September 26, 2005

Stop and Smell the Coffee?

The Sept. 24, 2005 issue of New Scientist has an article about anosmia, the loss of one's sense of smell. It's a first-person account of losing the sense of smell after a viral infection, as well as a hopeful but untested treatment under cognitive neuroscientist Robert Henkin, at the Washington DC Taste & Smell Clinic. Henkin believes that theophylline might restore the sense of smell, and in a few cases, it has. There have been no large-scale clinical trials, but the author is now happily smelling coffee, perfume, and newly mown grass.

The unbearable absence of smelling, by Mick O'Hare. Available for a fee from New Scientist's web site, or in LexisNexis.

Cognitive Science Focus @ UConn!

Cognitive Science Talks @ UConn, Fall, 2005
All talks take place at 4pm on Fridays.

September 30, 2005. Gordon Logan, Vanderbilt University, "Executive control of thought and action: In search of the elusive homunculus." Al Liberman Room (BOUS 160).

October 14, 2005. Herbert Terrace, Columbia University. "Thought without Language." Class of '47 Room, Babbidge Library

December 2, 2005. J. A. Scott Kelso, Florida Atlantic University. Title TBA. Al Liberman Room (BOUS 160). Jointly sponsored by the Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action (CESPA) and the Cognitive Science Focus.

For more info.,

September 19, 2005

Why Radio?

Great quote in the September 2005 Technology Review (from MIT) about radio vs iPod.

Spencer Reiss interviewed music venture capitalist Fred Wilson about his thoughts on the future of music (Music Dial Tone). He explains why he mostly listens to podcasts:

"Because I want someone to program my iPod. When we have music dial tone [access to the entire library of recorded music], we will still want someone to program it for us."


(and let me plug Sirius Satellite Radio, if you're looking for some good, programmed music. Much more interesting than the music on my iPod)

September 18, 2005

Happiness on ScienceFriday

On Sept 9, ScienceFriday talked to two experts on happiness, Daniel Nettle and Gregory Berns. Both have new books about happiness.

Berns posits that happiness is more about the brain’s response to novelty rather than actual pleasure. Nettle argues that women display both more positive emotions and more negative ones. Not much scholarly here, but an interesting listen if you’re goning on a long trip; or you might want to pick up one of these two books:

"Happiness: The Science behind your smile," by Daniel Nettle. Oxford University Press, 2005.
"Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment," by Gregory Berns. Henry Holt, 2005.

You can listen to the show from the link above, or you can get the transcript on LexisNexis, if you’d rather read the show than listen to it.

Avian Theory of Mind?

The Sept 4, 2005 New York Times reports on a study in Animal Cogntion that suggests birds have theory of mind. At least, they can separate "what I know" from "what the other bird knows" -- as indicated by one bird's pretending to eat to eat cheese so the other bird wouldn't steal the cheese later.

There are some other examples in the story, too, and it contains a good, simple explanation of "theory of mind".

The link above may not work after such a long delay, but here's the full citation in case you want to track down the article:

NYT Magazine: Deceit of the Raven // By DAVID BERREBY, September 4, 2005
It turns out that even birds know how to cheat and read minds. Is there any way that humans can preserve their sense of uniqueness?

(but wait: birds eat cheese?!)

September 14, 2005

Traumatized Kids' Brains: Smaller & Larger

Fascinating podcast on Australia's Sept. 10 2005 All in the Mind program on Children, Teenagers and Anxiety. Natasha Mitchell interviewed Duke's Michael De Bellis about some brain imaging he'd done with PTSD & non-PTSD kids.

Turns out PTSD kids' brains are larger than "normal" kids' brains in some areas and smaller in others. For example, the "superior temple" is larger, which is where facial & social perception occurs; the hippocampus is also larger, which is where memory of time & place are stored. The PTSD kids had "smaller brains, smaller cerebral cortex, smaller cerebellums."

Although the interview doesn't indicate how De Bellis measured the brains, this podcast seem show how theoretical cognitive psychology can have some practical applications.

The link above goes to the transcript, but the ABC Radio National's main page includes links to a Real Audio stream, and mp3 file, and the podcast. Check out the other shows, too -- they're generally more applied psychology than cognitive, but they're pretty well done.

September 10, 2005

Good background on Google

The August 2005 issue of Wired has lots of interesting articles about recent technology "that changed the world", including a fascinating article about the founding of Google. Talks about the scholarly reasons for its creation (citation searching) and dabbles a little in the math behind the PageRank linking schema.

September 08, 2005

The Music Genome Project?!

A new favorite podcast is Future Tense from American Public Media. Last month they reported on Pandora, "an Internet music service that streams songs based on 400 distinct musical characteristics."

The people behind Pandora are working on a music genome project, so if you say you like Al Stewart, they'll play music for you which "features major key tonality, demanding instrumental part writing" or "mellow rock instrumentation, folk influenes, mild rythmic syncopation, melodic songwriting, and acoustic rhythm piano." It's $36 per year, but you can listen to 10 hours for free.

The Genome Project, according to the Pandora site "capture[s] all of the little details that give each recording its magical sound - melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics ... and more - close to 400 attributes!"

Anyway, check out Pandora and the Future Tense podcast (RA req'd)(other topics include Google stuff, the DMCA & listening to electronic music, and using the Internet to help victims of Hurricane Katrina).