The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Mind Hacks: The Snarkmarket Review CONTEST!

Brains: They are as amazing in their limitations as in their capabilities.

Yes, a brain can recognize a human face — and its mood — with a speed and accuracy to make Google weep.

And yet:

This is an optical illusion. If you are blind, you are totally missing out.

(P.S. Both central dots are the same size.)

Mental misdirection and optical illusions are fun; they’re also really useful tools.

In the foreword to the book Mind Hacks — which O’Reilly sent to Snarkmarket for FREEEEE suckas — Stephen Johnson writes:

These hacks amaze because they reveal the brain’s hidden logic; they shed light on the cheats and shortcuts and latent assumptions our brains make about the world. Most of the time, these mechanisms are invisible to us–or so ubiquitous we no longer notice their existence. A brain hack is a way of pulling back the curtain of consciousness to glimpse — however fleetingly — the machinery on the other side.

“The machinery on the other side.”

We might be the first generation to be totally down with that idea. The soul, the oversoul, the trinity of the id/ego/superego, the Incredible Homunculus… forget it. We don’t have to settle for a theory that just sounds sensible, or makes us feel good, or harmonizes with some broke-ass theology. Thanks to new tools, we can actually investigate.

That’s, er, not to say we’ve got everything figured out. No way. Brain science — and Mind Hacks — is more questions than answers.

There’s a Mind Hacks blog if you are sufficiently intrigued.

AND NOW: Actually, O’Reilly sent El Snark two copies of the book. This may have been a clerical error… or it may have been their way of saying, “Have a contest!!”

Clearly we will choose door #2.



GAH. I already have access to a copy, and it’s sitting on my desk! But thanks for the review, that will move it up the queue and perhaps I’ll get my own copy. I’ll still play.

Two entries:

1) Will you still Vole me tomorrow? Punacious title on the chemical differences between monogamous voles and slutty muskrats courtesy of Dave Barry, who actually posted one of my suggestions!


2) One of the GREAT mathematician Paul Erdos’ famous problems originated from his first childhood collaboration with two friends, Esther Klein and Gy

Strange that the Economist article does not mention the latest, most flashy result in the vole partner-preference story: Enhanced partner preference in a promiscuous species by manipulating the expression of a single gene. In this experiment, they used a retroviral vector to overexpress vasopressin receptors in a normally promiscuous species, leading to a dramatic increase in monogamous behavior. The earlier work with transgenic mice is similar but less behaviorally satisfying.

A decent review of the putative relationship between dopamine reward pathways and social hormones is Is social attachment an addictive disorder?.

While reading Sapolsky’s thoughtful The frontal cortex and the criminal justice system (not related to the competition, but still worthwhile), I also came across some older research on a couple of interesting subjects:

For the frustrated (“I don’t know who to love…”):

Male-to-female transsexuals have female neuron numbers in a limbic nucleus

And for the Jesus freaks (“I Looooove God!”):

Religiosity is associated with hippocampal but not amygdala volumes in patients with refractory epilepsy

Great entries so far!– but come on, folks, this is a free book we’re talking about here. And you don’t have to be as diligent as Saheli and Peter… something you once heard from somebody is fair game, too. SCIENCE and ROMANCE, people! Three days left!

Matt says…

OK, so whatever, I know nothing of dopamine pathways. My favorite stories of the intersection between science and love involve people trying to study love, to quantify it or make sense of it. On the “Numbers” episode of This American Life, D. Travers Scott tells of the time he and his boyfriend tried to create a corporate annual report outlining statistically the details of their relationship. Of course, it doesn’t work, but the story’s great.

I’m working on a story about two Fresno State professors who study love, and in reporting it, I keep running into this guy Arthur Aron. Aron wanted to observe the process of two people falling in love, under a microscope, as it were. Check this out:

Take two people who have never met, put them in a room together for 90 minutes and instruct them to exchange intimate information, such as their most embarrassing moment and how they would feel if they lost a parent.

Have them stare into each other’s eyes for two minutes without talking. At intervals, bring in a researcher who says, “OK, tell the other person what you already like about him.”

Aron’s interest is purely scientific. He isn’t in the matchmaking business, so those who are need not worry about competition.

His subjects leave through separate doors, so they will feel no pressure to get together on the outside. Nonetheless, the first two subjects got married six months later. They invited the entire research team to their wedding.

Aron’s done a few other very interesting experiments on how love relates to fear, including a pretty famous one where he sent two groups of college-aged men across one of two bridges. One bridge was rickety and unstable, the other was solid. After the men crossed the bridge, they were met by an attractive female interviewer (in a few cases, a male interviewer), who asked them questions about “the effects of scenic attractions on creativity,” then offered her (or his) phone number for the men to call to discuss the study. Taking the phone number, then using it, were interpreted as signs of attraction:

Dutton and Aron found that 9 out of the 18 high-fear participants who took the female interviewer’s phone number actually called her. Only 2 out of the 16 low-fear participants called. The male interviewer received 2 calls out of the 7 high fear participants who took his number, and 1 call out of 6 from the low-fear group.

So the experiment was taken to suggest that fear — or risk — correlates with attraction.

Which is totally true. To confirm that, you need only listen to another This American Life episode, The Allure of the Mean Friend. That is all.

Robin says…

Okay, Peter wins! Wooooo!

P.S. The fact that Peter’s was the only legit entry (Saheli already has the book; Matt can’t read) in no way diminishes the two-dimensional quantity/quality awesomeness of his post.

E-mail me & tell me where you live, Peter.

Matt says…

Don’t forget, Mind Hack, I already know where you live.

Congratulations Peter!

I am reminded of a terrible joke about an illiterate couple. Someone attempts to help the husband out at a local community center. He comes home proudly:

Husband: [waving piece of paper] Honey! I have learned to write!

Wife: Oh, Sweetie! That’s wonderful! What have you written?

Husband: I don’t know! I hasn’t learned to read yet!

Woohoo! I was really banking on Saheli already owning the book :). Here’s my contribution to the literacy subject. You’ve probably seen it before, but I was happy I could find a photo with just one Google search.

As a last thought on science and love, one of my favorite Freud quotes, from Civilization and its Discontents (the only Freud I ever managed to read cover to cover). Describing romantic love, Freud says: “admittedly an unusual state, but not one that can be stigmatized as pathological”.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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