biology because it's at the same time as physics. Grr. But I think I came up with a schedule I'm happy with anyway:

Intro to Physics I
Intro to Chemistry I
Brain and Behavior
Human Anatomy
Senior Honors in Psychology

I've completed almost all of my degree requirements, so this is mostly preparation for grad school. I'm going to have to take an art class next spring to satisfy the last Learning Perspective requirement. My biology minor isn't done yet, but Brain and Behavior and Human Anatomy both contribute toward that as well as being good for grad school prep. And the honors will be conducting my thesis experiment and writing it up.

Brain and Behavior used to be called Neuroscience II, while my current Biology of the Brain class was Neuroscience I. Dr. Kennedy had to change the titles because--and I am not kidding here--people didn't know what "neuroscience" was.

yay brains

Feb. 25th, 2009 01:40 am
jedusor: (ventromedial prefrontal cortex)
My neuroscience midterm is on Friday. I was just copying out a diagram showing the path of cerebrospinal fluid through the ventricles and down the spinal canal, and paused for a moment to crack my neck (I'd been studying for a few hours and was a little stiff), and the awareness just slammed through me that this shit is real. When I crack my neck, my fingers are millimeters away from those ventricles. All this stuff I'm reviewing for the midterm, action potentials and chemicals and neuroanatomy, that's what makes me tick. It's all right here, right now, helping me hold my pencil and see the pages and remember all this information.

aughsplorfle people are SO COOL.

Also SO EASY TO FUCK UP IN A GAZILLION CREATIVE AND INTERESTING WAYS. *should cut down on the neck-cracking*

Whoops

Jan. 23rd, 2009 07:03 pm
jedusor: (i have a cat)
I seem to have accidentally offered to volunteer in my Biology of the Brain professor's neurophysiology lab. This is going to be quite the semester, what with the five classes I'm taking.

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